Homilies for January 2018

The Mother of God by Viktor Vasnetsov (1901)

Homily for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God—January 1, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010118.cfm
Nm 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21.

Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

After four months of seminary, I was fed up. As my first semester studying for the priesthood came to an end, I grumbled to my spiritual director regarding the trials and tribulations of my life: the difficulties of starting in a new place, the confusion of my vocation, the pains of growing in the spiritual life. I assumed my director, a wise old Benedictine monk, would agree that my life was terribly difficult, and encourage me to take some time off. However, as is often the case with wise Benedictine monks, he had another plan for me. The monk encouraged me to take up a New Year’s Resolution of sorts. He challenged me by suggesting that each night before I went to bed, to write down three blessings from the day, and to do so from New Year’s Day throughout the whole year. I found his advice rather silly; I just told him I didn’t have any blessings in my life to write down! But I obediently took up the challenge. For the next year, each night as I was preparing for bed, I wrote down three blessings; they varied from a good night’s sleep, to an “A” on a test, to going home for a break. By the end of the year, what I found out was that I had more blessings than I could ever imagine… in fact, I had trouble slimming the number down to three each night. While the difficulties in my life didn’t change, the nightly examination put them in their proper context, and reminded me of the daily presence of God in my life, in ways big and small. It was a turning point in my life and my vocation.

This “woe is me” attitude occurs with all of us, from time to time. Nobody can understand how difficult my life is! Why is nothing going the way I think it should go? Unsurprisingly, the Blessed Virgin was not subject to this self-centered, navel-gazing that afflicts so many of us. Consider her response to the Annunciation. Following Gabriel’s departure, Mary is left alone. Her fiancé is supportive but confused. In the eyes of the community, she is pregnant, unwed, and a disappointment. She immediately visits her cousin, Elizabeth, a trip that would have been long and arduous, especially for a young, pregnant woman. Yet, what are the next words we hear in Scripture from the Virgin following her declaration: that it should be done according to God’s word? “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” (Lk 1:46). She breaks out in a hymn of praise, declaring that “All generations will call me blessed” and “The almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:48-49). It seems that Mary, more than most, had reason for complaint or frustration, or at least an excuse to focus on the seemingly sub-optimal aspects of her life. Yet, she is caught up in the magnificent, lavish blessings the Lord has poured out upon her by making her the Mother of God!

How does she do this? How does this attitude develop in someone? Our Gospel for today provides a hint. Mary has just given birth to the Lord in a cave, since no one would take the poor family into their home. So much has occurred over the past nine months for the Blessed Virgin. Amid all of this, her reaction is profound: Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart (Lk 2:19). Mary holds all the events—the good and the bad, the trials and the joys—within her heart, examining them and reflecting upon them. The Blessed Mother was in the habit of allowing the silence of her heart to open up the truth about her life and God’s presence within it, and so she was quick to see the powerful action of the Lord, even in troubling or confusing situations.

We gather together today at a time when many people resolve to take up certain practices for the whole of 2018: to work out, to read more, and so on. There are few more worthy resolutions here on this day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin than to take up her reflective heart. To examine our consciences and souls each night before bed, allows reflection and pondering, and makes the human heart more attentive to the action and presence of God within it. This can take a variety of forms; perhaps it is writing down three blessings, but maybe it is the more traditional process of walking through our day in our minds, reflecting on where the Lord was present to us, and where our sins and selfishness blinded us to His love. This New Year’s Eve, a resolution of nightly reflection, as our Blessed Mother did so many times, will allow us to more clearly see God’s presence in our lives, and to more often rejoice in our Lord’s goodness.


Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord—January 7, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010718.cfm
Is 60:1-6
Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 ; Mt 2:1-12.

“They departed for their country by another way.”

You can usually tell when someone has just returned from vacation. They seem well-rested after a relaxing trip, or exhausted and jet-lagged after a more laborious trek. They are usually quick to talk about their adventures and what they encountered, or to show you an endless reel of pictures from their escapades. Often, you’ll notice a tan or, more likely, a sunburn. Following a trip, people are just a little different. But, without fail, these post-vacation novelties fade rather quickly. The stories become less frequent, the person’s sleep schedule gets back on track, and the tan slowly fades away. Things slide back to normal.

Unfortunately, our spiritual lives are not much different. From time to time we hear stories of unique spiritual experiences, be it a retreat, a talk, or a personal encounter, which transformed the life of a Christian, leading them deeper into prayer and compelling them to great acts of charity. We pray that it sticks, but often the initial zeal slowly fizzles out, and they return to their old ways. Actually, this happens with all of us on an almost weekly basis at a smaller level. How often we leave Sunday Mass, or the confessional, confident that we will begin things anew, only to realize the next week that nothing is really different. We have worshiped and experienced the Lord, yet not much has changed.

