Homilies for April 2017

Christ’s Resurrection by Benjamin West, 1801

Fifth Sunday of Lent—April 2, 2017

Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040217.cfm
EZ 37:12-14PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8ROM 8:8-11JN 11:1-45

As St. Paul tells us today, we are consecrated to the truth, not to the ways of the world. We belong to Christ, not to the world, and the flesh, and the devil. We are called to the light of goodness, not to the darkness of evil (cf. 1 Thess 5:5). But we may reject any or all of these callings and consecrations. Out of pride, or in the grip of moral stupor, we may deny the Truth; we may distort the beautiful; we may disparage goodness. We may embrace the profane, and reject the sacred. We may willingly surrender to what is only here and now, forsaking eternity. Coming to our senses later in life, as the end draws near, we may say (as perhaps Lazarus himself did) that “I didn’t see the time go by.”

One of the most important words in philosophy is perspective, referring to the ability to see through things, to find their real meaning. With Catholic eyes, we see, not a wafer of wheat, but the consecrated host—the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord. With Catholic eyes, we see, not black ink on white paper, but the Holy Bible, which is the inspired, written word of God. With Catholic eyes, we see, after the consecration, not mere wine, but the precious blood of Christ the King. That is perspective; that is seeing the eternal in time.

But we can be spiritually myopic; when it comes to what is holy, we can be near-sighted, almost blind. We can be so caught up in the trivial that we lose sight of the divine. We can be so consumed with the immediate that we forget or abandon the everlasting.

I want to illustrate this by using the lyrics of a song. I understand that this isn’t Schubert’s Ave Maria, or St. Thomas Aquinas’s Panis Angelicus, or Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. It is, rather, a simple ballad by the French composer, Charles Aznavour, who may not even have understood how very Catholic were the words (and warnings) of his song:

I Didn’t See the Time Go By
Now as the wheel of life turns faster
Now as the seasons seem to fly
I see so many things at last, but I didn’t see the time go by

I’ve known delight, I’ve known disaster
The caviar, the humble pie
From the absurd to the sublime
I didn’t see the time go by

I didn’t see the years roll on
I didn’t know the road would bend
Refused to see when youth was gone
Pretending it might never end
Now, there is a price to pay
for every day I threw away

It seems I’ve wasted half a lifetime
within the blinking of an eye
I didn’t hear the midnight chime
I didn’t see the time go by

In stolen nights and brief romances
I kissed the girls and made them cry
While there were balconies to climb
I didn’t see the time go by

I was the guy with all the answers,
the halfway-truth, the little lie
So sure, so certain, in my prime
I didn’t see the time go by

I hit the heights, I bit the dirt
I left some wreckage in my way
I didn’t see that lies can hurt
I didn’t know how hearts can break

And now, they come to haunt my mind,
the lives I touched and left behind

I’ve sung a hundred songs of longing,
of sweet regret and hope run dry
I’ve searched for melody and rhyme,
but never saw how time can fly,
never saw the darkening sky

I was a minstrel of my day,
Who did not see the time go by.

St. Paul teaches that we should, in fact, “see the time go by”; that we should routinely examine our conscience; and that there is a very close connection between Confession and Communion; and that we should use our time wisely, and try to fill it more productively. In the traditional translation of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he tells us to “redeem the time” (5:16, Douay-Rheims).

When we redeem the time, we comprehend the importance of trusting in God; of realizing that we are mortal; of glorifying Our Lord by our lives; of recognizing that we are sinners in need of God’s grace; of treating others as we wish to be treated; of telling the truth; of building up treasure in Heaven, and not merely riches on earth; and of yearning for God, who is Love Itself.

The longing expressed in Charles Aznavour’s song is but a pale reflection of the yearning that is in everyone’s heart and mind and soul (see Psalms 42 and 63). In German, the word is “Sehnsucht”—a deep craving for something (really for Someone) that makes us whole. The regret, the sorrow, the confusion, the sense of failure in the Aznavour song—all these would have been, and yet still can be, cured by cognizance of, and commitment to, knowing, loving, and serving God. Italy’s greatest poet, Dante, told us, after all, that “In God’s will is our peace.”

We are prideful and unreflective people, but, with “amazing grace,” as another composer (John Newton) told us, we who were blind can now see, and we come to understand that the time which passes is not ours, but God’s. We are not minstrels of our day, but singers of eternal joy to the God who loved us to His own death.


