Thank God: Homily for Memorial of Saint Clare, Friday, August 11, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

Thank God.  Do you thank God for his wonderful deeds? I remember when I was in the seminary going through a particularly difficult time.  My spiritual director asked me, “Do you thank God for the challenge?”  I must say the thought never occurred to me.  Thank God for something difficult? Who wants to thank God for difficult things?

And yet, think of the first reading today.  Despite the hardships and the complaining, the people thank God.  Think of the marvels they have seen.  They must be grateful. They must, above all else, know that God is God alone.  Because there will be difficult days too.  Jesus reminds us of this in the gospel.  We will have to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  There is nothing that can compare to the worth of our soul.  It is more valuable than anything we could ever acquire.  So whatever you do, do not trade your soul.  Thank God for all he has done.

Cross: Homily for Friday, February 17, 2017

To hear the entire homily, click the links above.

Readings for Today

Cross.  I don’t like the cross. In my heart of hearts, I’m a coward. I’m afraid. I find it hard sometimes to separate gaining the whole world, from gaining eternal life. I find it much too easy to be shortsighted. Seeing the immediate, the now, the things that seem so close and right in front of me, the things that bring immediate reward. I’m expecting a package from Amazon today. I’m really excited. But it’s not really something amazing, or tremendous. I doubt it will change my life. But I’m really excited.

But about the cross? I’m not so excited. I’m afraid. I don’t trust. I don’t trust Jesus, and I don’t trust God. Far too often, my focus is on myself, over what I can control, and over what I can do. And yet, during those breakthrough moments when I have been able to trust God the benefit has been far greater than anything I could’ve imagined. In those moments where I think back in my life and ask myself when has God never been there for me, I can say never. I can say that God has always been there for me. Despite my selfishness, God has always been generous.

So why do I have such a hard time embracing the cross? The cross of Jesus, change the entire world. When Jesus embraced the cross, and suffered death for you and me, salvation was open for all of us. Despite our sinfulness, holiness was possible. New life was given to us. Dear God, with whatever cross you give me today, help me to embrace it like your son. Give me the grace to say yes, to take up my cross, and follow you.

