The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Homily: Monday, 2nd week in Ordinary Time

I have embedded a video of this homily below. Preached on Monday, January 20, 2020, at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood, Florida, the homily's complete text (more or less) follows the video.

Readings: 1 Sam 15:16-23; Ps 50; Mk 2:18-22


In today’s Gospel passage Jesus used fasting as a way to remind us to order our relationships. He instructed the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist that the time for fasting is in both the past and the future. Those questioning Jesus seemed to see fasting as an end in itself, rather than a means to develop a hunger for God’s Word and His Presence.

Moses understood this. In Deuteronomy he instructed the people:
“He humbled you and made you hungry; then He fed you on manna that neither you nor your fathers had known before, to teach you that man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” [Dt 8:3].
The words of Jesus and Moses and echoed as well by Samuel in our first reading when he instructs Saul that obedience to God’s will is more important than any ritual:
“Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice… presumption a crime of idolatry.” [1 Sam 15:22,23]
For so many today obedience is far from easy, for it demands humility, doesn’t it? It asks us to accept that God, and not you and I, knows what’s best for us. How often, like Saul, do we presume to know God’s will, when in truth we are merely substituting our own desires, our own will? Perhaps this is the worst form of idolatry: instead of striving to be like God – How did Jesus put it? “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mt 5:48] – we instead try to create a god in our own image.

Remember God’s words from our responsorial psalm?
“When you do these things should I be silent? Do you think that I am like you?” [Ps 50:21]
It’s as if we are determined to misunderstand God. Just as Jesus’ disciples often misunderstood Him, it seems John’s disciples also failed to understand all that John taught them through word and deed. It would seem they really hadn’t comprehended that John fasted to persevere before the Messiah’s coming, to watch for His Presence. This, indeed, is the Presence Jesus speaks of.

Because He is present, it’s a time to celebrate His Coming, a time of joy. For the disciples, fasting will come with the Passion; for us it’s the fasting of Lent and Good Friday. But do you and I fast simply because the Church tells us to fast? Or, like Jesus in the desert, do we fast to ready ourselves, to ask for the strength we will need to answer Jesus’ call to discipleship?

Of course, our Lenten fast is followed again by the joy of Easter. Indeed, to emphasize this, the Eastern Church encourages the faithful not to fast and kneel throughout the Easter season. The time of repentance has passed.

Jesus goes on to remind the disciples that His Presence is something supremely new. He uses brief parables to make His point. He describes the joy of wedding guests in the presence of the bridegroom; then continues with examples from the people’s domestic lives: 

A patch of new, strong cloth will tear an old piece of clothing if it undergoes any stress.

And new wine, still fermenting, will expand and break an old wineskin. 

Jesus uses these common examples, asking those who hear Him to apply them as well to their spiritual lives.

To accept Jesus’ Presence, then, demands a new receptivity, a new way of thinking, the kind we hear proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. God’s love for us is like new wine that always demands new wineskins. In other words, we must continue to renew our relationship with Him, always ready to receive God’s call to enter more deeply into the new life that God wills for us.

Our prayer life, too, must be a continual process of renewal – renewing our relationship with Jesus, recognizing all that our loving God wants for us. 

We live in a time of expectation, brothers and sisters, a time of renewal, a time to strive for holiness, a time to turn from all that prevents us from deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ellen Louise Thomas, R.I.P.

Ellen Thomas 1949-2020
Last week Diane and I lost a dear friend. Ellen Thomas, the wife of Deacon Walter Thomas, died suddenly and unexpectedly on January 15. We will miss her dearly.

Walter and I, along with about 20 other men, were in the same deacon formation class of the Diocese of Fall River. We were ordained together on May 24, 1997 by then-Bishop Sean O'Malley, who went on to become Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston.

Ellen and Walter, Diane and I, and another diaconate formation classmate, Deacon Joe Mador, and his wife, Ann, all made the move to The Villages in Florida. As it turned out we ended up together, at least for a while, at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida.

Today we celebrated a memorial Mass for Ellen at St. Vincent's, and Walter honored me by asking me to preach the homily. The family plans to celebrate Ellen's funeral Mass in Massachusetts within a week or two.

I have included my homily below:


Readings: Wisdom 3:1-6,9; Psalm 25; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; John 14:1-6

Walter, on behalf of Father Peter, our pastor, and Father John, along with our brother deacons, and the entire St. Vincent de Paul Parish community, I extend our deepest condolences to you, and to Kim and Larry, to Eric and Jessica, and to those beautiful grandchildren that Ellen loved so dearly and was so proud of. 