Today’s Gospel has much to teach us about this regular spiritual occurrence. The Magi are blessed with the profound experience of gazing upon the newly born King of Israel. What a treasured encounter this must have been, to see the Lord of all the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a feeding trough. Few humans in history have been privy to such a moment. Because of the depth of their experience, the Magi simply cannot be the same afterward; the reality of the moment was too great! Therefore, instead of following their original plan and returning to Herod, the text says they departed for their country by another way. This physical itinerary change expresses a deeper spiritual experience. Quite simply, they cannot be the same as they were before they encountered the Christ. The truth is too great! In the language of the tradition of the Church, the Magi experience a metanoia. Metanoia is a Greek word which literally means “a change of mind,” and it expresses the impact an encounter with Jesus Christ should have in our lives. A metanoia involves a different way of seeing, which should then lead to a different way of acting. The Magi encounter Christ in worship, and they leave that experience, physically and spiritually, in a different manner than they arrived.

The rarity of this experience in the modern Christian life helps to explain many of the empty seats in our pews on Sundays. How many of our friends, family members, and neighbors have seen us attend Mass, Sunday after Sunday, only to return to our lives by the same way, speaking in the same manner, complaining about the same issues, failing to put more effort into the spiritual life. How could we possibly expect others to join us in this worship—to give time out of their week, to sacrifice a portion of their income, to humbly follow a series of rules and guidelines—if at the end of the day we are the same after all of it? For too long, our own lack of metanoia has provided a roadblock hindering others from experiencing their own change of heart and mind.

However, as is so often the case, this area of weakness can become our greatest strength in evangelization. Our First Reading sees Isaiah imploring Jerusalem, and her inhabitants, to rejoice because of the light that envelops them, while darkness and clouds surround the rest of mankind. This light—the light that shines in the individual who knows God, who has met Him, and has his or her mind changed because of Him—serves as a light for others to follow the Lord’s ways: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance… they all gather and come to you.” The person who has obviously met the Lord, and shines because of it, has an infectious and attractive impact on all those they meet. Our metanoia—the light of our life and our conversion—provides others with a guide to encounter Christ.

Friends, does our experience of Sunday worship, of Catholic life, or of our parish communities change our heart or mind? The Magi worshiped Jesus in a crib, and they went away different. We worship Jesus truly present on the altar, in the tabernacle, and within our hearts in the Eucharist each Sunday; do we come away from this experience different, with a change of mind and heart? This Epiphany, we ask that our encounter with the Lord may lead to a change of mind and heart within ourselves. Our friends, neighbors, and family members are counting on the light that our experience of Christ has brought us to bring that light into their lives!


Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time-B—January 14, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011418.cfm
1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42.

Speak, for your servant is listening.

In today’s First Reading, Eli appears to have a sort of secret password, a code that will unlock Samuel’s divine puzzle. After the frustration of call and response, Samuel needs a better way, so Eli provides some of the best advice in all of Scripture. When Samuel hears his name, he should respond: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel does so, and the effect is powerful. Following Samuel’s response, the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. There is something, then, about Samuel’s answer that can open the secrets of God’s word, and change the lives of one who says it. It is the type of phrase that, when said with all one’s heart, can change everything. The simple statement is worthy of meditation, to see whether we, too, can truly say and mean these words. The brief phrase can be separated into its three main words: speak, servant, and listening—each opening a different aspect of the spiritual life, and our action within it.

Speak: Samuel’s request for the Lord to speak is the portion of the phrase we can relate to most of all. Samuel can tell he has something to learn; he knows there is something bigger than himself that has the answers to the longing within his heart. Naturally, he desires for the One who possesses this wisdom to speak, and to tell him what to do. We resemble Samuel in this respect. How often do we beg the Lord to speak, to tell us what we are to do next, or to explain why something did or didn’t happen. We do this daily, demanding that the Lord explain Himself, or begging the Lord to speak to us in our lives with His guidance and truth. It is the same desire the first disciples have in our Gospel. They see the Rabbi, the one who they think has the answers to the questions in their hearts, and they ask Him: “Where are you staying?” They want this teacher to teach, and so they inquire where He is staying so they can learn more. We, like the disciples, want to learn more; we want the Lord to speak.

Servant: It is the second portion of the line where things get tricky for the Christian. We like to style ourselves as servants of the Lord, willing to follow Him to the ends of the earth if only He will speak! Is this true? Do I really have the heart and the desire of a servant, or am I interested in the Lord’s voice only if He provides me with the news I want, or the direction in life I am interested in taking? The first disciples are faced with this quandary in our Gospel. They’ve asked the Lord to speak… “where are you staying?”… and then they will be tested as to whether they were serious. Jesus immediately responds: “Come, and you will see.” The disciples are faced with a question: Did I mean it? Did I really want to know where Jesus was staying, where he wanted me to go, what he wanted me to do? The disciples don’t know where Jesus is leading them, but their servant hearts allow them to follow, confident that the One who they asked to speak, will lead them to the truth they so desperately crave. Are we willing, like those disciples, to truly follow as a servant, even if the Lord’s voice is confusing, strange, or in a direction we didn’t want or expect?