Homily for Sunday, August 23, 2015

Readings for Today

For St. Thomas Aquinas, the will is most rightly used when God’s glory becomes more manifest in our world. In other words, what becomes particularly important, is that when it comes to choosing, ultimately every choice we make can only be evaluated with regards to the purpose for which the choices were made. Do our choices help us to move closer to God, to enter more fully in a relationship with Jesus, or do they lead us farther away from Jesus?
This idea is not a great deal different than the old answer to the question about why God made us, in the Baltimore catechism. Why did God make us? Those of you who have a particular amount of life experience probably remember the answer. God made us to know, love and serve him in this life, and to live forever with him in the next. This is to say, then, that every choice we make, becomes a good or bad based primarily on whether or not it leads us closer to God or draws us farther away from God.
This helps us to understand the first reading. In it, Joshua calls the question. Will you serve the Lord or not? This is because it is tremendously important to recognize the choice to serve the Lord is intended to be in “all in” choice. In other words the most profound choice that we make to serve God is the fundamental choice that lasts our entire life.
And it is this choice, in fact, the Joshua sets before the people today. Will they be served by pursuing self-interest, or will they seek to serve God by placing their lives in the hands of God? The answer comes when they appreciate all the blessings that have been a part of their lives. Many of us have received significant blessings. But it’s not enough simply to receive these blessings, because it can be the case that we simply don’t see them or appreciate them. Rather, we must remind ourselves again and again of the importance of recognizing how it is that God has blessed us in our lives, and to be thankful people for what he has done for us.
It is in this sense that this fundamental choice helps us to understand what it means to be free. St. Paul writes about the challenges faced by people who do not fully comprehend what freedom really is. Freedom must be more than simply the ability to choose this particular thing or that particular thing. It must be understood in a much broader context where we understand that freedom is primarily about the ability which enables us to become the persons that God intends us to be. It means we can couch our ultimate decision for or against God up against the ultimate purpose in our lives.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our lives. We know that too often we don’t choose to draw closer to God, we don’t choose to enter more fully and completely and deeply into the relationship that God intends for us to have with him. Rather, often for something short-term and fleeting, we make a choice that takes us away from God. The ultimate irony is that this latter choice which leads us away from God, results in our being less free. St. Paul indicates this when he tells the people in his letter that they have been slaves to sin their whole life long.
Like Joshua, the choice for St. Paul is dramatic and clear. It is that we choose Christ, or re-choose a long set of regulations and rules that we can’t possibly fulfill on our own. It is against this background that we can understand both the second reading in the gospel. Ultimately, our choice for God, is our response to the vocation we were given at our baptism. For some, even most, such a choice for Christ is a choice to become like Jesus Mary and Joseph, a holy family. In fact, it is not overly dramatic at all to say the purpose of marriage as a vocation is precisely so that the couple and their children will grow in holiness in the way in which God intends for them to live with him forever. The purpose of this vocational call of baptism, is nothing less than an eternal relationship with God that make sense of every other aspect of our lives.
It is for this reason, that the second Vatican Council referred to the family as a domestic church. A husband loves his wife just as Christ loves the Church and both mother and father become holier in the way in which they raise their children to be closer to God. And so in its most beautiful sense, marriage is most importantly that invitation to discover who one truly is. Or put another way to discover that one becomes more themselves by virtue of this relationship they enter into an marriage.
For the disciples in the gospel, this question could not be made more clear. Many of the people who heard Jesus in today’s gospel think he speaks like a crazy man. We can lose the sense of how dramatic are these words of Jesus because we have become so familiar with the understanding of what it means to be the Eucharist. Christ becoming truly present to us each Sunday under the appearance of bread and wine so that we can at receive his body and blood.
But to those who heard Jesus in today’s gospel for many of them, this was all too much. Was Jesus calling them to become cannibals? And so many leave. And then comes the dramatic moment in the Gospels, when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks of them about their intentions. Will you also leave?
This is at the heart of the question for us to consider today. Will we, as Joshua did in the first reading choose to serve God, or we like so many in the gospel walk away from Jesus? Because the disciples have already made this choice in their hearts to follow Jesus and to enter into this deep relationship with him, they’ve already answered the question. They have nowhere else to go.
And so today Jesus posed this question to us.  Let us pray that we too might come to the experience of so many what is powerful and profound relationship with Jesus, so that we may proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The Passing of a Cardinal

On Friday morning, April 17, Francis Cardinal George, o.m.i., went to his eternal reward. Much will be said about his life in the days ahead, as the Church in Chicago provides the rich services that surround death, and the hope of eternal life. With the death of such a prominent figure of Church life in America, many will write about what they remember and recall. News stories will discuss his successes and failures as a leader. There will be statements made by Church leaders, political leaders and others.

But the passing of any person usually leads to the telling of stories, and I would like to take this occasion to tell of my experiences with Cardinal George, as limited as they were.I will leave the details somewhat vague, since they are really not very important. Suffice to say that I found myself, during my time as president of Fenwick High School in a situation that required a conversation with Cardinal George.

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Homily for Monday, April 13, 2015

Readings for Today

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” There is something about the presence of holiness that cannot help but be witnessed. Jesus has been doing signs and wonders, and Nicodemus cannot help but notice that he is a teacher come from God. I think of people I would identify as holy and it can also be clear to me that holy people have been sent into my life to help me see my personal need for conversion and forgiveness. It cannot be avoided. Holiness has an effect on us.

But I know also in my life that while the lived example of holiness can lead me closer to God, and can also find myself rebelling against God because the demands of living as God wants me to live can seem impossible, or, they require a change of life that I am not always open to making.

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Homily for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Readings for Today

We have a very important story to tell. The world, weary from too much evil, sin, violence, a lack of sharing even the most basic things, selfishness and greed, is tired. The world is weary, and it needs so desperately a word to rouse it. The stories of the world are all too often the same refrain, the same sadness, and have the same inability to lead anywhere significant. Think of the world for a moment.

When we consider the world on a global scale, what do we see? We see beheadings by ISIS, those sold into sexual slavery, humans trafficked like cattle, sold and used in the most banal ways, we see young school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. There is so much blood in the Middle East is can seem impossible for the earth to hold it. Throughout too much of the world we see people die, not because of something external, but for lack of something basic — food. Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libia and countless other countries experience far too much in the way of violence, death, evil.

And then let us consider our own country. We too have people who are poor, suffering, and blamed for their own situation. Too many young lives, many without much to begin with, find themselves killed every day at the hand of gun violence. Far from providing opportunity that leads to a good life, in too many places we are preparing too many young people for a life in prison.

And in our own families, we can see too much suffering, sadness, disease and death. There can be too many broken relationships, too much hurt, sadness, loss. In too many families this is the case.

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Homily for Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Readings for Today

Have you ever wondered, if your name were to reflect significant qualities about you, what it would be? “His name first means righteous king, and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.”” How is it that people would refer to me? How might they discuss you? Would you be able to live up to such a name?

Truth is, we have a name. Not only the given name we have, but the name we share because of faith, the name of Christian, of Catholic. And this name does carry with it the responsibility to live in a specific way. We cannot just live any old way. No, we have to live as persons who wish to follow Jesus, living according to that friendship.

Today’s gospel shows us the power of a relationship. For the Pharisees and Heroidans, this power leads them to evil. They simply cannot let go of their rigid understanding of the Law. For the man who was healed, the power of a relationship was the gift of new life. This power led not to evil, but to eternal life, to holiness.

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Homily for Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Readings for Today

The first days of the readings of Ordinary Time have been those discussing Jesus. An early challenge for the Christian Church was to deal with the question of how Jesus could in fact be God, while at the same time having suffered an excruciating death upon the cross. Not only excruciating in its pain, but in the shame that came upon the one crucified, and by extension, all of those connected with the one who had been crucified. For Jesus to have died in such a shameful way, how is it possible he could also be God?

In his commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Thomas Aquinas looks upon this question. For Aquinas, it is the act of supreme charity that Jesus, as both God and man, pays the debt all humans have incurred because of sin. One who is both God and man is most fit to pay this debt on behalf of another. As God, since God has no beginning or end, the debt can be forgiven, but not paid. As a man, one can step in to pay the debt on behalf of another as an act of charity. By becoming fully human, and entering the world, where as a human Jesus could suffer and die, Jesus pays the debt we incurred because of sin. But as God, through the power of the Father, Jesus is raised, and goes ahead, where we too hope to follow.

In traditional thinking, the cross of Jesus could be seen as shame. But because of the grace and action of God, the cross becomes a sign of triumph, for Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. We then can be saved. But there is something powerful about this action of Christ for us today. Aquinas notes that when we embrace something good, we also become more acutely aware of the fear caused by its opposite. But since Jesus has died, once for all, we no longer need to fear death. We can overcome our fears.

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Homily for Saturday, January 10, 2015

Readings for Today

The Lord takes delight in His people.” I do not know about you, but I have heard this refrain many times. This was today’s response to the psalm. But for whatever reason, today I really thought about what we were saying in the response. It got me to thinking: how often do we really think about the fact that God takes delight in us, His people. God takes delight in us. Really.

When we think of God, we know we can emphasize many aspects of God, since God is so far beyond what we can truly conceive in our minds. We really cannot imagine what it means to be infinite or eternal. We also know that human beings are really capable of a lot of evil things. Obviously a loving God does not delight in that.

But God does delight in us, because His love moved Him to create us. We are made in God’s image and likeness. We are loved by God more than we can possibly imagine. And because of our baptism, we are destined for great things. And that is quite important for us to reflect on from time to time. God does not desire just a little bit of happiness for us. God does not want us to “just sneak in” to heaven. No, God wants for us to live forever. God wants a relationship with us that is eternal, loving, and magnificent.