To Ellen’s friends who have joined us to support this family, thank you; it is good that you are here today. Thank you for your love and your prayers.

Yes, indeed, Walter, it is good, good and fitting that all of us who love Ellen should come together at this difficult time. I know it’s a difficult time…it’s a sad time because one we love is no longer with us as she once was. 

But even though we know she remains with us in spirit, it’s still a time that can generate questions to which we seek answers, answers about life and death.

St. Paul, of course, provides an answer, reminding us that Jesus, through His death and Resurrection, destroyed that final enemy. He destroyed death. But perhaps the best answer is the one we just heard from Jesus:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” [Jn 14:1].
Remarkable words, really, since Jesus said them the night before He died, knowing what would happen the next day. But is He concerned about Himself? No, He’s concerned about His friends: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

These are good words for us today as well. And knowing Ellen, as we all do, I think we can hear her saying these same words, for she would not want troubled hearts here today.

“You have faith in God,” Jesus added, “have faith also in me.” Even at difficult times such as this, Jesus tells us, it is our faith that allows our hearts to be untroubled. Yes, it’s all about faith, isn’t it? And because Ellen was a woman of deep faith, she would want our hearts to be joyful. It is our faith that calls us to be joyful. As St. Paul reminds us: because of our faith we do “not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” [1 Thes 4:13].

Do you recall the words of our first reading? 
“…they are at peace… their hope full of immortality” [Wis 3:3,4].
Ellen, who for years suffered so very much, is indeed at peace, tasting the immortality we all hope to share. And she would want us, those whom she loved so deeply, to be at peace too. I can say this with confidence because, well, I speak from experience.

Diane and I came to know Ellen and Walter well over 25 years ago, when Walter and I, along with Deacon Joe Mador, whom many of you know – began diaconate formation in the Fall River diocese. That formation certainly didn’t exclude the wives of those deacon candidates.

And these good women, doing the work of the Holy Spirit, rejoiced with us through all the joyful times, and pushed and pulled us through the many challenging times. 

Believe me, during five years of intensive formation you learn a lot about each other. Secrets are shared, hearts are opened, and despite it all we came to love each other.

Ellen, of course, was easy to love. Smart, strongly independent, she was ever full of laughter and fun.
But more importantly, she was a devoted and loving wife and mother. She and Walter were not two, but one: “Joined at the hip,” she would say.

Her familial love was of the best kind: it was a sacrificial love – a love that gave, expecting nothing in return.

She was also a remarkable friend, and it was a friendship that Diane and I cherished deeply – a friendship that began in Massachusetts and continued here in The Villages. You see, 20 years ago, after Diane and I had made an exploratory visit to The Villages, we happened to mention it to Ellen and Walter. The next thing we knew, they had gone south and bought a home here. They beat us to the punch. It would be another three years before Diane and I became Villagers.

How can we forget her Cinco de Mayo birthday celebrations at local Mexican restaurants, always including a margherita or two?

And to be Ellen’s friend, it really helped if you were a Red Sox and Patriots fan. Believe me, she gave new meaning to the word fan, which in her case truly is short for fanatic. You can imagine how difficult this past year was for her.

But Ellen’s fervor for those teams was just symptomatic of the enthusiasm she brought to so many aspects of her life. And along with that enthusiasm came remarkable organizational skills. Whether organizing a cruise for her friends or planning parties or dinners for playoff games or holidays, it was Ellen who pulled it all together. Our lives would have been boring and lackluster without Ellen to draw us out of our shells.

I could go on and on, but I know she’s listening, and it would embarrass her. So, let me just say that we love her dearly. She will remain always in a very special place in our hearts.

To Ellen’s family, I can only encourage you to keep her spirit alive, to tell the stories, the stories that bring laughter and those that bring tears, to pass them on from one generation to the next. Those future generations won’t have known Ellen, but because of you, they will come to appreciate all that she did for this family and will love her as well.

But it’s also important for us to remember that this Mass, although a memorial for Ellen, remains primarily an act of worship, but worship in the form of thanksgiving. You see, today we thank our loving, merciful God for Ellen Louise Thomas. We thank Him for the gift of this woman’s unique, unrepeatable life, a life you and I were privileged not only to witness, but also to share.

But more importantly, as Christians, whenever we gather in prayer, we thank our God for the gift of His Son, Who gave His life for us. For without that gift, we would have no hope…no hope of forgiveness, no hope of mercy, no hope of salvation, no hope of eternal life.

It’s because of this gift that we can gather here today and not be consumed by grief.

