Sunday, July 30, 2006


(17th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 29 & 30 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read 2 Kings 4:42-44 and John 6:1-15)

One question that I am frequently asked as a priest is: “Who does the cooking for you at the rectory?” And I never hesitate to tell them that we have a gourmet cook who takes care of the meals at Our Lady of Mercy! He also happens to be the pastor, Fr. John Lolio.

“But what about when he’s not there?” people will often continue. “What do you do then?” Truth be told, I practically live on leftovers, on what is left-over after the meals the pastor has cooked.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Leftovers? How could anyone live on leftovers? But make no mistake about it; the leftovers I eat here are at least as good as your average meal at Capriccio’s, or any restaurant up on Federal Hill.

In our 1st reading this morning, as well as in the Gospel, we hear about leftovers. In the passage we just heard from the 2nd Book of Kings, the prophet Elisha instructs his servant to feed the crowd of 100 people with just a small amount of bread. The servant, of course, is more than a little skeptical. Nonetheless, Elisha says to him:

“Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over’.”
—2 Kings 4:43

And so there was.

In the Gospel we hear of the great miracle of the loaves and fish, how Jesus feeds 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and just a couple of fish. St. John tells us that:

When they had had their fill, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.
—John 6:12-13

What do these passages, these miracles tell us about God? They reveal to us that God never works in our lives for our sake only. When God performs miracles and pours out His grace and His mercy, He does so in a super-abundant way. There’s never just enough; there is more than enough. When God acts in our lives, there are leftovers.

I would suggest that there are three things God makes known to us in these miracles, three things God reveals when it comes to His super-abundant love at work in our lives:

Firstly, God is able to perform miracles and do amazing things; but He expects us to bring at least something to the table. Jesus feeds 5,000 people, but not without the five loaves and two fish from that small boy who simply gave to Jesus what he had.

What are we bringing to this Mass this morning? Have we considered what God wants us to bring and place on this altar? What are we bringing to our relationship with God? Are we giving Him the time and space that He needs to accomplish what He wants to in our lives and in the lives of those around us?

Perhaps all we can offer to God this morning is our suffering, our sacrifices. God can do miracles with that gift beyond what we could ever imagine. We need to give God what we can—even if it seems small and as insignificant as a few loaves and a couple of fish—we simply give God what we’ve have, and trust in Him to do the rest.

Secondly, we can see in the Gospel that Christ saves a plate of leftovers for each one of us. There were twelve apostles there that day who witnessed that miracle with Christ. When all was said and done, they collected the fragments and placed them in twelve wicker baskets, one for each of them.

God reserves one wicker basket for each and every one of us here today. As He pours out His super-abundant love in our lives here at this Mass, He wants to strengthen us and transform our lives. But He also wants to make us His instruments well beyond these walls.

He wants us to bring the leftovers to those around us most in need of His love and mercy. Who are the people God wants to feed with the mercy and grace He pours out upon you and I today? Might we be faithful in acting on that grace.

Which brings us to the final truth God makes known to us in this miracle of the loaves and fish: that we need to act on and respond to the grace God gives us, as He gives it. Leftovers are good a day later, maybe even two. But any longer than that, and they go bad, they get spoiled; we have to throw them out.

We must not waste time when it comes to the things of God. Who is that person we need to write a letter to or get into contact with? Where do we need to make a phone call, or offer a kind word of encouragement? How is God calling us to respond to Him today? Don’t let the leftovers get spoiled in your life.

We come to this Eucharistic table this morning, and Christ Himself will perform yet another miracle with bread and wine, transforming it into His very body and His own blood. He feeds us in this place with the gift of Himself. But He expects us to feed others and make His love, His mercy, and His presence known in the world around us.

Might we allow Him to do that by responding well to the graces and the leftovers He gives us here; may the people in your life enjoy those leftovers at least as much as I enjoy the ones Fr. Lolio cooks here each week.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Let them eat . . . the Body of Christ."

