"I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a LIVING SACRIFICE, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:1-2
(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on January 31, 2015 at Holy Spirit Church in Central Falls, R.I., February 1, 2015 at St. Brendan's Church in Riverside, R.I., Holy Spirit Church in Central Falls, R.I. and St. Rocco's Church in Johnston, R.I.; See Mark 1:21-28)
Beauty and the Beast.Cinderella.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
What do all of these stories, all of these films, have in
common?They all represent that
perennial struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Truth be told, the reason why we are so
captivated by those stories, the reason why we will watch those movies over and
over again, and view sequel after sequel, is because—on some fundamental level—they
We certainly experience that great battle between good and
evil in the world we live in.We can see
it on the evening news and read about it in the newspaper.But even internally, deep within the human
spirit, we sense the reality of that struggle:
§We are, in fact, never more anxious, more
saddened, more weighed down and discouraged, than when we have been drawn into
evil and into the self-destructiveness of sin.
§But we also never feel more like ourselves—more peace-filled, joyful and free—than when we
allow God to draw us into the things that are good, holy, virtuous and
Isn’t that why you came here today?Christ draws us into all that is good when He
gathers us together here to listen to the word of God and the message of our redemption;
God draws us into communion with Christ and with each other here in the Holy
Eucharist.This is the real drama that
we identify in the books and the movies that enchant us, because it is the
drama of every human life.
We find that drama taking place in a powerful way in the
Gospel of St. Mark this weekend.We are
told that Christ entered the synagogue in Capernaum and He began to teach the
people.He was drawing them into the
great story of salvation and bringing them more completely into the good that
God had designed for them.But suddenly
Jesus is confronted, face-to-face, by evil.St. Mark relates that there was a man in the synagogue with an unclean
spirit, and that this evil spirit began to cry out against Christ, the
Destroyer himself accusing God of destruction:
“What have you to do with
us, Jesus of Nazareth?Have you come to
destroy us?I know who you are—the Holy
One of God!”
It is a disturbing scene, in particular because of where
that scene takes place: in the holy place.We would not be surprised to see Christ confronted by evil in the
street, or in some seedy place where vice flourishes; but, of all places, in
At the same time we should not be surprised at all if we truly
understand who Christ is.Jesus is not
simply a good man.He is the
God-man.He is the eternal Son of God
who is the origin of all that is good; Jesus Christ is the embodiment of goodness
itself, and evil cannot tolerate to be in the presence of that which is all-good. While Satan's usual mode of operation is to remain hidden in the background, working deceptively and destructively even in holy places, the presence of Jesus suddenly draws him out. Rightly does the evil spirit rail against the
Christ in that panicked moment, and especially in that sacred space. The game is up.
But it is also true that Christ cannot tolerate that which
is evil.He is more than up to the task
of dealing deliberately and decisively with this unclean spirit.He calls the demon out directly, and
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
After a brief struggle, and with no small amount of
resistance, the unclean spirit departs from that person and the man is finally
It is a dramatic struggle and it reminds us of what we truly
believe in our Catholic faith about God and the good.The Christian faith is very different from
many of the Eastern religions that describe the struggle of good versus evil as
a battle between two equal forces.It is
not the case that good and evil “balance”
each other off in some impersonal, moral equilibrium.No, what we believe clearly is that God is
all-good, as well as all-powerful.He
has power over all of creation, over all spirits, and all things.He speaks the word of command in the Gospel
this weekend, “Quiet!Come out of him!” and it is
As uncomfortable as it may be to name it, what
Christ performs in the Gospel this weekend is, literally, an exorcism.He casts out the evil spirit that has
possessed this man in the synagogue.We
believe in the reality of exorcism in the Catholic faith.There is, in fact, a Rite of Exorcism in the
Catholic faith, and there are priests who have used it with great effect, as effective
as Jesus Christ Himself in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Of course, exorcism is real but also rare.Most priests have never performed one.But there is something that Christ wills to
do in our lives on a regular basis, something that is very common and very
necessary.He wills to drive away that which is evil—in
whatever forms we find it present in our world and in our lives—and He wills to
draw us into that which is good,
virtuous and holy.Are we allowing Him
to do that fully and are we cooperating completely in that great plan for our
Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome,
writes in his book, An Exorcist Tells His
Story, that there are two things that God does frequently among
the Catholic faithful that can be even more powerful and more effective than an
exorcism.These two things may
The first one is Sacramental Absolution.The Sacrament of Reconciliation.To make a good, integral confession and to
receive absolution from the priest, is something that can be more powerful than
driving out a demon from a possessed person.Why would Fr. Amorth say that?Because we believe that sin damages our relationship with God and with
those around us.Our Catholic faith
teaches us that some of these sins are venial; we participate in gossip, tell
little white lies.These things are
wrong and sinful, but they do not necessarily break our relationship with
Mortal sins, however—sins which are serious, grave and even
deadly—can and do break our relationship with God and result in the departure
from what is called a “state of grace,” the beautiful bond that God has formed
with us through our sacred Baptism.“Sanctifying
grace” is the life of God within the soul that allows us to live and love in a
supernatural way.To die in a state of
mortal sin, having lost that “sanctifying grace,” is to put one’s soul and
eternal salvation in peril.To come to
the end of our lives having committed serious, grave and mortal sins which have
never been confessed before God and never truly repented from, is to risk the
loss of heaven and the loss of eternal life with God.
But in one, sincere, heartfelt and contrite moment, when we
confess our sins before God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation which He
instituted for that very purpose, we receive pardon and peace and the
forgiveness of God restores that grace which we long for and desire above all
earthly things.Passing on from this
world in a state of sanctifying grace, we are fully prepared to enter into
eternal life with God.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is that powerful, that
awesome and life giving.How tragic
that, in this time in which there are so many temptations and occasions to fall
away from God and to forget His great invitation to eternal life, there are
fewer and fewer Catholics that take advantage of that opportunity to live fully
and abundantly in God.
The second thing mentioned by Fr. Amorth that is even more powerful
than exorcism is listening to the word of God and its explanation through good
preaching (while he does not explicitly state that the Eucharist is preeminent,
it is clear from his context that he takes this as a given).So why preaching, and why the word of
God?Amorth mentions the teaching of St.
Paul, who writes in his letter to the Church at Rome:“Faith
comes through what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ”
It is when we listen to the word of God proclaimed, week
after week, and hear that word explained and taught, that we grow in our faith
and we are drawn ever more deeply into the mysteries of Jesus Christ.We hear about Christ, who suffered and died
for the forgiveness of our sins; how He rose from the dead and invites us into
that supernatural life that has the power to overcome death itself.
God draws us into that life-giving relationship with Himself
and increases our faith and our conviction to live out the Gospel, to pray, to
reach out in love to those around us
and to reach up in gratitude, worship
and praise.That living and active
faith, explains Fr. Amorth, sets up a “force-field” of sorts, like a protective
wall around the treasure that is our soul.When a Catholic man or woman lives out his or her faith to the fullest,
Jesus Christ is able to drive out the forces of evil; they are not able to gain
ground or take root in the place where God dwells.There is nothing as powerful as a soul
totally possessed by the living God.As
the saying goes: “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his
How are we allowing Jesus Christ to drive away evil and fill
us with all that is good in our lives this week?How can we cooperate most fully in these
opportunities to be sanctified and to be instruments of God’s sanctification in
our world today?
Because, truly, we are not saved from our sins by
Batman.It is not Spiderman or Superman
who died on the cross to give us the ineffable mercy of God.It is Jesus Christ alone who overcomes the
powers of evil and grants us the supernatural life to be transformed and to
live like never before.May we allow Him
to drive away from us all that is evil and become His instruments of goodness
and love in a world desperate for heroes and hungry for the things of God.
(Monday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on 17 November 2014 at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence in Providence, R.I.; See Revelation 1:1-2:5)
There is something that can—and often will—happen to every
seminarian in his formation and preparation for priesthood. It is certainly something that can happen in
the life of the Catholic priest. St.
John the Evangelist, in the beginning of the Book of Revelation this morning,
indicates that it has happened in the Church of Ephesus and Jesus Christ has
commissioned him to address it without delay.
In that prophetic and apocalyptic book written to the early
Church, and to us, the Lord commends the Ephesians for their work, and
especially their endurance in the face of trials. They have refused to tolerate “the wicked”
and have exposed the imposters claiming to be Apostles (Revelation 2:2). More than that, however, they have suffered
for the Gospel and the name of Jesus Christ.
He commends them for these outstanding marks of discipleship.
But there is something else that Christ points out to the
Church in Ephesus, something that He holds against them that is unacceptable
and potentially harmful. He says: You have lost the love you had at first
They have lost that initial fervor, that fire and passion
for Jesus Christ and the Gospel that had elevated the Church in Ephesus to the
foremost place in Asia Minor. These are
the people who spread the message of salvation like wildfire across that region. Their love for God was vivacious. It was alive. Contagious.
Now it is fading away.
It can, and often does, happen that our initial fervor and
passion for following Jesus Christ diminishes and gets reduced over time. We can become so familiar with what is
sacred, so acquainted with our regular routine, that we are no longer as driven
as we once were to draw close to God in intimacy and share His message of
salvation with conviction and joy.
St. John the Evangelist reminds us all this morning that
Jesus Christ will not tolerate the loss of our first love. No amount of work or endurance will
substitute for diminished spiritual intimacy.
Christ wants it back. In fact, He
provides the solution and gives us the answer to the problem of lost spiritual
fervor in our First Reading.
The answer is time.
There are two different words in the Greek language for
time. The first is chronos, where we get the concept of chronological time. The seconds that tick away on a watch or
clock; the hours that accumulate throughout the day; the days that march along
the calendar throughout the year; these are examples of chronos. We can and should
manage chronos, use it wisely to
glorify God and serve Him well.
But chronos is not
the word for “time” that St. John uses in our First Reading this morning. The word he uses in kairos, and it is different from chronos. It is translated in
our reading this morning as “the appointed
time.” St. Paul calls it “the acceptable time” (2 Corinthians 6:2). It can be translated as the “opportune
moment.” It is God’s time.
to St. Paul, is the time of salvation.
St. John this morning gives it as the very reason for this present communication
to the Church in Ephesus, that “the
appointed time is near” (Revelation 1:3). We cannot manage or manufacture kairos, but God can. Moreover, He does not provide those opportune
moments in a fleeting way. No, He is, instead, constantly intervening in
time and offering those moments of grace and mercy that can reignite the fire
within us and lead us back, even more
deeply, into that first love.
He does that preeminently here in the Eucharist, on this
altar. In the Liturgy, when we draw
close and worship God and receive His body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament
of the Eucharist, He draws us back into intimacy with Himself. When we spend hours before God in prayer,
before the tabernacle or exposed here on the altar, we allow God to work in our
lives to revive our initial fervor and faith.
It happens when we become immersed in the Sacred Scriptures,
and drink deeply from the Word of God as a life-giving spring. We long to know and understand the words of
God in the Scriptures that have the power to animate our spiritual lives and
set out hearts on fire. We want to know
what God is saying: to us personally; to our Church; to those we are called to
serve; to those who have neither known Him nor yet loved Him, but who will come to know Him through us.
God’s opportune time comes to us in those moments that we
offer forgiveness, maybe even for offenses that no one has asked forgiveness
for. It happens when was seek
forgiveness, and strive to be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The appointed times throughout the day that
God calls us to serve and to work for His glory and the building up of His
kingdom, these are the moments and the times that God uses to reignite the
passion and the fire that drove us to this place and initiated our response to
the call of God to begin with.
“You have lost the
love you had at first” (Revelation
How are we responding, in our daily lives, to the moments
that God constantly provides, reigniting the fire and the flame of His love
within us? For the appointed time is near (Revelation
1:3), and the moment for enkindling that fire within is now.
(Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica-Year A; This homily was given on 8 and 9 November 2014 at St. Elizabeth Church in Bristol, R.I.; See Ezekiel 47:1-12, 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and John 2:13-22)
This weekend we celebrate—throughout the Church universal—the
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.One of the four major basilicas of the City
of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran is actually the main cathedral of the
pope.Usually when we see the pope on
television he is in the Vatican or celebrating Mass in St. Peters Basilica (also
one of the four major basilicas).But
from as far back as the 4th century the Basilica of St. John Lateran, not St.
Peter’s, has been the pope’s cathedral.
Yet what we celebrate this weekend in the Church is not the
wood, stone, marble and stained glass that constitutes that Roman architectural
wonder, as much as the magnificent and awesome reality that it symbolizes: the
temple of the living God that is the Body of Christ, the Church.As St. Paul emphatically reminds us this
Do you not know that
you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit
of God dwells in you?
—1 Corinthians 3:16
In fact, all of our readings for this weekend are focused
upon the Church as the temple and the dwelling place of God.All of our readings lead us to reflect deeply
upon our identity and mission as the Church Christ founded.
But what do we believe about the Church?If you asked 10 separate people what they
understand about the Church, it is possible that you could get as many
answers.Some might say the Church is,
for them, a family of faith; others might answer that the Church is the place
where we worship God.The Church might
be acknowledged as the gathering of believers united in one faith and guided by
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.Certainly
we profess each and every week that the Church is one, holy, catholic and
Yet there is one notion of the Church that Pope Francis has
systematically eliminated from the equation.Over and over again he has insisted that the Church cannot be
self-referential, bent on its own self-preservation.However we understand the Church and our own
experience of parish life, we cannot remain focused on the mere maintenance of
the structures and institutions closed in on themselves.The Church, Pope Francis insists, must strive
to move outward to those on the periphery and on the margins.The Church is necessarily evangelical.
This is nothing new.Evangelical faith—faith which seeks to announce the Good News of Jesus
Christ to all the world in word and deed—is rooted in the New Testament and evidenced
down through the centuries in the lives of the saints and in the missionary
zeal of those who took Christ’s call seriously.The Church exists to evangelize, to transform the world and set the
hearts of all on fire.Yet now more than
ever we need to revive that missionary zeal and allow the power of the Holy
Spirit who dwells in us to lead us out of our comfort zone and into a world
desperately in need of healing and new life.
There is a powerful image of what God desires and intends
for His Church in the First Reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.The prophet has a vision of the temple, and flowing from the threshold
of the temple was a river that could not
be contained within.The angel of God,
who has brought him to the temple, says to him:
“This water flows
into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the
salt waters, which it makes fresh.Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can
multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water
comes the sea shall be made fresh.”
—Ezekiel 47: 8-10
The angel continues to declare that fruit trees will grow on
the banks of the river, providing food, and that their leaves will be a
medicine for healing.
This vision of Ezekiel is remarkable and striking because it
is completely different from the way
we experience the natural world.When a
river flows into the sea, at the very place where the mouth of the river
empties into the ocean, the water is quite brackish.The vast expanse of the salt water overflows back
into that river, and even though the water may be fresh and clear upstream, it
is filled with sediment and salt at the place where it begins to empty
Not so in the vision of Ezekiel.The prophet envisions a river that is so
remarkably fresh and powerfully pure that it is able to turn the entire ocean itself
into fresh water!This is a beautiful and striking image of the
power of God in the sacraments and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of
the Church, which is able to transform all that is bitter and stagnant and to
heal the brokenness and sickness that comes to us from sin.
The lives of so many people in the world, many who have not
yet encountered the God of mercy, forgiveness and love, are filled with sorrow,
disappointment and shame.The message of
salvation and the encounter with Jesus Christ through His Body, the Church, has
the power to bring refreshment, renewal and new life.How awesome is the power of God in and
through His Church!
Yet if we are honest we can admit that, perhaps too often,
this is not how the world experiences the Church.Is it
not true that, at times, the bitterness and the brokenness of the world, along
with the reality of sin, flow back from the sea and into the Church?Is it not the case that the family of God,
and our own individual lives, can become tainted with the briny bitterness of
Far from denying this reality, the Second Vatican Council
clearly teaches that the Church is “at the same time holy and always in need of being purified” (Lumen Gentium, #8).She is
holy because she is one and united to Jesus Christ, Her Divine Bridegroom.The Church is the holy, spotless Bride of
Christ.Yet, in Her individual members,
she experiences the bitterness of sin and is thus, “always in need of being purified.”She needs to be cleansed, made pure and
constantly renewed in every age.That
can, and should, happen in many different ways.Jesus teaches us one particular and effective way in the Gospel this
John recalls how Jesus went into the temple and found those selling oxen, sheep
and doves; He saw moneychangers making a business out of the worship of
God.Making a whip out of cords, He
drove them all out of the temple: the moneychangers, as well as the
animals!The Fathers of the Church teach
us that Christ is cleansing the temple of more than injustice and sin.He is clearing it out and putting an end to
all animal sacrifice so that He might institute one single and eternal
sacrifice: the sacrifice of Himself.This one sacrifice is the one that will ultimately cleanse and purify
even the Church, from its beginning until the end of time.
Church requires a purging and purification that comes through scourging, but
not our scourging.The Church is made
holy and perfect through the shedding of blood and total sacrifice, but not our
blood and not our sacrifice.Jesus
Christ will ultimately allow Himself to be scourged and afflicted that we may
be healed (see Isaiah 53:5), and He will become the sacrifice that brings the
forgiveness that each and every one of us longs for and desires.Here, then, is the source of the river that
Ezekiel saw flowing from the temple and into the sea, which it makes
fresh.Jesus Christ is the source of the
healing and the power that purifies the Church and, in turn, transforms the
world we live in.
seek out the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins in the Sacrament of
Reconciliation that He instituted for that very purpose, we are given a new
beginning and we hear those life-giving words of Christ: “I absolve you from your sins.”This new life comes to us from the cross and
the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son.
renewed and made whole in the Holy Eucharist only because Christ, with great
love, stretched out His arms on the altar of the cross and proclaimed:
This is my Body,
broken for you.
This is my blood,
shed in love for you.
Take, receive, and
live in me; let me live in you.
A Church that is not purified, one that is as secular as the
world around it, is useless.
But a purified Church that is immersed in the life of Christ
flowing like a river from the cross, that is the Church healed and made ready to
bring God’s medicine to the brokenness of the world we live in.That is the Church Christ desires, and the
Church all of us long to be a part of.
Receiving Christ here in the Most Holy Eucharist, immersed
in the love of Christ crucified and purified completely in Him, may we truly
become holy, cleansed and ready to go wherever He pleases.May we be that river, flowing from the temple
and out into the world around us, bringing healing, refreshment and hope to all
who long to see the face of God.