It’s because of this gift that we can go on with our own lives secure in the knowledge that Ellen, and you, and I, that we have all been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Resting in the embrace of our loving God, Ellen now holds this truth in the very depths of her being.
St. Paul said it best: 

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence” [2 Cor 4:14].
And who is this Jesus? Well, He told us, didn’t He?
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [Jn 14:6].
The Way – nothing less than our Christian faith – the Truth, why that’s the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the life is everlasting life. It’s the understanding that we’re here for a purpose: to do God’s will so that we may spend an eternal life of happiness with Him – that eternal life Ellen is just now beginning to experience. For God has put Ellen’s suffering behind her, and we thank Him for that.

This is what we celebrate here today: the Good News of Jesus Christ.

…the Good News that lies at the very core of our faith

…the Good News that tells us the Father loves us so intensely He sent His only Son to become one of us

…so intensely He allowed His Son to die for our sins, for the sins of those who put Him to death
…so intensely that through His redeeming death and Resurrection He gave us the gift of eternal life.

This is what we celebrate today. We celebrate the reality of the Good News for Ellen and for us.

We’re here to give Ellen to the Father, to thank God for her life, and to ask the Father to grant her a new life, a life far greater than the one she shared with us, an eternal life of happiness.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Homily: Monday After Epiphany (1/6/2020)

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The text of the homily follows the video.


Readings: 1 Jn 3:22-4:6; Ps 2; Mt 4:12-17;23-25

Matthew, writing to a largely Jewish audience, didn’t hesitate to present Jesus as the “new Moses,” as the promised One Moses himself described in Deuteronomy [Dt 18:18]. Jesus, the lawgiver, through the New Covenant, fulfills the Mosaic law of the Old Covenant, deepening its meaning. As Jeremiah prophesied:
“I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts…” [Jer 31:33]
But the Gospel doesn’t restrict Jesus’ mission, for He came not only to Abraham’s descendants, but to the entire world. We heard this in Luke’s Gospel when the aging Simeon, at the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, exclaimed:
“…my eyes have seen your salvation. which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” [Lk 2:30-32].
It’s a message aimed not just at a handful of Bethlehem shepherds and wise men from the East, but one that reverberates throughout the world and through all time. Matthew first proclaimed this Gospel message of universal Good News in the genealogy that opens his Gospel. There we encounter a family of saints and sinners, of Jews and Gentiles. Also in that family was John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus, His forerunner in every respect.

John would soon be martyred, but for Jesus the Cross comes later. He must first preach and heal. He must form His disciples so the Church they lead can preach the Good News and “make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19]. And so, with John’s arrest, Jesus began his ministry in earnest.

He stepped into the world beyond His Jewish roots and carried the Good News to “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” as Matthew and Isaiah described it. He got right to work, didn’t He? He taught in the synagogues, preached the Kingdom, and healed all who come to Him. It must have been an exhausting pace, such that word of His work spread beyond Galilee and Judea to the Gentiles of the Decapolis, of Syria, and beyond the Jordan. They came to Him with their sick and He cured them all: the physically ill, the mentally ill, the spiritually ill.

At this point Matthew tells us nothing of the content of Jesus’ preaching, only that He echoed John’s call to repentance in readiness for the coming Kingdom. But it wasn’t His preaching that first brought those in need to this One they had never heard. How did Matthew put it?
“His fame spread to all of Syria” [Mt 4:24].
He was famous in a country He’d never even visited – and all without Facebook, or Twitter, or TV. No, it was simply His Presence in the world. Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, need only be present and act, doing God’s work in the world. This is work that only God can do, showing the world His creative power, His truth, His very nature bound up in the Presence of His merciful love.

In deep humility, a divine humility beyond our understanding, Jesus tells all that the saving, victorious Presence of God is at hand, that nothing will ever be the same. It’s the same Presence He will ultimately entrust to His Church for all time through the gift of the Eucharist. This bread and wine offered by us become God Himself, His Real Presence, which He uses to heal our weakness and lead us to eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus must fill the world with His healing, saving Presence, for it is this Divine Presence that draws the world to Him. His call is a call to repentance, to conversion:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Mt 4:17].
This repentance, this metanoia, as the Greeks call it, means more than being sorry for our sinfulness… much, much more. It calls us to something new, a radical change of being, really a change of everything, because we now recognize God’s Presence in our midst. It generates a hunger within us, a hunger for God’s Kingdom, a hunger for the living Bread that God gives “for the life of the world” [Jn 6:51]. Living in God’s Presence we can then say with Paul, “…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” [Gal 2:20].