Listening: However, a desire for the Lord to speak, and a heart ready to answer, are relatively useless without the ability and willingness to hear the voice and direction of the Lord. This is why Samuel’s final word puts the seal on the response that changes his life. This is a great roadblock for the modern Christian. We do desire for the Lord to speak, and perhaps are hearts can even be formed to follow the Lord wherever He leads. But Netflix is fun, and silence is painful. The “dictatorship of noise,” as Cardinal Sarah expresses it, overtakes our minds and hearts, making the thought of quiet and listening appear distant and difficult. Yet, without it, the Christian life falls flat, and Samuel’s response is meaningless. This is why the first disciples’ response to Jesus’ request to “Come” is so powerful… the text says they stayed with him that day. The disciples’ willingness to spend time with the Lord, to abide with Him, to listen to Him, gives them a closeness and a strength that will allow them to continue to follow Him where he leads, and to bring others to Him. It is not possible otherwise. So it is with us! Without listening, without staying with the Lord in silent prayer, our desire for God to speak, and to serve the Lord, are of little use.

“Speak, for your servant is listening.” In which of these three areas do I need some growth? Do I want the Lord’s guidance? Am I willing to follow it? Have I given Him the chance to give it? For if we, like Samuel, can say these words, and to live them like the first disciples, our lives too will be changed forever!


Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-B—January 21, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012118.cfm
Jon 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20.

They proclaimed a fast, and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

Lent begins three weeks from Wednesday, which people will soon begin to consider what they will give up during this time of penance and preparation. It is also the time we will hear many of the friends of these people scoff at this notion. How silly to fast from something for a time, they say. Isn’t this simply a residue of your Catholic upbringing that you have not been able to shake? Modern man is no fan of many of the practices of the Church, but fasting causes a particular aversion in society. It is foreign to the modern mind. Why deprive yourself of something good in this life, even for a time? What good does it do to deny yourself those cookies, TV shows, or drinks?

This thinking has seeped into the Catholic consciousness as well. Our fasting is almost exclusively limited to the forty days of Lent. That is about as bare minimum as it gets! Yet, throughout salvation history, fasting has stood as one of the spiritual life’s most powerful tools. Three aspects in particular highlight the power of fasting.

The Scandal of Eternity: In our Second Reading, Paul sounds to us like a commercial for a Ford automobile, attempting to talk us into buying the last of the 2017 F-150’s. Time is running out! You must act now!

Usually, when we think of “time running out,” we think in terms of sales, school deadlines, or my free three-month “Spotify Premium” membership. Rarely do we think in these terms regarding serious things, and almost never in the context that Paul is speaking. Paul proclaims boldly that the world in its present form is passing away. Yet, it would be hard to tell this by looking around. Little of our day-to-day life seems to point to the next life. This is where fasting becomes a powerful tool. Fasting, like celibacy, makes little sense outside the context of eternity. To fast does sound silly to the person who lives for this life alone. Why waste perfectly good pleasures when this is all there is, when the physical world is king? In a sense, fasting laughs in the face of the propaganda of modernity, which tells us to do what feels right, that pleasure is good, and that you harm yourself by not taking what you want. Someone who encounters a person fasting has a similar reaction to seeing a priest in their clerics, or a nun in her habit; this is a person who believes in eternity, who is willing to bet big on the truth of heaven.

Gratification Delayed: Due to the prevalence and ease of access to pleasures, delaying gratification is a laughable notion to modern man. It once was a great treat for me to get a Frosty; now there are six Wendy’s within five miles of the Cathedral, and I’ve been twice this week. We can have whatever we want, when we want it. This sounds great! The problem arises when I attempt to apply the principles I have learned in the physical world to my spiritual life. How can we expect to fight off the temptation of sin when I don’t even attempt to fight off the temptation of another bag of fries? We have trained our bodies to take what they want, and our souls have followed suit! In God’s providence, we can rely on the same principles to flip the script. Fasting gives us the experience of training our bodies to say “no” to a pleasure. As creatures made of both body and soul, this experience melds into our spiritual lives as well, assisting us in saying no to the devil’s latest temptation. If I can say “no” to the extra cookie, I am more likely to say “no” when the next temptation of gossip, anger, or impurity pops up.

