Homilies for May 2015

Pentecost, by Luis Tristan (1585-1624).

Fifth Sunday of Easter—May 3, 2015
Our Utter Dependence on God

Purpose: Self-reliance is not a Christian virtue; instead, the Gospel teaches us reliance on God. It is in the midst of our failures and brokenness that we come to know our need for him.

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

As Americans, we have a tradition of self-reliance, of “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps,” of going it alone, and shunning the help of others. We may ask, “Why have someone else do for me what I can do for myself?” We are independent, motivated, and industrious. And we believe this, in part, has made our country great.

In today’s Gospel, however, Jesus offers us a challenge to this way of thinking which is perhaps as American as baseball and apple pie. For Jesus says: “Without me, you can do nothing.”

How seriously do we take this? Yes, we turn to the Lord in time of illness, in time of difficulty, or maybe when we have an important decision to make. But do we really believe, “Without Jesus, we can do nothing”? Most of our lives indicate something different. It is as if we are constantly saying, “Without my energy, my work ethic, my enthusiasm, my talents, my intellect, my money … I can do nothing.” But if it’s all about us and what we make possible, then we really don’t need a savior. We don’t need Jesus.

It is in our poverty, our frailty, our sinfulness, our sense of inadequacy and failure—as uncomfortable as all of these are to us—that we find space in our hearts for God. How often have we grown closer to him when we realized that we were helpless in some way, that we weren’t ultimately in control?

From a historical viewpoint, the faith has thrived during times of persecution, war, and economic downturn. Where totalitarian regimes have attempted to stomp out the Church, it has flourished. Not because it was easy or culturally acceptable to be a Catholic, but because it was hard, because it meant overcoming fear, offering sacrifices, and relying on God.

And during war, when misery and bloodshed and evil become more pronounced, men and women, soldiers and civilians turn to God. You know the old saying, “There are no atheists in fox holes.” There is hope, there is faith, there is belief in wartime, especially because man sees what mankind offers the world: strife, disagreement, and violence. And we know there must be something else, something higher, nobler, and that is God and what his grace makes possible.

Today, when terrorists threaten our security, when governments seem riddled with problems, and when our personal finances dwindle, we realize that we can’t do it all ourselves. No amount of money can save us, nor can any human effort shield us from the unforeseen, and no government can replace God.

Today consider what difficulty you are experiencing, what your weaknesses are, where you are failing, and invite Jesus into that empty place, that place which bears witness to the reality that we can’t do it all ourselves, that reminds us of those words of Jesus: “Without me, you can do nothing.”

Suggestions for Further Reading: St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 1; Catechism of the Catholic Church, §27-30


Sixth Sunday of Easter—May 10, 2015
Can a Mother Forget Her Child?

Purpose: A Mother’s Day reflection on the importance of motherhood: Motherhood is a witness to God’s love for His people. We thank God for the gift of mothers—mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers—in our lives.

Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Not long ago, I ran into an older priest who just retired after reaching 70 years old, and more than 40 years of ministry. He was with his mother who is nearing 100 years old. The three of us spoke for just a moment, and then it was time for them to depart. “We’ve got to get back; it’s Mother’s orders,” he said with a smile. And as he left, he muttered, “You see, she’s still telling me what to do.” Seeing the two of them together reminded me of one of life’s basic truths: Your mother is always your mother, no matter how old you are, or how old she is!

On this Mother’s Day, our Gospel tells us about the love of God for his people and the command to mirror that love to others. God’s primary identity, St. John reminds us, is that of love. At their very best, human relationships are to imitate that love, mirroring the relationship between God and us. And certainly a mother’s love for her children often does that.

For just as the love of Christ dwells within those who believe, so does the love of mothers remain with their children who first dwelled within them—an inner dwelling during those first nine months of life, and another form of dwelling for the first 18 or 20 years, or however long the child remains at home.

And those mothers who have mothered for 20 or 30 years, or even 70 years, know that a mother’s job is never done, and their love remains long after a child has left home, pursued his or her vocation, perhaps married and begun a family.

Just as God’s love never ends, so it is with a mother’s love for her children. That’s why God compared those two loves in the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her child? Can she feel no love for the child she has born? But even if that were possible, I, Your God, will not forget you” (49:15).

And love so often means self-sacrifice, even death to self. Consider how often mothers relinquish their own desires, their time, their comfort, even their careers, and their financial security to bring us into the world and to love us, their children.

When we think of that divine love mirrored by mothers, we likely can’t help but think of the mothers in our own lives—mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers. How have they impacted us? Were they the first to teach us to pray? Did we always consult Mom before making a really important decision? Did we lean on Mom during the most difficult time in our lives? Is our favorite food still something home-cooked?

Whether they are across town, a state or more away, or have gone home to the Lord, they remain in our hearts and prayers, and we are still their sons and daughters.

On this Mother’s Day, we recognize all mothers for the love that they have shown. Those who have been cooperators with God in bringing life into the world, those who have been spiritually fruitful in teaching the faith and witnessing to it in their lives, and also those who have gone before us who continue to intercede for us. Thank you to all mothers for the love you show in imitation of God’s love for us.

Suggestions for Further Reading: St. John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §18-19, et al.; St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §11-15, et al.


Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord—May 17, 2015
The Sacraments Are Essential

Purpose: Jesus gave us all the essentials for our salvation through the Church. He is present to us especially in the sacraments, but do we recognize him, and do we value such a gift?

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

As a teacher, this time of year is both exhilarating (summer is soon!) and painful (lots of work, so little time!). The end of the school year is definitely in sight for teachers, students, and parents. This past week was exam week at the seminary. And seminarians aren’t that different from other students who want their teachers to answer this question: What’s going to be on the exam?

I usually give out a study guide to help the students focus on the most important material. Most of the students will get the essentials down, but some will inevitably pad their answers, writing down whatever they happen to know about a topic, whether it really answers the question or not.  I will have a stack of exams to assess over the next few days, and I’ll see: Did they know the essentials?

It is the same with our spiritual lives: there are essentials. There are beliefs and practices that have to be maintained for us to be the people that God wants us to be, to be happy here on earth and ultimately to enjoy eternal life with him forever.

On this Ascension Sunday, we recognize that Christ gives us all the essentials through the Church. Everything necessary for our salvation remains even after Christ Jesus ascended to the Father. That was the divine plan: that Christ would be with us until the end of time through the Church he founded.

It is why Christ gave us the sacraments as channels of grace. It’s why Christ gave us the Mass and the Holy Eucharist—so we could receive his Body and Blood as spiritual food to strengthen us and sustain us—that his living presence would remain here long after he walked here on earth.

One of my disappointments as a priest—and I suspect for all priests—is how often the sacraments are not valued, as if they were only an optional way to experience God. I am shocked and saddened by how many Catholics choose not to get married in the Church, and how often young parents don’t have their children baptized. The sacraments aren’t optional; they are the ways that Christ himself instituted to touch our hearts and minds, to communicate his very presence with us.

It is important to remember that the sacraments aren’t our creation; we don’t own them, and, so, we can’t pick or choose or change them. God has given us the sacraments so that we can encounter Jesus in a special way, a way that people have done for 2,000 years and continue to do today.

Have you ever thought about it? Why are bread and wine the matter for the Eucharist; why not pizza and soda? Why don’t we baptize babies by pouring motor oil on their heads? Jesus gave us the model for how to experience him; it’s not a mystery; we don’t have to guess. We use bread and wine for the Eucharist; we use holy water to baptize because it’s what Jesus used, and he knew what would touch people’s lives, transform their souls, and change their hearts.

On this Ascension Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s returning to the Father in heaven, but we don’t focus on Christ’s leaving as if it were a sort of retirement party or going-away celebration.  Instead, we focus on how Christ remains with us and how he provides for us all the tools, all the treasures necessary for happiness in this life, and the life to come. All we need to do is to embrace his divine plan for us through the power and beauty of His sacraments.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, §751-776


Pentecost Sunday—May 24, 2015
The Holy Spirit: Present to His People

Purpose: The Holy Spirit is present in the Church. The Spirit’s work is part of God’s plan to remain present to his people.  

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

Each of us has his own organizing style. For me, my filing system consists of stacks of paper on my desk, on end tables, sometimes even on window sills, radiators, and the floor of my room. Even though it may look like complete disorder, trust me: I know what each of those stacks means.

And the reason I have this method is because some further action may be required for each item. And because “out of sight” usually equals “out of mind,” if I put something in a drawer or filing cabinet, I may never think of it again.

For us, “out of sight” often means “out of mind,” but it is not so with God. It is not by chance that last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension, and today we celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost is our celebration of God’s gift of the Spirit—a manifestation that “out of sight” doesn’t mean “out of mind.” For even though the Holy Spirit is not materially visible to us, the workings of the Spirit are visible.

Every time we celebrate Mass, we call upon the Spirit to transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. When we bless holy water for baptism, we call upon the Spirit. When we ordain men for priesthood, we call on the Holy Spirit to sanctify these men and consecrate them for priestly service. When we anoint the sick, we call on the Spirit to grace the individual with peace, healing, and forgiveness of their sins.

A symbol of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which dates back to the Apostles, is the laying on of hands. At every Mass, there is a laying on of hands in which the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine: the epiclesis (calling down). At anointing of the sick and at ordination, the priest literally places his hands on the heads of those receiving the sacraments.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul says to a group of new Christians, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And so Paul laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Sometimes we can be like those who Paul encountered. We may ask, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” Or say, “We haven’t seen the Spirit” or “We haven’t heard much about this Spirit.”

But as often as we take part in the sacraments, we experience a manifestation of God’s Spirit. For even after the Ascension, after Jesus was raised up to heaven, he did not want to abandon us. Instead, he sent his Spirit upon the apostles so that they could share that same Spirit through sacramental signs.

Today, let us thank God for his Spirit in our lives, especially the Spirit’s presence in the sacraments that allow us to recognize that God wants to be present to us always—in our sight, in our minds, and in our hearts.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, §687-741; Rev. Peter Stravinskas, “The Holy Spirit in the Sacraments,”


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity—May 31, 2015
The Mystery of the Trinity

Purpose: The Trinity is a mystery, but a revealed mystery. We encounter the work of the Trinity whenever we pray, especially in the Mass and the sacraments.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

The first time I preached a homily on Trinity Sunday, I decided to be daring. I was a newly-ordained priest and I decided that this would be the first Sunday homily that I wouldn’t preach from notes. That was a big mistake. Partway into the homily, I thought to myself, this isn’t coming out as I intended. At the very least, it was confusing to the faithful. At the worst, I was preaching heresy.

Why is it that it is so hard to speak about the Trinity? So often, we strain to find language to describe God (like using the word “persons” to describe Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). We are forced to use the constructs of language to try to make sense of the complexities of God. It is a worthy endeavor, but a difficult one.

Some would argue that all of this isn’t worth worrying about. Some would simply end it here: the Trinity is a mystery, plain and simple. But that doesn’t give God’s revelation its just due. For God did reveal himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—so that, in itself, must matter to those who follow him. It must mean something to us.

Though the term “Trinity” does not appear in the Old or New Testaments, many scriptural citations support the doctrine. The most explicit in the New Testament are: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19); and the apostolic blessing of St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Even though God is mystery, we can still say something about him.

First, The Trinity is one. That may seem strange, after all the “tri” in Trinity means three. But the “threeness” must be understood in a certain way. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves as if one-third of a whole, but each of them is God whole and entire.

Secondly, at the same time that the Trinity is one, the divine persons are really distinct from one another. “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating different modes of divinity. You may remember that old Catechism illustration that shows the Trinity as three forms of water: ice, liquid, and steam. That only works if it is properly understood. They are distinct from one another, not in their substance, but in their relationships.

So what does all of this mean for us? How does it affect our lives as Christian believers? The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity.

When you were baptized, you were baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When you pray before meals or begin a rosary, you invoke the Trinity. Every sacrament, especially the Mass, has a Trinitarian dimension. We pray to the Father, often using the words of the Son (especially in the consecration of the bread and wine), invoking the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate this Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge that God is a mystery, but he is a revealed mystery. The Trinity is present in every sacrament, in every Mass, whenever we pray “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, §232-260

Fr. David J. Endres About Fr. David J. Endres

Fr. David J. Endres is former chaplain and religion teacher at Bishop Fenwick High School, Franklin, Ohio, and currently assistant professor of Church history at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio. He holds a doctorate from the School of Theology at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.