(16th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 23 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Mark 6:30-34)

You might remember from your old history lessons that there were many different reasons for the French Revolution. In addition to the economic problems that plagued France in the 18th century, there was also a tremendous scarcity of food and great unrest among the people.

All of these difficulties were brought before the queen at the time, Marie Antoinette. And history buff or not, all of us are familiar with her famous response to the dire circumstances of her people. To the report that the people had no bread, she replied, “Then let them eat cake.”

That very same callousness, that same lack of care for those in need is what we find in the first reading this morning. The people of Israel were plagued with bad leadership, bad shepherds. God responds to that sorry situation through the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture . . . You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish you for your evil deeds.
—Jeremiah 23:1-2

God comes out very strongly against those shepherds who care not for the flock, but only for themselves. But more than that, He promises that He will give them shepherds who will lead and care for the people; in fact, He himself will be their shepherd. Jeremiah prophesies about the Messiah, the king who is to come:

I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he will reign and govern wisely. He shall do what is right and just in the land.
—Jeremiah 23:5

The Messiah, of course, is Christ Himself, who is the very essence of what a Good Shepherd and King should be. He rules over His people with the care and concern of God Himself; He is the one who will bring them to green pastures and lead them beside the still waters; He is the one who restores their souls (Psalm 23).

And it is Jesus Christ who says to the people not “Let them eat cake,” but “Let them eat my body, and let them drink my blood.” God responds to our hunger and thirst for a better life than this, He responds to the deepest needs of our souls, with the gift of Himself—body and blood, soul and divinity—in the Eucharist.

We can become so familiar with the Eucharist, so used to hearing of the Last Supper and the words we listen to at Mass each week—the bread Christ breaks and gives to the disciples, the cup that will be poured out—that we can sometimes forget what it all really means to begin with.

Christ is referring—at the Last Supper—to the cross. It is His very body that will be broken on the cross in order to make us whole. It is the blood of Christ poured out on Calvary that brings for us the forgiveness of sins.

But the cross and the Last Supper are not the only time these things happened. The entire life of Christ is one that is broken and poured out for others; He is Eucharistic in every aspect of His life and mission. The Messiah is the one who pours Himself out completely for the people.

We see that in the Gospel this morning; Jesus invites the disciples to come away and be at rest. They are exhausted and He leads them to a quiet place away from the crowds . . . only to find that the crowds have arrived there already! Far from sending them away, He embraces them and teaches them about the kingdom of God. As St. Mark says:

His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
—Mark 6:34

And so Christ—our Eucharistic Lord—pours Himself out once again to feed the people and meet their every need.

As Christians and those who will one day reign with Christ, we are called—here on this earth—to serve with Him and follow in His steps. As we gather here for this Eucharist, we are given the strength to do that.

On this altar the body of Christ is broken and His blood is poured out as we celebrate anew the sacrifice that set us free and made us whole again; the sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of the cross itself. But our worship and communion cannot end here. We are called to share in the very life of Christ—in His sacrifice and in His life of service.

Might we go forth from this Church this morning and spend ourselves for others as Christ spent Himself for us. May we truly become, this week, bread broken to feed those who hunger for God, and the blood of Christ poured out for the life of the world.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 16 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I. and Ss. John & Paul, Coventry, R.I.; read Amos 7:12-15, Ephesians 1:3-10 and Mark 6:7-13)

One of the main themes of the readings for this weekend is that of vocation. In our first reading Amos is called by God to prophesy to the people of Israel; in the Gospel Christ calls the 12 Apostles to Himself, gives them His own authority, and sends them out. These were special people who were given a specific vocation, a specific call from God.

But it is St. Paul who points out, in the second reading this morning, that we are all called; all of us have been chosen by God and given a vocation in this world. He says that:

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.
—Ephesians 1:4

It is the universal call to holiness (CCC, #825). We are called by God to live differently than those around us, to follow Him in holiness of life in the midst of the world we live in. This call—to be holy as God is holy—is at the heart of every vocation. Whether we are priests, religious or married, the call to holiness is one that continues to re-echo throughout our lives and in the midst of our own vocation.