Detachment and Dependence: Finally, the modern world finds fasting strange because it seems to deprive us of the things that give us life and joy. To limit my intake of alcohol, or to avoid TV, appears to rid our lives of the very things that make them good. Fasting opens the heart of the Christian to just how unfulfilling modern pleasures are. Yet, we choose to continue flooding our souls with them, because we are terrified of the emptiness we believe will come without them. Fasting is, indeed, a gamble. It is a gamble that the Lord will do what he says, and fill the space abandoned by the pleasures of this world. To fast is to believe that the attachments of this world are merely band aids on a wound, while the Lord is the final remedy upon which we can depend. This is why the Ninevites’ fast was so successful. By their actions, they showed the Lord that they were betting big on Him, that they believed in His power and might, and that they wanted him to fulfill them more than their previous sins and pleasures ever could.

Fasting should always be done in moderation, and usually with the assistance of a wise spiritual guide. But, this week, let us perhaps consider one small area in which fasting can be inserted into each of our lives—be it from television, sweets, or a host of other things. By reintroducing fasting into the Catholic consciousness, we open others’ minds to eternity, train our souls, and recognize where our true dependence lies!


Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B—January 28, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012818.cfm
Dt 18:15-20
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28 .

Have you come to destroy us?

In his magnificent book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis presents the story of a ghost on the outskirts of a heaven, hoping to enter eternal life. The problem for the ghost is that a little red lizard, representing lust, sits on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. The ghost realizes the lizard will not be able to enter eternity with him, but he is unable to remove or quiet the creature. The lizard continuously reminds the ghost of the unfulfilling pleasures he can provide. Perhaps these pleasures aren’t real, the lizard remarks, but they are better than nothing. You are better off with me. You need me! The angel hoping to lead the ghost into paradise remarks that he is able to quiet the lizard, and thus open up eternal life, but it will only be by killing it, a process that will be painful, but will leave the ghost alive. The ghost initially objects, questioning whether he can live without the pleasures the lizard provides, and whether he can survive the lizard’s destruction. Could we not do this later, he asks, or perhaps go through some gradual process to remove the beast? The angel is clear; only by destroying the lizard will salvation be available. The process will be painful, but it is the only thing that can save him. The ghost finally obliges, and it is just as the angel said; the pain of the destruction subsides, and he is left unbound and free to enter Heaven.

The beautiful story is strikingly similar to today’s Gospel. The unclean spirit, which had overtaken some poor man, cries out when he sees the Lord: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The spirit, like Lewis’ lizard, means to incite fear in the heart of the man, and those around him. He wants the man to believe that he cannot survive without him, and so the destruction of the spirit will mean his destruction as well. The spirit means to connect the man to sin and evil, as if they cannot be separated, and to convince him that Jesus exists to destroy both sin and man alike.

But the spirit’s sly tactic of saying our Lord’s name backfires. Jesus’ Hebrew name is Joshua, meaning “God saves.” Present in His name, we see Jesus’ identity and mission; as Gabriel said to Joseph, His name is “Jesus” because He will save his people from their sins. Salvation, then, is what He wishes to bring to each man, especially for the man possessed by the spirit in our Gospel. However, this salvation will not be without an aspect of destruction; on that count, the spirit is correct. Jesus’ namesake, Joshua of Nun, saved the ancient Israelites through the destruction of the enemies of ancient Israel, leading them to the Promised Land they so desired. The destruction was difficult and painful, but it was necessary to bring them salvation. Jesus of Nazareth will do the same, saving his people through the destruction of the enemies who wish to keep them from the Eternal Promised Land. As the enemies of Ancient Israel were destroyed by Joshua, so too will the enemies of humanity—sin, death, slavery, and evil—who will be destroyed by Jesus. The spirit is half right; Jesus has come to destroy, but He has come to destroy slavery and sin so that He can truly save his people, and bring them to the Final Promised Land.

Modern man asks the same questions as the spirit and the lizard. Have you come to destroy us? How can I live without these pleasures, however unfulfilling they may be? Who am I without these sins and temptations that cling to me? Will I be able to survive the process of destruction? We must respond in faith to these questions and concerns, confident that Jesus is who His name says He is, someone who has primarily come to save. Friends, what are the spirits within us, or lizards on our shoulders, that whisper in our ear that we cannot live without them, that removing them from our lives would be too painful to bear? In Lewis’ tale, the lizard is lust, and for many that is probably the case. But perhaps it is television, gossip, laziness, or a whole host of other sins and temptations that we think make us who we are. Jesus, the great conqueror of death, does wish to destroy those things. And while it may be painful and trying, He has promised that we will be able to live through it, because He has ultimately come to save us!

Friends, today we consider the areas of our life we are unwilling for the Lord to destroy, and we offer these lizards and spirits to the One who will destroy them in order to save us.

Fr. Drew Hoffman About Fr. Drew Hoffman

Fr. Drew Hoffman was ordained a priest in May 2017 for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. He currently serves as the Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.