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion—April 9, 2017
IS 50:4-7PS 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24PHIL 2:6-11MT 26:14—27:66

If we listen carefully to today’s sacred readings, and to the beautiful prayers of the Mass, we have there a review of our Catholic education and formation. We are reminded that, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds shouted “Hosanna”—which is Hebrew for “Grant your salvation!” [See Psalm 118:25, part of the Hallel series.] It is a form of exultant greeting and acclaim. Jesus enters Jerusalem just as Zechariah, in the Old Testament, had prophesied (9:9).

In the reading of the Passion, we are reminded that Jesus, humbling Himself out of love for us, did not shield his face from blows and spitting, but offered His life on the cross to atone for our sins. And we are reminded that, as Jesus died on the Cross for us, he quoted from the 22nd Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

This quotation does not indicate despair, for Jesus knew the entire 22nd Psalm, which joyfully concludes this way:

I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you. The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the [salvation He has] brought. (vv. 31, 32 NAB; cf. Pope Emeritus Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, II, p. 205).

In the reading today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, he reminds us how Jesus “emptied himself [kenosis], taking the form of a slave . . ., humb[ling] himself, [and] becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (cf. Romans 5:6-10).

We wear red today because it signals the blood of martyrs; and Jesus is the greatest martyr (a word which means “witness” and often refers to one who dies for the faith). He gave us His body and blood, not only on the cross, but also in the most holy Eucharist, which is really, truly, and substantially His body, blood, soul, and divinity (CCC #1374).

It is true, though, that if we do not empty ourselves of what is sinful, immoral, or evil, there will be no room for Christ. When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we signal by word (saying “Amen”) and by deed (extending our tongue or hands) that we do “live for the Lord” and that, by our Christian lives, we proclaim as best we can “the salvation He has brought.”

We are now at the high point of the Christian year: Holy Week, which ends in the sacred Triduum of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday service (but not Mass) of the Lord’s Passion, and the luminous Easter Vigil of the Holy Saturday Mass. I urge you to be at all three to testify, by your presence and participation, to your deepest Catholic conviction that:

Dying, He destroyed our death; rising, He restored our life!—cf. (CCC #1067).


The Resurrection of the Lord,The Mass of Easter Day—April 16,2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm
ACTS 10:34A, 37-43PS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23COL 3:1-4; or 1 COR 5:6B-8JN 20:1-9

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are reminded that we, like the Apostles, are witnesses to and for Our Lord. In the Holy Gospel [Sunday Mass John 20:1-9], we learn that the beloved disciple believed, even without full understanding. In fact, the creed of Saint Anselm was “believe in order that you might understand.” In the second reading [if Colossians is chosen], Saint Paul calls upon us to think principally, not of what is material here, but of what is spiritual above. We rejoice in what is holy, not in what is sinful (cf. 1 Cor 13:6). You hear about sin here in Church, but you rarely hear about sin out there in the world. Out there in the secular world, you hear that our urges and appetites should be indulged, satisfied, and celebrated. Out there, it seems that we have the freedom (or liberty, which means the same in English as freedom) to do what we want, as we want, when we want (unless the police are standing by). In here, where we hear of sin, and its danger to our immortal souls, it seems that freedom is restricted, restrained, or refused. Out there, it seems that there is one Commandment: “Do it!”
In here, there are Ten Commandments, which seem to say “Thou shalt not . . . ”

So, the message to us from “out there” in the world of festivity, frolic, and fun is this: “If you want to be a practicing Catholic, give up your liberty, for you can’t have the Church, and have freedom at the same time!” (Cf. Wisdom, chapter two.)

Let me tell you a parable about liberty. It comes from English journalist and author , G.K. Chesterton, who once wrote a parable that WAS subject-titled “The Yellow Bird.”

In this parable: “a Russian scholar, Professor Ivanhov, is visiting a friend in the English countryside. The professor had just published a much-praised book, The Psychology of Liberty. In short, he’s a zealous advocate of individual liberty, and the elimination of all restraints on human conduct.

The guest cottage in which he stayed houses a small yellow canary in a beautiful cage. The canary seemed very happy to be where it was. Its song resonated throughout the cottage. But being the champion of freedom that he is, Professor Ivanhov was convinced the little creature would be much happier, and more fulfilled, out in the world. So he liberates the canary from its cage, and out the window the bird flies.