But let’s be honest; it is not easy to hear that call in the world we live in. There are so many distractions, so many things that pull us in a hundred different directions. In a culture so filled with images, voices and distractions, it can be very difficult indeed to hear God’s voice and answer His call to holiness.

A friend of mine is a priest who takes the call of God very serious in his life. Every year he goes to a different Benedictine monastery for retreat; a chance to get away and be alone with God. One year he arrived at the monastery and there was a businessman there on retreat who was—for all intents and purposes—married to his cell phone.

He carried it with him everywhere, and he answered it whenever and wherever it would ring. It went off in the chapel, and he would go outside and talk. It went off in the refectory, and he would stop eating to answer it. He walked up and down the corridors of that monastery, constantly talking on the phone.

Finally, my friend found a small balcony on the second floor. He went out there and realized it was the quietest place in the monastery. Unfortunately, it also had the best reception! Sure enough, out came cell phone man, yapping away! It was at that moment that my friend began to realize that God was trying to speak to him through that man on the cell phone; and it was crystal clear exactly what God was trying to say.

He went back into the monastery, and into the chapel, and he prayed:

“Almighty God, make me that open to Your call in my life. As open as this man, who cannot go 5 minutes without talking to this person on the other end, and listening to what they have to say. Make me that open to Your call and Your voice in my life.”

When is the last time that God called us and spoke to us in the midst of our own vocation? What are the things that keep us from hearing God’s call to live a holy life in Him?

I would suggest three things this morning that can help keep the lines of communication open between God and us, ways that we can focus more completely on that call to holiness as it re-echoes in our own particular vocation each day.

Firstly, we need to be people of prayer. God can reach us on the cell phone, our home computer, or through an ipod if He wants to; but He prefers to talk to us through the spiritual discipline of prayer. Do we set aside a specific time each day in which He can do that? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a long time, but there should at least be some time each day that we are quiet and alone with God.

Secondly, we need the sacramental life of the Church. God wants to sanctify us—to make us holy—through the grace of the sacraments He has given to the Church. We have been given the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist to sustain us and help us remain close to God. We have the grace of reconciliation when we are in need of forgiveness; the chance to begin again with Christ in freedom and joy. Might we take God up on these opportunities and draw closer to Him through the sacramental life of the Church.

And finally, we can answer God’s call to holiness most completely when we allow God to do whatever He wants to do in our lives. There is a great story about a bishop who was ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He was in the procession leading out, and suddenly a little nun came towards him, shaking her finger at him.

Normally you don’t stop in the procession at St. Peter’s; especially not since the Pope is the one at the end of that procession! But this bishop did stop, because the nun shaking her finger at him was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Suddenly he heard her say to him (finger still shaking): “Give God permission to do what He wants in your life.”

He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about . . . until he went back to his diocese and began his ministry as a bishop, and realized how truly difficult it was to let go of his own desires, his own plan, his own will, and let God do what He wanted to do.

It’s not easy for any of us. But when we are willing to spend time with God each day in prayer, when we remain connected to Him through the sacramental life of the Church, and when we give Him permission to use us however He wants to, then our lives cease to be ordinary or mundane, or just a series of functions we perform or various hats we wear. We recognize instead that our lives truly are a vocation in the fullest sense of that word. We begin to live anew a fruitful vocation in the life of the Church and in the world around us.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Prophetic Office of Christ

(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 9 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Ezekiel 2:2-5 and Mark 6:1-6)

The Scripture readings for this weekend give us a glimpse of the vocation and the mission of the prophet. Prophets were a major part of the life of the people of Israel. One third of the Old Testament consists in the prophetic works; we hear of the life and ministry of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, whose call is described in our first reading this morning.

The prophet, essentially, is one who speaks for another. The prophet of Israel is one who speaks for God; he doesn’t give his own message, but carries God’s message, God’s word. In Ezekiel, God says to the prophet:

You shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God!’
Ezekiel 2:4

That phrase—Thus says the Lord God—echoes throughout the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Over and over again he repeats the message of God to the people of Israel.

And the message of Ezekiel is the same message we find in all of the prophets. They are constantly calling the people back to fidelity with God, and faithfulness to the covenant He had made with them. But more than that, they also carried the message of God’s love and His plan for the future of Israel; they brought to the people a message of hope.

It has been said that the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel begins with doom and ends with consolation and hope. He addresses the people during one of the darkest times in the history of their nation, but the book ends with a restored Israel, and a New Jerusalem.

That is the message of the prophets; and it is the background for the Gospel we heard this morning. Christ enters the synagogue at Nazareth with that message of fidelity to God and a vision of hope. And it is precisely as prophet that He is rejected. He says as much in the Gospel:

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.
—Mark 6:4

Christ as prophet is not something we usually recognize ourselves. We see Him as the Son of God, for that is who He is; or as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, and so He is. But Christ is the quintessential Prophet, as well. Not only does He carry God’s message and God’s word; He is that message, He is the Word itself (John 1:1,14).

St. John of the Cross says that in Christ, the Word made flesh, God has already told us everything we could possibly need to know:

In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and he has no more to say.
—Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, Ch. 22, #3

Everything that God wants to say to us about faithfulness and truth is found in Christ. Everything that God wants to say about grace and mercy and forgiveness is found in Christ. Everything that we need to know about hope and eternal life is found in Christ.

That is why He is the quintessential prophet; there will never be a prophet on this earth greater than He. But we believe that there will be prophets as effective and as powerful as Christ. In fact, we believe that God has called us to be those prophets!

Does that sound a little over the top to you? Nonetheless, the teachings of our faith and the Second Vatican Council speak about how we—as baptized members of the Body of Christ—are called to share in the prophetic mission of Christ. We are called to be witnesses speaking for God in this world.

The same Christ who spoke in the synagogues and in the streets of Jerusalem still desires to speak to the people of our own day and age, and He wants to use us to do it. We are called to be the voice of Christ in the world we live in.

But you are probably asking yourself: How could I ever be an Ezekiel? How could I possibly be a Jeremiah or an Isaiah? Without God’s help it is impossible. But God gives us the grace and strength we need to make His message heard.

The Second Vatican Council spoke of two ways that happens. The first is something all of us are quite familiar with: The Christian Family. The family focused on Christ is—in and of itself—prophetic. Marriage and family life is the place where Christianity can flourish. It is where forgiveness and the will to overlook faults and failures is practiced. It is where Christians find the strength to push forward through the difficult times, holding onto a life of faith and trust in God. The Council Fathers go on to say:

In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.
Lumen Gentium, #35

And secondly, we are called to be prophets in this world not only through the Christian family but also by bearing witness to Christ in the ordinary circumstances of life.

God wants to reach out and touch the people all around us who never come to this Church. He wants to reach those with whom we work, those we see in the market or at the mall, men and women we encounter on a daily basis who have never heard or truly understood the Gospel message.

God wants to tell them about His mercy and forgiveness, His message of hope for them to spend all eternity with Him. And He wants us to be the ones that bring them that message by the way we live (our example) and through the words we use. St. Francis of Assisi was known to say: “Preach the Gospel always, and use words when necessary.”

Let us be faithful in that prophetic mission this week, and not be concerned with acceptance or rejection; failure or success. We are simply called to be the messengers, and the results belong to God.

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Christ was rejected in that synagogue in Nazareth. Ezekiel and most all the other prophets were rejected at one point or another. We are not called to gauge our own success as prophets. We are simply called to be faithful.

But in our lives this week, might it be said about us what God says about the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading:

“Whether they heed or resist . . . they shall know
that a prophet has been among them.”
—Ezekiel 2:5

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pathos and Sym-pathy

(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 2 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 5:21-43)

One of the most universal of all human experiences—something all of us encounter in our lives—is that of suffering. Whether it be the physical suffering of a disease or illness, or perhaps mental suffering, or even the spiritual suffering, that pain of the soul we feel at times, none of us goes untouched in this life by suffering.