Like Matthew’s world of the Gentiles, our world, too, is "in darkness…a land overshadowed by death” [Mt 4:16].

Only Christ’s Presence can bring God’s saving light into this world, and that’s where you and I come in. We must be the God-bearers, those who, like Jesus, must act always in love, carrying Him and His healing Presence to those who know Him not.

Let that be our prayer today: that God will lead us to those who need His glorious Presence in their darkened lives.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Homily: The Epiphany (5 Jan 2020)

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The text of the homily follows the video.


Readings: Is 60:1-6; Ps 72; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12


As a child I was fascinated by the Magi. Who were these wise men, or these three kings as we often called them? To me they were romantic, mysterious figures -- dressed in their finery, perched high on their camels, and bearing those intriguing gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I knew what gold was, and I assumed frankincense was like the incense we used at High Mass. But myrrh? It was and remains an unknown. I don’t think they sell it at Publix.

It wasn't until I was in eighth grade, when Sister Francis Jane had us read T. S. Eliot's poem, "Journey of the Magi," that I came to a clearer understanding of these three men and their mission. Eliot’s opening lines dispelled my earlier romantic notions of the Magi’s journey from their distant homelands to greet this unknown King.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a Journey, and such a long journey;
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
Why did they do it? And why did they alone recognize the signs that compelled them to make this first Christian pilgrimage? 

Again, who were these three men? One thing we know for certain: they were Gentiles, not Jews. Were they kings? Probably not. Were they astrologers? Also, probably not, at least not in today's superstitious sense. More likely, the Magi were sages of their people, men committed to the propagation of wisdom, committed to finding the truth. And it’s this search for truth that brought them to a stable in a cave in the little village of Bethlehem.

The Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, were not unknown among the people of the ancient Middle East. As true wise men, they might well have been familiar with these Scriptures, perhaps even with Micah's prophecy of Bethlehem as the birthplace of a great King from the House of David. Had they also read Isaiah?

“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance… the wealth of nations shall be brought to you…bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” [Is 60:3,5-6].

Perhaps they had, and armed with God's Word, they went to meet the Word of God Himself. Spurred on by a heavenly sign, they encountered the One Who will proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. Led by the Holy Spirit, they found Him to Whom the Spirit always leads.

These wise men came to Bethlehem in search of the truth, but at the end of their journey, they had a revelation. They discovered that the Truth is not a something, but a Someone.

"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6], Jesus tells us. When we follow His Way, we are led to Him, the Truth; and the reward is eternal Life. 

But along that Way we encounter the Cross. The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – symbols of royalty, priesthood, and suffering. Yes, the Cross is there, even in the stable at Bethlehem.

In their encounter with this Truth, the Magi learn that Jesus is not just another earthly king. He instead wants to become King of their hearts – and enthroning Him in their hearts requires a conversion – a change in the very core of their being. Later in his poem Eliot describes this shock of recognition: 

…were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
They realized they must die to their earlier lives, lives that don’t include Jesus…for this Jesus is not a king for the Jews alone, but as St. Paul tells us in today's second reading:
"…it has now been revealed…that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" [Ep 3:5-6].
The Magi sensed this promise – a promise that brings life, yet demands we die to ourselves and to the world. The Magi discovered they had to face something called death at the very moment in which they witnessed a birth. But in doing so, they were among the first proclaimers of the Good News. Today, here in this church, on this altar, we do the same.

From this manifestation of Jesus to the Magi, to the world, we’re led to the celebration of the Eucharist, the living memorial of the sacrifice, the Death and Resurrection, of our Savior. We make a leap in time from the simple, precious days of Jesus' birth to that awesome moment when He offers Himself on the Cross for the salvation of the world.

"…and the Word became flesh" [Jn 1:14], John reminds us. Jesus became man, and this meant He would die. Our re-birth through Baptism requires that we must die with Him by our sharing of the Eucharist, in which Christ is truly present once again on the Cross at Calvary. This is why Jesus was born. He came into the world to witness to the truth that God the Father wants each of us to be saved through the willing sacrifice of His Son, a sacrifice in which we are privileged to share at every Mass. 

In his Gospel, St. Matthew doesn't tell us what happened to the Magi afterwards, but as we read the final words of Eliot's poem, we're allowed to speculate on the outcome:
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
And so, we’re left with a choice. We can be like the pagans and continue to clutch the little gods we create for ourselves. Or we can be like Herod, reject God’s presence, and fight a losing battle that leads to death, not life. Or perhaps, like the Magi, we can accept the universal call of Christ. We can turn to the Truth and carry His message of salvation to the world.