But it doesn’t fly for long. The wild birds of the woods were not as discriminating as the professor regarding liberty, and soon ravaged the little creature to nothing but feathers and bones.

The next day, Professor Ivanhov set his sights on liberating the poor goldfish swimming contentedly around their bowl. With a crash of glass, the goldfish were set free (but not for long).

On his third day at the cottage, Professor Ivanhov, contemplating the arching “round prison” of the sky, ultimately blows up the guest cottage with him in it, culminating the end of a life lived in absolute liberty (Source: Sutherland Institute of Utah).

Can it be that liberty requires mature understanding, logical limits, and what used to be called “common sense?”

Once upon a time, a five-year-old boy, whom we will call, Billy, discovered, much to his delight, that his mother had stepped outside the house to talk with a neighbor. Right there on the kitchen table lay a family-sized bag of Oreos. Billy was free, free, free to eat and eat and eat—but soon to be sick and sick and sick. Can it be that freedom requires mature understanding, logical limits, and what used to be called common sense?

In three sentences, here is the teaching of the Church, which is to say, the teaching of Christ the Savior of the World:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and [to] do evil is an abuse of freedom, and leads to “slavery of sin” [CCC #1733].

Can it be that what is sometimes called “freedom” out there—in the secular world—is a fake, false, and fraudulent freedom? Can it be that genuine freedom means the duty and the joy of knowing, loving, and serving God? As is so often the case, St. Paul makes this clear, and he does so in only ten words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” To be truly free is to be without sin; to be without sin is to know that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1) and to follow Him (John 8:12).

This is the Collect (the Opening Prayer) from the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time:

Almighty and merciful God, graciously keep from us all [evil], so that, unhindered in mind and body alike, we may pursue in freedom of heart the things that are [Y]ours.

Alleluia! Jesus Christ has risen today! Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!

Note: Warmly recommended Easter reading is Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ. (New York: Image, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-7704-3549-3.) Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, Afterword by Bishop Robert Barron, 242 pages.


Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy)—April 23, 2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042317.cfm
ACTS 2:42-47PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-241 PT 1:3-9JN 20:19-31

Today’s first reading from Acts has one of those verses we Catholics should know by memory: Acts 2:42–“[The disciples] devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.” Isn’t this amazing? Teaching . . . fellowship . . . bread . . . prayers. That sounds, for good reason, like today, right here and right now! Catholics, either in Jerusalem in Biblical times, or in [this city] today, hold to the catechesis or instruction of the apostles (teaching), to friendship and mutual support (fellowship [kononia]), to the celebration of the most holy Eucharist (the breaking of the bread), and to community praise and petitions (prayers).

The earliest believers were united as a family. The Church teaches that such unity is not broken by death, and that we who live here and now are inseparably linked with those who are already in the arms of Christ. Our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents, who have died, but who are alive in Christ (Lk 20:28, 1 Cor 15:22), can do more for us now in prayer than even while they lived on earth. That is the Communion of Saints. What mercy that is!

The second reading from Saint Peter says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy, gave us a new birth to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

What mercy that is!

In the Gospel, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles and showed them His hands and side, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” That is found in John . . . 20:20! With real 20-20 vision, they were able to see the Lord—except, of course, for Doubting Thomas, who had to see for himself. When he did, he offered the beautiful prayer which many say when they receive Holy Communion: “My Lord and my God!”

When we truly see Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine, how can we fail to approach the blessed sacrament without the deepest reverence, the greatest piety, the most profound thanksgiving? The holy Eucharist, which is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ (CCC #1374), is the greatest mercy ever given!

This is Divine Mercy Sunday, which is based upon a divine revelation to a Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who kept a diary which is now regarded as a spiritual classic of the twentieth century. Based upon God’s revelations, she developed an image of the Lord with the words: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Saint Faustina (canonized in 2000) is also the source of the beautiful Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is among the favorite prayers of so many. The devotion to the Divine Mercy means that we center our faith and hope in the merciful love of God, and in the desire to let His mercy flow through our hearts, minds, and souls. As Saint John Paul II said:

Indeed the message [St. Faustina] brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies.