In particular, as followers of Christ, we are called to have compassion on those who suffer, to help them carry their burdens; or to allow others to help and assist us when we are suffering in our own lives.

The Greek word for suffering is pathos, and it is where we get the word sym-pathy; to sympathize with another person is to enter—in a certain sense—into their pathos, into their suffering. It means that we are drawn “out” of ourselves in order to help others by our prayers, our sacrifices, and our love.

In the Gospel this morning, Christ teaches us the meaning of pathos and sympathy in the most dramatic of ways. We are introduced to a man named Jairus, a synagogue official whose daughter is at the point of death. Who among us could not sympathize with this man? In a moment of desperation, he pleads with Christ to come heal his little girl and Jesus quickly responds to that request.

But along the way a very strange thing happens. Jesus suddenly stops right in His tracks and begins to ask the crowd who it was that touched Him. It is a question that the disciples are somewhat puzzled by; but what could Jairus have been thinking at that moment? He could be thinking only one thing, over and over again:

My daughter. My daughter. Who cares who touched you? We need to get back home to my daughter.

And suddenly Christ turns to the woman in the crowd who has just been healed, and says to her the one thing that would have left Jairus, that synagogue official, speechless. He looks upon that woman with great love and He says to her: Daughter!

Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
—Mark 5:34

It is one of the only times in all four Gospels that Jesus uses that word: daughter. He speaks it now to a woman who is at least His own age. And it is a word that Jairus would never forget for the rest of his life. Because on that day two daughters were healed: this stranger who had only been an interruption and a distraction a moment ago, and his own daughter whom Christ would literally raise from the dead.

Jesus often reaches right into our own suffering—into our own pathos—and opens us up to the suffering taking place all around us. In a world of pathos, it is Christ who teaches us the true meaning of sympathy, what it means to have compassion.

When I was in my first year of seminary studies, one of my classmates came to my room and shared with me the tragic news that had just come over the TV station. It was April 20, 1999, and he told me that there had been a terrible shooting at a high school in Colorado. The name of the school, of course, was Columbine High School.

My classmate asked me if I would like to join some of the other seminarians in the chapel; they were going to pray the rosary for the people involved in the Columbine tragedy. At the time I was very busy, and so I thanked him for the invitation and told him I would say a prayer on my own. It was sad news, but not something that really effected me; it seemed like just another tragic event, another tragic story for the evening news.

It wasn’t until several days later, as I was reading a newspaper article about the high school students who were killed, that I began to see something more than just another tragic headline.

That article included pictures of all the students who had died that day, and a small biography describing each one. One of them, Rachel Scott, for whatever reason, seemed to stand out among all the others. There were just a few small sentences about her, some basic information: that she was a devout Christian who was a part of a prayer group in town, that she loved her red sports car, that she enjoyed being in the school play.

Suddenly, as I read that article, I felt the most profound, almost overwhelming, sense of sorrow. I began to realize that this was more than just another story or news event. This was a seventeen-year-old girl whose life had been taken away from her. This was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s whole life. It caught me completely by surprise, and I began to pray daily for her family, that God would help them through this terrible loss.

About one year later, I was in Barnes & Noble and I came across a book with a young girl on the cover who seemed to look familiar. The book was called “Rachel’s Tears,” and it was about Rachel Scott from Columbine High School. Her parents had written that book in the months following her death.

I wondered how many other people, like me, had felt called to pray for Rachel Scott’s parents as they struggled through that loss; how many people had been offering prayers and sacrifices for them as they wrote that book about their daughter and her tremendous faith and love for God; the way she had changed the world she lived in and continued to change it even after her death.

God calls us to recognize the suffering that we see so often in the world around us. But more importantly, He allows us to do something about it. Who are the people we need to sympathize with in our lives and in our world today? Where can our prayers, our sacrifices, and our love make a difference for those who need it most at this time?

Might we freely offer to God all that we can to support those who are suffering, and take great consolation knowing that countless people—perhaps even at this moment—are already sympathizing with us and supporting us in the crosses that we carry each day.