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Homily for Sunday, December 28, 2014

Readings for Today

The recent Synod on the Family gathered a lot of attention for only a couple of issues, that of the reception of communion for those who are divorced and remarried, and the question about ministry to gays. But in many ways, the challenges facing the family all over the world are much more numerous than these two significant issues.

When we consider the family not only in the United States but around the world, these are challenging days. In the 2013 US Census, we learned that more adults were not married than were married. More than a third of children in the United States are being raised in single parent households. When we consider particular circumstances, two thirds of all African American children are in single parent households, more than half of Native American children are in single parent households, and almost half of Hispanic households are single parent households.

Consider this quote from the Population Research Bureau. “Researchers have identified the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty in the United States. The effects of growing up in single-parent households have been shown to go beyond economics, increasing the risk of children dropping out of school, disconnecting from the labor force, and becoming teen parents.”

When we then think about the results of the breakdown of the family, and the documented effect of the increase of poverty, the concerns are tremendous. The United States bishops working through Catholic Charities USA, write the following. “Poverty does not strike all demographics equally. For example, in 2012, 13.6% of men lived in Poverty USA, but 16.3% of women. Along the same lines, the poverty rate for married couples in 2012 was only 6.3%–but the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was up to 16.4%, and for single-parent families with no husband present over 30%.” When we consider the effect of poverty around the world, the disparity in income levels is even greater.

How did this happen? To be sure, we have always had the effects of sin in our world. We have been selfish, we have been greedy, we have been evil. And while not all structures are healthy, it seems as it has become fashionable to attack some of the structures that provided greater stability. Not only that, it is fashionable to repeat narratives that suggest these structures in fact never provided anything good.

But  holiness provides something wonderful and good, because true holiness means we reflect the love and power of God. It seems to me that we need to renew our energies to families that reflect this holiness. Holy families share. Holy families promote commitment. Holy families support the quest for the truth. Holy families promote more than anything the quest for love, the quest for the profound relationship that God calls us to live forever.

It is important to say that the invitation to holiness is available to all families. We never say that single parent families, and other non-traditional families cannot be holy. Quite the contrary. But when we consider the example of the Holy Family, it is a story that reminds us that even in the most difficult circumstances can lead to a loving, eternal relationship with God. This relentless attention to God made the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, even with difficulties, holy. As we consider the events of Christmas, we know that much of the journey of the family was a struggle. There was the journey to Bethlehem for the census. There was the lack of suitable housing. There was the exile into Egypt due to the threat on the life of Jesus. But there was never a lack of attention to their relationship with God.

What does a family need to do to be holy? First and foremost, the holy family of today is focused on the call of God. Family life is a vocation. This means that family life is first and foremost a response to the initiative of God. When families remember this, the foundation of family life is solid. When families imitate the life of the Church, being the home of love, sacraments, forgiveness and grace, they fulfill the vision of the Second Vatican Council which referred to the holy family of today a “domestic Church.”

This means that families today are called to witness to the Church at its best. And it means that each of us, since we all have the personal call to holiness, must witness to this love both in our families and outside our families. The world today is in desperate need to the witness of family love that allows all humans to thrive. Too many witness violence, lack of opportunity, addiction, greed and selfishness. Since these get a disproportionate coverage in the media, it can be easy to forget that peace, opportunity, tolerance, generosity and living for others is in fact prevalent in many families.

Are you centered on the quest for holiness? Do you see being part of a family as a vocation that leads to holiness? Do you make time in the life of your family to foster prayer, learning about God, serving others, helping reduce poverty and working for structural change that leads others to God?

All of this has as its core the Incarnation of Jesus who by coming into our world modeled the quest and life of holiness for us. Once humanity and divinity was joined, it became even more clear to humanity that a life of grace could foster an eternal relationship of love. When we do so, holiness becomes as visible as clothing, since Saint Paul calls us to wear holiness.

So this Christmas season is an invitation to incarnate holiness in our own lives and that of our family. You and your family can by holy. And that is something to celebrate.