This, brothers and sisters, is what Epiphany is: a manifestation, a showing. And as Catholic Christians, we are called to manifest Christ's presence in the world by our faith and how we live our lives. We’re called to evangelize, to epiphanize…I’m not sure if that’s a real word, but it should be.

Like Matthew’s world of the Gentiles, our world, too, is "in darkness…a land overshadowed by death” [Mt. 4:16]. Only Christ’s Presence can bring God’s saving light into this world, and that’s where you and I come in. We must, then, be the God-bearers, those who, like Jesus, must act always in love, carrying Him and His healing Presence to those who know Him not.

Let that be our prayer today: that God will lead us, as He led the Magi, to those who need His glorious Presence in their darkened lives. 

Listen now to the words of today’s Solemn Blessing which Father will extend to you all at the end of Mass:

"…since in all confidence you follow Christ, who today appeared in the world as a light shining in darkness, may God make you, too, a light for your brothers and sisters.”

Homily: Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God (1 Jan 2020)

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The text of the homily follows the video.


Readings: Nm 6:22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

Theotokos Icon
1,600 years ago, at the Council of Ephesus, the Church gave Mary a title: Theotokos, a Greek word meaning “God-bearer.” In bestowing this title on Mary, the Church confirmed that, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, she is truly the Mother of God.

This is the feast we celebrate today: the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Her title has its Scriptural roots in the story we all know – the story Luke tells in those early chapters of his Gospel.  We’re all familiar with it.

The Annunciation by the archangel Gabriel in Nazareth, and how the young Mary agreed to bear the Son of God, the Savior of the World. Yes, Luke describes Mary’s role vividly and leaves us with words we can never forget: 
“Let it be done to me according to your word” [Lk 1:38].
Mary's Magnificat
And then Mary, filled with the Spirit and carrying the Son of God in her womb, leaves immediately to make the long trek to Judea to visit Elizabeth. By visiting Elizabeth Mary really visits all of us. She carries Jesus to young and old, to the unborn John and to his aging parents. She carries the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. And she proclaims this wonderful news in her song of praise and thanksgiving, the Magnificat.
“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation…He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” [Lk 1:50,52-53].
Yes, Mary, the first Christian evangelist, spreads the Good News, telling the world of God’s mercy and justice. And thanks to Luke and the Holy Spirit we receive this Word of God. 

Because it’s the living Word of God, you and I are truly present there in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth listening to Mary as she praises God and thanks Him not just for herself, but for all of us. We are there, just as we are present months later in the rolling hills outside of Bethlehem. When the angelic host appear to the shepherds, we are there among them to hear the Good News proclaimed from heaven itself. Indeed, this is exactly what the angel reveals. Listen to his words, the words you’ve heard so many times:
“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you Good News of a great joy which will come to all people” [Lk 2:10].
This isn’t a message just for a few shepherds. No, it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ, a message for all people.

As Mary proclaimed, all of this happened according to God’s promise “to Abraham and to his descendants forever” [Lk 1:55]. We, brothers and sisters, are these descendants of Abraham, our father in faith; for God promised him that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. It’s a universal promise, a catholic promise. And because we are there with Mary, the shepherds and Abraham, this revelation places a demand on us. 

Just as the shepherds went on to glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen, we too are called to do the same. And it’s really not something we should put off. For throughout these first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, we detect a sense of urgency. When Gabriel reveals that Elizabeth will also bear a son, Luke tells us that Mary set off in haste. Our Blessed Mother didn’t delay in carrying out this dual mission of hers. For not only was she the God-bearer, the carrier of the Good News deep within her, but she also carried God’s love to someone in need. 

Both acts were of such importance that neither could be delayed. Yes, Mary set off in haste; but she wasn’t the only one. How did Luke describe the shepherds’ response in the passage we just heard?
“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” [Lk 2:16].
Moved by what they had seen and what they had heard from the angels, they could do no less. How blessed they must have thought themselves, for they would be among the first to set eyes on the Messiah so long awaited by God’s people. Is it any wonder that they left...
"glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” [Lk 2:20].
Shepherds Receive the Good News
We too have received the Good News, brothers and sisters. We are all called to carry it to others, not in word alone, but in deed as well. Yes, Mary is the God-bearer who brought Our Lord into the world and presented Him as the Father’s gift to all of humanity. The shepherds of Bethlehem received that gift with joy and willingly and openly carried it to others. 

What a remarkable gift it is! It’s a gift of love, arising from God’s hope that we will turn from our sinfulness and accept Him into our hearts.

It’s a gift of divine forgiveness, of His outrageous mercy, a gift that will trump the power of sin and overcome all hatred, violence, revenge, addiction…all the evils of the world.

It’s a gift of Jesus Christ Himself, a gift we receive in a most special way.

When we receive the Eucharist today, when we receive the Real Presence, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, you and I also become God-bearers, carriers of this gift. But what will we do with it? Will it change us, as it changed Mary, as it changed the shepherds?

Just as Mary carried Jesus to the world, we are called to carry Him to all the others in our lives. As the shepherds proclaimed the Good News of salvation, we are called to proclaim this message of hope to a world too often sunk in despair.

As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, let’s learn from both Mary and the shepherds, and follow their example. Worshipping here together on this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, let’s join her in a prayer for peace: peace in the world; peace in our country; peace in our cities and communities.

Pray for peace in our homes; but most importantly, pray for peace in our hearts.

Pray that the darkness of sin will be overcome in this world and that the light of love — the way of Mary’s Son — will take hold in our hearts and the hearts of all.

And so, let us today bless our world and each other with the words of blessing God gave to Moses and Aaron:

“The Lord bless you and keep you! 
The Lord let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you with kindness and give you peace!” [Nm 6:24-26]

Homily: Feast of the Holy Family (12/29/2019)

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The text of the homily follows the video:


Readings: Sir 3:2-6,12-14; Ps 128; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15,19-23

Holy Family Icon
How wonderful it is to be surrounded by family. But for many of us, retired here in sunny Florida, our children and grandchildren live elsewhere. Family gatherings become increasingly rare events, special moments to anticipate and cherish.

Just as individuals grow and change, so too do families. Indeed, for some of us it’s hard to remember that our children are no longer children. And yet families, even in the midst of change, still come together when crises arise. Problems are solved, and crises overcome. So often the slammed doors, quarrels and tears, end in apologies and forgiveness and hugs, with the tears wiped away. Despite 52 years of crises, large and small, Diane and I realize we’ve been blessed when it comes to our children and grandchildren. Even though the struggles continue, we realize it’s God who works His Will through us and through our weaknesses.

Now I realize that within many families the problems can be very serious. Indeed, by most statistical measures, the family’s an institution in sharp decline. Not only are divorce rates high, but many couples are choosing not to marry at all. Far too many fathers abdicate their parental responsibility and abandon both mother and child. Almost half of today’s children are born outside of marriage. And the plague of abortion has devalued not only the child, but human life itself.

Some years ago, our elder daughter was teaching 2nd grade in an inner-city school in California. The fathers of half of the children in her class were in prison. But even among the affluent, too many parents devote themselves solely to their children’s material well-being and success at the expense of their spiritual well-being and moral character.

Single parenthood is a fact of life today, and it carries with it a whole set of financial, emotional, and psychological burdens. If raising a child today is a challenge for a two-parent family, just imagine what’s it’s like to do it alone. Most single parents love and care for their children admirably, but it’s hard to be both mother and father.

Now I’m no sociologist, so I won’t even attempt to explain these problems and their causes. But one thing I know: We need the example of the Holy Family in today's world, a world openly hostile to marriage and the family. Today, celebrating the Holy Family, we’d do well to consider an often-overlooked figure in the Gospels.

In Matthew’s Gospel there emerges a quiet, modest figure, a perfect model for all fathers, St. Joseph. Just consider the sort of man he must have been. He was chosen by God the Father as the guardian, teacher, and guide of His only Son. God chose Joseph to love and protect Mary, the virgin Mother of the Son of God. Yes, Joseph was a very special man indeed.

…a courageous man of honor determined to protect Mary’s reputation. Why? Because he’s a righteous man and this is what God would want.

…a man who then takes Mary as his wife even though the child she carries is not his. Why? Because God told him to take the Child and His Mother to himself. And so, Joseph obeys.

…a man who, to protect his family, leads them on a dangerous journey into exile, into an unknown future. Why? Because God commanded it.
Flight to Egypt
Joseph doesn’t stop to think it over; he doesn’t even spend a day planning the trip. No, he leaves immediately in obedience to God’s command. He “rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” Matthew glosses over the flight to Egypt in a few words, but the reality was surely nightmare. Leaving in the middle of the night, the Holy Family would have traveled many days across the 300 miles of harsh terrain that led to Egypt. Then, as homeless refugees, they relied solely on Joseph to earn a living during their exile. And just when Joseph had probably established himself in this foreign land, God tells him to return to Israel. Once again, he obeys.

The murderous Herod is dead, but in Judea and Samaria, Herod's son, Archelaus now rules, and Joseph fears him. And rightly so, since Archelaus began his rule by slaughtering 3,000 of Judea’s most influential citizens.

Once again in obedience to God’s command, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to the safety of a small town nestled in the hills of Galilee, to Nazareth. It’s through the obedience of Joseph that the prophecies are fulfilled. “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” And “He shall be called a Nazorean.”

What a mystery! That God, to protect His Son, the uncreated Word of God, should choose to do so through the mediation of a humble carpenter. It’s a piece of the greater mystery of the Incarnation, in which Father and Spirit now relate to the Son not only as Divine Word but also as incarnate Man.

Notice how, throughout Matthew’s brief narrative, God doesn’t reveal everything to Joseph at once. Instead, Joseph remains continually dependent on God’s next word. For Joseph, the just man, is nevertheless fully human, and like all of us must learn to grow in God’s love and grace. He must experience, as we all must, the trial of faithfulness, the trial of perseverance in seeking out the will of God in our lives. Joseph waits patiently for God to speak, just as God waits patiently for Joseph to grow in fidelity.

It’s in Nazareth, in the home of this family, that Jesus grows to maturity.

It’s here that Joseph teaches Jesus to recite his prayers, to sing the age-old Psalms of David, and to read from the Law and the Prophets.

It’s here that Joseph teaches Jesus to appreciate, firsthand, the importance of following the laws and customs of His people.

In Nazareth, working alongside Joseph in his carpenter's shop, Jesus comes to recognize the value and dignity of work.
Learning His Trade
Here, in Joseph’s home, Jesus encounters a man happy to be poor in spirit, to be meek, just, and merciful, happy to be pure of heart.

Later, during His public ministry, Jesus often spoke of God the Father as “Abba” or Daddy. It was from the loving and caring Joseph that in his humanity Jesus first learned what a daddy was.

At the very heart of Joseph’s sanctity is an unquestioning obedience to accept the will of God in his life…and to act on it. And because he obeys, God comes to him again and again. God walks in Joseph’s soul just as He walked with Adam in the Garden. Is it any wonder He entrusts to Joseph what is most precious to Him?
Joseph Hears and Obeys
Mary and the child Jesus remain almost hidden in this Gospel narrative, wrapped in the decisions and actions of Joseph. Joseph leads but doesn’t dominate. He leads by serving – by serving His God and His family. And then his work is finished. Jesus, whom he has loved, taught, and protected, must now step forward into the light of history. Joseph, like John the Baptist, like you and me, can also proclaim: "He must increase. I must decrease."

We Catholics have always had a deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. How it would please her if we would deepen our devotion to her husband. With Jesus we owe honor to Joseph; and honored indeed would Joseph be if fathers today would accept him as their model. And pray, too, that single mothers turn to him, asking for his fatherly intercession in the lives of their children.

Today, on this beautiful feast of the Holy Family, let us pray for our families, for fathers, for mothers, for children, for grandchildren and grandparents.

Back in the 8th grade, Sister Francis Jane began each day by saying: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us.”

Should we not do the same?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Homily: Christmas Mass at Night (12/24/2019)

I've embedded a video of this homily below. The complete text of the homily follows the video.

Readings: Is 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14

Well then, Merry Christmas, and welcome to the Midnight Mass. But since midnight is way past our bedtime, we cleverly celebrate it at 8 p.m.

Tonight, we celebrate an encounter with God as He had never been encountered before. And it’s really a most remarkable thing.

Before this night, for thousands of years, humanity had accepted the existence of a God, or of multiple gods, who they believed had brought all of creation into being. This belief in a Creator’s existence was universal. You simply don’t find atheists among either the most primitive or the most civilized or our ancient ancestors. Atheism, and its weaker, little brother, agnosticism, are really modern inventions, simply the result of man unwilling to accept a god other than himself.

But the ancients accepted their limitations. Applying their senses and their minds, they realized the beauty and wonders surrounding them could not have come into being simply by chance. Because our ancient ancestors lacked revelation, their gods took on many different forms, but most were simply the result of men creating gods in their own image. They were certain of God’s existence, but He was a distant God, unapproachable, unknowable. We get brief glimpses of this in those first few chapters of Genesis.

But then God, the only God, makes Himself known. He speaks to a man whom He calls Abraham and begins a 2,000-year-long process of revelation in which He gradually reveals Himself and His plan for humanity. Remarkably, He does all this through Abraham’s descendants, a most unlikely tribe of nobodies that God had chosen simply because of their weakness and anonymity. Indeed, it is through their weakness that they magnify God’s glory. For 2,000 years God revealed Himself and His expectations for us, His creatures. And what a gift this Revelation is!

Do you realize how blessed we are to be Catholic Christians? What we believe and how we worship are not things we’ve concocted. They’re not a collection of man’s feeble attempts to placate some higher power. No, our Christian Faith, our Sacred Liturgy, are God’s Word and God’s Work. It all comes from God Himself.

It’s not a religion, brothers and sisters; it’s a Revelation! It’s a Revelation that runs through many generations, from Abraham to Moses to David, through all the prophets, and eventually to Jesus Himself – Who is the fulfillment of it all.

Yes, it’s a Revelation completed in the Incarnation when Mary, as Luke reveals to us:
“…gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” [Lk 2:7].
Once again, God’s glory is manifested through weakness. Mary knew this, accepted it, and expressed it to the ages when she proclaimed:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” [Lk 1:46-47]
As I said earlier, this is an encounter with God as He has never been encountered before.

You see, brothers and sisters, God has not only made Himself known to us, but almost beyond imagining, He became one of us. We have a God Who has skin on, a God who took on a human body from the Virgin Mary through the power of the Spirit of God. We rejoice tonight that the God Who created the universe from nothing was born one night of a young Jewish girl in a manger in a little town called Bethlehem. Yes, He is our God, a God of skin and bones and flesh and blood, and tonight we celebrate His birthday.

Birthdays are wonderful celebrations, aren’t they? To wish others a happy birthday is to tell them how much they mean to us, to express our joy that they were born. Tonight, we say the same to Jesus. We gather in this church, at this rather unusual hour for Mass, to express our joy that He came into the world.

When His birth was first announced, not to kings and queens, not to emperors, but to shepherds in the hills of Judea, the angel revealed to the world that it had reason for great joy:
“For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you Who is Christ and Lord” [Lk 2:11].
Yes, He is their Savior; He is our Savior; He is the Savior of the world. It is through Him, and only through Him, that you and I can safely reach the end of our pilgrimage on earth and see our Savior in all His glory, our Savior, our God with skin on. He is a God Who does the unexpected, a Creator who humbles Himself, coming to us in weakness, and a God who offers gifts on His birthday.

And what a gift it is! This God who shares our lives, offers each of us, individually, a share in the very life of God. The infant, Jesus, born of Mary, was like any other infant, and needed the care that only His mother could give. But He was also different, so very different. Within that tiny body the life of God Himself lay hidden.

Later, as a grown man, He would give to all who would receive Him a share in that life of God, a gift described by John when he wrote:
“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…” [Jn 1:12]
Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is already within us through sanctifying grace.

But He continues to call us, through His Church, to renew that grace by living a life free from sin, free from the undue attachment to the things of this passing world. This is one of the special graces offered to us by God in our celebration of the solemnity of Christmas each year.

Yes, we rejoice tonight, for not only was our Savior born, as each of us was born into the world, but He offers to each of us the gift of a new and deeper share in that life which was his from all eternity. The birthday gift Our Savior gives is the gift of Himself; but we shouldn’t celebrate empty-handed. What gift can we give Him Who is Lord of all? The psalmist sums it up, doesn’t he?
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth [Ps 96:11-13].
What can we give to the ruler of the earth? The only gift we can offer our newborn Savior, the only thing He does not yet possess, is our hearts. It is this gift we place on the altar when we celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And what a gift this is! The same gift Jesus offered to His Father, the gift of Himself.
“…a body you prepared for me…Behold, I come to do your will, O God” [Heb 10:5,7].
For here, on this altar, Jesus Christ, gives Himself to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and allows us, the members of His family, to join Him in the most intimate way imaginable. Here, as we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we also join each other in a unique Communion. Eucharist – “the source and summit of the Christian life” – means thanksgiving. It is like a great family dinner, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners all rolled into one, yet far more wonderful and fulfilling. 

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God! These roots are deeper, stronger and longer lasting than any human family roots. Indeed, they’re so strong they’ll carry us all the way to eternal life.

And so, tonight, as we rejoice in the birth of our Savior, let us also rejoice that our names are written in heaven, as members of the family of Jesus Christ.

And let us be the people our loving God wants us to be, imitators of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In the words of one of our newest saints, Saint John Henry Newman:

“May each Christmas as it comes find us more and more like Him who at this time became a little child for our sake, more humble, more holy, more happy, and more full of God.”

Come, Lord Jesus! [Rev 22:10]