As we specifically hear in today’s Gospel, Christ’s priests are commissioned to forgive sins (John 20:22-23) in and through the power of the sacrament of Confession; and that there is no limit to God’s forgiveness if we seek it with a sincere and repentant heart. (See St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia [1980]; Eph 2:4-7.)

Just before we receive Holy Communion we say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” That sounds odd until you realize it’s directly from the Gospel, when a centurion tells Jesus that he’s not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof (Mt 8:8).

Divine Mercy Sunday helps us to recall, in sorrow, that we are not worthy; and that we must strive now, and always, to be more faithful disciples of Christ and of His bride, the Church. And Divine Mercy Sunday helps us to recall, in joy, that the Lord, through the sacred power of the sacraments, has given us the means of spiritual growth and, especially through Confession (CCC #1424), of reconciliation to Him, and to others; and that God’s “mercy is endless, and the treasury of [His] compassion inexhaustible” (Divine Mercy Prayer; cf. Psalm 32; Isaiah 53:5; CCC #2840).

After the Our Father, the priest will offer this embolism, which is an extension of the last petition of that sacred prayer:

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

That is the spirit of Divine Mercy Sunday and, in fact, of every day for Christians: Like the early apostles, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) in Christ and His Church; like St. Peter, we rejoice in the living hope Christ has given us; like St. Thomas, who doubted and then believed, we see the Lord through the eyes of faith (cf. 2 Cor 5:7); and like Saint Faustina, we believe in the power and glory of God’s mercy.


Third Sunday of Easter—April 30, 2017
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/043017.cfm
ACTS 2:14, 22-33
PS 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 111 PT 1:17-21LK 24:13-35

We must keep matters in the proper order. If we think of money, or politics, or sports, or shopping, or entertainment as more important than God, we are worshipping false idols, and taking God for granted; we are minimizing or ignoring or forgetting Him. The British clergyman, G. A. S. Kennedy (1883-1929), once tried to explain such modern religious indifference in this moving poem:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree.
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns; red were His wounds—and deep.
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to [your city/parish], they only passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of His; they only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender; they would not give Him pain.
They only passed down the street, and left Him in the rain—

And then it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
Still Jesus prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and sighed—for Calvary (Cf. Mk 8:38, Rev 3:16).

The poem has Our Lord preferring the searing pain of death by crucifixion to the indifference, or forgetfulness we too often inflict upon Him.

To forget means to treat with thoughtless inattention; to neglect; to fail to give due attention to something. Now compare to such neglect this command found in Luke 10:27: we are to love God with all our mind, heart, strength, and soul. I try to remind myself of that commandment every time I bless myself by touching forehead (for mind), chest (for heart), shoulders (for strength), and re-touching my chest (for soul). What is known as sloth [acedia: CCC #2094, 2733]—which is religious apathy or sluggish indifference to the teaching of Christ’s bride, the Church—is traditionally understood as a “capital” (CCC #1866) or “deadly” sin because it can kill our very conscience (cf. 1 Tm 1:19).

Some of you will remember the movie “Saving Private Ryan”: In World War II, all except one of the fictional Ryan brothers are killed in combat. For reasons both of humanity and of public relations, the last surviving Ryan brother must be saved. Soldiers under the command of Captain John Miller do save Ryan, but they all die in doing so. About forty years later, Mr. Ryan visits the graves of his fellow soldiers in France. He turns to his wife and pleads: “Tell me I’ve lived a good life! Tell me I’m a good man!” He has wanted so much to be worthy of the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers. “Not a day goes by,” says Mr. Ryan, “that I don’t think of them.”

In the holy Mass, in what is called the anamnesis (the opposite of “amnesia”), we call to mind the Passion, Resurrection, and glorious return of Jesus (CCC #1354, 1362). If the fictional Mr. Ryan recalled every day the life-giving sacrifice of Captain Miller and his squad, how much more, every day, should we recall the eternally life-giving sacrifice of the God who loved us to His death?

Do we remember every day what Christ has done for us, not just in the Anamnesis after the Consecration at Mass, but by demonstrating our commitment to Christ through “glorifying the Lord by [our] life”? If we to remember Him in thought, word, and deed (cf. James 2:17, 24), then we can joyfully proclaim—“by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.

Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D. About Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D.

Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, and author of Morals Under the Gun, and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame University, Norwich University, Auburn University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He serves the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro.