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Sunday Homilies Series II YEAR B

Mark Link, S.J.

Allen, Texas


IMPRIMI POTEST: Richard J. Baumann, S.J. NIHIL OBSTAT: Rev. Msgr. Glenn D. Gardner, J.C.D. Censor Deputatus IMPRIMATUR: † Most Rev. Charles V. Grahmann Archbishop of Dallas August 1, 2001 The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that the work contains nothing contrary to Faith and Morals. It is not implied thereby that those granting the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from or based on the Good News Bible, the Bible in Today’s English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976. Used by permission.

Copyright © 1990 Mark Link, S.J. All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information or retrieval system, without written permission from the Publisher. Send all inquiries to: RCL Benziger 200 East Bethany Drive Allen, Texas 75002 To order: Toll free: 877-275-4725 Fax: 800-688-8356 972-390-6620 (International) Customer Service e-mail: cservice@RCLBenziger.com Web site: www.RCLBenziger.com

25510 ISBN 978-0-89505-931-4 (Sunday Homilies, Series II, Year B) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 • 14 13 12 11 10 09


About the Homilies Don’t believe anything you can’t put in colored pictures.

G.K. Chesterton

Mark Link takes this great Catholic theologian and humorist seriously. He makes the “picture,” or story, the heart of his homiletic approach. Instead of suggesting what might be done with the daily Scripture readings, he shows you what he did with them. Mark Link’s homilies sow the seeds from which your own creative thoughts will develop and grow. Sunday Homilies, Series II, Year B, is part of a three-volume, three-year series that covers the A, B, and C Lectionary cycles. Sunday Homilies, Series II, Year B, follows the Lectionary and fits every year B. The movable Sundays are also included.

About the Author For the first seventeen years of his priestly ministry, Father Mark Link taught at the high-school, college, and seminary levels. For the past twenty years, he has been active in parish preaching, writing, and mentoring priests. He has written over sixty books, including the high-school textbooks Path Through Scripture and Path Through Catholicism and his daily Scripture meditation books in the Vision series, primarily Vision, Mission, Action, and Challenge.


SUNDAY HOMILIES—YEAR B SCHEDULE ADVENT

CHRISTMAS

LENT

EASTER

ORDINARY TIME

1st Sunday of Advent

5

6th Sunday of the Year

63

2nd Sunday of Advent

7

7th Sunday of the Year

65

Immaculate Conception

9

8th Sunday of the Year

67

3rd Sunday of Advent

11

Trinity Sunday

69

4th Sunday of Advent

13

Body and Blood of Christ

71

9th Sunday of the Year

73

Christmas

15

10th Sunday of the Year

75

Holy Family

17

11th Sunday of the Year

77

Mother of God

19

12th Sunday of the Year

79

Epiphany

21

13th Sunday of the Year

81

14th Sunday of the Year

83

1st Sunday of Lent

23

15th Sunday of the Year

85

2nd Sunday of Lent

25

16th Sunday of the Year

87

3rd Sunday of Lent

27

17th Sunday of the Year

89

4th Sunday of Lent

29

18th Sunday of the Year

91

5th Sunday of Lent

31

19th Sunday of the Year

93

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

33

Assumption

95

20th Sunday of the Year

97

Easter Sunday

35

21st Sunday of the Year

99

2nd Sunday of Easter

37

22nd Sunday of the Year

101

3rd Sunday of Easter

39

23rd Sunday of the Year

103

4th Sunday of Easter

41

24th Sunday of the Year

105

5th Sunday of Easter

43

25th Sunday of the Year

107

6th Sunday of Easter

45

26th Sunday of the Year

109

Ascension

47

27th Sunday of the Year

111

7th Sunday of Easter

49

28th Sunday of the Year

113

Pentecost

51

29th Sunday of the Year

115

30th Sunday of the Year

117

31st Sunday of the Year

119

All Saints

121

Baptism of the Lord (1st Sunday)

53

2nd Sunday of the Year

55

32nd Sunday of the Year

123

3rd Sunday of the Year

57

33rd Sunday of the Year

125

4th Sunday of the Year

59

5th Sunday of the Year

61

34th Sunday of the Year127 (Christ the King)


1st Sunday of Advent Isaiah 63:16–17, 19; 64:2–7; 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37

Watch Out! It could be much later than we think.

obert Sikorsky writes a syndicated column on automobiles. He’s also the author of a famous book on cars. It’s called Drive It Forever.

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In 1986 Sikorsky bought himself a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera sedan. A topflight mechanic fixed it up until it was pronounced to be “just like new.’’ As part of an investigative report he was hired to do, Sikorsky then drove the car across the country, stopping at 225 garages in 33 states. His job was to evaluate the competency and honesty of garage mechanics. Before stopping at a garage, he’d pull a spark-plug wire loose from the engine. This caused the motor to run roughly. A loose wire is something even a novice mechanic can quickly detect. What happened in those 225 garages when the mechanic looked under the hood? Listen to Sikorsky’s own words: “I got a satisfactory repair only 44 percent of the time. In the other 56 percent, mechanics performed unnecessary work, sold unnecessary parts, or charged for repairs not done. Worse, some of their work created new engine problems.” Altogether, 100 useless remedies were prescribed. They ranged in cost from $2 to more than $500. Year B

onsider an example that occurred at the auto center for a national retailer in Tucson, Arizona. Sikorsky had his wife take the car in. Again, here’s his own description of what happened:

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“Somebody reconnected the wire. But she was charged $29.95 for a ‘carburetor adjustment’ and a timing check. The carburetor on our 1984 Olds was factory-sealed, and should not be adjusted.’’ “Highway Robbery,’’ Reader’s Digest (May 1987)

Sikorsky ends his investigative report by warning motorists to be on their guard when it comes to garage mechanics. There are some very good ones out there, but there are also some very bad ones. ou’re probably asking yourselves, What’s the link between Sikorsky’s report and the season of Advent that begins today?

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The answer is simple. Sikorsky’s automotive message to motorists and Jesus’ Advent message to us are exactly the same. Both are messages telling us to be on our guard. Jesus begins today’s gospel with the words, “Be on watch, be alert, . . . .” And he ends with the words, “Watch!” We know what Sikorsky is warning us to watch out for, but what is Jesus warning us to watch out for? What is he warning us to guard against? esus is warning us to watch out for his coming at the end of the world or at the end of our lives, whichever comes first.

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He’s warning us that his coming could catch us off guard. It could catch us totally unprepared. Lectionary 2

4 Advent 5


Put more positively, he’s exhorting us to begin living as we should. He is exhorting us to stop procrastinating and to begin living in such a way that if he came tonight, we would be ready and prepared for his coming. He is urging us to be on our guard against letting our life slip away without doing the things we should be doing. et me illustrate with an example. Tom Anderson of Bernardsville, New Jersey, rented an ocean cottage for a two-week vacation.

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Before driving to the beach with his wife, Tom made a solemn promise to himself that for the next two weeks he would be the kind of husband that he knew he could and should be. And so he began. For two weeks he made no phone calls to his office. For two weeks he held his tongue when tempted to say something unkind. For two weeks he was thoughtful. For two weeks he was loving and caring. Only one thing went wrong on that vacation. And that happened on the last night. Tom caught his wife staring at him with a deeply concerned expression on her face. He looked at her and said, “Honey, what in the world is wrong?’’ Tears rolled down her cheeks as she said, “Do you know something I don’t know?’’ “What do you mean?’’ he responded. “Well,’’ she said, “last week I went to the doctor for a checkup. You’ve been so kind to me, Tom. Tell me the truth. Did he tell you something about me? Did he say I had cancer? Did he say I’m going to die? Is that why you’ve been so good to me, Tom?’’ 6 Advent 4 Lectionary

2

It took a full minute for her remarks to sink in. Then Tom broke into a laugh. Throwing his arms around his wife, he said, “No, honey, you’re not going to die. It’s just that I’m just starting to live.’’

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hat story dramatizes Jesus’ message to us on this first Sunday in Advent.

He’s urging us to start living. He’s urging us to stop putting things off. He’s urging us to be on our guard against letting our life slip away without doing what we should be doing. More specifically, Jesus is urging us to approach this Advent the way Tom Anderson approached his vacation. He’s urging us to use it as an opportunity to begin living as we should. He’s urging us to use it as an opportunity to love as we should. In brief, today’s gospel is a loving reminder from Jesus that our life is slowly slipping away. It’s a loving reminder from Jesus that we should be on our guard against letting it slip away without doing the things God made us to do. It’s a loving reminder from Jesus to begin living and loving.

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et’s close with these words of Mother Teresa:

Each one has a mission to fulfill, a mission of love. At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are going to be judged on love; not how much we have done, but how much love we have put into the doing.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8

Quo Vadis Conversion means returning from traveling down a wrong road and setting out anew down the right one.

he novel Quo Vadis describes the situation in Rome a few decades after the resurrection of Jesus. Rome has outlawed Christianity, and a bloody persecution rages.

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In spite of the persecution, Christianity continues to grow and spread, especially through the inspired preaching of the Apostle Peter. At one point in the story, a young Roman named Vinicius falls in love with a beautiful Christian girl. But she won’t have anything to do with him, because his whole approach to life is so completely different from hers. Vinicius becomes curious about what Christians do when they worship. So one night he follows the girl to a secret gathering of Christians. He hides in the shadows outside the meeting place. Then, without the Christians knowing it, Vinicius listens to their service. The time comes for Peter to preach to the gathering. As Peter talks about Jesus, something strange starts to happen to Vinicius. He begins to take seriously what Peter says. And he contemplates what he’d have to do to become a Christian. He comes to the conclusion that he’d have to take two big steps. First, he’d have to throw his present life on a pile and burn it to ashes. Year B

Second, he’d have to embark on a new life— a life that was totally different from his present one. hat image of Vinicius— throwing his life on a pile, burning it to ashes, and embarking on a new life— is a good image of what ancient Jews meant by conversion.

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The Jewish word for conversion means, literally, to return from traveling down a wrong road and to set out anew on the right road. That’s just what John the Baptist is telling the people to do in today’s gospel. He’s telling them to return from going down the road of sin, which leads to death, and to set out anew on the road of virtue, which leads to life. Thus, conversion involves admitting that one’s life is going in the wrong direction, reversing direction, and embarking on a whole new life. This is the message that John the Baptist is preaching to the crowds gathered on the banks of the Jordan River. s a sign that they intend to change their lives, John tells the people to step down into the river and be baptized.

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He reminds them, however, that washing their bodies, which symbolizes washing their souls, is only the first step. It merely sets the stage for the second step. Like Vinicius, they must not only die to their old life but also begin living a new life. This explains what John means when he says, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Lectionary 5

4 Advent 7


John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance. It is merely the first step. It is merely a preparation for the second step. And what is the second step? The second step is receiving the baptism of rebirth that Jesus will bring. It’s receiving the Holy Spirit and beginning a whole new life. It’s setting out anew on the right road. In brief, then, John instructs the people in today’s gospel to do two things. First, they are to undergo a baptism of repentance, that is, a rejection of their old life of sin. Second, they are to undergo a baptism of rebirth, that is, a reception of a new life in the Spirit. ow does all this apply to us 2,000 years later? How does all this apply, in a special way, to the Advent season?

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All of us find ourselves in a situation similar to both Vinicius in the novel Quo Vadis and the people in today’s gospel. Even though we have been washed clean of sin and have been baptized into the Spirit, all of us, to some extent, have fallen back into sin. All of us have need to take certain things in our lives, throw them on a pile, and burn them to ashes. All of us have need to revitalize the life of the Spirit within us.

The Church knows that all of us need to undergo conversion, at least to some extent, to prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming on Christmas. And by doing this, we will also prepare ourselves for Christ’s final coming at the end of time. et’s close with a story that illustrates the kind of Advent conversion the Church is inviting us to make.

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In the early days of British history, punishments for crimes were often cruel. For example, there are cases on record where people’s hands were cut off as a punishment for stealing. Part of the reason for these cruel and unusual punishments was to deter other people from stealing. During this era of cruel punishment, a man was caught stealing sheep. The authorities branded on his forehead the letters S.T., standing for “sheep thief.’’ The man spent the rest of his life living down that humiliating episode. He succeeded to a remarkable degree. When the man reached old age, the letters S.T. were still clearly visible on his forehead. But when children asked their parents what the letters stood for, their parents replied, “They stand for the word saint.’’ God says to all of us here today, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Wash yourselves clean. . . . You are stained red with sin, but I will wash you as clean as snow.”

Isaiah 1:16, 18

Advent is a time for doing this. That’s why the Church has us read in Advent the story of John the Baptist telling the people to undergo conversion to prepare for the coming of Jesus. 8 Advent 4 Lectionary

5

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Immaculate Conception Genesis 3:9–15; Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12; Luke 1:26–38

The Shoeshine Boy Mary was sinless from her conception and remained that way all of her life.

shoeshine boy was plying his trade outside Grand Central Station in New York City. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth, again and again, across the shoes of a man.

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After watching the medal for a while, the man said curiously, “Sonny, what’s that hardware around your neck?’’ “It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,’’ the boy said. “But why her medal?’’ asked the man. “She’s no different from your mother.’’ “You could be right,’’ said the boy, “but there’s sure a big difference between her son and me.’’ The man knocked the ashes from his cigar, slapped a dollar in the boy’s hand, and walked off.

hat boy’s answer was not only good diplomacy but also good theology. And both are sometimes needed in talking to non-Catholics about Mary.

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But this wasn’t always the case.

It’s because Mary is indeed “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.’’ She alone was preserved from sin. And take Zwingli, the leader of the Protestant reformation in Switzerland. He approved praying the Hail Mary in all Protestant services. And, finally, take Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant reformation in Germany. He had a great devotion to Mary. Not only did he write about her extensively, but he also kept an icon of her in his office. Years after Luther broke with the Church, Lutherans continued to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

he dogma of the Immaculate Conception was finally defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.

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It holds that Mary was untouched by sin from the moment of her conception. In other words, she was born free from original sin and remained free from sin the rest of her life. Belief in the Immaculate Conception is as old as Christianity itself, and is also in perfect accord with the teaching of Scripture. For example, take today’s first reading. There God says to Satan, “I will make you and the woman hate each other; her offspring and yours will always be enemies.” Genesis 3:15

For example, the Protestant poet William Wordsworth once called Mary “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.’’

Christians have universally held that the woman referred to is ultimately Mary and that the offspring is ultimately Jesus.

Wordsworth’s beautiful phrase explains why Catholics celebrate today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Mary and Jesus stand at one end of the spectrum. Satan stands at the opposite end.

Year B

Lectionary 689

4 Immaculate

Conception

9


And take today’s gospel reading. The angel says to Mary, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Luke 1:28 The angel’s salutation puts Mary in a class by herself, above all women of the world.

et’s close with a tribute to Mary from Carey Landry’s hymn “Hail Mary: Gentle Woman’’:

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“Hail Mary, . . . gentle woman, . . . peaceful dove, teach us wisdom; teach us love. “You were chosen by the Father; You were chosen for the Son. . . . Blessed are you among women.’’

hen you think about it, it’s only fitting that God should shield Mary from sin. After all, she would be the mother of Jesus. Isn’t it fitting that the Son of God should be born to a sinless mother?

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e American Catholics have always had a special devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. For it was under this title that we consecrated our country to Mary in the early days of our history.

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And so today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception with special joy and gratitude. For it is, in a special way, “our’’ feast.

10 Immaculate

Conception

4 Lectionary

689

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28

One Tooth As John proclaimed the presence of Christ in his world, so we must proclaim it in our world.

n old man lived in New Guinea. He made his living by cutting firewood for the mission hospital. Everybody called him One Tooth, because his upper jaw contained just one tooth. Besides cutting wood, the old man also spent a part of each day reading the Gospel to outpatients sitting in the hospital’s waiting room. Day after day, he shared his faith in Jesus with these suffering people. Then one day something happened. One Tooth began to have trouble reading. At first he thought it was something that would get better, but it didn’t. So One Tooth went to see the hospital doctor. After examining the old woodcutter, the doctor put his arm around the old man and said, “I have something difficult to tell you. You’re going blind, and there’s nothing we can do.’’ “Oh no!’’ said One Tooth. “I’m already old. Now I’ll be blind and useless, too.’’ The next day One Tooth didn’t show up at the hospital. Nor did he show up the day after that. One Tooth had vanished. Later the doctor learned that One Tooth was living alone in a deserted part of the island. A boy who brought the old man food told the doctor where he was. So the doctor went to see One Tooth. “What are you doing here?’’ the doctor asked.

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Year B

One Tooth replied, “Ever since you told me I was going blind, I’ve been reading and memorizing the most important parts of the Gospel. I’ve already memorized Jesus’ birth, several of his miracles and parables, and his death and resurrection. “I’ve been repeating these over and over to the boy, to make sure I’ve got them right. In about a week I’ll be back at the hospital again, Doctor, telling the outpatients about Jesus.’’

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hat story fits in beautifully with today’s readings.

It fits in with today’s first reading, where Isaiah the prophet says: “The Sovereign LORD has filled me with his Spirit. He has chosen me and sent me To bring good news to the poor, . . . ”

Isaiah 61:1

That same spirit of the Lord God came upon One Tooth after he was baptized and confirmed. And he felt the same call to bring the glad tidings of Jesus to the lowly. The story also fits in with today’s second reading, where Paul tells us: “Do not restrain the Holy Spirit . . . ” 1 Thessalonians 5:19 One Tooth did not stifle the spirit. Even in the face of blindness, he did everything possible to let the Spirit speak through him to his brothers and sisters. Finally, the story fits in with today’s gospel, which recalls for us the preaching of John the Baptist. John went into the desert in his youth to ponder God’s Word. He then came forth from the desert to preach God’s Word to the people, saying, Lectionary 8

4 Advent 11


“I am ‘the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!’ ” John 1:23 One Tooth also went into the desert to memorize and to ponder God’s Word. He, too, came forth from the desert to share God’s Word with others.

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he story of John the Baptist and the story of One Tooth are Advent stories.

They’re stories of individuals who found Christ by pondering God’s Word. They’re stories of individuals who shared their discovery with others so that they, too, could find Christ. his brings us to ourselves in this church. What John the Baptist and One Tooth did, we must do.

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The spirit of the Lord God is upon us, too. We, too, have been anointed to bring the glad tidings of Jesus to the lowly. Through baptism and confirmation, we received the same calling they did. We, too, must come out of our own desert and proclaim God’s Word to others. Concretely, how do we do this? Right off, I can think of three ways that are so concrete, commonplace, and obvious that we tend to overlook them. They are so commonplace and so obvious that I hesitate to even mention them, but I will. First of all, we can proclaim Christ in our own homes, to our own families. One way we can do this is by our Advent prayers around the dinner table or, after dinner, around an Advent wreath. Second, we can proclaim Christ to our relatives and friends. Again, one simple way we can do this is by the Christmas greetings we send them. I’ve always been somewhat amazed at Christmas greetings I receive from Catholics. 12 Advent 4 Lectionary

8

They’re filled with “Season’s Greetings’’ and Santas, but have not even a hint of whose birthday Christmas celebrates. Finally, we can proclaim Christ to friends, relatives, and neighbors who have become inactive in their faith. Again, a simple way to do this is to invite them to go with us to Mass during Advent or on Christmas Day. In his widely quoted book entitled Converts, Dropouts, and Returnees, Dr. Dean Hoge, a religious sociologist, says that the “happiest Catholics’’ he interviewed were “dropout Catholics’’ who had returned to the practice of their faith. And the best “recruiters of dropout Catholics’’ were once “dropouts’’ themselves. Hoge goes on to cite statistics that every Catholic should seriously ponder. Two-thirds of the thousands of Catholics who return to the faith each year do so because a neighbor, a friend, or a relative invited them to return. Dr. Hoge goes on to point out that in the face of those statistics, we Catholics can no longer leave the job of recruiting dropout Catholics to the clergy or to religious. We must all reach out to them. We must all become involved. nd so today’s readings are invitations for us to do what John the Baptist and One Tooth did. They are invitations to become Advent people.

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They are invitations for us to find Christ in our lives, so that we, in turn, can help others find Christ in their own lives. They are invitations to become a light in the darkness of our world, as John the Baptist and One Tooth were. This is Christ’s own personal message to us in today’s readings. Now it is up to us to do something about it. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–11, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38

Anne’s Van As Jesus brought God to us, we must bring God to others.

n March 1987 journalist Maura Rossi did a story on Anne Donahue. Anne’s a Georgetown University graduate who has volunteered to work at Covenant House in New York City.

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The purpose of this house is to provide shelter for homeless runaways who have been forced to turn to prostitution for a living. Every night at ten o’clock Anne and another volunteer put gallons of hot chocolate and bags of sandwiches into the Covenant House van. For the next couple of hours, the van, with a dove painted on its door, tours the city’s juvenile prostitution areas. The volunteers simply offer free sandwiches and hot chocolate to runaways working the streets there. You ask yourself, What does Covenant House hope to accomplish by these nightly excursions? Anne answers the question this way: “We’re out there because we know that a lot of kids haven’t tried Covenant House yet. About two-thirds have never heard of us.’’ Anne goes on to say that they accomplish something else, too. They show these kids that somebody cares, that somebody is out there who’s neither buying nor selling them. Referring to her first year as a volunteer, Anne says: Year B

“I was very depressed. What kind of God would let kids suffer so much? . . . Finally it got through to me. . . . God’s not going to come down and show us his love. We have to let God’s love work through us.”

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like Anne’s story. I especially like Anne’s final two comments.

First, she says, “God’s not going to come down and show us his love.’’ She’s absolutely right. God’s already done this in the person of Jesus. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s preparing to celebrate this great mystery. Second, she says, “We have to let God’s love work through us.’’ Again, she’s absolutely right. When Jesus ascended to his Father after his life on earth, he commissioned us to continue his work. Just as the Father worked through Jesus during his life on earth, so Jesus taught us to let his Father work through us in our life on earth. We’re to be channels of God’s grace to others, just as Jesus was. That’s what Anne is doing as she drives her van, with the dove on its door, through the seedy areas of New York City. She’s serving as a channel of God’s grace to a lot of needy young people. She’s doing what Mary did in today’s gospel. She’s saying yes to God’s invitation to be a vehicle of his love in today’s world.

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hat Anne is doing, and what Mary did, we must also do. Lectionary 11

4 Advent 13


We sometimes forget that if Jesus is to be born again in our world, it must be through us.

Ross asked his mother, “Should I erase the mark?’’ “No,’’ his mother said, “leave it there.’’

We sometimes forget that at some point in our life on earth God invites us to say what Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may it happen to me as you have said.”

Commenting on his mother’s answer, Ross told journalist David Remnick:

hristmas is traditionally a children’s feast. It’s a time when we introduce children to the great mystery that Jesus brought God down to us.

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But we cannot stop here. If we do, we’ve told our children only half of the Christmas story. We must go a step further. We must teach them why Jesus brought God to us. It was to teach us that we, too, must bring God to others. ome time ago the Washington Post did a story on Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire. Ross was not always a wealthy business tycoon. During the depression years his father and mother in Texarkana, Texas, had to struggle to make ends meet, as most depression families had to do.

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Ross recalled that during those difficult years a lot of hobos rode the trains of Texarkana. And a lot of those hobos came to their home for meals. Ross’s mother never turned them away, although she wondered why so many came to their home. Then one day she learned the reason. One of the hobos told her that the curb in front of their house was marked in a code known only to hobos. It indicated that the people in that house always fed you. 14 Advent 4 Lectionary

11

“We are all what we were taught to be. You sit in that little house in Texarkana and you see your parents doing things like that when you’re a child. That’s the greatest lesson in the world.”

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oss is right. It is the greatest lesson in the world.

And the reason that it’s the greatest lesson is because it’s the lesson Jesus taught us through his coming into the world. It’s the lesson that we must bring God to others, just as Jesus brought God to us. It’s the lesson that we must bring God to others, just as Mary brought God to us by her words to the angel in today’s gospel. It’s the lesson that we must learn and relearn each Advent and pass on to our children. It’s the lesson that other people will be giving to us this Christmas so that we, in turn, may learn to give it to others. That’s what Anne Donahue does each night in New York City. That’s what Ross Perot’s mother did in Texarkana. That’s what Jesus did in his world. That’s what we must do in our world. Unless we learn this lesson and pass it on to our children, we’ve missed the whole point of the feast we are preparing to celebrate. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Christmas Isaiah 52:7–10; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–5, 9–14

The Light

He wasn’t hallucinating; the light was real. It was coming from a diver’s helmet. Someone had found him. His 22-hour nightmare was over. Rescue had come; he was saved! hat true story is a remarkable illustration of what Christmas is all about.

As Christ was a light in his world, we must be a light in our world.

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n Sunday afternoon, June 1, 1975, Darrel Dore was on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Suddenly it wobbled, tipped to one side, and crashed into the sea.

Sin had wobbled our world, tipped it to one side, and sent it crashing into the waters of spiritual disaster. Darkness was everywhere. The human race was helplessly trapped. There was no hope. Humankind was doomed to certain spiritual death.

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Darrel was trapped inside a room on the rig. As the rig sank deeper and deeper into the sea, the lights in the room went out and the room began to fill up with water. Thrashing about in the darkness, Darrel accidentally found a huge air bubble that was forming in the corner of the room. He thrust his head inside it. Then a horrifying thought—“I’m buried alive’’— sent a shiver down his spine. He began to pray out loud. As he did, something remarkable happened. He said later:

People turned to God and prayed in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “[O LORD], you were angry with us, but we went on sinning; . . . All of us have been sinful; . . . But you are our father, LORD. Isaiah 64:5, 6, 8 Then, when the night seemed darkest, something remarkable happened. A tiny star of light appeared in the sky. Some shepherds, who were the first to see it, asked one another, “Is it real? Or are we hallucinating?’’

“I found myself actually talking to Someone. Jesus was there with me. There was no illumination, nothing physical. But I sensed him, a comforting Presence. He was real. He was there.’’

They squinted their eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter. They squinted again. They were not hallucinating; the light was real.

For the next 22 hours that Presence continued to comfort Darrel. But now the oxygen supply inside the bubble was giving out. Death was inevitable. It was just a matter of time.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. . . . the angel said to them, . . .

Then a second remarkable thing happened. Darrel saw a tiny star of light shimmering in the pitch-black water. Was it real, or after 22 hours, was he beginning to hallucinate? Darrel squinted his eyes. The light seemed to grow brighter. Darrel squinted again. Year B

And then a second remarkable thing happened.

“ ‘I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord!’ ” Luke 2:9–11 And so the nightmare of the human race ended. Rescue had come. Jesus, the Son of God, had come down from heaven to save the human race, just as the diver had come down to save Darrel. Lectionary 16

4 Christmas 15


f we had to choose one image to symbolize what Christmas is all about, we would choose the image of light. We would choose light for two reasons.

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First, Jesus himself chose light to describe why he came into the world, saying: “I am the light of the world. . . . Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” John 8:12 Before Jesus came on Christmas, people were lost, staggering about in darkness. By his birth, Jesus changed all of that. He rescued us from darkness and showed us the way to the Father. harles Lindbergh was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Right after that historic flight, he flew his plane from Paris to England. When it came time to fly back to Paris, the weather was so bad that he could not see well enough to find his way back. Lindbergh was stuck.

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But just then a plane that carried mail daily from England to Paris took off. Lindbergh jumped into his own plane and tailgated the other plane all the way to Paris. Jesus is something like that English plane. He knows the way to the Father, and by following him, we too can find our way through the darkness to the Father. he second reason that light is a perfect symbol of Christmas is because Jesus said to his disciples, “You are like light for the whole world. . . . In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16

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In other words, just as Jesus is a light for us, so we are to be a light for others. 16 Christmas 4 Lectionary

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We’re to show them the way out of the darkness, as Jesus did for us. ome time ago a team of paramedics received an emergency call to rush a 90-year-old woman to the hospital. Ken Bourassa, the ambulance driver, said, “I sensed that I was giving her her last ride.’’

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But what struck Ken most was the beautiful faith and peace that radiated like light from the woman. Ken, who had once been an active Catholic, said that she was more of a comfort to them than they were to her. Ken then added that the deep faith and peace that radiated from the woman became a major reason for his returning to the practice of his Catholic faith. In other words, that elderly woman acted as a light to Ken, showing him the way out of the darkness. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s celebrating the victory of light over darkness. First, it celebrates the fact that Jesus came as a light into the darkness of our world, rescued us, and showed us the way to the Father. Second, it celebrates the fact that Jesus has called us to be a light in our world, just as he was a light in his world.

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et’s close with these beautiful words from the gospel of the Christmas Day Mass:

In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. John 1:1, 4–5

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Holy Family Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:22, 39–40

Both of these examples make the same point. Being a parent or a child in a family isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s downright painful.

There’s a Reason No family is a stranger to pain, but pain can draw families closer to God.

rma Bombeck was a journalist. Her column appeared in 900 newspapers across the country. Like many columnists, she got lots of letters from readers. Typical of the letters she received is the following, which is based on an actual letter from a mother.

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“Even though the courts have given up on my son, I have not. He’s my son; how can I give up on him? I pray for him; I cry for him; I encourage him. And, above all, I love him.’’ And here’s another example, based on an actual letter written by a 12-year-old girl: “I am a substitute mom. When my own mom is working at the restaurant, I baby-sit my three little brothers and sisters. “I take them to the bathroom. I wipe their noses. I give them supper. I put them to bed. I do everything a real mom does. “But instead of thanking me, my brothers and sisters hate me. Sometimes I wish I were dead. “I’ve thought of running away, but I don’t know where I’d go and what I’d do. “When I grow up, I don’t ever want to be a real mom. It’s the worst job in the whole world.” Based on Erma Bombeck, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession Year B

he Gospel shows us that even the Holy Family wasn’t immune to such pain.

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For example, Mary and Joseph suffered greatly when they discovered that Jesus was missing. Nor did their pain end when they found him. Mary said to Jesus: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you.” He answered them, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:48–49

That was a painful response to Mary’s question. And how did Mary respond to it? She didn’t confront Jesus. She didn’t press him for an explanation. She simply filed his answer away in her heart. The Gospel says: But they did not understand his answer. . . . His mother treasured all these things in her heart. Luke 2:50, 51 Sometimes keeping silent is the only way to handle explosive situations. Touching on this point, Erma Bombeck writes in Motherhood: “I suppose every child remembers some special virtue their mother has— some piece of wisdom that has saved them from disaster or a word that made the path infinitely easier. “I love my mother for all the times she said absolutely nothing.’’ It takes a lot of self-control to remain silent when our emotions are churning inside us. Lectionary 17

4 Holy

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But it’s at times like these that silence really does speak louder than words.

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f Mary’s role in the Holy Family wasn’t easy, neither was Joseph’s.

A retreat master had just made this point in a talk to fathers. He ended by saying, “Joseph is the perfect model for all of us.’’ After the talk a father came up to the retreat master and said:

History and theology show that suffering is often the path by which many people are led to God. If it weren’t for suffering, they would never find God. nd so God doesn’t always remove our suffering. But neither does God fail to give us the strength to bear it.

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“With all due respect, Padre, Joseph’s situation was totally different from that of us ordinary fathers.

And God doesn’t always take away the darkness that surrounds our faith. But neither does God fail to give us the courage to keep walking in the dark.

“First, he was a saint. Second, his wife was sinless. Third, his son was the Son of God. I’m no saint, my wife isn’t sinless, and my son’s not the Son of God.”

And finally, God doesn’t always heal our hurts. But neither does God fail to use these hurts to draw us to our loving Creator.

The retreat master responded: et’s close with a poem about suffering. It expresses in a beautiful way what we have been trying to say:

“What you say is true, but let me ask you something, in all seriousness.

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“Did your wife become pregnant just before your marriage, and you didn’t know by whom? Or did your son ever leave home for three days and you didn’t know where he was? Both of these things happened to Joseph.”

For ev’ry pain we must bear, For ev’ry burden, ev’ry care, There’s a reason.

The point is clear. Not even the holiest family is immune from suffering.

For ev’ry hurt, for ev’ry plight, For ev’ry lonely, pain-racked night, There’s a reason.

ut this brings up an important point: Suffering is not something that is always totally bad.

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For ev’ry grief that bows the head, For ev’ry teardrop that is shed, There’s a reason.

But if we trust God, as we should, It will turn out for our good. He knows the reason. Anonymous

In fact, suffering can become a blessing if we accept it rightly. It can do something for us that we could never do for ourselves. It can bring us closer to God. 18 Holy

Family

4 Lectionary

17

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Mother of God Numbers 6:22–27; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21

God’s Blessings

On this feast of Mary the Mother of God— honoring the woman who was called “blessed’’ among women— let’s look at how the Bible talks about the word blessing.

We bless God by sharing with others God’s blessings to us.

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n 1979 archaeologists were digging outside Jerusalem. Suddenly they stumbled upon a cave filled with jars, oil lamps, and jewelry. These objects, they discovered later, had been placed in the cave nearly 600 years before the birth of Jesus.

First, it talks about God blessing people. Thus God blesses Adam and Eve, saying, “Have many children, . . .” Genesis 1:28 The purpose of the blessing is to confer something special upon them: the power to reproduce themselves.

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One piece of jewelry, especially, caught their attention. It was a tiny silver scroll no bigger that a child’s little finger. A place for a cord through the center of it told them that it was once worn around the neck of some Israelite. When a Jewish scholar translated the words on the scroll, he could hardly believe his eyes. They were the words of a blessing that God gave to Moses. They were the words of a blessing that his own father used to bless him in his boyhood. They were the words of a blessing that is still used today in synagogues and churches around the world. They were the words of the beautiful blessing we find in today’s first reading: “May the LORD bless you and take care of you; May the LORD be kind and gracious to you; May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24–26 ow fitting these words are in the light of today’s gospel. For Joseph undoubtedly used these same words to bless Jesus as he lay in the manger and, again, as he held him in his arms just before giving him his name.

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he Bible talks about blessing in four different ways.

Second, the Bible talks about people blessing God. Thus Paul says to the Ephesians, “Let us give thanks to the God . . . he has blessed us . . .” Ephesians 1:3 The purpose of the blessing is to thank and praise God for the undeserved blessings God gives us. Third, the Bible talks about people blessing other people. Thus Isaac blesses his son. (Genesis 27:27) The purpose of the blessing is to ask God to confer on his son something special. Finally, the Bible talks about people blessing things. Thus Jesus himself blesses bread. (Luke 9:16) The purpose of the blessing is to make bread holy in a special way for the benefit of his followers. In brief, then, when God blesses us, it’s to give us something special. When we bless God, it’s to thank and praise God for some undeserved, special gift.

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his leads us to two practical conclusions.

First, as we close out the old year, we should thank God for blessing us during the past year. Lectionary 18

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Touching on the point of gratitude, Henry Ward Beecher made this comparison. Suppose someone gave you a dish of sand mixed with fine iron filings. You look for the filings with your eyes, but you can’t see them. You feel for them with your fingers, but you can’t feel them.

Besides counting our blessings from God during the year, we should consider sharing some of our blessings with others during the coming year. For this is how we bless God for having blessed us. Let me illustrate.

Then you take a tiny magnet and draw it through the sand in the dish. Suddenly the magnet is covered with iron filings.

On Thanksgiving Day of 1985, 175 syndicated cartoonists banded together to give 90 million American readers the same Thanksgiving Day message. It was this:

The ungrateful person, says Beecher, is like our fingers feeling for the filings. Such a person finds nothing in life to be thankful for.

While we in America are blessed with plenty, there are others in the world who have very little.

The grateful person, on the other hand, is like the magnet sweeping through the sand. That person finds hundreds of things to be grateful for. he famous marathon runner Bill Rodgers was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Instead of being assigned to military service, he was assigned to civilian service. He was sent to work in a home for retarded men. One of those men, named Joe, affected Bill’s life profoundly. Rodgers says, and I quote:

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“Whenever I saw Joe, he seemed to be wearing a big welcome-to-my-world smile. . . . The smallest act of kindness or the smallest object given to him made him brim with gratitude. Joe found reasons to be grateful even in the most trying circumstances.” Joe was like the magnet sweeping through the sand. He found hundreds of things to be thankful for.

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his brings us to the second practical conclusion.

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Typical of how the cartoonists chose to communicate this message was the Peanuts cartoon. It showed Linus asking Charlie Brown if he were going to have a big Thanksgiving Day dinner. Charlie says nonchalantly, “I guess so, but I never think much about food.’’ Snoopy overhears him, looks at his empty dish, and says, “He’d think a lot about food if his dish were as empty as mine.’’ The message of the Peanuts cartoon is clear: The next worst thing to having too little food is having too much. It makes us insensitive to those who go hungry, and ungrateful to God, who gives us so much.

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et’s close with a prayer:

God our Father, on this feast of Mary the Mother of God, give us an appreciation of the many gifts you have given us during the past year. Help us bless you in return during the coming year by sharing some of our gifts with others who have far, far less than we do. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Epiphany Isaiah 60:1–6; Ephesians 3:2–3, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12

Star in the Darkness We need “stars’’ to guide us, and we can be “stars’’ to guide others.

s we read Barrie’s story about Tony, we may ask ourselves, Why did Barrie write it at Christmastime?

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After thinking about the question for a minute, the reason dawns on us. It’s because Tony’s story is a Christmas story. Or rather, it’s an Epiphany story. It’s a story about the feast that we celebrate today.

or Christmas of 1987, news reporter Steven Barrie wrote a beautiful story about Tony Melendez. You may remember it. Newspapers across the country carried it.

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It’s a story of someone who lights up the darkness of our world the way the star of Bethlehem lit up the darkness of the ancient world for the three wise men.

Tony is the young man from Chino, California, who was born without arms. He received national publicity by playing the guitar with his feet for Pope John Paul II during the Holy Father’s visit to Los Angeles.

Tony’s deep faith and courage are a modern star of Bethlehem for people in the darkness of our modern world.

The pope was so moved by Tony’s faith and courage that he left the stage, wrapped his arms around Tony’s armless body, and kissed him. Ever since that moment, Tony’s life has changed drastically. He has been invited to play for audiences across the country. He has appeared on national television. He’s now recording his music. And the Reader’s Digest carried a condensed version of his life story in the book section of its June 1989 issue. ony’s victory over his handicap and his new celebrity status have cast him into the role of being a spokesman for handicapped people.

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“It’s scary, very scary,’’ he says. “It’s something I have to pray over. I figure God’s doing this for some reason. He’s got some special mission for me.’’

Year B

People are attracted to the light of Tony’s faith the way the wise men were attracted to the light of the star.

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ony’s story makes an important point.

If many people today are to find their way through the spiritual darkness of our world to the infant lying in the manger, it will have to be through the faith and example of people like Tony. For their faith and example speak more eloquently to most people than do homilies preached in churches. For they speak not only to the mind but also to the heart. Furthermore, they also reach people who have stopped going to church. nd this brings us to the practical application of all this to our own lives.

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Lectionary 20

4 Epiphany 21


Each one of us in this church, without exception, is handicapped to some extent.

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nd so it’s up to us! It’s our choice!

We all have something that causes us pain, something we wish we didn’t have, something we wish we could get rid of.

People like Tony can touch our hearts and inspire us. But in the end, it’s up to us to imitate them or not.

Maybe it’s a family situation that is terribly painful.

But if we choose, we can do it. No one can stop us.

Maybe it’s a physical thing, like having an allergy or being very short.

That’s the message of the star of Bethlehem. That’s the message of the infant lying in the manger. We can do anything we wish. Nothing can stop us.

Maybe it’s a spiritual thing, like finding it hard to live the way Jesus taught us we should. Maybe it’s finding it hard to pray the way we wish we could. Maybe it’s a material thing, like not having enough money to help others the way we’d like to do. Whatever it is, we have a choice. We can choose to let our handicap defeat us. Or we can choose to battle it and defeat it, as Tony did. hristmas is a time of hope. The infant lying there in the manger tells us that nothing can defeat us any longer.

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No handicap—physical or spiritual— can conquer us. Thanks to the infant lying there in the manger, we have all the grace we need to battle our handicap and defeat it. And if we do battle our handicap and defeat it, not only will we win a great personal victory, but we will also become an inspiration to others. We will become a modern star of Bethlehem lighting the way for some lost traveler. We will become a light shining in the darkness and pointing the way to the infant lying in the manger.

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It’s the message that if we open our hearts to God’s grace, we can become modern stars shining in our world, leading others to Bethlehem. This is the good news contained in Tony’s story. This is the good news contained in today’s readings. This is the good news we celebrate together in today’s liturgy.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, help us open our hearts to the light of the star of Bethlehem. Help us let it shine through us in such a way that everyone we meet will realize that it’s not our light but your light shining through us. Then we will praise you in the way you love best, by being a living homily that speaks not only to the mind but also to the heart. Then we will be a modern star, pointing the way to Bethlehem.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


1st Sunday of Lent Genesis 9:8–15; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15

Atheist’s Son Lent is the ideal time to deepen our repentance and our belief.

n May 1980 Time magazine carried a striking story. It was entitled “Atheist’s Son Finds God.’’ The story described the conversion of William J. Murray III.

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Murray had always been a fan of the famous novelist Taylor Caldwell. Just before Christmas 1979, Murray read Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician. That particular book is a historical novel— that is, partly historical and partly fictional. It’s about a young man named Lucanus, who lived in ancient Roman times. Lucanus, like William, grew up angry with religion. That anger turned to love, however, when Lucanus discovered Jesus Christ. As the novel progresses, Lucanus grows up to be Saint Luke, the author of the Gospel according to Luke.

Murray’s name became a household word in 1963, when he was still a child. In that year, in Baltimore, Maryland, William and his mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, went to court to challenge the practice of praying and Bible reading in public schools.

ne night about a month after Christmas, William had a vivid dream about the Bible. The dream jarred him out of a deep sleep.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and ended in the banning of all prayer and Bible reading in our nation’s public schools.

The experience was so moving that William got out of bed and drove to an all-night discount store near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. He writes:

In the years ahead, when William grew up, he carried his anti-God crusade into print, publishing an atheistic magazine.

“There under a stack of porno magazines . . . I found a Bible. I drove back to my apartment and read [the Gospel according to Luke]. There I found . . . Jesus Christ.’’

But then came William’s conversion. According to Time magazine, Murray’s conversion was fueled, in part, by his growing conviction that survival on this planet may depend on whether or not we discover and rest our faith on something higher and nobler than ourselves. f Murray’s conversion to God was triggered by a concern for our planet, his conversion to Jesus Christ was triggered in a slightly different way. He describes it in his book entitled My Life without God.

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Year B

That story set William to thinking.

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That night changed William’s life forever. After his conversion, he wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun. He apologized to the people of Baltimore for his part in the Supreme Court ruling that banned the Bible and prayer from American schools. He said in his letter: “As I now look back over 33 years of life wasted without faith in God, I pray only that I can, with his help, right some of the wrong and evil I caused through my lack of faith.” Lectionary 23

4 Lent 23


hat story is a living illustration of what Jesus meant in today’s gospel when he said:

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“The right time has come,” he said, “and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!” Mark 1:15 That’s exactly what William Murray did. He repented his 33 years of atheism, believed in the Gospel, and made Jesus Christ the center of his life. hat William did is what today’s gospel invites us to do on this first Sunday of Lent.

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It doesn’t invite us to repent a life of atheism. Nor does it invite us to write an open letter of apology to people. It does, however, invite us to repent a life that hasn’t always had Jesus at its center. And it does invite us to rediscover a book that hasn’t always held top priority in our lives. In brief, today’s gospel invites us to make the season of Lent a time of special personal blessing. What do we mean by that? We simply mean that through the centuries the season of Lent has always been a time of special grace for Christians, especially for making changes in their lives.

and read the Gospel according to Luke from start to finish this Lent. You could do this by simply reading a chapter a night. A second way to respond, in a concrete manner, is to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation at some point during the Lenten season. For in receiving this sacrament we do precisely what Jesus invites us to do in today’s readings. We express, in a concrete way, our repentance and our belief in the Gospel. That is, we express our sorrow for our sins, and we express our belief that Jesus Christ wishes to forgive them and to help us begin a new life. This is the invitation the Gospel holds out to us on this first Sunday of Lent. It’s an invitation to do what William Murray did. It’s an invitation to seek forgiveness for our sins and to begin a new life with Jesus at its center.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, the season of Lent is a season of invitation.

Jesus is offering that same special grace to each of us during this Lent.

It’s a season when you invite us to open our hearts to the special grace that you traditionally give at this time.

his brings us to the practical question. How do we respond, in a concrete way, to Jesus’ invitation?

It’s a season when you invite us to look closely at our lives to see what needs to be changed or what needs to be improved upon.

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There are as many concrete ways to respond as there are Christians. Consider just two ways. The first way is to do what William Murray did. Get a copy of the Bible 24 Lent 4 Lectionary

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Give us the light to see ourselves as you yourself see us. Above all, however, give us the courage to change ourselves as you yourself would want us to change. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 22:1–2, 9, 10–13, 15–18; Romans 8:31–34; Mark 9:2–10

Peak Moment Jesus’ transfiguration highlights his divine dimension.

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sychologist Abraham Maslow tells this story of a young mother.

One morning she was getting breakfast for her young family. The kitchen was filled with sunlight, her children were laughing and talking, and her husband was playing with the littlest one. As she scurried about spreading jam on toast and pouring orange juice, she was suddenly overwhelmed with joy and love for her family. Tears filled her eyes and she became so choked up that she could hardly speak.

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aslow calls such a moment as this a peak moment.

It’s a moment when for a few precious seconds or minutes we see an ordinary event in an extraordinary way. It’s a moment when God seems to shine through the things around us and we glimpse another world beyond this one. he idea of a peak moment helps us understand what the disciples Peter, James, and John experienced in today’s gospel. They experienced a peak moment.

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For a few precious minutes, they got a glimpse of a world beyond this one. For a few precious minutes, they saw from the outside of Jesus what he was on the inside: the glorious, beautiful Son of God. his raises a question. Why is the gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus placed among the somber readings of the season of Lent?

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Why isn’t it placed among the glorious readings of the season of Easter? he answer to this question lies in the context in which the transfiguration takes place. It takes place right after Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

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When Peter heard Jesus say this, he cried out, “God forbid it, Lord!” he said. “That must never happen to you!” Jesus turned around and said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from human nature.” Matthew 16:22–23 Peter, James, and John needed a spiritual shot in the arm after Jesus’ shocking revelation to them.

For a few precious minutes, they saw Jesus in a totally different way.

Perhaps that’s also why the Church puts the transfiguration among the somber readings of Lent. The Church wants to give us a shot in the arm before it turns our attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.

For a few precious minutes, they saw God shine through the external person of Jesus.

It wants to give us something to hold on to during the painful hours of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.

Year B

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4 Lent 25


ut there’s another reason why the transfiguration is placed among the Lenten readings.

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In each of us there’s something that’s human and something that’s divine.

It’s because the transfiguration is closely related to the agony in the garden.

In each of us there’s a spark of Adam and a spark of God.

Both of these events took place on a mountain. The agony in the garden took place on the Mount of Olives. The transfiguration, on Mount Tabor.

Like Jesus on Mount Tabor, we too experience moments of ecstasy, when the spark of God shines through us so brightly it almost blinds us. During these moments, we feel so close to God that we feel we can reach out and touch God.

Both events took place at the same time. Each took place at night. And in both events the apostles fell asleep while Jesus remained awake, praying. Finally, both events were witnessed by the same three apostles: Peter, James, and John.

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nd this brings us to the connection between the two events.

On Mount Tabor the three apostles saw Jesus in a moment of ecstasy, when Jesus’ divinity shone through him in a way that it had never done before. On the Mount of Olives, on the other hand, the same three apostles saw Jesus in a moment of agony, when his humanity shone through him in a way that it had never done before. Jesus’ ecstasy on Mount Tabor and his agony on the Mount of Olives are complementary events. They are inseparable sides of the same coin. They show the total Jesus in a total way: his humanity and his divinity. nd it’s right here that these two mountain events contain an important message for us.

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Like Jesus, we too have a twofold dimension about us. 26 Lent 4 Lectionary

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On the other hand, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, we also experience moments of agony, when the spark of Adam surfaces so sharply that the spark of God in us flickers and almost dies. We feel so far away from God that we wonder if God even exists. When these moments of ecstasy and agony come, we should recall the two mountain events: Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives. We should recall that Jesus experienced these same highs and lows in his life. We should recall something else. We should recall that during both events— his ecstasy and his agony—Jesus prayed. If this was the way that Jesus responded during each event, it should also be the way that we respond to them. And if we do respond to them with prayer, then like Jesus during his transfiguration, we too will hear God say to us what the Father also said to Jesus: “This is my own dear Son, . . .” And, like Jesus during his agony, we too will experience what Jesus experienced in the garden: the touch of the Father’s healing hand.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:3–7; Romans 5:1–2, 5–8; John 4:5–42*

Death-Row Prisoner Like the woman at the well, we must open our hearts to Jesus and bring him to others.

ather Frank Roof is a former chaplain of the Kentucky State Penitentiary. He tells a moving story about a prisoner named Paul Kordenbrock.

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Paul was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and grew up in the permissive culture of the 1960s. The popular philosophy back then was “If it feels good, do it.’’ That philosophy seduced young Paul into one bad situation after another. Then came the terrifying day when the young man found himself on death row, condemned to death. There he lives today, two floors above the electric chair, waiting for the wheels of justice to run their course. In 1982 Paul introduced himself to Father Roof, asking him to hear his confession and to bring him Holy Communion. That meeting led to other meetings. Soon Paul was introduced to other Catholic prisoners on death row. As time passed, Paul took it upon himself to petition prison officials to permit Father Roof to celebrate Mass for the small Catholic community that was slowly forming on death row. The permission was given, and Father Roof began to celebrate weekly Masses in a steel cage for the condemned inmates. All this activity was not just an accident. Father Roof learned that Paul had been taking correspondence courses in his faith. Year B

They included courses in the Old Testament, the New Testament, Church history, Church doctrine, Catholic morality, and catechetics. Paul became a certified catechist for the diocese and now conducts an RCIA program— the yearlong program for initiating adults into the Catholic faith— on death row. Each year since 1982, Paul has brought at least one condemned prisoner to Christ. Father Roof once asked Paul how he accounted for his change of heart. Paul attributed his personal transformation to four things: 1. 2. 3. 4.

letting go of the “stuff ’’ that bothered him, meditating daily, reading Scripture daily, and sharing with other prisoners the story of how Jesus Christ changed his life.

he story of Paul Kordenbrock resembles the story of the woman at the well in two striking ways.

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First, it’s the story of how a sinner met Jesus Christ and was totally changed by the meeting. To appreciate more fully the dramatic change Paul went through, we need only ask ourselves these questions. How many of us meditate daily? How many of us read Scripture daily? How many of us share with our brothers and sisters the story of what Jesus Christ has done for us? his brings us to the second way the story of Paul Kordenbrock resembles the story of the woman at the well.

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* The new RCIA directives call for the Year A readings for the Scrutinies on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. The Ordo also offers this option. Hence the use of the Year A readings here. Lectionary 28

4 Lent 27


Here we need to recall what the woman did after her encounter with Jesus at the well. The Gospel says: Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done.” John 4:28–29 The Gospel adds that the people left the town and went to meet Jesus.

and just as radically as he changed the life of Paul. And through us, Jesus can reach out and change the lives of others, just as he reached out and changed the lives of others through the woman and through Paul. esus is just as alive and active today as he was when he met and changed the woman at the well.

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And so the woman who had been a great sinner became Christianity’s very first missionary. After she discovered Jesus, she went off to share her discovery with her friends and neighbors.

And that’s what the season of Lent is all about.

And that’s exactly what Paul Kordenbrock did. After he discovered Jesus, he went off to share his discovery with his fellow inmates, saying to them, “Come and meet a man who has done marvelous things for me.’’

It’s about opening our hearts and letting Jesus change our lives for the better, as he did for the woman and for Paul.

And so the man who had been a great sinner became death row’s very first missionary in the Kentucky State Penitentiary. To appreciate more fully Paul Kordenbrock’s missionary activity, we need only ask ourselves one question. How many of us have personally instructed and brought into the Church at least one person a year since 1982?

It’s about opening our hearts and meeting Jesus. It’s about opening our hearts and letting Jesus into our lives.

If we do this, Jesus can work miracles through us, just as he did through the woman and through Paul. This is the message of today’s readings. This is the message contained in the story of the woman at the well. This is the message contained in the story of Paul on death row.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Both stories illustrate an important truth that we tend to forget. It is this:

Lord, in gospel times, a sinful woman discovered you at a well. In modern times, a sinful man discovered you on death row. And both the woman and the man ended up becoming missionaries in their world.

When we let Jesus Christ into our lives, remarkable things can begin to happen. Jesus can change our lives just as radically as he changed the life of the woman

Help us discover you this Lent. And through our discovery, help us become missionaries in our homes and in our own world.

nd this brings us to the practical message of the story of the woman at the well and the story of Paul on death row.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Lent 1 Samuel 16:1, 6–7, 10–13; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41*

Step by Step Our friendship with Jesus grows and develops step by step.

here’s a delightful story about a nine-year-old farm boy who was terribly afraid of the dark.

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One night his father told him to go out to the barn and feed the horses. The boy turned pale and began to tremble. With that, his father stepped onto the porch with the boy, lit a lantern, and held it up. Then he said to his son, “How far can you see?’’ The boy replied, “I can see halfway to the barn.’’ The father gave the lantern to his son and said, “Carry this halfway to the barn.’’ When the boy reached the halfway point, the father called out, “How far can you see now?’’ The boy held up the lantern and shouted, “I can see the barn and the barn door.’’ The father called out, “Walk to the barn door.’’ When the boy shouted back that he had reached the barn door, the father called out, “Now open the door and tell me what you see.’’ The boy opened the door and shouted back, “I can see inside the barn. I can see the horses!’’ “Good!’’ replied his father. “Now feed them!’’ hat night the boy lost his fear of the dark. More importantly, he took a giant step forward into adulthood. He learned that some things in life cannot be done all at once. They have to be done step by step.

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For example, when the father first held up the lantern, Year B

the boy couldn’t see the barn. He could see only halfway to it. But it was enough to give him the courage to walk as far as he could see. And when the boy reached the halfway point and held up the lantern again, he couldn’t see the horses inside the barn. He could see only the barn. But it was enough to give him the courage to walk to the barn door. Only when he got to the door could he open it, see the horses, and feed them. hat story of the farm boy is a beautiful illustration of what happens in today’s gospel.

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The main point of today’s gospel isn’t the physical healing of the blind man. It isn’t the miracle that made it possible for the blind man to look at Jesus and see him for the first time. The main point of today’s gospel is the spiritual healing of the blind man. It’s the miracle that made it possible for the blind man to look at Jesus and believe in him for the first time. Let’s look more closely at this spiritual miracle and see how it took place. he first thing we notice about this miracle is that it doesn’t take place all at once. It takes place gradually. It takes place step by step.

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The man’s first response to Jesus, after being healed by him, is to regard him as just another man. Thus when people ask the blind man about his cure, he replies: “The man called Jesus . . . rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.” John 9:11 * The new RCIA directives call for the Year A readings for the Scrutinies on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. The Ordo also offers this option. Hence the use of the Year A readings here. Lectionary 32

4 Lent 29


And so the blind man’s first perception of Jesus is that he is just another man like himself— a remarkable man, but just another man. The blind man’s second perception of Jesus comes when the Pharisees quiz him, saying, “You say he cured you of your blindness— well, what do you say about him?” “He is a prophet,” the man answered.

John 9:17

And so in his second perception of Jesus, the blind man takes a step forward. The more he thinks about what Jesus did, the more convinced he becomes that Jesus is not just another man. He is a prophet. The man’s final perception of Jesus comes later that day, when he meets Jesus again: When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!” Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.” “I believe, Lord!” the man said, and knelt down before Jesus. John 9:35–38 And so the man’s final perception of Jesus takes a final giant step forward. He perceives Jesus to be more than a man or a prophet. He is the Lord. And so in retrospect, we see that the blind man’s faith in Jesus did not take place all at once. It took place gradually, step by step.

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his brings us to the practical application of the story of the blind man to our lives.

Like the blind man, we too were called by Jesus to wash, not in the waters of Siloam, but in the waters of baptism. Like the blind man, after we washed in the waters of baptism, we saw Jesus for the first time 30 Lent 4 Lectionary

32

through the eyes of faith. And like the blind man, our friendship with Jesus began to grow from that day forward. As we matured as persons, so did our friendship with Jesus. And we soon discovered something important: Friendship with Jesus is an ongoing journey. It’s something that never ends. It’s something that we must continue to move forward in, step by step. If it doesn’t go forward, it begins to die, just as any other friendship does.

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nd this brings us to what Lent is all about.

Lent is a time when Jesus reminds us that our friendship with him is a journey, not a destination. It’s something we must always go forward in, step by step. It’s a time when Jesus invites us to take a big step forward on that journey. It’s a time when Jesus invites us to deepen our friendship with him. This is the practical message contained in the season of Lent. This is the practical message contained in the story of the blind man. This is the practical message contained in the story of the farm boy.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, like the blind man in the Gospel, help us see that friendship with you is a journey. It must always go forward, step by step. Keep us from faltering along the way. And like the nine-year-old boy in the story, help us overcome our fear of the dark, which sometimes blinds us on our faith journey. Give us the courage to take one step at a time, always trusting that your love will be guiding us every step of the way. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of Lent Ezekiel 37:12–14; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45* (Short form may be used.)

Tommy The raising of Lazarus is a sign that we will be raised from the dead on the last day.

ather John Powell teaches theology at Loyola University in Chicago. In his book Unconditional Love, he tells a beautiful story about Tommy, one of his students.

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Tommy was a self-proclaimed atheist. He didn’t believe anything. He especially scoffed at the idea that God could love people unconditionally. Tommy was, as Father jokingly put it, “a pain in the back pew.’’ Finally, the course he was taking ended. As Tommy handed in his final exam he said to Father in a cynical way, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?’’ Father replied, “No, Tommy, you won’t find God, but God will find you.’’ Tommy wasn’t expecting that answer. So he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. As he disappeared through the door Father wondered what would become of this strange young man. A few years later Father learned that Tommy was dying of cancer. Before he could get in touch with Tommy, Tommy got in touch with him. As Tommy walked up, Father could see that his body was wasted away and his hair had fallen out from chemotherapy. But Tommy’s eyes were clear, and his voice was firm. “I came to see you,’’ said Tommy, “about what you said to me the last day of class. You said I would never find God, but that God would find me. Year B

“Well, when the doctor told me that I had only a short time to live, I did something I never thought I’d do. I started praying to God real hard. But nothing happened. Nobody answered. “I tried harder! But again, nothing happened. Nobody answered. Finally, after trying a few more times, I gave up. “It was then that I remembered something else that you said. You said it would be tragic for someone to die without having loved. Then you said it would be almost as tragic to die without having told someone you loved that you really loved them. “I decided to do something about that. I started with the toughest person of all: my dad. One night when we were home alone, I told him how I felt about him. “Then he did two things that I can’t remember him ever doing before. He cried, and he hugged me. The two of us talked all through the night, even though Dad had to work the next morning. “Telling my mother and my little brother that I loved them was a lot easier. Like my dad, they also cried and hugged me. “Then an unexpected thing happened. Out of nowhere, God entered my life. He entered it with such a force and a power that I was overwhelmed. “That’s when I thought about what you said to me the last day of class. You said that I’d never find God, but that God would eventually find me. Well, Father, he found me! He really found me!’’ (paraphrased)

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ommy died shortly after that. Or as Father Powell puts it,

* The new RCIA directives call for the Year A readings for the Scrutinies on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. The Ordo also offers this option. Hence the use of the Year A readings here. Lectionary 35

4 Lent 31


Tommy never really died. He began living in a different way. He began living in the way Jesus promised when he said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25 nd so the story of Tommy leads automatically to the story of Lazarus in John’s Gospel.

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To understand the point of this story, we need to understand that when John refers to a miracle of Jesus, he uses the Greek work semion, which is best translated into English as “sign.’’ The word semion, or sign, stresses the idea that a miracle is like a flashing red light. The important thing is not the flashing red light itself but what it means or signifies. It’s the same way with a miracle. The important thing is not the miracle itself but what it means or signifies. In the case of the miracle of Lazarus, the important thing is not that Jesus restored a friend to life. The important thing is what Jesus intended this miracle to mean, what he intended it to signify, what he intended it to teach. Jesus intended it to say in a visual way what he said earlier to Martha in a verbal way: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.” And this brings us back to the story of Tommy. What Jesus did for Lazarus in a physical sense, he did for Tommy in a spiritual sense. He gave him a new life. nd this leads us to each one of us in this church. What message do the story of Tommy

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and the story of Lazarus contain for us? It is this: What Jesus did for Tommy and Lazarus, he wants to do for us. He wants to give us a new life. He wants to share with us his own risen life. He wants to raise us up to eternal life. his is the message that the story of Lazarus contains. This is the message that the story of Tommy contains. This is also the message of what the season of Lent is all about.

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It’s about opening our hearts to others, as Tommy did to his family, so that Jesus can do for us what he was able to do for Tommy. It’s about receiving new life from Jesus today so that we can receive eternal life from Jesus on the last day. This is the message that the season of Lent is all about. This is the message that the story of Lazarus is all about. This is the message that the story of Tommy is all about. et’s close with a passage from the prophet Isaiah. It describes God’s tender love for the Chosen People in Old Testament times. God has this same tender love for us in modern times.

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The LORD will comfort his people; he will have pity on his suffering people. . . . “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you.” Isaiah 49:13, 15 No, Tommy, you didn’t find God, but God found you. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion Procession: John 12:12–16 Mass: Isaiah 50:4–7; Philippians 2:6–11; Mark 14:1–15:47

Men in Red Turbans We are called upon to challenge the crowd, not to follow it.

theatrical group of professional actors was hired to do a stage production of the passion of Jesus. That is, they were hired to act out the story of the suffering and death of Jesus, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Good Friday.

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All the main characters— like Jesus, Pilate, and Peter— were played by members of the theatrical group. All the minor characters— like the people in the crowd scenes— were played by local people. One of the minor characters picked to play in the crowd scene was a boy named Drew. He was excited about being chosen. On the night of the play, the minor characters were called together. The director introduced them to a dozen men wearing red turbans. “These are your leaders,’’ he said. “When you get on stage, watch them carefully. Do everything they do! Shout everything they shout!’’ Then the director stressed that two scenes, especially, were important. The first was the opening Palm Sunday scene. The second was the Good Friday scene, where Jesus was condemned to death. Young Drew could hardly wait for the Palm Sunday scene to begin. Finally, the curtain went up. Year B

The men in red turbans shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’’ The crowd shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’’ Drew got so caught up in the shouting that he forgot about the audience and the play. It was Palm Sunday and he was praising Jesus. Before Drew realized it, the scene was over. The men in the red turbans led the crowd off the stage. There Drew waited excitedly for the second important scene: the condemnation of Jesus on Good Friday. Just before the curtain went up, the men in the red turbans reminded the crowd: “Watch us carefully! Do everything we do! Shout everything we shout!’’ The curtain rose, revealing a balcony. On it stood two people: Pilate in a gold robe and Jesus in a purple robe. Pilate said to the crowd, “Which man do you want me to set free: Jesus or Barabbas?’’ The men in red turbans shouted, “Barabbas!’’ The crowd shouted, “Barabbas!’’ When the shouting died down, Pilate said to the crowd, “What, then, should I do with Jesus?’’ The men in the red turbans shouted, “Crucify him! The crowd shouted, “Crucify him!’’ Once again, Drew got so caught up in the shouting that he forgot the audience and the play. Suddenly he found himself screaming, “No! No! Don’t crucify him! Please don’t!’’

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ears later Drew recalled his passion play experience. Lectionary 38

4 Palm

Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

33


He said that it taught him something he never really thought about before. The people who shouted “Hosanna!’’ on Palm Sunday were the same people who shouted “Crucify him!’’ on Good Friday. And the reason they did it was because the men in the red turbans told them to do it. any people in today’s world are like the actors and actresses in the crowd in that play. They perform on cue.

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They don’t think for themselves. They don’t speak for themselves. They simply mimic the men in the red turbans. They don’t take a stand against evil in our world. They simply follow the leader, blend in with the crowd.

They don’t take a stand against the discrimination of minorities, whether these minorities be Catholics, Jews, blacks, or Hispanics. They don’t take a stand against the moral erosion of entertainment in our society, whether this entertainment be on television or in the local theater. In short, they don’t stand up for Christ and Christ’s teaching in our world. And so Christ suffers and dies all over again. ut we, as Christ’s followers, are called upon to be different. And your presence here shows that you want to express that difference.

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Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

4 Lectionary

And we are called upon to do this even at the expense of great sacrifice. But we do this for Christ, who sacrificed so much for us. he story of Drew’s experience in the passion play makes us ask ourselves how we can do even more to bear witness to Christ and to his teaching.

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It makes us ask ourselves how we can be even more aggressive in our efforts to advance God’s kingdom on earth. It makes us ask ourselves how we can do more, pray more, and sacrifice more for Christ, who did, prayed, and sacrificed so much for us.

For example, they don’t take a stand against the assault on innocent human life, whether this life be in the womb or in a hospital bed.

34 Palm

We are called upon to challenge the men in the red turbans. We are called upon to challenge the crowd. We are called upon to take a stand for Christ and for his teaching in today’s world.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, help us realize that the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna!’’ on Palm Sunday shouted “Crucify him!’’ on Good Friday. Help us realize that this happens not only in plays but also in real life. Help us realize that when it does happen in real life, Christ suffers and dies all over again. Help us realize that as Christians we are called to be different. We are to bear witness to Christ and to his teaching in our world, and not to follow the crowd.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Easter Sunday Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9

It Began in a Tomb Jesus wants to re-create us.

n inmate in a Chicago prison was watching a television talk show. The show’s guest was G. Gordon Liddy. He was one of the men convicted in the Watergate scandal, which forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency.

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The topic of the show was religion. At one point the host turned to Liddy and said, “How can you be so certain God created you?’’ Liddy smiled and replied, “No one else but God would have dared to do it. No one else but God would have had the nerve to create someone like me.’’ The audience howled with laughter. So did the talk show host. And so did the inmate in the Chicago prison. When the show ended, the inmate laid down on his prison cot and began to think to himself: Why did God create me? Why did God create someone who would end up behind prison bars? Why did God create someone who would die to goodness and love and be buried in a tomb of evil and hate in a prison cell? t was then that a surprising thought entered the inmate’s mind. The greatest event in history began in a tomb— a tomb just as secure and guarded as his prison cell.

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Year B

That event, of course, was the resurrection of Jesus. And the reason it is history’s greatest event is because of the transformation it brought about in Jesus. Jesus was no longer buried in a tomb. He was now raised from the dead. And because Jesus was raised to new life, the world was also raised to new life. For the new life that Jesus received also empowered him to communicate it to others. t was then that a second surprising thought entered the prisoner’s mind.

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What happened to Jesus in the tomb in Jerusalem could happen to him in his tomb in Chicago. Because of Jesus’ new life and power, he too could be reborn. He too could be re-created. He too could rise from the dead. At that moment it dawned on him what Easter is really all about. It’s about being reborn. It’s about be re-created. It’s about rising from the dead. It’s about becoming a new person. t that moment what happened to Jesus in the tomb happened to the prisoner in his tomb. He was reborn. He was re-created. He rose from the dead. He became a new person.

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nd this brings us to all of us in this church this morning. What happened to the inmate in the Chicago prison

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Lectionary 42

4 Easter

Sunday

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is what God wants to happen to us in this church this morning. God wants to re-create us. For all of us in this church find ourselves buried in some tomb, as the prisoner was. It may be a tomb of resentment because of some hurt received from someone. It may be a tomb of fear about the future and what it holds for us. It may be a tomb of confusion about our faith and how to deal with it. Or it may be a tomb of despair about some difficult situation in our lives and how to handle it. And that’s where Easter comes in. For just as Jesus used his Easter power to raise the Chicago prisoner from his tomb, so he wants to do the same for us. He wants to raise us from our tomb. his is the good news of Easter. This is the good news we celebrate this morning in this church.

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It’s the good news that Jesus extends an Easter invitation to each one of us.

This is the good news of Easter. It’s the good news that Jesus rose from his tomb and wants to help us rise from our tomb as well. It’s the good news that Jesus rose from his tomb and wants to give us the power to rise from our tomb also. It’s the good news that no tomb can hold us anymore— not the tomb of despair, not the tomb of discouragement, not the tomb of doubt, not even the tomb of death.

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his is what Easter is about.

It’s about rebirth. It’s about re-creation. It’s about opening our hearts to Jesus to let him do for us what he did for the prisoner in Chicago. This is what Easter is about. This is what we celebrate in this church at this Easter liturgy on this beautiful day.

He invites us to open our hearts to his new Easter power. He invites us to let him do for us what he did for the prisoner in Chicago. Jesus wants to give us the power to rise from tombs of darkness after our hope has been dashed to pieces. He wants to give us the power to rise from tombs of discouragement after our love has been rejected. He wants to give us the power to rise from tombs of doubt after our faith has been shaken.

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Sunday

4 Lectionary

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


2nd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31

The Atheist We are called not just to faith but also to spread the faith.

ne of the most remarkable stories to come out of World War II is the story of an Air Force plane that crashed in the Pacific.

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On board were Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous World War I fighter pilot, Lt. James Whittaker, and a crew of six others. All eight survived the crash. For the next 21 days they floated in three tiny rubber rafts without food or water. Their only source of strength was a daily prayer service. It consisted of reading from a pocket Bible and praying spontaneously to God. Lt. Whittaker was the only atheist in the group, but not for long. On the sixth day the men were growing weak and needed food and water badly. After their evening prayer service, they fired off a flare, hoping it would attract a ship or a plane. But the flare was faulty and fell back among the rafts. As it did, it attracted a school of fish. In their excitement, two fish leaped into one of the rafts. The men had their first food in a week.

It was a beautiful display of faith and humility in the presence of God and one another. On the 13th day another remarkable thing happened. A heavy shower of rain passed by, missing the thirsty men by a thousand feet. For the first time Lt. Whittaker led the others in prayer. He prayed that the rain would return. What happened then he describes this way in a book he later wrote about the experience: “There are some things that can’t be explained by the natural law. The wind did not change, but the receding curtain of rain began to move slowly toward us against the wind. We drank, and caught a store of water.”* On the 21st day they spotted land. Lt. Whittaker manned the oars of his raft. Seven and a half hours later he reached land. He later wrote: “Today, fully recovered, I would hesitate to tackle that stretch of water. Yet, exhausted from three weeks of thirst, hunger and exposure, I accomplished the feat.” As soon as they reached land, they knelt down and gave thanks to God. When Lt. Whittaker returned home, he wrote a best-selling book about the experience. He also toured the country, sharing his new faith with live audiences. The man who started out as an unbeliever became the most ardent believer of all.

The next afternoon the men prayed for water. Shortly afterward, they were deluged by a rain storm. From that point on, Lt. Whittaker became a believer.

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On the tenth day something special happened. After their daily prayer service, the men confessed their sins aloud.

* We Thought We Heard Angels Singing by Lt. James C. Whittaker, in collaboration with Charles Leavelle (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1943).

Year B

he similarity between the story of Lt. James Whittaker and the story of Thomas the Apostle in today’s gospel reading is obvious.

Lectionary 44

4 Easter

Season

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Both were men who doubted. Both eventually became ardent believers. They became more. They became missionaries to others. Whittaker’s missionary efforts took him on speaking engagements in which he shared his new faith with people across the United States. Thomas the Apostle’s missionary efforts took him all the way to India. And the missionary work of both men continues to bear fruit to this very day. For example, there are thousands of Christians in India who trace their faith through ancient family traditions all the way back to Thomas the Apostle. And in July 1987, 45 years after James Whittaker published his book, the Reader’s Digest ran a story on how the book still impacts people today. he important thing is that both Thomas and Lt. Whittaker went from nonbelief to belief. They both became apostles who shared their new faith with others.

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There is a lesson here for all of us. Many of us have gone from unbelief to belief in our lives. But how many of us have taken the step that both Thomas and Lt. Whittaker took? How many of us have become apostles to others? God never intended us to keep our gift of faith bottled up inside ourselves. God intended us to share it with others, just as the men in the rafts shared their faith with Lt. Whittaker, and just as the other apostles shared their faith with Thomas, and just as Thomas and Lt. Whittaker, in turn, shared their faith with others.

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hat’s the message of today’s gospel reading. Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.’’ John 20:21

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The point Jesus makes is that we have been given the faith by him not to be locked away in our hearts but to be shared with our brothers and sisters. It is to be shared with our children. It is to be shared with the members of our own families. It is to be shared with friends who once believed in Jesus but have become inactive in the faith. It is to be shared with acquaintances and neighbors who are still searching. This is the message of today’s gospel. We are not just called to believe in Jesus and leave it at that. We are also called to share our faith. In the words of John XXIII, “Every believer in this world must become a spark of light.’’

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, help us realize that you gave us our faith not to be kept to ourselves but to be shared with others. Help us share it as the men in the rafts shared their faith with Lt. Whittaker. Help us share our faith in you as the apostles in the upper room shared their faith with Thomas. Help us become a spark of Easter light in a world still filled with Good Friday darkness.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 3:13–15, 17–19; 1 John 2:1–5; Luke 24:35–48

The Teacup Pain passes, but beauty remains forever.

he next time you’re looking for a way to relax after a hectic day, pick up a children’s storybook. But make sure it’s a storybook intended for four-year-olds.

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You’ll be surprised at what you learn. For example, you’ll discover that animals can talk, flowers can talk, and even teacups can talk. You’ll discover something even more remarkable. You’ll discover that a teacup can tell you a story that could change your life. Consider this paraphrased example from one children’s storybook. A grandfather and a grandmother are in a gift shop looking for something to give to their granddaughter for her birthday. Suddenly the grandmother spots a beautiful teacup. “Look at this lovely teacup!’’ she says to the grandfather. He picks it up and says, “You’re right! This is one of the loveliest teacups I’ve ever seen.’’ At that point something remarkable happens— something that could happen only in a children’s storybook. The teacup says to the grandparents, “Thank you for the compliment. But I wasn’t always beautiful.’’ Instead of being surprised that the teacup can talk, the grandmother and the grandfather simply ask it, “What do you mean when you say you weren’t always beautiful?’’ Year B

“Well,’’ says the teacup, “once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay. “But one day some man with dirty, wet hands threw me on a wheel. Then he started turning me round and round until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. “But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not yet!’ “Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. “But the man said, ‘Not yet!’ “Finally, he did stop. But then he did something even worse. He put me into a furnace. I got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. “But the man said, ‘Not yet!’ “Finally, when I thought I was going to burn up, the man took me out of the furnace. “Then some short lady began to paint me. The fumes from the paint got so bad that they made me sick to my stomach. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. “ ‘Not yet!’ said the short lady. “Finally, she did stop. But then she gave me to the man again, and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before. ‘Stop! Stop!’ I cried. “ ‘Not yet!’ said the man. “And finally, he took me out of the furnace and let me cool. When I was completely cool, a pretty lady put me on this shelf, next to this mirror. “When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was amazed. I could not believe what I saw. I was no longer ugly, soggy, and dirty. Lectionary 47

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I was beautiful, firm, and clean. I cried for joy. “It was then that I realized that all that pain was worthwhile. Without it I would still be ugly, soggy, and dirty. And it was then that all that pain took on meaning for me. It had passed, but the beauty it brought remained.’’ hat children’s story about the teacup contains the same message as do today’s Scripture readings.

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It’s the message that before Jesus could rise to glory on Easter, he first had to suffer and die. Peter puts it this way in today’s first reading: God announced long ago through all the prophets that his Messiah had to suffer . . . [before being raised to glory]. Acts of the Apostles 3:18

It’s the message that if we are to become something useful and beautiful for God, we must first go through a certain amount of suffering. It’s the message that if we are to rise with Jesus, we must first die as he did. Saint Augustine put it this way in a sermon that he delivered to Christians 1,500 years ago: You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. When you are put in the oven, therefore, keep your thoughts on the time when you will be taken out again; for God is faithful and will guard both your going in and your coming out.

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et’s close with a story:

In 1954 the great French painter Henri Matisse died at the age of 86.

And the Gospel puts the same idea this way:

In the last years of his life, arthritis crippled and deformed his hands, making it painful for him to hold a paintbrush.

Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer . . . [before being raised to glory].” Luke 24:45–46

Yet he continued to paint, placing a cloth between his fingers to keep the brush from slipping.

Jesus adds elsewhere in the Gospel that what has happened to him must also happen to us, saying:

One day someone asked him why he submitted his body to such suffering. Why did he continue to paint in the face of such great physical pain?

Remember . . . “Slaves are not greater than their master.” If people persecuted me, they will persecute you too. . . . John 15:20

Matisse replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.’’

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In a similar way, the pain that you and I experience in being shaped into something useful and beautiful for God will pass.

When this happens, we may shout, “Stop! Stop!’’ But in the end we will cry for joy— just as the teacup did, and just as Jesus did.

But the beauty of what we become in the process will remain for ever and ever and ever.

This is the message of today’s Scripture readings.

(N.B. The song “Abba! Father!’’ makes an appropriate follow-up to this homily.)

hat the Gospel is saying is that if we are to rise to glory as Jesus did, we must also suffer as he did.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 4:8–12; 1 John 3:1–2; John 10:11–18

The “Jesus’’ Nut

His mother shrugged. She had no idea what they called it. ”I give up,’’ she said. “What do they call the nut that holds it all together?’’

Jesus is the one who holds everything together.

Mike smiled and said, “They call it the ‘Jesus’ nut.’’

ome time ago I ran across an article by Carolyn Moran. It was entitled “The Nut that Saved Our Marriage.’’

ith a little help from Mike, his mother saw the connection between Jesus and the nut.

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Now you can’t read a title like that and not wonder who that nut was.

Just as Jesus—by his death and resurrection— holds the human race together, so that nut holds Mike’s helicopter together.

I thought it might be her husband who had a sense of humor that defused situations before they got explosive. Or I thought it might be one of their children who did something funny to make them laugh when situations got tense. Or I thought it might even be a friend who made them see how silly it was to focus on the bad points each had, when they both had so many good points. Well, I was in for a big surprise. It was none of these people. Carolyn introduces “the nut’’ with this story. One day she was having lunch with her husband and their son Mike at their Los Angeles home. Mike was a navy helicopter pilot who was visiting from San Diego.

nd this brings us back to the title of Carolyn’s article— “The Nut that Saved Our Marriage.’’

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Carolyn saw Jesus as playing the same role in her marriage as the nut played in Mike’s helicopter. Jesus was the one who held her marriage together. Like the helicopter, marriage is a very complicated thing. There’s so much that can go wrong with it. Removing Jesus from her marriage would be like removing the “Jesus’’ nut from Mike’s helicopter. It would fall apart.

At one point during the lunch, Mike and his father began talking about the helicopter that Mike flew. Mike said:

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“You know, Dad, as complicated as that helicopter is, its whirling rotor is held in place by a single hexagonal nut.’’

The first reading describes Jesus as being like the cornerstone of a building.

Then turning to his mother, Mike said, “And, Mom, do you know what they call that nut?’’ Year B

he idea of Jesus as being the one who holds everything together is also the theme of today’s readings.

In ancient buildings a cornerstone was important. It supported the building and held it together. To remove a cornerstone from a building was to doom it to destruction. Lectionary 50

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In a similar way, Jesus holds a Christian marriage together. Remove Jesus from it, and it is doomed to destruction. The gospel reading repeats the same idea. It describes Jesus as being like the shepherd of a flock. A shepherd’s role is to hold the flock together and to protect it from anything that would harm it. Again, that’s the same role that Jesus plays in Christian marriage. He holds it together and protects it from anything that would harm it.

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his leads to the practical application that all this has for our lives.

If our marriage or our family is in trouble, maybe it’s because we have forgotten about the nut that God destined to hold it together. Maybe we have forgotten about Jesus. Maybe we have left Jesus out. Maybe we haven’t invited Jesus into our marriage or into our home. It’s significant that almost every time that Jesus was invited into a home in gospel times, he worked a miracle for those who lived there. For example, when the newlyweds invited Jesus into their home, he changed water into wine. When Peter invited Jesus into his home, Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law. When a Roman centurion invited Jesus into his home, Jesus healed his servant. When the sisters invited Jesus into their home, he raised their brother from the dead. When Jairus invited Jesus into his home, Jesus restored his daughter to life. This makes us ask ourselves, If we invited Jesus into our home, won’t he do the same for us?

nd so the message of today’s reading is clear. If our marriage, our family, or our personal life is in trouble, maybe it’s because we’ve left Jesus out of it. Maybe it’s because we haven’t invited Jesus into it.

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And so today’s readings are an invitation to us to invite Jesus back into our home and back into our life.

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et’s close with a story by Doris Forman.

Some years ago the Forman family moved into a beautiful, modern home. Doris’s husband insisted on hanging a large painting of Jesus in the most prominent place in the living room. The interior decorator told him the picture was out of place there. It stood out like a sore thumb. Doris agreed with the decorator. But her husband refused to move the picture. He said that Jesus had blessed them with a new home. And he was going to give Jesus the place of honor in that home. After a few months, Doris noticed that a surprising thing began to happen. The picture began to have a remarkable effect not only on the Forman family but also on their close friends. It sent a message to everyone. And the message was simple: The nut, the cornerstone, the shepherd of this family is Jesus Christ. He is the one who holds this marriage, this family, and this home together. He is the one who continues to work a miracle of love among us. And he will do the same for you if you but invite him into your home.

The answer to that question is clear. 42 Easter

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 9:26–31; 1 John 3:18–24; John 15:1–8

LORD God Almighty, You brought a grapevine out of Egypt. . . . You cleared a place for it to grow; its roots went deep, and it spread out over the whole land.

The Vine

Psalm 80:5, 9–10

Only by remaining united to Jesus can we survive and bear fruit.

And in the Book of Isaiah, the prophet says:

f I held up a picture of Uncle Sam and asked what country he symbolized, everyone here would say the United States.

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If I held up a picture of a hammer and a sickle and asked what country it symbolized, everyone here would say Russia. If I held up a picture of a maple leaf and asked what country it symbolized, many of you would say Canada. But if I held up a picture of a grapevine and asked what country it symbolized, many of you would not know. f you happened to be a collector of old coins, you might know, because the country once stamped a grapevine on all of its coins.

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If you happened to be an archaeologist or a student of archaeology, you might know, because the country often used the grapevine to decorate its buildings. Finally, if you happened to be a biblical scholar or a student of the Bible, you might know, because the Bible often used the grapevine to symbolize the country. And that country, as you have probably guessed by now, is Israel— God’s Chosen People.

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onsider just two examples of how the Bible used the vine to symbolize Israel.

In the Book of Psalms, the psalmist prays to God in these words concerning Israel: Year B

Israel is the vineyard of the LORD Almighty; the people of Judah are the vines he planted. Isaiah 5:7 And so the grapevine became the symbol of ancient Israel. s time passed, however, the vine that God planted in the land of Israel turned bad. The people turned away from God.

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This caused God to say of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “Then why did it produce sour grapes and not the good grapes I expected?”

Isaiah 5:4

Likewise, this caused God to say of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, “I planted you like a choice vine . . . . But look what you have become! You are a rotten, worthless vine.” Jeremiah 2:21 How could you turn out to be a false vine? t’s against this background that we must read Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says:

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“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” John 15:5 oncretely, what is Jesus saying to the people of his time through this passage? He’s saying this:

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“I am the new vine, the true vine, that God has planted in the vineyard of Israel. Lectionary 53

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If you unite yourself to me, you will bear the fruit God intended you to bear when he chose you to be his special people.’’ Concretely, what is Jesus saying to us in modern times through this passage? He’s saying this: If you are to become the person that God intended you to become, you must remain united to me. If you do not remain united to me, there is no hope for you. Your life will end in spiritual tragedy.

United to him we can do anything. Separated from him we can do nothing.

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nd so today’s gospel is telling us two important things.

First, it is telling us that Jesus is the new and the true vine that God has planted in the vineyard of Israel. Second, it is telling us that only by uniting ourselves to Jesus will we bear fruit and grow into the persons God made us to be. et’s close with a story that illustrates this final point in a clear, dramatic way.

Let me illustrate by a concrete example what Jesus is saying to us.

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here’s a story about two friends who grew up together. They were inseparable. When you saw the one, you saw the other. Everybody liked them.

There’s a movie called Shadow of the Hawk. In it a young couple and an Indian guide are making their way up a mountainside, fleeing from evil people.

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What no one realized, however, was that one had a strong character, while the other had a weak character. As long as they were together, the one with the weak character was all right. After high school the two friends went to different colleges. It was only a matter of time before the weaker friend fell into temptation and made a wreck of his life. His family despaired and lost hope for him.

At one point the young woman slumps to the ground and says, “I can’t take another step.’’ The young man lifts her to her feet and says, “But, darling, we must go on. We have no other choice!’’ She shakes her head and says, “I can’t go on! I can’t go on!’’ Then the Indian guide says to the young man, “Hold her close to your heart. Let your strength and your courage flow out of your body into hers.’’

When the stronger friend heard what happened, he went to his former buddy. He rescued him from his situation and brought him back to where he was before.

The young man does this, and in a few minutes the woman smiles and says, “Now I can go on! Now I can do it!’’

It was then that the weaker friend realized that his future salvation rested on maintaining contact with his stronger friend and drawing inspiration and strength from him.

This is the same kind of role that Jesus wants to play in our own lives. He wants to share with us not only his own strength and his own courage but also his very life.

That’s something of the way it is with Jesus and each one of us. And that’s precisely what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel. 44 Easter

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United to Jesus we can do anything. Separated from him we can do nothing. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17

the excitement of the coronation ball, and his conversations with celebrities. It was a picture he never forgot as long as he lived.

Three Kinds of Giving Love involves three kinds of giving: self-giving, forgiving, and thanksgiving.

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here’s a story that has come down through the years. It’s about a political dignitary who attended the coronation of King Edward VII in England in 1901.

It dramatizes, especially, the kind of love that Jesus describes in today’s gospel when he says, “Love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12

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The dignitary had witnessed the historic moment when the crown was placed on the king’s head. He had danced at the great coronation ball. And finally, he had mingled with royalty and chatted with celebrities. When he returned home, someone asked him if there was one moment or event in his historic visit to England that stood out above all the others. “Yes,’’ he said, “there was such a moment.’’ He went on to say that it took place one night when he was returning to his hotel suite. It was bitter cold outside. And as he passed a vacant building he saw two street children huddled together in the doorway. One was a boy of about twelve; the other was a girl of about four, obviously his sister. The boy had taken off his coat and put it around his little sister’s shoulders. And he had taken his wool cap and put it around her feet. The dignitary said that the picture of those two children, huddled together in the doorway, stood out above all the others. It completely eclipsed the pomp and ceremony of the coronation, Year B

hat story dramatizes the kind of love that is described so beautifully in today’s readings.

And, again, when he says, “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13 It has been pointed out that when all is said and done, love boils down to a question of giving. It’s a question of self-giving. It’s a question of forgiving. And it’s a question of thanksgiving. We have seen how love is a question of self-giving. The story of the boy and his little sister, huddled together in the doorway, illustrates this. Let’s now see how love is also a question of forgiving. orgiveness has to be a part of every love relationship, precisely because we are human.

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Being human, we sin against one another and hurt one another— even members of our own family. And for that reason, fathers must be ready to forgive sons. Sons must be ready to forgive fathers. Mothers must be ready to forgive daughters. Daughters must be ready to forgive mothers. Brothers must be ready to forgive sisters. Sisters must be ready to forgive brothers. And friends must be ready to forgive friends. Lectionary 56

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And they must be ready to do this not seven times but, as Jesus said, “seventy times seven times.’’

Immediately the entire place went up for grabs. The cast forgot about the rehearsal and took off to drink and to celebrate.

How often we say the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, especially the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’’

Helen did not join them, however. Instead she left the Empire Theater and headed for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, making her way through the crowds of celebrating people. She writes:

And how often we say them on Sunday but fail to practice them the rest of the week, even within our own family. We forget that Jesus himself said: “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6:14–15 And so besides self-giving, love also involves forgiving. This leads us to the third kind of giving that loves involves: thanksgiving.

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hanksgiving is especially important when it comes to our love for God.

“I had visions of being the only person in that vast chapel offering up a prayer of thanks to the Lord. But when I got there the cathedral was so packed I couldn’t get inside. I was forced to offer my prayer on the steps.” That moving story illustrates the third kind of giving that loves involves— especially love of God. It makes us ask ourselves about our own love of God. How filled with thanksgiving is it?

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but the one thing everyone is capable of giving God is thanks.

nd so love involves three kinds of giving: self-giving, as the story of the children shows, forgiving, because we all make mistakes, and thanksgiving, as the story of Helen Hayes shows.

When we have nothing else to give to God, we can still give our thanks. There’s no excuse on earth for not giving thanks to God.

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Helen Hayes is one of the finest actresses ever to come out of Hollywood. In her book A Gathering of Hope she takes us behind the glamor and footlights and invites us into her mind and into her heart. For example, she recalls the end of World War I. She was only 18 then, starring in the Broadway play Dear Brutus. During a rehearsal one day, someone came running into the theater, shouting the news that the war was over. 46 Easter

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et us close with a prayer:

Lord, on this special day of days, we give you thanks for our mothers— especially for their living example of what love involves: self-giving to others, forgiving of those who hurt us, and thanksgiving to God. Give us the courage to imitate our mothers. Help us bear witness to the world— as they do— that love is ultimately a question of giving: self-giving, forgiving, and thanksgiving.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Ascension Acts of the Apostles 1:1–11; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20

Change in Presence The Ascension marks a new mode of presence and action for Jesus in our world.

he exterior wall of the Tribune building in Chicago contains a number of unusual, protruding stones.

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Each of these stones is identified by a plaque telling where it originally came from.

his example illustrates an important point: there are varying ways and degrees of making something present.

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The stones in the wall of the Tribune building are one kind of presence. Live satellite TV coverage is another. And flesh-and-blood representatives are yet another. his brings us to the great feast that we celebrate today: the feast of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven.

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This feast does not celebrate the end of Jesus’ presence in the world. On the contrary, it celebrates a change in the way Jesus is present in the world.

For example, there’s a stone from the great pyramid of Egypt, there’s a stone from the Taj Mahal of India, there’s a stone from the Arch of Triumph of France, and—the latest addition— there’s a stone from the Berlin Wall.

It celebrates the fact that Jesus is no longer present in the world through his human body in a physical way. Jesus is now present in the world through his mystical body in a spiritual way. He is present through his Church:

When the architect designed the building, he wanted to make the world present in it.

“For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20

f the architect had designed the Tribune building today, he might have taken a different approach. He might have made the world present in it in an even more powerful way.

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nd so the feast of the Ascension does not mark the end of Jesus’ presence in the world. It simply marks the change in the way Jesus is present in the world.

For example, he might have filled the lobby of the building with a solid wall of television sets monitoring by satellite the great capitals of the world.

Jesus is now present through us, his followers.

Or, if he and the Tribune people wanted to outdo themselves, they might have made the world present in a remarkable, flesh-and-blood way, by stationing live representatives from the nations of the world in the lobby of the building. Year B

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This leads us to an even more important point. The Ascension marks not only a change in Jesus’ presence in the world. It also marks a change in Jesus’ activity in the world. Jesus no longer acts through the members of his physical body, but through the members of his mystical body. Lectionary 58

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To put it in another way, Jesus no longer acts by using his own human voice to address people, his own human heart to love people, and human hands to reach out to people. Rather, he acts through us—you and me. He uses our voice to address people, our heart to love people, and our hands to reach out to people. This is what we celebrate on this great feast.

Give us a new heart to carry out our calling: to be the new voice, the new heart, and the new hands by which your Son acts in our world. Give us a new spirit to be what we are: the new body by which your Son speaks, loves, and reaches out to people in modern times.

n this day 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed on to us, his followers, the responsibility to let him be present in our modern world.

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On this day 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed on to us, his followers, the responsibility to let him continue to speak, love, and reach out to people in our modern world. On this day 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed on to us, his followers, the responsibility to let him continue to work in our modern world. This is the reason that we gathered together here today. This is the mystery that we celebrate in this liturgy today. This is the challenge that Scripture holds out to us today.

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et’s close with a prayer that sums up what we have been trying to say:

God of mercy and love, look down upon your children, gathered here about your Son’s table. Give us a new mind to appreciate our calling: to be the new body by which your Son is present in our world.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:15–17, 20–26; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11–19

Pip As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us.

harles Dickens wrote a novel called Great Expectations. It was made into a popular Hollywood movie.

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The story centers around a boy named Pip. Pip comes from a poor, lower-class family in a small town in England. He has no hope of ever leaving his surroundings, getting a good education, and amounting to something. He is doomed to a life of poverty and drudgery. Then, one day, Pip is playing in the hills outside his town. Suddenly he comes upon an escaped prisoner. The prisoner is in desperate need of help, and Pip goes out of his way to help him. onths later, a lawyer from London knocks on the door of Pip’s home. He informs Pip’s family that an anonymous donor has arranged to send Pip to London. He’s to be brought up in an upper-class home and given the finest education money can buy.

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From that moment on, Pip’s life is changed in the most remarkable way imaginable. He is rescued from a life of poverty and drudgery and given a life of hope and opportunity. ears later, when Pip is a successful businessman, living in a fine London home, a dirty, lower-class workman knocks at his door.

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When Pip sees the filthy-looking man, he treats him rudely and tries to get rid of him. Year B

Then comes the surprise. The man turns out to be the escaped prisoner, whom Pip had befriended years ago. Then comes an even greater surprise. This same escaped prisoner turns out to be the anonymous donor who rescued Pip from a life of poverty and ignorance and made possible the life of wealth and education that he now enjoys. The escaped prisoner looks at Pip, and says proudly: “Pip, I’m your second father. I’ve put away my money only for you to spend. “When I was a hired-out shepherd in a solitary hut, not seeing no faces . . . til I half-forgot . . . wot faces wos like, I seen yourn. . . . I says each time . . . ‘I’ll make that boy a gentleman!’ And I done it. Why look at you . . . look at these lodgings.’’ With that, the old man grabbed Pip’s clean, uncalloused hands into his filthy, rugged hands and kissed them. Pip was so stunned, he could hardly think or speak.

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hat story is a kind of parable of Jesus and each one of us.

Sin had doomed us to a life of slavery and wretchedness. We were like Pip—without any hope. We had nothing to look forward to, only poverty and drudgery. But then came Jesus. He rescued us from that doomed life and gave us a life of freedom and spiritual opportunity. Everything we are today, everything we have today, everything we enjoy today, Lectionary 60

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we owe to Jesus Christ, who bought it for us with the price of his own life. nd now we find ourselves in Pip’s position. Just as Pip suddenly became aware of how much he owed the escaped prisoner, so we suddenly become aware of how much we owe Jesus.

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And just as Pip was suddenly faced with an important decision— How will he use the new life of freedom and opportunity— so we are faced with the same decision— How will we use our new life of freedom and opportunity? How will we show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us?

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nd that brings us to today’s gospel reading.

Like Pip, each of Jesus’ apostles faced the same decision that he faced. What would they do with their new life of freedom and opportunity? How would they show their gratitude to Jesus for all he had done for them? Each one, with the exception of Judas, decided to cast his lot with Jesus. Each one decided to commit his life to the task of completing the work Jesus began. And so Jesus prayed to his Father for them, saying: “Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name. . . . keep them safe from the Evil One. . . . I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.” John 17:11, 15, 18

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nd that brings us back to ourselves in this church today.

with Jesus. We too have decided to commit our life to the task of completing the work Jesus began. And so the same prayer that Jesus prayed over his apostles at the Last Supper 2,000 years ago, Jesus prays over each one of us here in this church this morning: “Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name. . . . keep them safe from the Evil One. . . . I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.” nd so Jesus not only commissions us to complete the work he began. He also empowers us to do so by personally praying over us.

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his is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings.

This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy. It is the good news that as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world. We are to complete the work that Jesus began. We are to share with others the life of freedom and spiritual opportunity that Jesus shared with us. et us close with these words from today’s second reading. They make a fitting response to what we have been saying:

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Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. . . . he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen . . . the love which God has for us.” 1 John 4:11, 13, 16

Like Jesus’ Apostles, we too have decided to cast our lot 50 Easter

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Pentecost Acts of the Apostles 2:1–11; 1 Corinthians 12:3–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23

New Presence Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and a new presence of God among us.

uring World War II there were many American soldiers stationed on islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the early stages of the war, they lived in tent cities and ate in mess halls that had no refrigerators or luxuries like that.

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Government nutrition experts wanted these soldiers to have food like milk and eggs. But this was impossible without refrigeration. If the soldiers were to have foods like this, then these foods would have to be changed. They would have to be put into a form that required no refrigeration. And so a new kind of food was born: powdered food. Eggs and milk were powdered, put into packages, and sent to the fighting men in the Pacific. By simply adding water to the powder, the men had eggs and milk in a new form— a form that could be served daily without refrigeration. ou’re probably wondering how all this relates to the feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate today.

Y

The answer is that it illustrates an important point about Pentecost that we tend to forget. We tend to forget that Pentecost marks the moment when God began to dwell among God’s people in a totally new form. Year B

For 30 years God dwelt among God’s people in the form and in the person of Jesus. But because Jesus was truly human, his presence among God’s people was limited to a human life span. Thus if God were to continue to dwell among us after the life span of Jesus, it would have to be in a new form— a form different from a human body. Pentecost marks the moment when God began to dwell among us in a totally new way— not in the physical person of Jesus, but in the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. nd so the story of the change of the form of eggs and milk gives us a way of looking at the change in the form of God’s presence among us, which began on Pentecost.

A

But Pentecost marks more than the change in the form of God’s presence among us. It also marks the change in the form of Jesus’ presence among us. Jesus now dwells among us in a new way also. He now resides among us, not as someone dwelling alongside us, but as someone dwelling inside us. That’s what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “It is better for you that I go away.”

John 16:7

And again when he told them, “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.” John 14:18 And so Pentecost marks the moment when God and Jesus begin to dwell among us in a totally new way.

T

his brings us to a second point about Pentecost.

Besides being the birthday of God’s new presence among us individually, Lectionary 63

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it is also the birthday of God’s new presence among us collectively.

“You’ve painted only white faces answering my call.’’

Because Jesus dwells inside us, we are united with him in a new way. Jesus said in his farewell talk to his disciples:

“Your call!’’ said the painter.

“When that day comes [when the Holy Spirit comes], you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.” John 14:20 And so through our new unity with Jesus, we now form one body with him. The Holy Spirit forms us into what Paul calls the Body of Christ. Thus Pentecost is not only the birthday of God’s new presence among us individually, but also the birthday of God’s new presence among us collectively. It is the birthday of Christ’s Body, the Church. It is the birthday of God’s new family.

A

story will illustrate in a concrete way what all this means.

Some years ago an artist was commissioned to do a painting illustrating the point that through the Church, God calls all nations to be one family. The artist decided to model his painting after the lines of an old hymn that read, “Around the throne of God in heaven thousands of children stand.’’ Late one night, after weeks of work, the artist finished the painting. Shortly after falling asleep, he seemed to hear a noise in his studio. When he went to investigate, he found a stranger changing his painting. The stranger was changing the color of the faces of the children. One was now red, another brown, another black, and another yellow.

“Yes,’’ said the stranger. “I said to my disciples, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ Mark 10:14 “That’s what I told my disciples in gospel times, and that’s what I’m still telling them.’’ Then the artist awoke, and he realized that he had been dreaming. The next morning he revised his painting in line with his dream. The Church is the vehicle through which God is saying to us, “Let the children of all nations come to me and become one family.’’

L

et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, help us realize that Pentecost marks the end of an old relationship with you and the beginning of a new one. Help us realize that this new relationship places upon us a new responsibility. It is the responsibility of working for the spread of the Gospel not just in our own parish but also throughout our world. This is what the Holy Spirit calls us to do, both individually and collectively. Help us carry out our calling with confidence, with courage, and with commitment.

“What are you doing?’’ shouted the artist. “I’m correcting your painting,’’ said the stranger. 52 Pentecost 4 Lectionary

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Baptism of the Lord Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34–38; Mark 1:7–11

Collective Responsibility We must assume responsibility for the actions of the society of which we are a part.

ou’d hardly expect the dean of American psychiatry to stand up and talk about sin. But that’s what Dr. Karl Menninger does in his book Whatever Became of Sin?

Y

Dr. Menninger is deeply troubled by individuals who won’t admit to their personal sins. He’s even more troubled by their refusal to admit to their social sins. What does Menninger mean by a social sin? He means a sin committed by society. He means a sin committed by groups of people or even nations. Here are some examples: citywide disregard of the poor, nationwide stockpiling of military hardware, planetwide destruction of the environment. The frightening thing about these social sins is that single individuals, like you and me, don’t consider themselves responsible for them. We don’t see ourselves as guilty of them. And so we wash our hands of them.

ow different was the attitude of Jesus when it came to accepting responsibility for social sins.

H

To learn what Jesus’ attitude was, we need only turn to today’s gospel and ask ourselves this question: Why did Jesus step into the Jordan River to be baptized by John? John had the same question in mind when he saw Jesus step down into the water. Year B

Matthew says that when Jesus presented himself for baptism, “John tried to make him change his mind. ‘I ought to be baptized by you,’ John said, ‘and yet you have come to me!’ ” Matthew 3:14 Why, then, did Jesus step into the Jordan River to be baptized by John? For John had made it clear that his baptism was for sinners only. It was for those who had turned their back on God. If Jesus had not done this, why did he present himself for baptism? his brings us back to Dr. Menninger’s point about social sins, that is, sins committed by groups or nations.

T

By being born into our world, Jesus identified himself with the human race. He became a member of a sinful world of people, a world of people of whom the psalmist said, “But they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one.” Psalm 14:3 And that’s why Jesus stepped into the river to be baptized by John. It was not because he, personally, was a sinner and needed conversion. Rather, it was because he was a member of the sinful human race, which needed conversion. It was for this reason that he stepped into the river to be baptized. It was to acknowledge that he had identified himself with the human race so totally that he could not stand apart from it— not even from its sins. It was to acknowledge that the human race, of which he was a part, needed to admit that it had sinned and needed conversion. Lectionary 21

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This is why Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized by John.

that these sins are not real or, worse yet, that they will go away by themselves.

his brings us to the practical application that all this has for our personal lives. What does it say to us in this church today?

T

Acknowledging these sinful situations and facing up to them honestly is something we can all do— something we must do. It’s a necessary starting point.

First of all, it says that, like Jesus, we are all members of the human race.

Second, we can speak out against social sins. It’s not only our right but our duty.

Second, it says that, like Jesus, we must all be responsible members of the human race. We cannot say to ourselves, “I don’t approve of some of the things the human race is doing, but I’m not responsible for them.’’

Third, we can all pray to God for special guidance in dealing with these situations.

itywide disregard of the poor to the point that basic human rights are ignored and trampled upon— this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the city.

C

Nationwide stockpiling of military hardware to the point that global extinction of the human race is a serious possibility— this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the nation. Planetwide destruction of the environment to the point that the ozone layer of our planet is being destroyed— this is something we can’t stand apart from. We must take responsibility for it, for we are citizens of the planet. his raises a big question. What can we, personally, do about these sins? We can do three things at least.

T

For they are situations that need all the guidance we can get. They are complex situations. They are not black and white situations that admit of black and white solutions.

T

he example of Jesus in today’s gospel is a call to action to all of us.

It’s a call to recognize that we are all members of the human race— as Jesus was. It’s a call to acknowledge our responsibility when it comes to social sins— as Jesus did. It’s a call to do something concrete, whether it be speaking out against these situations, praying for guidance, or becoming directly involved in their solution. If we, the members of Christ’s Body, don’t do something, who will? This is the call that today’s gospel makes to us. It’s a call we must ponder prayerfully. It’s a call we must all respond to in some concrete way.

First, we can acknowledge that these sins and situations do exist. We can resist the temptation to bury our head in the sand and to pretend 54 Baptism

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


1 Samuel 3:3–10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:13–15, 17–20; John 1:35–42

“Lord, if you are really there, and if you really care, come down and take over my life.”

He Touched Me

It was an unforgettable moment in an unforgettable night.

2nd Sunday of the Year

Like Andrew, we should share our discovery of Jesus with others.

t’s been said that nothing is so persuasive to the human heart as is the story of another person’s discovery of God.

I

With that in mind, Irving Harris put together a book of stories about people’s discovery of God. He called the book He Touched Me. One of the stories is about Bruce Larson, the well-known author, speaker, and pastor. During World War II, Bruce fought in the European theater of war. When the war was over, he stayed on in Germany as part of the army of occupation. Describing his life in postwar Germany, he says, “I felt that I was swimming in a sea of garbage. Worse yet, the garbage was inside me.’’ It was in this state of mind that Bruce was standing guard one night in a bombed-out building outside Stuttgart. He was all alone and his thoughts turned to the state of his soul. He felt nothing but disgust for the way his spiritual life had gone downhill during his time in the army. Then Bruce did something unusual. He took his gun off his shoulder and leaned it against the brick wall. Next he put out his cigarette and knelt down. As he lifted his eyes upward he could see millions of stars shining through the charred rafters of the bombed-out building. Then, with all the faith he could muster, he prayed this prayer: Year B

uring the weeks and days ahead, Bruce began to experience quiet miracles in his life. His old materialistic values and goals fell away. And new spiritual values and goals replaced them.

D

He literally felt like a new person. And his life began to reflect the way he felt. He says of his inner transformation: “At first, I told no one about it for fear that I was on a trip that wasn’t genuine or would not last.” But it was genuine, and it did last. The point was now clear to Bruce. That night in the bombed-out building in Stuttgart, Germany, he had met Jesus Christ just as surely as Andrew did in today’s gospel. And like Andrew, he had asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?’’ And Jesus said, “Come, and you will see.’’ ventually, Bruce’s tour of duty in Germany ended and he returned to his home in Chicago. His new attitude toward life went with him. He writes:

E

“In those early months as a new civilian, I can remember vividly walking the streets in the Loop and on the Near North Side. . . . I felt that I knew the ultimate secret of life— that Jesus Christ wants to live in us and with us and share our lives. . . . “As I walked the streets, I looked strangers in the eye and ached for them to know and to share my secret. Lectionary 65

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“I must have prayed silently for hundreds of people each week on my walks along Chicago streets.”

And no doubt we did this too by digging into our pocketbooks and contributing generously to the spread of the Gospel on earth.

hat Bruce was experiencing was the same thing that Andrew experienced after finding Jesus. Andrew, too, longed to share his discovery with others. And so he went to his brother Simon and shared his discovery with him.

But have we also taken the important step, as Andrew and Bruce did? Have we gone out and shared Jesus with others by our own word or example?

W

And that’s what Bruce eventually did, too. He began to share his discovery of Jesus with others. The story of Bruce and the story of Andrew illustrate an important point that we find in all conversion stories. Once you discover Jesus— really discover him— you want to share your discovery with others. That’s just how it is. his leads us to the important question. How does all of this apply to us? It applies in two ways.

T

First, we too have discovered Jesus, as did Andrew in today’s gospel and as did Bruce in the bombed-out building. Perhaps our discovery wasn’t as dramatic as theirs. Nevertheless, it was just as real. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today, gathered at the Lord’s Table, preparing to share the Lord’s Supper.

A

nd this leads to the second point.

Like Andrew, and like Bruce, we too, after discovering Christ, longed to share our discovery with others. And no doubt we did this by praying that others might find Jesus, as Bruce prayed during his walks in Chicago. 56 Ordinary

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Jesus’ command to teach all nations was made not just to the clergy; it was made to everyone. Every Christian must preach the Gospel in some way. nd so if we’re not praying faithfully for the missionary work of the Church, if we’re not contributing generously to the preaching of the Gospel to all nations, if we’re not witnessing personally to it by word or example, we’ve not yet heeded Christ’s command as he intended us to do.

A

We’ve not yet shared our discovery of Christ with others as completely as we could. This is the practical, take-home message contained in the story of Andrew and the story of Bruce.

L

et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, teach us that here on earth you have no voice but ours to preach the good news of Jesus to others. Help us spread that good news not only by our prayers and by our material resources but also by our personal word and example. Lord, teach us that here on earth we are, indeed, your hands; we are your voice; we are your heart. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


3rd Sunday of the Year John 3:1–5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29–31; Mark 1:14–20

God’s Call Today God is still calling people in modern times, just as God called people in biblical times.

t the age of 15, Margaret Mehren was a member of the Nazi youth movement in Germany.

A

After the war she learned about the atrocities in Nazi concentration camps. And she was shocked. Suddenly she realized that Hitler wasn’t the glorious leader she thought he was. She vowed never again to believe an adult. It was in this frame of mind that Margaret also began to have doubts about her atheism. One day she even prayed to God, saying, “God, if you do exist, give me some sign.’’ About this time she ran across a Bible. She tried to read it several times, but it made no sense to her. Then one night she picked it up again. This time it made sense! She wrote later: Something happened to me when I read the words of Jesus. I knew he was alive! . . . I knew he was there, even though I could not hear or see anything. Jesus was real, more real than anything around me— the furniture, my books, the potted plants. I was no longer alone. My life was no longer a dead-end street. A few years later, at the age of 21, Margaret became a Franciscan nun. Today, 25 years later, she’s a missionary, teaching minority students in South Africa. Year B

argaret Mehren’s story dramatizes the fact that God still calls men and women today, just as God called Jonah in Old Testament times and James and John in New Testament times, in today’s gospel.

M

When we speak of God’s call to people to be God’s prophets or of Jesus’ call to people to be his disciples, we frequently speak of it as a vocation. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “to call.’’ We also think and speak of God’s call as being directed to young people, especially. And certainly that is true. One of the great spiritual leaders of our time was the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello. Tony said he felt God’s call in his teens. When he asked his father for permission to become a priest, Tony’s dad said no. He had only two other children, both daughters. It was Tony’s duty to carry on the family name. Then, after a span of 14 years of having no children, Tony’s mother became pregnant. When she was taken to the hospital for delivery, Tony ran the entire four-mile distance on foot. Arriving breathlessly, he asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?’’ When his father said it was a boy, Tony said, “Great! Now I can become a priest.’’ And at the age of 16, he entered a seminary in Bombay. He went on to become internationally famous. ut older people are also called to follow God. In fact, this seems to be a new pattern that is emerging.

B

To illustrate, consider the actual resumes of five men from a sizable list of men who entered the Jesuit order in 1987. First, there’s Vince, who is 33 years old. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and taught and coached sports at both the high school and the college levels. Lectionary 68

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Second, there’s Mike, who is 26 years old. He graduated from Harvard University and worked with the homeless in Baltimore and, as a teacher, with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the South Pacific. Third, there’s Rene, who is 27 years old. He graduated from the University of California and worked as an engineer with Texas Instruments. Fourth, there’s David, who is 28 years old and a convert to Catholicism. He graduated from the University of Southern Alabama, spent four years in the navy, and later worked as a physical therapist. Finally, there’s George, who is 30 years old. He graduated from Syracuse University, spent five years as an air traffic controller, and worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Alaska at a radio station. These are just five men, chosen at random from a list of men who entered just one religious order in 1987. The point is this: God is still calling people today, just as God called Jonah in Old Testament times and James and John in New Testament times. And God is calling both men and women. And God is calling both young and old.

T

his brings us to the practical application of this to our lives.

First, if we are parents, have we ever talked to our children about praying for guidance when it comes to choosing their life’s work? Second, have we ourselves ever prayed to God that one of our children might be called to serve the Church in a ministerial way? And if we are a single man or woman— in our teens, our twenties, or our thirties— are we praying for guidance, 58 Ordinary

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asking God for guidance in choosing the right life’s work in the future? Or have we ourselves ever prayed to God, offering to serve the Church in a ministerial way? Or have we ever thought of volunteering a year of our lives to serve the Church, as did 26-year-old Mike, who worked as a lay volunteer in the South Pacific, or as did 30-year-old George, who worked as a lay volunteer in Alaska? Working as a volunteer with other volunteers—both men and women— is one way to find out whether a life of service to the Church is something that makes us happy or brings us the kind of fulfillment we are searching for.

T

hese are just some of the considerations that grow out of today’s readings.

These are just some of the considerations that every parent and every single person should reflect on in the light of today’s readings. For God is, indeed, calling people in our times, just as God called them in biblical times. And God is calling both men and women, young and old.

L

et’s close with a reflection by Cardinal Newman:

God has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have a mission. . . . Therefore, I will trust him. . . . He does nothing in vain. . . . He knows what he is about. O my God, I put myself without reserve into your hands.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


4th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 7:32–35; Mark 1:21–28

The Prisoner’s Confession Jesus continues to forgive and drive out evil spirits through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

n 1964 the Romanian government released a number of political and religious prisoners. One was Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor.

I

He had spent fourteen years in prison, three of them in solitary confinement. In his book In God’s Underground, Wurmbrand describes his years in solitary. His cell was a basement room with no windows. A bare bulb illuminated it at all times. His bed was a rough straw mattress on top of three planks. There were no toilet facilities. He had to depend on the guards, who sometimes made him wait for hours, laughing at his physical discomfort. One night Wurmbrand was startled by a faint tapping on the wall next to his bed. A new prisoner had arrived in the cell next door and was signaling him. Wurmbrand tapped back. This provoked a fury of taps. After a while, Wurmbrand realized that his neighbor was trying to teach him a simple code: one tap is A, two taps is B, three taps is C, and so on. From this crude beginning, his neighbor, who was a radio operator, taught him the Morse code. Wurmbrand told the radio operator that he himself was a pastor. He then asked the operator if he were Christian. There was a long silence. Finally, the radio operator tapped back, “I cannot say so.’’ Year B

Every night the two men spoke through the wall, getting better acquainted. Finally, one night the radio operator tapped out a strange message. It read: “I should like to confess my sins.’’ Wurmbrand was deeply moved by the request. The confession took a long time. It was interrupted by periods of silence and extended far into the night. No detail was left out. Nothing was glossed over. It was sincere and from the heart. When the radio operator finished, Wurmbrand was touched profoundly and slowly tapped back the words of absolution. It was a dramatic moment for both men. Then the radio operator tapped through the wall these beautiful words: “I am happier at this moment than I have been in many years.” here are two similarities between that story and the story in today’s gospel.

T

First, in both stories, a man with an “unclean spirit’’ meets Jesus. In the gospel story, the man meets Jesus directly and in the flesh. In the Wurmbrand story, the radio operator meets Jesus in the person of his representative. Recall that Jesus said to his representatives, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.’’ Matthew 10:40 And “Whoever listens to you listens to me.’’ Luke 10:16 Neither story tells us what “unclean spirit’’ was present in the man. In the case of the radio operator, however, we know that it was such that he no longer considered himself Christian, even though he had been baptized as one. Lectionary 71

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And so the first way the two stories are related is that in both stories a man with an unclean spirit meets Jesus.

We spend large amounts of time, energy, and money on ourselves, but very little on God and God’s work. As one man said very bluntly and honestly:

he second way the two stories are related is that in both stories Jesus drives out the unclean spirit.

“I give more in tips to waitresses and bartenders on Saturday night than I give to my church on Sunday morning. And even I know that’s not right!’’

In the gospel story, Jesus does this directly through the words, “Come out of the man!’’ Mark 1:25

T

T

In the Wurmbrand story, Jesus does this through the words of absolution: “Your sins are forgiven.’’ Recall that Jesus told his representatives, “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven.” John 20:23

T

his brings us to the all-important question. How do these two stories relate to us?

They relate to us in the same way that they relate to each other. First, each of us in this church, to some extent, has an unclean spirit in us. By that we mean that we have something in us that keeps us from being the kind of person we would like to be. For example, we may have something in us that keeps us from praying the way we would really like to pray. Or, perhaps, we may have something in us that keeps us from loving the way we would like to love— especially the members of our own family. Or, perhaps, we may have something in us that keeps us from being as generous as we would like to be. For example, we all have a responsibility when it comes to spreading God’s kingdom on earth. Yet, how much time, energy, or money do we devote to this? 60 Ordinary

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his brings us to the second way both stories relate to us.

Just as Jesus drove out the unclean spirit from each man, so Jesus wants to drive out the unclean spirit from us. He wants to free us from whatever is keeping us from being as prayerful, as loving, and as generous as we would like to be. But Jesus can do this for us only if we approach him and open our hearts to him. And how do we do this? We do it the same way that the radio operator did. We approach Jesus directly and humbly in the sacrament of Reconciliation. ut in a nutshell, this is the message of today’s readings. It’s an invitation to approach Jesus and to let him drive out from us the unclean spirit that is in us.

P

This is the invitation Jesus extends to each of us in today’s liturgy. And if we accept his invitation, Jesus will do for us what he did for the radio operator. He will take from our hearts our unclean spirit and replace it with the Holy Spirit.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


5th Sunday of the Year Job 7:1–4, 6–7; 1 Corinthians 9:16–19, 22–23; Mark 1:29–39

The Bald Soprano Prayer normally takes one of three forms: meditation, contemplation, conversation.

ugene Ionesco wrote a play called The Bald Soprano. In one scene a man and a woman are seated in a waiting room of an office. They appear to be total strangers.

E

After sitting there for a while in total silence, the man decides to strike up a conversation. As the conversation progresses awkwardly, the audience discovers that some remarkable coincidences link the lives of these two apparent strangers. Both were born in Manchester, England. Both have one child, named Alice. Both now live in London on Bromfield Street. Both live on the fifth floor of the same apartment building. And here’s where the audience gets the big surprise. Both live in the same apartment. The two people are husband and wife. hen the shock—and humor— of the situation subsides, Ionesco’s point emerges.

W

The married couple in the waiting room really don’t know each other. They live together, but they don’t know each other deep down. They are—in a very real sense—strangers. hat is true of the couple in the waiting room is unfortunately true of many Christians and Jesus Christ.

W Year B

Many Christians today are like the man and the woman. Their relationship with Jesus is largely on the surface. They really don’t know Jesus deep down. Outwardly they appear to be committed to Jesus. They wear a gold cross around their necks. They go to church on Sunday, and they obey the commandments. But deep down inside, they really don’t know Jesus. Why is this the case? Why don’t they know Jesus better? Why don’t they relate to him more personally? For instance, why don’t they relate to Jesus the way Jesus himself related to his Father? One reason is that they don’t do what Jesus does in today’s gospel. They don’t take time to communicate with Jesus the way Jesus communicated with his heavenly Father. To put it in another way, they don’t take the time to pray, as we find Jesus doing in today’s gospel. We read of Jesus: Very early the next morning . . . he went out of town to a lonely place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

L

et’s take a closer look at prayer and what it involves.

A high school student wrote the following as part of a homework assignment: “One day after playing in the park, I went to a nearby fountain for some water. The cool water tasted so good, and I felt refreshment enter my tired body. “Suddenly, I began to think. ‘We need water to drink. But where does water come from?’ Lectionary 74

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‘Clouds!’ I thought. ‘But where do clouds come from?’ ‘Vaporized moisture.’ This went on until I got no answer— or rather, until I was left with just one answer: God!

A good name for contemplation is soul praying. In contemplation, we don’t think about anything or say anything. We simply rest silently in Jesus’ presence, the way the student rested in God’s presence in the park.

“For the next couple of minutes, I just lay on the grass looking up into the sky, marveling at what God must be like.

In other words, we simply enjoy Jesus’ presence, as we would a piece of music or a sunset. As one person put it, “We simply look at Jesus and he looks at us.’’

“Then I talked to God for a little bit in my own words. After that I went home.’’ That young person’s experience illustrates the three forms that prayer to Jesus can take: meditation, conversation, and contemplation.

L

et’s begin with the first form: meditation.

A good name for meditation is mind praying. We simply do what the student did. We think about some idea. For example, we think about Jesus and what he must have been like. In other words, meditation is simply taking some idea and exploring it prayerfully with the mind.

T

his brings us to the second form that prayer to Jesus can take: conversation.

A good name for conversation is heart praying. We simply converse with Jesus from the heart, the way the student did. We converse with Jesus the way we would converse with a good friend. In other words, conversation is simply conversing with Jesus prayerfully from the heart.

T

n brief, then, prayer normally takes one of three forms: meditation, mind praying; conversation, heart praying; or contemplation, soul praying.

I

Often these three forms are so interwoven in the same prayer that it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends.

L

et’s close with a story:

Shortly before Father Dan Lord, the great leader of youth, died of cancer, a young person asked him for advice on how to pray. Father Lord said to the young person: “Keep it simple. Pray to God as your Father, to Jesus as your brother, and to the Holy Spirit as your constant companion.’’ And we might add, pray to them the way Jesus invited us to love: with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole soul.

his brings us to the third form that prayer to Jesus can take: contemplation.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


6th Sunday of the Year Leviticus 13:1–2, 44–46; 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40–45

Compassionate Marine If we’re to be compassionate as Jesus was, we must be willing to pay the price that compassion sometimes demands.

ome years ago an old man collapsed on a busy street corner in downtown Brooklyn. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him to Kings County Hospital. There he kept calling for his son.

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A nurse found a dog-eared letter in the man’s wallet. From it she learned that his son was a marine stationed in North Carolina. That night an anxious marine showed up at the hospital. Immediately, the nurse took him to the old man’s bedside. The man was heavily sedated. And so the nurse had to tell him several times, “Your son is here! Your son is here!’’ Finally, the old man opened his eyes. He could barely make out his son, but he recognized his marine uniform. At that point, the son took his father’s hand and held it lovingly. For the rest of that night, the marine sat at the old man’s bedside. Occasionally, he patted the man’s hand and spoke to him tenderly. Several times the nurse urged the marine to take a break and get something to eat or drink. But he refused. Toward dawn, the old man died. When the nurse extended her sympathy to the young man, the marine said, “Who was that man?’’ “Wasn’t he your father?’’ the nurse asked. “No, he wasn’t,’’ said the marine. “I never saw him before in my life.’’ Year B

“Why didn’t you say something?’’ said the nurse. “I would have,’’ said the marine. “But I could see that he was too sick to realize I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was slipping fast and needed a son. So I decided to become that son.’’

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like that story for two reasons.

First, it illustrates the kind of compassion that Jesus showed the leper in today’s gospel. Mark says that when Jesus saw the leper, he was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, and healed him. That’s exactly what the marine did. When he saw the man, he was moved with pity, stretched out his hand, and took the man’s hand in his own. And so, first of all, the story shows the marine treating the old man with the same compassion that Jesus showed to the leper. his leads to the second reason why that story is so beautiful. It’s because it shows the marine gladly paying the high personal price that his compassion demanded.

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Although he was bitterly tired from his long day and lack of sleep, he stayed and held the old man’s hand throughout the night. He did what Jesus did so often in the Gospel. For example, Mark says that on one occasion Jesus was so besieged by people that it was impossible for him to eat. (Mark 3:20) Yet Jesus never let that interfere with his ministry of compassion to those who needed him. He gladly paid the personal price that it cost him. Lectionary 77

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his brings us to the practical question of how the story of the marine and how the story of Jesus in today’s gospel apply to us.

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First, the two stories invite us to reflect on the quality of our compassion toward those around us. How compassionate are we toward others? Do we put ourselves in their shoes, as the marine did? n October 1987 the popular young singer Michael Jackson wrote a remarkable letter to People magazine. Referring to the media’s widespread gossip about his personal life, Michael said, and I quote exactly:

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“I cry very, very, very often because it hurts, but have mercy. . . . Like the old Indian proverb says, do not judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” What Michael was asking for was compassion. He was asking the media to put themselves in his shoes and understand how he felt about having his private life gossiped about in every newspaper in the nation. And so the first practical application of the story of the marine and the story of Jesus is this: We should imitate their compassion in dealing with people around us. econd, the two stories invite us to reflect upon our willingness to pay the price that compassion sometimes demands. It does not always come cheap. Often it exacts a high personal price.

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Years ago the United Press carried a story about a seven-year-old boy from Massachusetts. While playing on a school bus, he swallowed a crayon which became lodged in his windpipe. The bus driver stopped the bus immediately, jumped out, and tried to flag down a motorist 64 Ordinary

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to speed the boy to a hospital. But no motorist responded. Finally, the bus driver jumped in front of a car, forcing the motorist to stop. But the motorist begged off, saying he was already late for work. When the boy finally reached the hospital, the doctors said the loss of time was critical. The boy was too far gone for treatment. The motorist who protested that he was late for work was unwilling to pay the price that compassion sometimes demands. As a result, the boy’s family paid an infinitely greater price. nd so the story of the marine and the story of Jesus invite us to do two things: to examine the quality of our own compassion, and to examine our readiness to pay the price that compassion sometimes demands.

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They do more. They invite us not just to examine ourselves on these points, but also to do something about them if this seems to be in order.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, give us a love modeled on the love of Jesus— the kind of practical love that the marine showed in today’s story, and the kind of practical love that Jesus showed throughout his lifetime. Give us the grace to be generous: to be compassionate with one another and not to count the cost; to sacrifice for one another and not to ask for reward; to reach out to one another and not to seek for rest, except to know that we are doing what you did before us. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


7th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 43:18–19, 21–22, 24–25; 2 Corinthians 1:18–22; Mark 2:1–12

Retreat Confession As God has forgiven us, so we should forgive others.

ohn Egan was making a high school retreat. On the last day, he decided to do something that he’d been putting off for a long time. He decided to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.

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on a bunker with my eyes to the blue sky and my arms wide open to the Lord. . . . “How long I lay there I don’t remember. All I do remember is that I felt enormously close to God.” ohn’s experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation on his high school retreat makes a beautiful introduction to today’s Scripture readings.

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For the theme of these readings is God’s forgiveness of our sins.

John confessed his sins, holding back nothing. He confessed everything he could remember as honestly and frankly as he could.

That theme is tenderly set forth in the first reading, where God says to Israel through Isaiah:

To John’s surprise, the priest didn’t talk to him about his sins. He talked to him only about God’s great love for him.

“You burdened me with your sins; you wore me out with the wrongs you have committed. And yet, I am the God who forgives your sins, . . . I will not hold your sins against you.” Isaiah 43:24–25

Describing what happened next, John writes in his spiritual journal, A Traveller Toward the Dawn: “I left the chapel enormously relieved and walked out into the beauty of the afternoon. . . . I became acutely aware of the glory of that April day. . . . “Joy began to well up and run in my heart . . . growing and surging . . . different from anything that I’d ever experienced before . . . purer and richer. “As I walked alone, stunned by the newness of it all . . . that pure rich joy grew and expanded. . . . I don’t think I’d ever been happier in my life. . . . “I wandered along . . . not knowing or caring where my feet went. . . . “At length I found myself way out on the golf course. I remember lying down out of sheer joy Year B

The theme of forgiveness is dramatically continued in the gospel reading, where Jesus says to the paralytic: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Get up . . . and walk.” he word forgiveness— or some derivative of it, like forgiving or forgave— appears nearly 150 times in the Scriptures.

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This frequent use underscores the fact that forgiveness is one of the major themes of the Scriptures. And, as you might expect, next to the theme of God’s love, the theme of God’s forgiveness is the single most prominent theme of the Christian Scriptures, or New Testament.

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he theme of forgiveness permeates the teaching of Jesus. Lectionary 80

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We find it enshrined in the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches us to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness and to forgive others as willingly as God forgives us. We find it dramatized in the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. In each of these parables, Jesus drives home the same point: his heavenly Father is a forgiving God. We find the theme of forgiveness underscored in an instruction to Peter, where Jesus teaches us to forgive others not just seven times, but seventy times seven times. nd what Jesus teaches to others, he practices himself. Forgiveness permeates his personal life.

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He forgives the paralyzed man. He forgives the adulterous woman. He forgives the good thief. He forgives his executioners. his brings us to the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings. It may be summed up in this twofold way.

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First, God is more willing to forgive us than we are to ask for God’s forgiveness. Second, as God forgives us, so we should forgive one another. Put more concretely, the message of today’s readings is an invitation for us to do two things.

It is an invitation to forgive others their sins against us.

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his is the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings.

This is the invitation that God makes to us today through his Word. This is what we celebrate together in today’s liturgy. et’s close with a prayer. It sums up both the message and the invitation contained in today’s Scripture readings.

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God our Father, do for us what you did for your people in the Hebrew Scriptures, when you said to them, “You burdened me with your sins; you wore me out with the wrongs you have committed. And yet, I am the God who forgives your sins, . . . I will not hold your sins against you.” Isaiah 43:24–25 Jesus our Brother, say to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation what you said to the paralytic in today’s gospel: “Your sins are forgiven. . . . Get up . . . and walk.” Holy Spirit our Helper, give us the strength to extend forgiveness to others as God the Father and Jesus have extended it to us.

First, it is an invitation to do what John Egan did in our opening story. It is an invitation to open ourselves to God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Second, it is an invitation to do what Jesus did in his own personal life. 66 Ordinary

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Year B


8th Sunday of the Year

intellectual, and spiritual stages and, eventually, flowers into marriage.

Hosea 2:16–17, 21–22; 2 Corinthians 3:1–6; Mark 2:18–22

Parallel Relationships The relationship of husband and wife parallels the relationship of God and the believer.

ic and Rita Galier have been married for nearly 30 years. They have six children and are now in the grandparent phase.

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In an interview, Vic said that one of the big things that has helped their marriage endure is the fact that they’ve been praying together as a couple all of their married life. This daily prayer, he said, did far more than draw them closer together. It literally held them together, especially during their first seven years when they went through some really difficult times. ic’s reference to some “difficult times’’ during the first seven years of marriage recalls something important about marriage.

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The normal marriage, according to marriage counselors, often goes through a four-phase cycle: the “attraction’’ or “falling in love’’ phase, the “integration’’ or “settling down’’ phase, the “crisis’’ or “bottoming out’’ phase, and the “maturing’’ or “starting again’’ phase. Let’s take a closer look at each phase.

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irst, consider the “attraction’’ or “falling in love’’ phase.

This phase begins with two people being drawn or attracted to each other. The attraction normally passes through the physical, emotional, Year B

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ext comes the “integration’’ or “settling down’’ phase.

Once married, the couple begins the process of integrating their love with the ordinariness of daily life. A big challenge of this phase is to keep the ordinary from becoming routine and to keep the routine from becoming boring. A big danger of this phase is that of taking the relationship for granted and subordinating it to other activities.

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he third phase of the cycle is the “crisis’’ or “bottoming out’’ phase.

It begins when one or both parties fail to meet the challenge of the second phase: they begin taking the marriage for granted and subordinating it to other things. When this happens, the relationship drifts into stormy water. Slowly and subtly the “adoring partner’’ becomes an “angry adversary.’’ What was once accepted in love now becomes a bone of contention. A big challenge of this phase is to steer potential conflict into constructive directions. A big danger of this phase is that of allowing conflict to continue to the point where communication decreases and resentment increases. Only by dealing with differences (sometimes with the professional help of a marriage counselor) can the relationship remain intact and survive.

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his brings us to the final phase: the “maturing’’ or “starting again’’ phase. Lectionary 83

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Of the four phases, it is the most beautiful and the most rewarding. Commenting on it, Andrew Greeley (whose insights we follow here) writes: “One scholar I know refers to intense human intimacy as having a ‘rubber band dimension.’ The two lovers drift apart, indeed are often driven apart by one another; but the residual power of their affection (pair bonding) is often, indeed usually, sufficiently strong to impel them back to one another. “Awkwardly, clumsily, blunderingly, they stumble into one another’s arms, forgive each other, and begin again in a new burst of romantic love.’’ nd so, by way of review, normal marriages often follow a fourfold cycle: falling in love, settling down, bottoming out, and starting again.

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It’s interesting to note that Scripture compares the love relationship of husband and wife to our love relationship with God. For example, in today’s first reading, God assumes the role of a groom, saying to Israel: “Then once again she will call me her husband—she will no longer call me her Baal.” Hosea 2:16

And in today’s gospel reading, Jesus assumes the role of a groom, comparing his presence among his disciples to that of a groom among wedding guests.

It begins with a “falling in love’’ phase, which flowers into a commitment to God. It continues with a “settling down’’ phase, which involves integrating our love for God with our daily life. Next, it not infrequently moves to a kind of “bottoming out’’ phase. This can happen when the integration process breaks down and, instead of dealing with it, we cease dealing with God as a loving partner and begin dealing with God as a demanding adversary. Finally comes the “starting again’’ phase. It takes place when we stumble back into God’s arms, ask God’s forgiveness, and are drawn to God with a new burst of love. nd so our love relationship with God follows a similar four-phase cycle as does the love relationship of a husband and wife: falling in love, settling down, bottoming out, and starting again.

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Let’s close with these words of Paul to the Christians of Corinth: Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. 1 Corinthians 13:4–8

t is even more interesting to note that from our point of view, our relationship with God frequently follows the same four-phase cycle as does the love relationship of a husband and wife.

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Year B


Trinity Sunday Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40; Romans 8:14–17; Matthew 28:16–20

Three Faces In the oneness of the Godhead there are three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

enis Hayes, the respected environmentalist, has written a book called Ray of Hope: The Transition to a Post-Petroleum World.

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The thesis of Hayes’s book is quite simple. It comes down to this: The supply of petroleum on our planet is limited and slowly being used up. As a result, the human race is approaching a fork in the road. As it draws closer to the fork in the road, it sees a signpost with two big arrows. The first arrow points to the left and contains the words “Nuclear Energy.’’ The second arrow points to the right and contains the words “Solar Energy.’’ The big question confronting the human race is which fork in the road it should take: the one pointing in the direction of “Nuclear Energy,’’ or the one pointing in the direction of “Solar Energy.’’

Third, solar energy is terrorist-resistant. Nuclear energy is not. Placed in the wrong hands, nuclear energy is a threat to the continued existence of the human race. ommenting on solar energy, Hayes observes that the sun already lights up the darkness of our planet. It also warms the coldness of our planet. It is now ready and waiting to energize the activities of our planet.

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We may think of the sun as being like a great, generous friend in the sky, who possesses three smiling faces. Each face smiles down on us in a different way. And each smile results in a different blessing for us. The first face smiles, and that smile sends out rays of light to illumine our planet. The second face smiles, and that smile sends out rays of heat to warm our planet. The third face smiles, and that smile sends out rays of power to energize our planet. There is only one friend in the sky, but that one friend has three different faces. And when each face smiles, it blesses us in a special way.

ayes thinks we should follow the arrow pointing in the direction of “Solar Energy.’’ Some of the reasons he gives are the following:

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ayes’s observations about the sun make a helpful introduction to the feast that we celebrate today: the feast of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

First, solar energy is not an energy source open to a few, wealthy nations. It is a free source of energy open to all.

Simply put, the mystery of the Holy Trinity says that in God there are three distinct persons. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet, there are not three Gods, but only one.

Second, solar energy is not a dangerous source of energy that can reek havoc on our environment. Nuclear energy is. Year B

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And it is right here that Hayes’s views of the sun turn out to be helpful.

nd so we may think of God much as we may think of the sun: as a great loving friend having three faces.

We might think of God the way that we may think of the sun: as having three faces.

Each face smiles in a different way and results in a different blessing.

As a matter of fact, this is the precise imagery that the great spiritual writer Romano Guardini used in his book The Life of Faith.

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irst, there is the face of God as Father.

When the face of God as Father smiled, it resulted in our origin and the origin of all things: from the stars that fill our nights with beauty to the birds that fill our days with music to the fish that fill our seas with food.

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econd, there is the face of God as Son.

When the face of God as Son smiled, it resulted in God coming down from heaven, taking flesh, walking at our side, and showing us how to live and love.

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inally, there is the face of God as Spirit.

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The face of God as Father smiles, and God creates us out of nothing. The face of God as Son smiles, and God becomes one of us, sharing our humanity. The face of God as Spirit smiles, and God makes us one with our Creator, sharing with us God’s own divinity.

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his is the great message that today’s Scripture readings contain.

This is the great mystery that today’s feast celebrates. This is the good news that today’s liturgy proclaims to the world. et us conclude together with the Trinitarian action that has become the trademark of our faith— the Sign of the Cross:

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When the face of God as Spirit smiled, it resulted in God entering our being, taking up residence there, making us temples of the Most High— to use the imagery of Saint Paul. Writing to the Christians of Corinth, Saint Paul says: “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God?” 1 Corinthians 6:19

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Year B


Body and Blood of Christ Exodus 24:3–8; Hebrews 9:11–15; Mark 14:12–16, 22–26

Sacrificial Meal The Eucharist is not an ordinary meal, but a sacrificial meal.

harles Butler decided to visit his son, who was working in the Amazon Basin in Brazil. When Charles arrived in Brazil, he took a small plane to a tiny town in the Basin. There he and the pilot went to a local cafe for a meal.

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An old-timer in the cafe began talking to the Brazilian pilot. They soon discovered that they were from the same province. Next they discovered that they were from the same town. When Charles and the pilot finished their meal, the old-timer said to the Brazilian pilot jokingly, “You know, if we keep on talking, we might discover that we’re from the same family.’’ hat story makes a good introduction to the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is a meal at which we discover, in a special way, that we Christians are a family. We discover that we are brothers and sisters: members of the Body of Christ.

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Saint Paul says of the Eucharist: “Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.” 1 Corinthians 10:17 nd this brings us to the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we celebrate today.

at the Last Supper. Luke describes Jesus’ gift this way: “Then he [Jesus] took a piece of bread . . . and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.’ “[He did the same with the cup], saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ” Luke 22:19–20 esus’ words are important. He says: “This is my body, which is given for you,” and “[This is my blood], which is poured out for you.”

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These words— “given for you” and ”poured out for you,” speak of sacrifice. They speak of Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and blood for us on the cross. Commenting on this “sacrificial’’ aspect of the Eucharist, Saint Paul says: “The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul’s point is an important one. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist together, we participate in Jesus’ offering of himself to his Father. In other words, the eucharistic meal that we celebrate together each Sunday is not a new sacrifice. It is the very same sacrifice that Jesus began at the Last Supper and completed on Golgotha.

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This feast celebrates the great gift that Jesus made to his disciples

It takes on the same kind of meaning that it did for Catholics in Guatemala after a religious persecution in 1980

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hen we grasp this incredible fact, the Eucharist takes on new meaning for us.

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left a vast section of their country without priests. Even though there were no priests to celebrate the Eucharist for them, Guatemalan Catholics continued to meet in their churches on Sunday. escribing these priestless meetings, Fernando Bermudez writes in his book Death and Resurrection in Guatemala:

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“All confess their sins together, aloud, kneeling, everyone at once, then singing a song asking God’s forgiveness.’’ Then a lay leader reads a passage from the Bible and explains it as best he can.

It’s the feast that celebrates Jesus’ gift of himself to his disciples at the Last Supper. On that memorable occasion, Jesus “took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them [the disciples], saying, ‘This is my body . . .’ “[He did the same with the cup], saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ” Luke 22:19–20 It is this great mystery that we gather to celebrate in a special way on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

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Next, he invites the others to share with the group what meaning the passage holds for them, personally. Once a month, the parishes send a delegate to a part of Guatemala where priests still function. Traveling as much as 18 hours on foot, the delegate celebrates the Lord’s Supper in the name of his parish. Describing one of these Masses, Bermudez writes: “The altar was covered with baskets of bread. After the Mass, each participant came up to take his or her basket home again. Now the bread was Holy Communion for the brothers and sisters of each community.’’

ay I close with this suggestion?

In a few minutes, at Communion time, when the eucharistic minister holds up the Eucharist and says to you, “The Body of Christ,’’ make a special effort to realize what you receive. It’s the living body of Jesus. It’s the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem for us. It’s the same Jesus who died on the cross for us. It’s the same Jesus who rose from the dead for us. When we think of it this way, the Eucharist is so incredible that it’s almost impossible to imagine. Only a loving God could have given us such an incredible gift.

t’s this kind of love for the Body of Christ that today’s feast— the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ— has in mind.

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Year B


9th Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 5:12–15; 2 Corinthians 4:6–11; Mark 2:23–3:6

Letter vs. Spirit Like many Jews in Jesus’ time, we need to beware of putting the letter of the law before the spirit of the law.

he great Scottish theologian William Barclay tells an incredible story in his book The Gospel of Mark.

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He introduces the story by recalling the third commandment, which reads: You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work . . .” Exodus 20:9–10 Barclay goes on to point out that good Jews interpreted this law to mean that they couldn’t engage in battle on the Sabbath, even at the risk of their lives. It was considered to be work. This is why the Romans never conscripted Jews for military service. For when the Sabbath came, the Jews laid down their arms and would not fight. Barclay then tells this story. On one occasion some Jewish soldiers were engaged in battle. When the Sabbath came, they hid themselves in a cave, planning to resume battle after the Sabbath. Before the Sabbath ended, however, enemy soldiers discovered their hiding place. The enemy soldiers entered the cave and killed the Jews without opposition. The Jewish soldiers died without lifting a hand to defend themselves, lest they break the Sabbath by fighting. his remarkable story illustrates the incredible respect that good Jews had for God’s law.

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Year B

They respected it so much that they would give up their very lives rather than break it. This respect for the law, however, has a flip side. Some Jews, like the Pharisees, became so dedicated to the law that, in time, they let keeping the letter of the law get in the way of keeping the spirit of the law. For example, at one point in Jewish history a question arose as to what things constituted work. In answer to this question, Jewish rabbis listed 39 different categories of activities that constituted work and were forbidden on the Sabbath. For instance, you couldn’t “pull off heads of grain’’ and shell them in your hands so that you could eat them, because this fell under the heading of harvesting, which was an activity categorized as work. You also couldn’t give medical attention to someone unless the person was in danger of dying. One rabbi went so far as to give this unbelievable example. If a wall toppled over on a person, it was permissible to clear away the rubble to check if the person was dead or alive. If the person was alive, you could give the person medical attention only if his or her life was in danger. If the person was dead, you couldn’t move the body until the next day, because moving it entailed work. t was this kind of preoccupation with keeping the letter of the law that Jesus challenged in today’s gospel.

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from an exercise of loving service to an exercise of keeping hundreds of laws. He challenged the attitude that had turned God into a finicky old man who was more interested in laws than in love. And so when the Pharisees provoked a showdown with Jesus by having a man with a shriveled hand show up in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus welcomed their challenge. Calling the man to the front of the synagogue, Jesus asked the Pharisees and everyone present, “What does our Law allow us to do on the Sabbath? To help or to harm? To save someone’s life or to destroy it?” Mark 3:4 Jesus’ question caught the Pharisees off guard. There was only one answer to it, and they knew it. And so they remained silent. With that, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.’’ Mark 3:5 The man did, and Jesus healed it. Mark concludes the episode by saying that from that moment on, the Pharisees plotted to put Jesus to death. They plotted such drastic action because their legalistic view of religion made Jesus a grave sinner in their eyes. Therefore he deserved death. nd this brings us to the practical application of this story to our lives. How does it apply to us today?

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Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, most of us are people of the law. We respect the law and keep it. And that is good and praiseworthy. The danger in being people of the law, however, is that our strength can become our weakness, as it did in the case of the Pharisees. In other words, the Pharisees got so involved in keeping the letter of the law that they forgot about the spirit of the law. 74 Ordinary

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Thus, in the case of keeping the Sabbath, they forgot that the Sabbath was made for people, and not people for the Sabbath. In other words, God didn’t make the Sabbath first and then say, “Hmm, now I’d better make some people to keep it and observe it.’’ Rather, God created people first. Then God made the Sabbath to help people better achieve the purpose for which they had been created, namely, to love God and one another and, thereby, to enter into eternal life and eternal joy. Applying this to our own lives, this means that being a good Christian involves more than keeping certain laws, like keeping holy the Sabbath, praying daily, not using drugs and not getting drunk. Being a good Christian involves these things, all right. But it also involves much more. It involves being sensitive to people’s needs and feeding them when they are hungry, as David did in the case of his men, and as Jesus did in the case of his disciples. Being a good Christian also involves helping those who have special need of our help, as Jesus helped the man in today’s gospel, who had special need of his help. In short, being a good Christian involves imitating Jesus and his sensitive concern for people. It is not just a question of keeping laws; above all, it’s a question of loving people. et’s close with a prayer, asking Jesus to help us become the kind of loving, sensitive person that he was.

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Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will. Prayer of Saint Ignatius (slightly adapted) Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


10th Sunday of the Year Genesis 3:9–15; 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1; Mark 3:20–35

The Exorcist Jesus’ power over demons is a sign that Satan’s power over the world has been broken.

ome years ago, William Blatty wrote a popular book called The Exorcist. It was made into a movie and set box-office records across the country.

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Blatty’s book deals with the same question that today’s gospel deals with. It deals with the question of demonic possession. The book is not total fiction. It bases itself on an actual case of demonic possession. The case took place in 1949 and involved a 14-year-old boy from Mt. Rainier, Maryland. Describing some of the details of the case, Newsweek magazine said: “Pictures, chairs and the boy’s bed would suddenly move about. At night the boy could barely sleep. After he was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital . . . the boy began to mouth fierce curses in ancient languages and at one point, while strapped helplessly in his bed, long red scratches appeared on his body.’’ In the movie The Exorcist, a young priest asks an old priest, “What’s the purpose of demonic possession?’’ The old priest answers, “Who can know? Who can really hope to know?’’ ne thing we do know for sure is that the Gospel frequently portrays Jesus as involving himself in cases of demonic possession.

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esus’ involvement in exorcisms and his power to drive demons out of victims made people of his time ask: What does this mean? How do we interpret these actions of Jesus?

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Jesus himself answered these questions elsewhere in the Gospel. He said that his power over demons is a sign that he is inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth. (Luke 11:20) It is a sign that the power of Satan over people is being destroyed. In other words, Jesus’ power over demons is a sign that the kingdom of Satan, which has enslaved the world since the first sin of Adam, is now giving way to the kingdom of God. ere we need to recall that the first sin of Adam opened the floodgates of sin. It resulted in a tidal wave of sin that engulfed the world. The human race fell under the influence of sin. The kingdom of Satan held sway on earth.

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By driving out demons, Jesus makes it clear that the power of Satan in the world is at an end. In other words, the long-awaited kingdom of God is being inaugurated on earth.

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his raises two important questions.

First, if Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God over 2,000 years ago, why do we continue to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come’’? And second, if Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom over 2,000 years ago, why is evil still so widespread in our world? Lectionary 89

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he answer to the first question about why we still pray “Thy kingdom come’’ is this.

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The kingdom of God isn’t an instant happening. It’s a gradual process. It’s something that takes time. It’s an ongoing movement in human history. Jesus compared the coming of God’s kingdom to the planting of a seed. After the seed is planted in the ground, it takes time to grow and to bear fruit. The kingdom of God is like that. Jesus planted the kingdom in the soil. But he left to us the job of cultivating it, fertilizing it, and watering it. It is our job to see to it that the kingdom bears the fruit that God intended it to bear. his brings us to the second question. If Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom over 2,000 years ago, why is evil still so widespread in our world?

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Or to put it in another way, why is the kingdom of God so slow in coming? Or to put it in still another way, why is the kingdom of Satan so slow in dying? he answer to these questions brings us to the practical message contained in today’s gospel.

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The reason why the kingdom of God is so slow in coming and the kingdom of Satan is so slow in dying is that we Christians aren’t carrying out our job as well as we should. We aren’t doing our job of completing the kingdom of God as well as we should be doing it.

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ake just one example. How many of us live out Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us? You know the answer to that as well as I do.

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Our failure to love others as Jesus loves us extends not only to our enemies and to our neighbor, but also to our own family. And the reason we fail to love even our own family as we should isn’t because we’re bad. It’s not because we’re mean. Rather, it’s usually because we’re forgetful. It’s because we get so caught up in everyday affairs that we overlook even the needs of our own family members. We get so caught up in everyday affairs that we lose sight of how wonderful our children and our spouse really are. nd so the practical message of today’s gospel is that we need to become more aware of our task as Christians: to complete the kingdom of God.

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And one way to do that— beginning right now— is to try to become more aware of Jesus’ command to love one another— especially our own family—as he loves us. This is the practical message of today’s gospel. This is the challenge that Jesus sets before each one of us in this liturgy.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


11th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 17:22–24; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10; Mark 4:26–34

Louis Braille Nothing is too tiny or insignificant that God can’t use it to accomplish great things.

n 1812, three-year-old Louis Braille, son of a French leather worker, had an accident in his father’s shop. The accident left him totally blind.

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When Louis grew older, his family enrolled him in a school for the blind in Paris. There students read from huge books by feeling big, raised letters with their fingers. It was a slow process that took 15 minutes to read one paragraph. One day a retired French army officer, named Charles Barbier, visited the school and gave the students a demonstration of what he called “night writing.’’

Louis’s system caught on and spread across the world. Today we know it as Braille. Ironically, the system didn’t become widespread until after Louis Braille’s death. When he died, the newspapers didn’t even carry a notice of his death. like that story because it underscores three things that need underscoring in today’s world.

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The first thing is the same thing that today’s Scripture readings underscore. It is this: Just as the greatest trees in a forest often grow out of the tiniest seed, so the greatest movements in the world often grow out of the tiniest beginning. Louis Braille’s tiny idea grew into a great movement that has revolutionized the world of the blind. he second thing that the story of Louis Braille underscores is that the people who begin great movements are often tiny and insignificant themselves.

It was a system of writing invented by the French army to send coded messages back and forth on battlefields at night.

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The system involved punching a series of holes in a paper according to patterns. These patterns could be read by feeling them with the fingers.

For example, young Louis Braille was tiny and insignificant compared to the brilliant scholars and educated people of his day. Yet, it was he who came up with the revolutionary idea of Braille.

The process took up a lot of space, and only the simplest messages could be sent. But it was a way to communicate at night when flashlights were unheard of.

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Young Louis Braille was fascinated by the system. He was convinced it could be used to make reading easier for the blind. So he went to work simplifying the system. He also replaced punched holes with raised dots.

Braille did not develop into a worldwide movement until after Louis’s death.

Year B

he third thing that the story of Louis Braille underscores is that people who begin great movements often die without seeing the results of their work.

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nd so the story of Louis Braille illustrates three important points.

First, it illustrates that the greatest movements in history, like the kingdom of God, often grow out of the tiniest seeds. Jesus himself said of the kingdom of God: “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.’’ Second, it illustrates that the people who begin these great movements in history are often tiny and insignificant themselves. Commenting on this, Saint Paul writes: “God purposely chose . . . what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.’’ 1 Corinthians 1:27–28

Finally, the story of Louis Braille illustrates that the people who begin great movements often die before receiving credit for the movement they started. This is something that often happens. Jesus himself died when the kingdom of God was still a tiny and insignificant seed. Susan B. Anthony died when her movement for women’s rights was still a tiny and insignificant seed. Martin Luther King died when his movement for civil rights was still a tiny and insignificant seed. his leads us to the practical message contained in today’s Scripture readings. It is this: No seed is so tiny that God can’t make a tree out of it.

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we can do to change people’s attitudes toward the destruction of innocent life is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings. If we think that anything we can do to change people’s attitudes toward the destruction of our planet is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings. If we think that anything we can do to spread God’s kingdom on earth is too tiny to make a difference, we haven’t understood the practical message of today’s Scripture readings. This is the practical message that Jesus wishes to teach us today. This is the great mystery that we celebrate in this liturgy. This is the good news that Jesus wants us to communicate to our world, namely, that no seed is so small that it can’t grow into a great tree. et’s close with a short, simple poem that sums up the message and spirit of today’s gospel.

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I’m only a spark, Make me a fire. I’m only a string, Make me a lyre. “I’m only an ant-hill, Make me a mountain. I’m only a drop, Make me a fountain. “I’m only a feather, Make me a wing. I’m only a beggar, Make me a king. Amado Nervo

Concretely, this means that if we think that anything 78 Ordinary

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


12th Sunday of the Year Job 38:1, 8–11; 2 Corinthians 5:14–17; Mark 4:35–41

The Storm Prayer can turn the storms of life into occasions for great graces.

elvin Bitters and his wife, Gertrude, were parents of six children. Like all parents, they felt the need one day to get away for a few hours by themselves. So they put the kids on their best behavior and drove to a lake to spend the day on a small sailboat.

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The breeze was strong, and before long they were far out on the lake. Then, all of a sudden, the sky turned dark, the breeze turned into a violent wind, and huge, angry waves began to engulf them. Minutes later, their boat capsized and disappeared beneath the swirling waters. Mel and his wife clung, with all their might, to two small safety cushions. For two hours they battled the angry waves. By now the weather had turned cold, and they were both shivering and exhausted. They sensed that the end was near. With their last bit of energy, they prayed together. Then they released their hands and slowly drifted apart. Five hours later, Mel was still afloat but in a semidelirious state. He began to call out his wife’s name. But when he got no reply, he began to lose hope that she was alive. He began to think of the agony of having to tell their children that their mother had drowned. Worse yet, he began to think of the agony of not being able to survive himself. Then, he recalled a line from Psalm 50: “Call to me when trouble comes; Year B

I will save you, and you will praise me.”

Psalm 50:15

And so Mel began to call out to God with all the faith and trust at his command. Then it happened. Just as Mel’s voice began to fade and trail off, a rescue boat spotted him. As Mel was being pulled from the cold water into the boat, he asked his rescuers if they had any word of his wife. They shook their heads. “No,’’ they said, “we haven’t seen her.’’ Then an incredible thing happened. They spotted Mel’s wife off in the distance. When they reached her, she was freezing cold but still alive. It was a tearful reunion, followed by a prayer of thanksgiving. Later, Mel and his wife—and their children— repeated their prayer of thanksgiving. They thanked God not only for having rescued them from death but also for having drawn them tremendously closer to God and to one another as a result of the storm.

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hat story bears a striking resemblance to the story in today’s gospel.

Both stories involve frightened people caught in a storm at sea and afraid for their lives. Both storms involve people who in their fright called out to God for help. Both stories involve people whose prayer was heard and whose faith was greatly increased as a result of their experience. And this brings us to each one of us here. oth of these stories point to an important message for us. It’s a twofold message that we tend to forget and need to be reminded of again and again.

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First, it’s the message that the storms of life are often occasions that draw us closer to God and to one another. Notice I said that the storms of life are often occasions that draw us closer to God and to one another. For this is not always the case. As a matter of fact, the storms of life can do just the opposite. They can widen the gap between God and ourselves. And that’s where both stories point to a second message for each of us. It is this: The difference between a storm that draws us closer to God and to one another and one that does not is prayer. But it is not any kind of prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray. It’s the kind of prayer that places all of our trust in God and in God’s will for us. It’s the kind of prayer that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to his Father, “Not my will, however, but your will be done.” Luke 22:42

The mother said to God, “I do not understand why you are taking me, but I trust you know what is best for my children and myself. I shall prepare for death.’’ his brings us back to the twofold message that is contained in the story of Mel Bitters and in the story of today’s gospel.

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It’s the message that the storms of life can draw us closer to one another and to God, or they can do just the opposite. And the difference between a storm that draws us closer and one that does not is prayer. But it’s not any kind of prayer. It’s the kind of prayer that Jesus prayed, and also taught us to pray, when he said, “Father . . . not my will, however, but your will be done.” It is a prayer that places complete trust in God and in God’s will for us.

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et’s close with a familiar poem. It goes something like this:

A prayer that is not prayed in the spirit that God knows what is best for us is not really a prayer at all. A prayer that is not prayed in this spirit treats God as a servant, not as a loving Father. It betrays a basic selfishness on our part and a complete lack of trust that God knows what is best for us.

Up in a quaint old attic, as the raindrops pattered down, I sat paging through an old schoolbook— dusty, tattered, and brown.

here’s an ancient legend about a mother who was raising four small children by herself. One day God told her to prepare for death. The mother protested, saying, “Who will take care of my small children?’’

I unfolded the page and read. Then I nodded my head and said, “The teacher was right—now I understand.’’

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With that, God took her to the bottom of the sea, picked up a shell, and opened it. Inside was not a shellfish but a tiny worm. God said to the mother, “If I did not forget this tiny creature, inside this tiny shell, I certainly won’t forget your children.’’ 80 Ordinary

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I came to a page that was folded down. And across it was written in childish hand: ‘The teacher says to leave this for now, ‘tis hard to understand.’

There are lots of pages in the book of life that are hard to understand. All we can do is fold them down and write: “The teacher says to leave this for now, ’tis hard to understand.’’ Then someday—maybe in heaven— we will unfold the pages again, read them, and say, “The teacher was right—now I understand.’’ Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


13th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 1:13–15, 2:23–24; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13–15; Mark 5:21–43

The Inscription “Do not be afraid; just have faith.’’

nn Jillian is a Hollywood actress who has starred in a number of Broadway plays and television shows.

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In March 1985, while exercising in a health club in San Fernando Valley, California, Ann noticed a growth on her body. She was shocked and frightened, correctly suspecting that it was cancerous. The next day, before going to the doctor, she stopped at her church, St. Francis de Sales. Over its door is an inscription that Ann had noticed many times. But she had never taken the time to read it. Now she did. It read, and I quote: “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” Those words seemed addressed right to her. She went inside, knelt before the blessed sacrament, and prayed for the grace to take to heart the words she had just read. As she prayed, a deep inner peace and calm came over her. Two weeks later, Ann underwent successful surgery for a double mastectomy. The radiant trust in God and peace of mind that she maintained before and after surgery was widely reported in the news. And she became an instant inspiration to thousands of cancer patients the world over. Year B

he story of Ann Jillian is a beautiful illustration of a person who took to heart the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.

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Recall these words. They occur as Jesus is going to Jairus’ house to heal his sick daughter. Someone runs up to Jairus and says, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the Teacher any longer?” Immediately, tears fill the eyes of Jairus. But before he can say anything, Jesus turns to him and says, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Mark 5:35–36 t is this same message of faith and trust that Jesus spoke to Ann Jillian through the words written over the doorway of her parish church.

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It is this same message of faith and trust that Jesus speaks to us through the words written in today’s gospel. Each of us in this church today has some problem, some worry, some concern, some cross to bear. Perhaps, like Ann, we may be suffering from a health problem that is threatening our peace of mind. Perhaps, like Jairus, we may have someone in our family who is seriously ill. Perhaps, like Jairus’ daughter, we are a young person suffering from some unfortunate situation, like an unhappy home, or just plain concern about our future. Each of us has some problem that is threatening our peace of mind. Each of us has some cloud that is hanging over our head. Each of us has some cross that is weighing us down. Lectionary 98

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And to each of us Jesus says what he said to Jairus through the words in today’s gospel:

We should kneel before the blessed sacrament and pray for the grace to trust that God loves us more than we love ourselves.

“Don’t be afraid, only believe.”

We should kneel before the blessed sacrament and pray for the grace to trust that God is a Father who is always at our side.

To each of us Jesus says what he said to Ann Jillian through the words on her parish church: “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.’’

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et’s take a closer look at those words.

They promise something really important. They promise that God, who is a loving, caring Father, will either protect us from suffering or give us the power to bear it when it comes. They say that God may not remove some cross that we are now carrying, but God will give us the strength to keep carrying it. They say that God may not erase some doubt that we are now experiencing, but God will give us the courage to keep walking in the dark. his raises some questions. What do we do if we find it hard to put faith in God?

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What do we do if we find it hard to be calm as Ann was?

If we do this with childlike trust, as Jairus and Ann did, we, too, will experience the same inner peace that they did. We, too, will experience the same inner calm and trust that they did. We, too, will experience that God is always at our side, ready to do whatever is best for us.

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et’s close with a poem. It sums up what we have been saying:

The road of life was bright. It stretched before my sight. The Lord was at my side, to be my friend and guide. And so I started out. But then the sky turned dark; the road grew rough and steep. Rocks and ruts tripped my feet. My legs grew sore and weak. I scarce could carry on. I turned and cried, “My Lord! Why this pain; why this plight? Why the ruts; why the rocks? Where’s the road; where’s the light? I cannot carry on.” Then the Lord turned and said, “My child, where is your faith? Where’s your belief in me? Love chose this road for you. Just trust and travel on.’’ Mark Link

What do we do if we find it hard to trust as Jairus did? The answer to those questions is found in the story of Ann Jillian. We should do what she did. 82 Ordinary

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


14th Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 2:2–5; 2 Corinthians 12:7–10; Mark 6:1–6

Strength in Weakness We are strongest when we are weakest, for then we open ourselves to the infinite power of God.

covered with snow, frozen to death. The very thought paralyzed him with fear. After a few minutes, Gallwey found himself saying out loud, “Okay, if now is the time, so be it. I’m ready.’’ With that, he stopped worrying about death and started jogging down the road.

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After a few minutes of rhythmic jogging, he found himself marveling at the beauty of the star-filled sky and the snow-covered countryside.

In it Gallwey tells how one cold winter night he was driving from Maine to New Hampshire. It was about midnight, and he was on a deserted country road.

To his amazement, he continued to jog for a full 40 minutes without stopping. He stopped then only because he saw a light burning in a distant farmhouse. Miraculously, he had survived.

ome years ago W. Timothy Gallwey wrote a book called The Inner Game of Tennis.

Suddenly, his Volkswagen skidded on an icy curve, slammed into a snowbank, and stalled. Try as he may, he could not get the motor running again.

After his experience, Gallwey reflected on it. He asked himself where he had found all the energy that allowed him to jog so far without stopping.

The temperature was about 20 degrees below zero, and his only protection against the cold was the sports jacket that he was wearing.

Then it occurred to him. Resigning himself to his fate had put him in touch with a strange power that he had never experienced before.

It had been 20 minutes since he passed through a town. In that time he had not seen another car. Nor had he seen a farmhouse or even a telephone pole. He had no map and no idea where the next town might be.

By letting go of his conscious grip on life, he had let “the natural concern of a deeper self take over.’’ By surrendering to whatever God had in store for him, he paradoxically opened himself to a strange power that he never knew existed.

He got out of his car and started running down the road. But the cold drained his energy so quickly that he slowed down to a walk.

Commenting on his experience of surrendering and letting go, he wrote in his book:

When he had walked about two minutes, his ears became so cold that he thought they would chip off. Again, he started running. But, again, the cold drained his energy so quickly that he slowed to a walk. Suddenly, the gravity of the situation struck him. He could picture himself lying by the roadside Year B

“This is the true meaning of detachment. It means letting go . . . and letting the natural concern of a deeper self take over. It is caring and not caring; it is effortless effort. It happens when one lets go of attachment to the results of one’s action and allows the increased energy to come to bear on the action itself. . . . This is called action without attachment to the fruits of the action, Lectionary 101

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and ironically when this state is achieved the results are the best possible.’’ allwey’s experience helps us understand those mysterious words of Paul in today’s second reading. Recall them.

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God says to Paul, “My power is greatest when you are weak.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul responds, “I am content with weaknesses . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 Strange words indeed! But what does Paul mean when he says, “When I am weak, then I am strong”? He means that when he is weak, it is then that he turns to God for help. It is then that he opens himself to God and allows the power of God to strengthen him. To put it another way, Paul is saying that had he never experienced weakness, he would never have reached out for help. And he would never have discovered the greatest source of power that a person can discover: God. ne group of people who have no trouble buying into Paul’s words is Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Members of AA will tell you frankly that the key to turning their lives around was admitting that they were powerless over alcohol. For then and only then did they honestly acknowledge their need for God. Then and only then did they take the biggest step of their lives and open themselves to God’s help. Then and only then did they experience the greatest power that a human being can ever experience. Then and only then did they truly realize in an existential way why Christ came into the world. 84 Ordinary

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He came because we are incomplete and need his strength and power to complete us.

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he application of this to our lives is clear.

When trials come our way, and they will, when crises come upon us, and they will, when hardships threaten to destroy us, and they will, we should not lose heart. Rather, we should take heart. For it is at these times that we discover our need for God. And we open ourselves to God in a way that we never did before. And it is then that God enters our lives and lets us experience God’s power in a way that we never experienced it before. This is the strange meaning of Paul’s words. This is the good news of today’s readings. This is the mystery that we celebrate together in this liturgy.

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et’s close with a poem that sums up what we have been trying to say:

I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . . I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . . . I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . . . I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed. Unknown Confederate soldier

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


15th Sunday of the Year Am 7:12–15; Ephesians 1:3–10; Mark 6:7–13

Letter from a Vietnam Vet Jesus continues to heal people in our times.

would like to read to you part of a letter from a Vietnam veteran. He wrote it from a hospital bed, while recuperating from battlefield injuries. He writes:

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“From the split second I was hit, I was completely alone. I’ve heard it said, but never realized it— when you’re dying there’s no one but you. You’re all alone. I was hurt bad, real bad; a 4.2 mortar landed about six feet behind me and took off my left leg, badly ripped up my left arm, hit me in the back, head, hip, and right heel and ankle. Shock was instantaneous, but I fought it— knowing that if I went out I’d never wake up again. “There were three or four medics hovering over me, all shook up, trying to help me; but all I could do was try to pray. The trouble was I couldn’t think. . . . No one could tell me there wasn’t a God at that moment. I knew I would die and fought desperately for ground—every inch, breath of life. I knew I was in the state of serious sin. “I tried to pray but couldn’t. I asked the guys to talk to keep me conscious, and most of all, if anyone could help me pray. I felt like there was no one but me; those around me I could only hear talking over me. Well, with a hell of a lot of stubbornness and luck (providence), I lived to make it to the chopper two hours after being hit. Year B

“After they carried me into the first-aid station, I felt four or five people scrubbing my body in different places. This brought me to open my eyes, and I could see about a foot in front of me— and not too well at that. Anyway, someone bent over me. I wasn’t sure who it was, but I thought it looked like our battalion chaplain; his nose was practically on mine. After I saw him, I started to go out— I figured for the last time. When I talked I could only whisper, and this took all I had. “As I was going out, my eyes closed and I heard Father say, ‘Are you sorry for your sins?’ With my last breath and all I had, I whispered, ‘Hell, yes!’ Then a split second before I went out, I felt oil on my forehead. And something happened which I’ll never forget—something which I never experienced before in my life! “All of a sudden, I stopped grasping for every inch of life; I just burst with joy. . . . I felt like I had just got a million cc’s of morphine. I was on Cloud Nine. I felt free of body and mind. “After this, I was conscious about three or four times during the next ten-day period; I never worried about dying. In fact, I was waiting for it.’’ hat young soldier’s letter is a beautiful description of his experience of receiving the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It is one of the most powerful descriptions I have ever read.

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This marvelous sacrament, as we know, has its origin in Jesus. He healed people in his lifetime by laying hands on them and anointing them. Lectionary 104

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And today’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus empowered his disciples to continue his ministry of healing. The Gospel says of them, “They . . . rubbed olive oil on many sick people and healed them.” Mark 6:13 In a similar way, the Letter of James instructs the early Christian community to present themselves for healing, saying: “Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven.” James 5:14–15 That’s exactly what the young Vietnam soldier describes so beautifully in his letter. He describes the remarkable healing of mind, body, and soul that was brought about by the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. f we were to put into the simplest terms what this sacrament is all about, we might express it this way:

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It is a continuation in modern times of the healing ministry that Jesus began in gospel times. Just as Jesus healed people in his times by the physical actions of his physical body, so Jesus continues to heal people today through the liturgical actions of his mystical body, the Church. In other words, the Jesus who healed people in gospel times is the same Jesus who heals people today. The only difference is the manner in which Jesus heals them. In gospel times, Jesus healed people by means of his earthly body. He touched them directly with his earthly hands. Today, Jesus heals people by means of his risen body, his mystical body, the Church. 86 Ordinary

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He touches them indirectly through the hands of the priest. And when he does, they experience the same kind of healing that people in gospel times experienced. For example, some experience a full or partial physical healing, like the one the Vietnam veteran experienced. Others experience a mental healing that results in a peace of mind, like the peace that the soldier experienced. Still others experience a spiritual healing that results in a soul-stirring experience of God’s love and forgiveness, like the forgiveness that the soldier experienced. In other words, the healing of this marvelous sacrament is not confined to physical healing only. In fact, the most tangible healing experienced might not be physical, but mental or spiritual. nd so if we are suffering from serious illness, or if we are suffering from advanced age, or if we are preparing for surgery for some serious ailment and have not yet been anointed, then today’s gospel invites us to request it.

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Or if we have a family member or a friend suffering from one of these conditions, then today’s gospel invites us to invite them to receive this sacrament. And if we accept Jesus’ invitation, then we too can hope for some tangible physical, mental, or spiritual healing, as people in gospel times experienced and as the Vietnam soldier experienced. his is the beautiful message of today’s gospel. This is the good news that Jesus speaks to each of us today. This is the great mystery we celebrate in this liturgy.

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What Jesus did for countless people in gospel times he also wants to do for us in our times— if we but let him. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


16th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 23:1–6; Ephesians 2:13–18; Mark 6:30–34

Finding Sanctuary We all need to set aside a few minutes of each day to pause and pray.

ome years back, the Wall Street Journal carried a front-page article entitled “At Some Companies Every Day Is Marked by Religious Exercises.’’ It went on to say that a case in point is Service Master Industries in Downers Grove, Illinois.

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Company executives there set aside time for weekly Bible sessions and prayer meetings. The company also invites employees and their spouses to go on an annual three-day retreat. Another example cited in the article is General Development Corporation in Miami. Executives there take turns leading weekly devotional services. Still another example is R. J. Reynolds Industries in Winston Salem, North Carolina. There a chapel is always open and a chaplain is on the company’s payroll. Finally, the article cited Midwest Federal Savings and Loan in Minneapolis. Executives there installed a chapel, rather than the traditional cocktail lounge, on the top floor of their new office complex. This is just a sampling of the examples cited by the Wall Street Journal. But they give you an idea of the general tone and spirit of the article.

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similar article appeared more recently in the New York Times.

It reported on the same kind of religious activity Year B

among the businesspeople in New York City. The article went on to explain the reason for the renewed interest in prayer. Quoting a business executive, it said: “[Businesspeople] turn to this because of a desire for fellowship with those who have a common understanding of the pressures of business life.’’ Touching on this same point, another executive said of the weekly meeting he attends at Chase Manhattan Plaza: “This place is a refueling station for me. If I weren’t able to come here, I don’t know what I would do.’’ he point that these businesspeople are making is the same one that Jesus makes when he says to his disciples in today’s gospel:

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“Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest a while.” Mark 6:31 Then Mark goes on to explain why Jesus said this to his disciples. It was because so many people were making so many demands on them that they didn’t even have time to eat. The businesspeople and Jesus are both pointing to a need that we all feel at times. It’s the need to take time off to regain our perspective and to recharge our spirit. More specifically, they are pointing to the need to take time off and put ourselves in touch with the core of our being— and especially with God, who dwells in the core of our being. n an article entitled “Sanctuary—The Secret of a Peaceful Heart,’’ Margaret Blair Johnstone calls this need to get in touch with the core of our being the need for sanctuary in our lives.

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before the family gets up. Others find it alone in a quiet room after the family is in bed. Still others find it in a more creative way. In her article, Margaret Blair Johnstone tells about a friend who is a social worker living in a poor area of the city. The only window in her one-room dwelling opens out onto a filthy, dirty alley. It’s pretty difficult to find sanctuary in a place like that. Yet, she has managed to find it. Describing her friend’s daily life, Johnstone writes: “Her life is an endless routine of pavement pounding, tenement-stair climbing, grievance hearing, and monotonous record keeping. “One night I paused at her door to leave a message. She invited me in. I found her small room aglow with candlelight. “ ‘This is how I keep my sanity,’ she exclaimed. ‘Every night for 15 minutes I light these candles. To me the most serene thing on earth is a lighted candle.’ ’’

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nd so sanctuary can be found in a variety of ways.

The important thing in all this, however, is to find it. The important thing is to get in touch with the inner core of our being, and with God, who lives there. The important thing is to nourish our spirit in God’s presence so that we can continue to do God’s work in the hectic rat race of daily life. The important thing is to spend five or ten minutes of each day in quiet communion with God, 88 Ordinary

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who wants to speak to our soul and to renew our spirit. here’s a beautiful prayer called “Slow Me Down, Lord.’’ It expresses the same point that Jesus makes in today’s gospel, and it is the same point that so many businesspeople are making today. It makes a fitting prayer with which to close. It reads:

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Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down! Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. . . . Give me amid the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book. Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift— that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the flowering oak and know that it is great and strong because it grew slowly and well. Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.’* Wilferd A. Peterson * “Slow Me Down, Lord,’’ from Adventures in the Art of Living by Wilferd A. Peterson (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968). Reprinted by permission of Heacock Literary Agency, Inc., Santa Monica, California.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


17th Sunday of the Year 2 Kings 4:42–44; Ephesians 4:1–6; John 6:1–15

The Transformation Jesus wants to multiply our “loaves and fishes’’ beyond our wildest dreams.

ears ago, Ernest Gordon of Princeton University wrote an article entitled “It Happened on the River Kwai.’’

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Gordon’s article described how he spent a large part of World War II as a prisoner in Thailand on the banks of the Kwa Noi River. This river was the setting for the famous movie Bridge over the River Kwai.

Their fear of the Japanese made the prisoners paranoid. The law of the jungle took over among them. They stole from one another. They distrusted one another. And to win personal favors from the Japanese, they informed on one another. The guards laughed to see how the once-proud soldiers were destroying one another. orale hit zero. Something had to be done! But what could one prisoner or even a group of prisoners do in a situation like this?

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The Allied officers tried again and again, but they failed to reverse the situation.

Gordon worked on the infamous 250-mile “Railway of Death,’’ which the Japanese were building to facilitate their drive into Burma and India.

inally, two enlisted men, whose faith in God had helped them keep their honor and integrity, decided to try.

Over 12,000 Allied prisoners died of starvation and brutality building this railway. Gordon writes:

They gathered together the few Bibles they could find and organized a prayer-discussion group. Meeting at night, the group started with about a dozen men. Before long, the group grew to hundreds.

“Toiling from dawn to dusk . . . we worked bareheaded and barefooted in temperatures as high as 120 degrees in the sun. “Men staggered to their assignments burning with fever. When they dropped in their tracks, they were left where they fell, to be picked up at the day’s end and carried back to the camp by their comrades. “A prisoner suspected of faking an illness was tied to a tree, beaten, and left exposed to the tropical sun and insects all day.’’ But Gordon says the worst enemy was not the Japanese. Nor was it the hard life they had to live. It was themselves. Year B

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Through their readings and discussions, the men came to know Jesus. Their problems were the same problems Jesus himself had faced. He too was often hungry. He too was often bone-weary. He too was betrayed. He too felt the sting of the whip on his back. Everything about Jesus— what he was, what he said, what he did— began to make sense and come alive. he prisoners stopped thinking about themselves as victims of some cruel tragedy.

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They stopped informing on one another. They stopped destroying one another. Nowhere was their change of heart more evident than in their group prayers together. They began to pray not so much for themselves but for one another. And when they did pray for themselves, it was not to get something. It was to release some new power that they suddenly found inside themselves. Gordon concludes his report by telling how one night he was hobbling back to his hut after a late Bible-study meeting. Suddenly, from one of the huts along the way, he heard a group of prisoners singing a hymn. One of the prisoners was beating time on a piece of metal with a stick. The sound of the singing made the darkness come alive with hope. The difference between those joyful voices and the dreadful silence of months past, said Gordon, was “the difference between life and death.’’ hat story of how two enlisted men transformed an entire prisoner-of-war camp bears a striking resemblance to the story of the boy in today’s gospel.

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Like the two enlisted men in the camp, who did what they could, the boy in the story did what he could. He gave to Jesus what he had and Jesus did the rest. In the case of the boy, Jesus multiplied his loaves and fishes beyond his greatest expectation. In the case of the two enlisted men, Jesus took their honor and integrity and multiplied it beyond their greatest expectation.

He wants to feed the hungry millions of our world. He wants to transform the angry millions of our world. But Jesus needs a boy to give him a few loaves and fishes to start the process. He needs a couple of lowly enlisted men to give him their honor and integrity to initiate the transformation. In brief, Jesus needs people like you and me to give him our loaves and fishes and our integrity and honor. Jesus needs us to give him our talents and our daily prayers and crosses. And if we give these things to Jesus, he will take them and bless them beyond our greatest expectation. This is the lesson of Ernest Gordon’s true story of “It Happened on the River Kwai.’’ This is the lesson that Jesus wishes to teach us in today’s gospel. This is the challenge and the invitation that Jesus places before each one of us in this liturgy. It’s the same lesson, the same challenge, and the same invitation that Pope John Paul II set before the young people of Scotland during his visit there in 1982. After reading today’s gospel, the pope said to the young people: [The boy gave all he had] and Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people. . . . It is exactly the same with your lives. . . . Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept and bless you, and he will make use of your lives in a way that exceeds your greatest expectation.

hat Jesus did for the hungry crowd, and what Jesus did for the prisoners of war, he also wants to do for people today.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


18th Sunday of the Year Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; John 6:24–35

Hunger of the Heart There’s a hunger and a thirst in the human heart that only Jesus can fill.

here was a famous Broadway musical in the 1950s called Damn Yankees. It was later made into a popular movie.

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The leading character was a middle-aged man named Joe Boyd. From the time he was a little kid, Joe dreamed of becoming a famous baseball player. Now Joe’s dreaming days are over, and he knows it. Yet he continues to dream. Then one night something strange happens. A man named Mr. Applegate walks into Joe’s life. He tells Joe that he has the power to still make Joe’s dream come true. He can turn Joe Boyd, the middle-aged man, into Joe Hardy, a 22-year-old star outfielder for the Washington Senators. Back in the 1950s, Washington was a team in the American League. Then comes the terrific part. Joe can not only star for the Senators but also lead them to a pennant over the world-famous New York Yankees. The question in Joe’s mind— and in every moviegoer’s mind— is, Who is this mysterious Mr. Applegate? Well, as you may have guessed, he is the devil in human form. It’s then that Joe learns that there’s one catch to all this. In exchange for stardom he must sell his soul to the devil. Well, Joe still finds the offer impossible to refuse. Year B

So he agrees to it on one condition: that he can back out of the agreement, if he wishes, just before the Senators cinch the pennant race. The devil figures that once Joe gets that far, he’ll never back out, so he agrees. And so Joe writes a short note, kisses his sleeping wife good-bye, and leaves home to begin his new life. It’s at this point that the excitement begins. oe joins the Senators as a rookie and becomes an overnight sensation. In a matter of weeks he becomes the toast of Washington, D.C.

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Fans cheer him wildly. Kids idolize him, teenage girls worship him, and old people think of him as the son or grandson they’ve always wanted to have. It’s an unbelievable existence, and Joe relishes every moment of it. He never dreamed that life could be so sweet. He never dreamed that the world could be so beautiful. ut as the movie progresses, something unexpected happens to Joe. Slowly, all the fame and fortune begin to grow stale. Joe finds himself staring at the wall at night. Deep down inside him there’s a hollow spot that fame and fortune won’t fill. And Joe doesn’t know why.

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Finally, the deadline date with the devil arrives. The prospects of a pennant and a World Series are in the air. It is then, after much soul-searching, that Joe does what he never dreamed he’d do. He cancels his deal with the devil. Perhaps the reason is that way back in Joe’s mind he hears the echo of Jesus’ words: “Will you gain anything Lectionary 113

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if you win the whole world but are yourself lost or defeated?”

Luke 9:25

Whatever the reason, Joe disappears from the baseball world as mysteriously as he appeared. A few days later he turns up at his home again. He kisses his wife and goes back to being middle-aged Joe Boyd, who once dreamed of being a baseball star. hat story may remind older sports fans of the true story of Jack Dempsey. The night after winning the heavyweight boxing title from Jess Willard, Jack woke up in his hotel room. It was two o’clock in the morning. Suddenly, he felt terribly empty inside. He said later, and I quote, “Success didn’t taste the way I thought it would. I’d won a world’s championship. So what?’’

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successful high school teacher once said: “There’s nothing more beautiful than watching young people preparing to go off to college to begin an exciting new life. And that’s the way it should be. It’s an exciting time for them. The world is out there, just waiting for them to enjoy everything it has to offer.

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“But the day will come when those same young people will discover that what the world has to offer will leave them more hungry and more thirsty than they were before. “The day will come when they will discover the truth of Jesus’ words: “Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. . . . I am the bread of life. . . . Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.”

he fictional Joe Boyd and the real Jack Dempsey would agree 100 percent with what Jesus says to the crowd in today’s gospel:

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“Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. . . . I am the bread of life. . . . Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.”

Let’s pray for the grace never to forget the great truth of what Joe Boyd discovered in the movie and Jack Dempsey discovered in real life: that the food and drink of this world can never satisfy the hunger and thirst of the human heart.

John 6:27, 35

What Jesus is saying, what Joe Boyd experienced in the movie, and what Jack Dempsey experienced in real life, can be summed up in a single sentence: The human heart has a hunger and a thirst that nothing on earth can satisfy. It’s a lesson that we must learn if we are ever to find true happiness. Fame and fortune promise to fill the void in the human heart. But in the end they leave it more hungry and more thirsty than it was before. 92 Ordinary

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n a few minutes we will share together the Bread of Life. And as we do, let’s ask for the grace never to forget the great truth that Jesus teaches in today’s gospel.

Let’s pray for the grace never to forget the great truth that our hearts were made for God and they will not rest until they rest in God. For to forget this truth is to lose sight of one of the most important truths that Jesus ever taught.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


19th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:4–8; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; John 6:41–51

Bread of Life Belief in the real presence is at the heart of our faith.

teve Garwood is a building contractor in South Carolina. He is also an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist in his parish.

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The first Sunday after his child was born, he brought the Body of Christ home to his wife. She was still recuperating from giving birth.

“ ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ I said, ‘have mercy on me, an ungrateful sinner. You are here before me, in my house, and you have blessed me so much.’ ’’ And You, Who Do You Say I Am? hat moving story fits in beautifully with today’s gospel reading. It does so for two reasons.

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First, it underscores a central mystery of our faith, namely, that we Catholics believe that the risen Jesus lives among us, just as truly as he lived among his disciples in biblical times. Spelling out this mystery more in detail, the Second Vatican Council said:

When Steve opened the door, he saw that friends had dropped in to see the new baby. So he reverently placed the small gold receptacle, containing the Body of Christ, on a shelf in his living room.

“Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the actions of the liturgy. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the person of the minister . . . and most of all under the eucharistic species.’’

Visitors streamed in and out all day. By the time the last visitor left, he had not yet had time to be alone with his wife, who had just fallen asleep.

“Christ is present in the sacraments by his power, in such a way that when someone baptizes, Christ himself baptizes.

As Steve passed through the darkened living room, he felt compelled to kneel in reverence before the Body of Christ in the small gold container on the shelf. As he knelt there, with head bowed, it suddenly struck him that he was not alone in the room. The Lord was with him. This sudden realization overwhelmed him. He wrote later: “Blood pounded in my ears and all the hairs of my body stood on end. I thrust my face to the floor and spread my hands out in supplication before me. Year B

The Council continues:

“He is present in his word, for it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. “Finally, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he himself promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.’ ’’ Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

f all the ways Jesus is present among us, his presence in the Eucharist has always been special to us Catholics. And today’s gospel recalls why.

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It’s because he’s present there as the “bread of life.’’ Lectionary 116

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Commenting on this special presence, Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the bread of life . . . the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” John 6:48, 51 And so the story of Steve Garwood underscores a central mystery of our faith, namely, that the risen Jesus lives among us in the Eucharist just as truly as he lived among his disciples in biblical times. his brings us to the second reason why the story fits in with today’s gospel. It’s because it dramatizes the reverence that Catholics have traditionally accorded Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist.

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Like the apostle Thomas, who fell on his knees before the risen Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God!’’ (John 20:28), Steve fell on his knees before eucharistic Jesus and said, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, an ungrateful sinner. You are here before me, in my house, and you have blessed me so much.’’

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his brings us to the practical application of all of this to our daily lives.

Steve’s story makes us aware that we tend to take Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist for granted. It makes us aware that we need to be reminded from time to time of what a great gift it is to have Jesus present among us in the Eucharist. It makes us aware that we, too, should fall on our knees from time to time and say to Jesus in the Eucharist what the disciple Thomas said: “My Lord and my God!’’ 94 Ordinary

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It makes us aware that we, too, should fall on our knees from time to time and say to Jesus in the Eucharist what Steve said: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, an ungrateful sinner. You are here before me, in my house, and you have blessed me so much.” his is the great mystery that we contemplate in today’s gospel. This is the great mystery that we celebrate in today’s liturgy.

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It is the incredible mystery that Jesus lives among us in the Eucharist just as truly as he lived among the people of biblical times.

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n the face of such a mystery, all we can do is fall on our knees and pray:

God our Father, you have given us so much. Forgive us if we ask you for one thing more. Give us the faith to recognize the presence of your Son in the hearts of our brothers and sisters in this church right now. Give us the faith to recognize the voice of your Son in the words of Sacred Scripture. Above all, give us the faith to recognize the Body of your Son in the bread that we now prepare to bless, break, and share. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, with whom, in whom, and through whom we will someday live with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


Assumption Revelation 11:19; 12:1–6, 10; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26; Luke 1:39–56

Inspiration Mary’s suffering, service, and prayerfulness inspire us.

alph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist, once said, “Our chief need in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.’’

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Emerson’s point is a good one. Our chief need is not to find somebody who will tell us what we ought to do. We already know that. We are painfully aware of what we ought to do. Our chief need is to find somebody who will inspire us to do what we know we should do. And Emerson says that this is the role of a friend, a spouse, or a parent. And as a Christian, I might add that this is also the role of Mary.

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he first thing we find in Mary’s life is suffering.

Mary’s suffering began when she and Joseph took the child Jesus to the Temple. There the holy man Simeon said of Jesus: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against.” Luke 2:34 Then turning to Mary, he said, “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.’’ Luke 2:35 Suffering continued in Mary’s life when in later years she saw the opposition grow against Jesus. Year B

And finally, her suffering reached a peak when she stood beneath the crucified body of her son on Calvary. Mary bore her suffering with courage and with patience. And that’s where she becomes a source of inspiration to us. She inspires us to bear our suffering as courageously and patiently as she did. his brings us to the second thing that we find in Mary’s life. It’s a spirit of service to others.

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This spirit manifested itself when the angel announced that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Her answer was short and to the point: “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may it happen to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38 Mary’s spirit of service continued to manifest itself when she learned of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and went to help her cousin. (Luke 1:39–45) Finally, that spirit of service continued to manifest itself when Mary asked help from Jesus for the young married couple at Cana.

(John 2:5)

Someone once said, “My life turned around when I stopped asking God to do things for me and asked God what I could do for him.’’ It is this kind of spirit of service in Mary that inspires us to want to try to serve as she did. his brings us to the third thing that we find in Mary’s life. It is a spirit of profound prayerfulness.

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This spirit of prayerfulness is seen in her prayer of praise to God. Mary offered this prayer right after learning that Elizabeth’s child Lectionary 622

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leaped in the womb when she approached Elizabeth with Jesus in her own womb. (Luke 1:46–55) Mary’s spirit of prayerfulness continued at the birth of Jesus, when the Gospel tells us that Mary “remembered all these things [connected with Jesus’ birth] and thought deeply about them.” Luke 2:19

his is the message contained in today’s feast. This is the good news we celebrate together. This is the invitation that God extends to each one of us in this liturgy.

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And it reached a special peak when the Acts of the Apostles tells us that she “devoted’’ herself “to prayer’’ with the apostles in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:14) Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.’’ This is what prayer did for Mary. And this is what it can also do for us.

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nd so Mary’s special relevance for us today lies in being an inspiration to us.

Three things, especially, stand out in her life: the suffering she endured courageously, the service she rendered joyfully, and the prayer she offered ceaselessly. As a result of this, Mary inspires us to want to carry our cross patiently, as she carried hers. She inspires us to want to serve others joyfully, as she served them. Finally, she inspires us to want to pray regularly, as she did. And if we imitate her in these three things, then we too will rejoice with her someday in heaven in the presence of the Holy Trinity, as she rejoices there now.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


20th Sunday of the Year Proverbs 9:1–6; Ephesians 5:15–20; John 6:51–58

Bread of Life The least return we can make to the Lord for his incredible gift to us is to receive it worthily.

early a century and a half ago, a poor family from a tiny Yugoslavian village decided to emigrate to the United States. It was made up of a father, a mother, a teenage boy, and four little girls.

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A week before their ship sailed, the family’s relatives and friends threw a “going-away’’ party for them. They gave the family practical gifts of several loaves of hard bread and several blocks of cheese. A week later the family boarded an Italian ship. Since they had never been out of their village, and since few on board spoke Yugoslavian, they were overwhelmed by what they saw and heard. It was a cold winter day, so the family went immediately to their third-class cabin below deck. There they stayed to themselves and ate their bread and cheese sparingly to make it last the entire ocean voyage. On the last day of their journey the weather cleared a bit, and the teenage boy was growing restless. So he asked his father for permission to go above to explore the ship. When the boy didn’t return within the hour, the father went looking for him. He found him in a big dining room, sitting at a table, eating from a plate overflowing with meat, vegetables, and even dessert. The father’s heart stopped. He had visions of spending his first days Year B

in the United States in prison. For there was no way he could pay for all the food his son had ordered and was eating. When the boy saw how frightened his father looked, he said: “Don’t worry, Dad, it’s free. While we’ve been fasting on rations of cheese and bread, everyone else has been feasting on banquets like this. They’re included in the price of the ticket.’’ ames Colaianni, who recalls the story, draws this comparison. The world is filled with people who are like that poor Yugoslavian family.

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They are journeying through life, totally unaware of the incredible Banquet of Life that God spreads for them each day. It’s the banquet of Holy Communion, and it’s included in the ticket of life. Jesus refers to this incredible banquet in today’s gospel reading. Listen again to what he says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.”

John 6:51

he difference between the Bread of Life that Jesus gives us and ordinary bread is beyond comparison.

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When we eat other bread, that bread becomes a part of us. It enters our body and changes into us. But when we eat the Bread of Life, just the opposite happens. It doesn’t change into us; we change into it. It transforms us into what it is: the Body of Christ. Lectionary 119

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And this is why, if we eat it, we will live forever. By eating the Body of Christ, we are transformed into Christ, who will live forever. hen you pause to ponder this great mystery, you can’t help but marvel at what an incredible gift it is.

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What a tragedy to go through life totally unaware of this incredible gift. What a tragedy indeed to go through life totally unaware that the Banquet of Life comes with the ticket of life. Yet, my brothers and sisters, there is something even more tragic. There is something infinitely more tragic. And that is to go through life aware of the Banquet of Life but to take it for granted and to fail to appreciate it. omeone once made this observation: “When we look at the Body of Christ before receiving it in Communion, it’s hard for us to see Christ in it. But when other people look at us after we receive the Body of Christ, it’s even harder for them to see Christ in us.’’

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That person’s point is that after receiving the Eucharist, we sometimes act as though we had not received it. In other words, we become so accustomed to receiving the Eucharist that we take it for granted. We fail to appreciate it, and that lack of appreciation is reflected in our attitude after Communion. ook at it this way. We might compare the moment of receiving Communion to a diamond, and we might compare the time before and after receiving Communion to a gold band.

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A diamond by itself is beautiful. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it in the center of a gold band and make it into a diamond ring. It’s the same with Communion. Communion by itself is a beautiful experience. But it becomes incomparably more beautiful if we place it in the center of prayer and make it into a prayer experience. If our reception of Communion seems to be lacking something, maybe it’s because we have allowed it to become separated from prayer. Maybe it’s because we have allowed it to become an event by itself. Maybe it’s because it is not a prayer experience. To put it in another way, how prayerful are we before and after receiving Communion? What goes on in our mind and heart before and after receiving the Body of Christ? Do we speak to Jesus as to a friend? Do we give him thanks, ask his forgiveness, and talk to him about our problems? he poor Yugoslavian family made the entire voyage to America unaware that the ship’s meals came with the ticket. What a tragedy that was.

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An even greater tragedy is for people to make the entire voyage of life unaware that the Banquet of Life comes with the ticket of life. But an infinitely greater tragedy is for people to make the entire voyage of life unaware that they have turned the Banquet of Life into a lifeless routine by failing to make it a prayer experience. This is the message contained in today’s gospel. This is the message that Jesus wants us to ponder and take to heart as we make ready for the Banquet of Life that he has prepared for us today.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


21st Sunday of the Year Joshua 24:1–2, 15–17, 18; Ephesians 5:21–32; John 6:60–69

Commitment Our commitments to others can have an impact far beyond anything we ever dreamed of.

To make a long story short, the United States four-man canoe team won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. And Bill’s wife was late in giving birth to her first child. She was so late that Bill could have competed in the event and returned home in time to be with his wife. People said, “What a shame!’’

t the Olympic games in Paris in 1924, the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions for the first time.

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But Bill said he had no regrets. After all, his commitment to his wife was more important then, and it still was now.

The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of the U.S. team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.

he story of Bill Havens is a story of how one man paid a high price to fulfill a commitment to someone he loved. It makes an especially fitting introduction to today’s Scripture readings. For each of those three readings deals with the subject of commitment.

As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill’s wife would give birth to their first child about the time that Bill would be competing in the Paris games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow-moving, oceangoing ships. And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife’s side when their first child was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain behind? Bill’s wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, he had been working toward this for all these years. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Clearly, the decision was not easy for Bill to make. Finally, after much soul-searching, Bill decided to withdraw from the competition and remain behind with his wife so that he could be with her when their first child arrived. Bill considered being at her side a higher priority than going to Paris to fulfill a lifelong dream. Year B

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The first reading deals with the commitment of the people of Israel to God and the difficulty they found living it out. The gospel reading deals with the commitment of the disciples to Jesus and the difficulty they had living it out. Finally, the second reading deals with the commitment of two people in marriage and the difficulty they encountered living it out. And the story of Bill Havens fits in here best. ut Bill’s story does more than make a fitting introduction to the subject of commitment. It reveals something important about commitment.

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The temptation we most frequently face in our commitments is not to break them or fail to fulfill them. Rather, it is the temptation not to live them out as fully as we could. In other words, we keep our commitments but live them out only 50 to 70 percent, instead of 100 percent. Lectionary 122

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The story of Bill Havens is the story of a person who lived out his commitment 100 percent.

The generosity with which they live out their commitment to one another is carefully observed by their children.

And that’s why the story of Bill Havens does more than just make a fitting introduction to today’s readings. It also inspires us to live out our commitments as generously as he lived out his.

And their children will often use it as the model for their own commitments in life.

here’s a sequel to the story of Bill Havens. And the sequel reveals a second important point about commitments.

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The generosity with which we live out our commitments will have a powerful impact not only on the one to whom we are committed but also on those around us— and often on people we don’t even know. The child eventually born to Bill and his wife was a boy, whom they named Frank. Twenty-eight years later, in 1952, Bill received a cablegram from Frank. It was sent from Helsinki, Finland, where the 1952 Olympics were being held. The cablegram read, and I quote it exactly: “Dad, I won. I’m bringing home the gold medal you lost while waiting for me to be born.’’ Frank Havens had just won the gold medal for the United States in the canoe-racing event, a medal his father had dreamed of winning but never did. hat’s a beautiful conclusion to a beautiful story. Bill Havens’s commitment, 28 years earlier, became the inspiration for his son. Frank made it the model for a commitment of his own: to show his deep appreciation to his dad for his generous commitment to his mother and to himself.

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nd so Bill Havens’ decision to live out his commitment 100 percent impacted his relationship with his wife in a profound way.

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But it also impacted his relationship with his son in a profound way. Bill became a model for his son to follow. But the impact of Bill’s decision didn’t stop here. It went much further. It has also impacted the lives of everyone who has ever heard his story. The point of all this is clear. When we make a decision to commit ourselves generously to God, to Christ, or to another person, that decision does far more than just impact the lives of our loved ones. It also impacts the lives of people we don’t even know. We might compare our commitment to a stone thrown into a lake. It does more than impact the lake at the point of entry. It ripples out and impacts the lake far beyond the point of entry— sometimes even to distant parts of the lake. Only God knows the full impact that our actions have on others. And so when we come to die, and appear before God in judgment, we will be amazed at the far-reaching impact of our actions— just as Bill Havens would be amazed at the far-reaching impact that his commitment to his wife has had, inspiring hundreds of thousands of people he never knew. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


22nd Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8; James 1:17–18, 21–22, 27; Mark 7:1–8, 14–15, 21–23

Thirty-Second Homily Religion doesn’t consist in doing things like following customs, but in doing things like helping the homeless and the hopeless.

70-year-old priest made a retreat. In the course of it he was struck deeply by three things that he’d always been aware of but had never really taken to heart.

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First, there are millions of people in the world who are hungry and homeless. Second, he had spent his entire priestly life living in a comfortable rectory and preaching comfortable sermons to comfortable people. Third, he had bent over backward to avoid disturbing or alienating his people. The priest suddenly found himself reminded of a new pastor assigned to a church in Kentucky, not far from Churchill Downs, the famous racetrack. The first Sunday, the pastor preached on the evils of gambling and how this bad habit had caused so much pain and suffering in so many families. After his sermon the president of the parish council called him and reminded him that many parishioners who generously supported the church made their living off horse racing and gambling. The second Sunday, the pastor preached on the evils of smoking and how this bad habit had caused so much pain and suffering from lung cancer and premature death. Again, the president of the parish council called and reminded him that many parishioners who generously supported the church Year B

made their living by growing tobacco, for which Kentucky was famous. The third Sunday, the pastor preached on the evils of alcohol and how this bad habit had caused so much pain and suffering from drunk driving and broken homes. Again, the president of the parish council called to remind him that many parishioners who supported the church made their living by working in distilleries, for which Kentucky was even more famous. “Well, what can I preach on?’’ said the new pastor in desperation. “Preach against war mongers and crooked politicians,’’ said the president. “We don’t have any of them in the parish.’’

n other words, the 70-year-old priest found himself to be much like the priest played by Jack Lemmon in the film Mass Appeal. He preached only about those things that didn’t disturb his parishioners and made them feel good.

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And now, like the priest in Mass Appeal, the old priest suddenly realized that he had been more worried about pleasing his people than about preaching the Gospel. He had been more worried about rocking the boat than about challenging his parishioners to look into their hearts to see if they were satisfied with what they saw there. The week following his eye-opening retreat, the old priest looked up the Scripture readings to prepare his Sunday homily. They were the readings for this week. As he read the Gospel, these words of Jesus leaped right off the page: “These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me.” Mark 7:6 Lectionary 125

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The old priest resolved, then and there, that he was going to share his soul-searching with his parishioners. So he began his homily by saying: “My homily this morning will be exactly 30 seconds long. That’s the shortest homily that I’ve ever preached in my life, but it’s also the most important homily I’ve ever preached.’’ With that attention-grabbing introduction, the old priest gave his 30-second homily. He said: “I want to make just three points. First, millions of people in the world are hungry and homeless. Second, most people in the world don’t give a damn about that. Third, many of you are more disturbed by the fact that I just said damn in the pulpit than by the fact that I said that there are millions of hungry and homeless people in the world.’’ With that, the old priest made the sign of the cross and sat down.

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hat homily did three things that many homilies don’t do.

First, it caught the attention of the people. Second, it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. Third, it made the people look into their hearts.

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he story of the old priest and the gospel reading make the same point.

Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not, primarily, observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain rituals. That’s what many people in Jesus’ time had turned religion into. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious. To illustrate the hypocrisy of such legalism, William Barclay tells this story— 102 Ordinary

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probably apocryphal— about a Muslim pursuing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the chase, the Azan, or public call to prayer, sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him. It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously in his time. Jesus made it clear that religion isn’t something you do at certain times on certain days. It’s not saying certain prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love— love of God and love of neighbor. oday’s Scripture readings invite us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us: “These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me.”

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They invite us to look into our own heart and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us: “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.” James 1:22–23 et’s close by prayerfully rereading Paul’s famous words on love in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

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I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong. . . . I may have all the faith needed to move mountains— but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have . . . but if I have no love, this does me no good. . . . It is love, then, that you should strive for. 1 Corinthians 13:1–3, 14:1 Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


23rd Sunday of the Year Isaiah 35:4–7; James 2:1–5; Mark 7:31–37

Jesus Acts Today Jesus uses our hands, our feet, our voice, and our heart to touch people in our day.

but it never occurred to me that he could [really] be the Son of God.’’ Then one night Stookey was giving a concert at Austin, Texas. In the course of the evening, a young man walked up to him backstage and began talking to him about Jesus. What happened next is hard to put in words. Stookey expressed it this way:

any people remember Paul Stookey. He enjoyed international fame in the 1960s with the singing group Peter, Paul, and Mary.

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Few people know, however, that Paul went through a lot of soul-searching during his musical career. In spite of his fame and success, Paul felt a deep spiritual hunger inside himself. One day that hunger got so bad that he turned to another musician for help. The person he turned to was singer Bob Dylan. Stookey said later, “If anyone knew about our spiritual nature back then, it was Bob Dylan.’’ Stookey and Dylan talked for a long time. Their conversation ended with Dylan making two suggestions. First, he told Stookey to visit his old high school, walk through its corridors again, and get back in touch with his roots. Second, he told Stookey to begin reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. And so Stookey took Dylan’s advice. He said later, “I started carrying the Scriptures around with me. . . . It was almost like having a brother with you.’’

“So, wow, I started to pray with him, and I asked Jesus to . . . take over my life. And I started to cry and he started to cry.’’ That night, backstage in Texas, the grace of God touched Stookey in a remarkable way. Like the deaf-mute in today’s gospel, Stookey’s ears were opened so that he could hear and understand God’s Word in a new way. And his tongue was loosed so that he could praise God and pray to God in a new way. Stookey still had a long way to go. His faith journey had just begun. But thanks to that young man in Texas, grace had touched him profoundly, and he would never be the same again.

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hat story illustrates an important point that we sometimes forget.

Jesus still opens the ears of deaf people today, just as he did in gospel times. He still loosens the tongues of people today, just as he did in gospel times.

Then, slowly, something began to happen. Stookey explained it this way in an interview:

The only difference is the way Jesus continues to do these things. He doesn’t do them through his own hands and voice. Rather, he does them through the hands and voice of other people.

“I began discovering that all the truths I sought were contained in the life of [Jesus]. . . . It was fantastic. He set a good example,

For example, Jesus used the young man in Texas to open Stookey’s eyes and ears so that he could understand God’s Word.

Year B

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And he used him to loosen Stookey’s tongue so that he could pray to God. o put all of this in a more dramatic way, we could say this: Jesus has no feet by which he can walk into the lives of people today. He must use our feet to do that, as he used the feet of the young man in Texas to walk into the life of Paul Stookey.

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Jesus has no hands but ours to reach out and heal the ears and tongues of people today. He must use our hands to do that, as he used the hands of the young man to reach out and heal the ears and tongue of Paul Stookey. Jesus has no voice but ours to speak to the hearts of people today. He must use our voice to do that, as he used the voice of the young man to speak to the heart of Paul Stookey. ears ago, as part of the pregame hype for Super Bowl XVI, reporter Jerry Izenberg of the New York Post interviewed Reggie Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals.

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Like the young man in today’s gospel, Reggie was born with a hearing problem, but no one really paid any attention to it. Reggie told Izenberg that his early teachers simply thought he was dull and stupid. But a third grade teacher, Miss Chapman, took an interest in him, discovered his problem, and got him the help he needed. Thanks to Miss Chapman, Reggie’s ears were now opened so that he could hear right for the first time. Reggie eventually graduated in the top 5 percent of his high school class. And the boy who was supposed to be dull and stupid wound up going to Dartmouth University. 104 Ordinary

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“If it hadn’t been for Miss Chapman,’’ Reggie told Izenberg, “I don’t know where I’d be today.’’

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oday’s gospel has an invitation from Jesus for each of us in this church today.

Jesus is inviting us to lend him our hands that he might open the ears of the deaf and loosen the tongues of the mute today, as he did for the man in today’s gospel. Jesus is inviting us to lend him our voice that he might speak to the spiritually hungry of our day, as he did to the spiritually hungry of his day. He is inviting us to lend him our hearts that he might use them to touch the lives of people in our day, as he touched the lives of people in his day. This is the message that today’s Scripture sets before us. This is the mystery that today’s liturgy celebrates. This is the invitation that Jesus makes to each one of us today.

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et’s close with a prayer:

Lord, today’s Scripture message is one that we have heard many times before but that we tend to forget or not appreciate. Touch our ears and open them that we may hear that message in a new way. Touch our tongues and loosen them that we may share this message with others. Touch our hearts that we may let you use them to transform our world, as you let the Father use you to transform your world.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


24th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 50:4–9; James 2:14–18; Mark 8:27–35

God Knows Best “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’

ewish tradition preserves a story about Rabbi Asher. He lived in Europe in medieval times.

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During that period in history, hoards of barbarians roamed Europe. They attacked caravans. And sometimes they attacked whole villages, killing the villagers and making off with their cattle and valuables. One day Rabbi Asher had to make a long journey, traveling by himself. He knew it would be dangerous, but he had no choice. So he set out, taking with him only three things: a rooster, a donkey, and a small oil lamp. The rabbi took the rooster to wake him up each morning because he was a notoriously heavy sleeper. He took the donkey because the roads were bad and he might fall, hurt himself, and need the donkey to carry him. Finally, he took the oil lamp so that he could read the Bible each night before he retired. One evening the rabbi came to a village, hoping to stay there for the night. But the villagers were suspicious of him and drove him away. The rabbi didn’t become angry. He simply said to himself, “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ And so the rabbi camped out under the stars near a stream outside the village. There he lit his lamp to read his Bible before retiring. But the wind kept blowing out the lamp. The rabbi finally gave up and said to himself, “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ Year B

About midnight the rabbi woke with a start. He discovered that a thief had stolen his donkey. He also discovered that a wild animal had killed his rooster. The rabbi did not grow angry. He simply said to himself, “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ The next day the rabbi learned that during the night a band of barbarians had attacked the village, killed the villagers, and taken their cattle and valuables. Had the rabbi stayed in the village, the barbarians would have killed him too. The rabbi also learned that the barbarians had come to the stream looking for travelers. Had they seen him reading by his lamp or heard his rooster crow or his donkey bray, they would have killed him and taken what little he had. That night when the rabbi knelt to say his prayers, he looked up to heaven and said, “Lord, you know best; you always have your reasons.’’ hat story is still told and retold by Jews. It reminds them of something they tend to forget.

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It reminds them that they should look upon everything with the eyes of faith. It reminds them of what Rabbi Asher said: “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ This is especially true of the kind of pain and suffering that Isaiah talks about in today’s first reading. And it’s also true of the kind of pain and suffering that Jesus talks about in today’s gospel. The greatest act of faith that we can make is to say to God, “I don’t know the reason for the cross Lectionary 131

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that you sent me, but I will pick it up and carry it anyway, simply because your Son, Jesus, said I should.’’

The important thing is how we respond to them. The important thing is how we accept them. The important thing is how we use them.

Almost anyone can carry a cross if he or she can see the reason for it. But it takes people of great love and faith to carry a cross if they can’t see the reason for it.

We can’t avoid suffering and sorrow, but with God’s help we can use them. We can turn them into something that is constructive, not destructive. We can turn them into something that is life-giving, not death-dealing. We can turn them into something that will draw us closer to God instead of driving us farther away.

It takes people of great love and faith to pick up a cross and to say what Rabbi Asher said: “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ ears ago a young man was studying for the priesthood at St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary in Chicago. A year before ordination he contracted a fatal disease. Shortly before his death he wrote to a friend:

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“Every so often we have showdowns in our lives by which we are challenged . . . to grow in our faith or to lose it. I feel that this experience is that kind of a challenge. . . . If we really are the Christians we claim to be, we have to believe that every part of our lives has value, including an illness like this.’’ That young man was living by faith. He was doing what Jesus said to do. He was picking up his cross and carrying it. He was living by faith, in the finest sense of the word. He was saying that everything happens for a purpose. He was saying what the rabbi said: “God knows best; he always has his reasons.’’ uffering and sorrow are like birth and death. They are a part of life. There’s no way we can escape them. They will seek us out and find us, no matter who we are or where we go.

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The important thing isn’t the suffering and sorrow that come our way. 106 Ordinary

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oday’s gospel reading is a call to faith.

It’s a call to do what Jesus himself did. It’s a call to do what Rabbi Asher did. It’s a call to do what the young seminarian did. It’s a call to pick up our cross and carry it. And if we do this, if we heed this call, we will discover what Jesus did, we will discover what Rabbi Asher did, and we will discover what the seminarian did. We will discover that the reverse side of every cross contains a blessing far greater than the cross itself. This is the mystery we celebrate in this liturgy. This is the good news that Jesus wishes to share with us today. et’s close with Paul’s words to the Romans. They speak of suffering and sorrow in a faith way. Paul writes, “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.” Romans 8:28

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And again, he writes, “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. . . . Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:12, 21 Finally, he writes, “I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


25th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 2:12, 17–20; James 3:16–4:3; Mark 9:30–37

Glowing Faces Helping others, especially the needy, brings joy not only to the helped but also to the helpers.

high school teacher gave his students this homework assignment: “Describe in writing a time in your life when you were a ‘good Samaritan’ to someone.’’ One of the students responded to that assignment this way:

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“In the summer before I entered high school, our church planned a day for the elderly and the handicapped at a local hospital. The sea of wheelchairs and patients overwhelmed me. At first I saw only wheelchairs.

“It was a strange experience: a sudden decrease in faith and a sudden increase of faith— all within a matter of minutes. “I returned to the place where all the elderly and the handicapped were. And I began doing everything I could to make them happy: getting them soft drinks and merely talking to them. I made a lot of faces glow that afternoon. “But of all the faces that I made glow, one face stood out above all the others. I will never forget that face. It was my own face. I never felt so good about myself; I never felt so happy.’’ (adapted) hat story fits in beautifully with today’s gospel reading. Specifically, it fits in with what Jesus said to his disciples after they had argued among themselves about who was the greatest.

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“Then I happened to notice someone in one of the wheelchairs staring at my legs.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must place himself last of all and be the servant of all.” Mark 9:35

“That did it. Now I stopped seeing only wheelchairs and started seeing people also. I saw crippled women, paralyzed veterans, forgotten old men, frail little kids. All were looking for someone to show an interest in them. I couldn’t breathe; I hurried away by myself.

And so Jesus used the occasion to underscore a prominent gospel theme: helping others, especially the needy. Let’s take a closer look at this theme.

“I paced the hospital grounds for what seemed to be an hour. I became angry at God and totally confused at seeing so much pain in one place. I was more lonely than any of the patients. I was the one that needed help, not them. “But after a while, the God I had vented my anger on suddenly became more real than ever before in my life. I sensed that God loved these people in a special way. Year B

Let’s look at it from two viewpoints. First, let’s look at it from the viewpoint of the needy. Second, let’s look at it from the viewpoint of those who help the needy. n his book Majority of One, Sydney Harris, the syndicated columnist, describes a time when he fractured a bone in his foot. It forced him to hobble around with a cane for several days. Commenting on the experience, he says:

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was the way I was treated by everyone. People opened doors for me, helped me into cabs, gave me room on elevators. My spirit blossomed under this kind of public treatment.’’ Harris’s remarks illustrate what service does from the viewpoint of the needy. It makes their “faces glow.’’ It makes them feel somebody cares about them. It makes them feel somebody loves them. his brings us to our second viewpoint: what service does for those who help the needy. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the remarks of the high school boy, when he said:

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“I made a lot of faces glow that afternoon. But of all the faces that I made glow, one face stood out above all the others. I will never forget that face. It was my own face. I never felt so good about myself; I never felt so happy.’’ That boy’s remarks illustrate what service does for those who help the needy. It makes their face glow even more than the faces of those they help. And I think the reason for this is simple. It stems from something we forget. It stems from something we lose sight of. It stems from something we need to be reminded of again and again. Let me illustrate with a story. here’s a 19th-century painting that shows a long line of poor people in a rundown part of the city, waiting to be fed in a soup kitchen.

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It’s a striking painting. But the most striking thing about the painting is one of the poor people in the long line. He has a halo around his head. A closer look at that person shows that it is Jesus. 108 Ordinary

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And this brings us to the reason that the faces of those who help the needy glow even more than the faces of the needy. It’s because in the process of helping the needy, they discover where Jesus is in our modern world. He is in the needy themselves. This is what we forget. This is what we lose sight of. This is what we need to be reminded of again and again. For it was none other than Jesus himself who said: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me. . . . whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!” Matthew 25:35–36, 40 et’s conclude by listening prayerfully to the words of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great Christians of modern time.

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At the age of 30, he gave up his career as a concert performer for the rich people of Europe and became a missionary doctor for the poor people of Africa. Toward the end of his life Schweitzer said: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones of you who will be really happy are those who sought and found how to serve.’’ Let’s repeat those words once more. They are that important. “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones of you who will be really happy are those who sought and found how to serve.’’

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


26th Sunday of the Year Numbers 11:25–29; James 5:1–6; Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48

The Girl and the Gull Whoever leads another astray will be punished; whoever helps another find the way will be rewarded.

illiam Sydney Porter was a popular American author in the early 1900s. Writing under the pen name O. Henry, he was famous for his short stories.

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The thing that made him famous was the way he ended his stories. He never ended them in a conventional way. He always ended them with a surprise. For example, one story tells of a little girl whose mother was dead. The little girl would wait all day for her father to return from work. She wanted to sit on his lap, for she was emotionally starved for signs of affection. But every night her father followed the same routine. He’d eat. Then he’d flop in his favorite chair, light up his pipe, and read until bedtime. When the little girl came to sit on his lap, he’d always reply the same way. “Honey, can’t you see your daddy’s tired? He worked all day. Go outside and play.’’ The little girl would go outside and play in the street, amusing herself as best she could. The inevitable happened. As the girl grew older she began to accept expressions of affection from anyone who offered them. And instead of playing in the street, she took to the street and became a prostitute. Year B

One day the girl died. As she approached the gates of heaven, Peter saw her coming and said to Jesus, “She’s a bad one, Lord. She’s a prostitute. There’s only one place for her.’’ Then comes the surprise ending to the story. Jesus says to Peter, “Let her come into heaven. But when her father comes, hold him responsible for her life.’’ . Henry’s point is clear. God will be merciful to those who, through minimal fault of their own, were led astray. But God will be demanding toward those who are responsible for leading them astray.

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And we might add that the way we lead another astray is usually not by doing something to them. More often it is by failing to do something for them. For example, we fail to show them love or affection, as the father failed to do in O. Henry’s story. This is especially true when it comes to children. ome years ago the Reader’s Digest carried an article by Jane Lindstrom. It was entitled “How Will You Know Unless I Tell You?’’

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In that article Lindstrom reminds us of something that is tremendously important. She says, and I quote: “Children crave spoken assurances of love and approval. Love locked in our hearts doesn’t reach them. It is like a letter written and not sent. If they are to become emotionally secure, they must hear us say to them: “ ‘I love you, sweetheart. I’m proud of you. I’m awfully glad that you’re my little girl.’ Lectionary 137

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“A soft voice, friendly eyes, and gentle words will convey the message even to a baby.’’ (slightly adapted)

And what is true of children is true also of husbands and wives. They crave concrete expressions of love. When we withhold these expressions, we can tempt them to go astray. And God will hold us accountable for this, just as Jesus did the father in O. Henry’s story. ut Jesus taught us something else. He taught us that the reverse is also true. He taught us that anyone who brings someone back to the right path after that person has gone astray will be greatly blessed. (James 5:20)

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In her book The One and Only Me, Irene Champernowne recalls a moving story. One day she was walking along a beach. She came upon a group of small children who were throwing stones at a sea gull. One of the gull’s wings was broken, and it couldn’t fly. Irene was shocked by what she saw. She stopped and told the children that instead of hurting the gull even more, they should be helping it. The children seemed to understand and stopped throwing stones. Later, when Irene returned from her walk down the beach, she saw the same group of children. They were gathered around the same sea gull. Only this time, instead of throwing stones at it, they were feeding it and building a shelter for it. rene was amazed how her words of guidance had transformed the behavior of the children. What a tragedy it would have been, she thought, had she not taken the time to redirect their energies.

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That story illustrates what one person was able to do. Irene refused to join the long line of people who see evil, complain about it, but don’t do a single thing to change it.

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oday’s gospel is an invitation from Jesus to ask ourselves two important questions.

First, what are we doing— or, perhaps, not doing— that may be causing another to go astray? For example, if we are parents or spouses, are we placing ourselves at the service of our loved ones? Or are we so caught up with our own hurts and concerns that we omit even the basic expressions of love that every parent or spouse should show? Second, to what extent do we make an effort to help others who are going astray, like the children in Irene’s story? For example, do we ever give our time, our creativity, or our money to the unfortunate? Or are we merely critical of their lot and do nothing to improve it? These are two questions that today’s readings invite us to ask ourselves. These are two questions that Jesus invites us to take to heart. And they are important questions— terribly important. For how we answer them may determine how we will be judged when, like the father in O. Henry’s story, we too appear before the judgment seat of God to give an account of our lives on earth.

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


27th Sunday of the Year Genesis 2:18–24; Hebrews 2:9–11; Mark 10:2–16

Mother Hale What kind of mark are we leaving on the children we meet in life?

orraine Hale pulled up to a traffic light at an intersection in Harlem. On the sidewalk, next to the light, she saw a young female junkie who was nodding out. Cradled in the junkie’s arms was a tiny baby.

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The light turned green and Lorraine drove on. Then something told her to go back to the light. She turned around, went back, and said to the junkie: “Look, you’ve really got a problem, and you need help. Take your baby to my mother’s house. She’ll take care of it for you.’’ The junkie looked at her but didn’t understand. Lorraine repeated her words about three times. Then she wrote her mother’s address on a piece of paper and put it in the junkie’s hand. The next morning the junkie showed up at the Hale house. The baby was shaking, its nose was running, and it had a bad case of diarrhea. The baby was suffering from drug withdrawal. Babies born to mothers who are junkies come into life as drug addicts. They become addicted in their mother’s womb before they are born. Lorraine’s mother, known to her neighbors as Mother Hale, took the baby and nursed it through the painful period of withdrawal. Mother Hale didn’t know it then, but that single act of kindness would change her life. Year B

Soon word got around, and other junkies showed up on her doorstep with their babies. At one time Mother Hale had over 20 babies in her home. And at another time she ran out of money after buying food and clothing for them. But she managed to scrape by. Over a period of 16 years, Mother Hale has helped over 600 babies withdraw from drugs. “It usually takes about four to six weeks,’’ she says. “They reach out to you in pain and cry, and all you can do is hold them and love them.’’ hen one day something else happened to Mother Hale that changed her life. Someone told President Reagan about her work. He was deeply moved and mentioned it in his State of the Union address to Congress in 1985.

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As he did, the television camera cut away to Mother Hale in the White House gallery. It caught the 81-year-old grandmother with tears running down her cheeks. That did it. Mother Hale became an overnight celebrity. Newspaper reporters interviewed her and TV talk-show hosts invited her to appear on their programs. Money poured in, and Mother Hale’s work grew into a fully equipped center with a full-time staff. Now other cities are contacting her for advice on how to set up similar centers to care for drug-addicted babies. other Hale’s story fits in beautifully with today’s gospel story, which describes mothers bringing their little children to Jesus to have him touch them.

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Many of these babies were sick, no doubt, like the babies that the junkies brought to Mother Hale.

to inaugurate an important new program for a special group of suffering children in our society.

And, no doubt, many of Mother Hale’s neighbors tried to protect her from being swamped with sick babies, just as the disciples of Jesus tried to protect him from being swamped with them.

All she knew was that some very sick babies needed her to say to them what Jesus said 2,000 years before her: “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them.” Mark 10:14

But like Jesus, Mother Hale simply said, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’’ Then, like Jesus, she “embraced them and blessed them’’ with her loving care. he story of Mother Hale catches the spirit of today’s gospel as few stories do. It shows an 81-year-old grandmother— 2,000 years after the gospel story— living out its spirit and message.

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And it shows this in a way that inspires us to want to do something similar in our own lives. hen Mother Hale took in her first drug-addicted baby, she had no idea that she would inspire millions of people by that single act of kindness.

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She had no idea that 16 years later it would set off a chain reaction of help for thousands of other unfortunate babies. She had no idea that the chain reaction would extend beyond Harlem to other cities across the nation. She had no idea that God would use her 112 Ordinary

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Chinese proverb says, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark.’’

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The mark Mother Hale is leaving on thousands upon thousands of children is beautiful. It is so beautiful that it inspires us to want to leave a similar mark on the thousands of children we meet in the course of our lives. And that is doubly true when those children happen to be our own. We want to leave on them the mark of Jesus himself, so that they, in turn, will someday leave a similar mark on their children. et’s close with a brief reflection on this very point. It was composed by General MacArthur, one of the great military leaders of our time. The general writes:

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By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder—infinitely prouder— to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; a father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. . . . It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.’’ Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


28th Sunday of the Year Wisdom 7:7–11; Hebrews 4:12–13; Mark 10:17–27

The Choice “To every person there opens a way: a high way, a middle way, and a low way.’’

ome years ago Sir Kenneth Clark of England produced a popular television show called “Civilization.’’ It was extremely well done, and it made his name a household word throughout the world.

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Later Clark published his autobiography in two volumes. The first volume makes it clear that he is a secular humanist. But this doesn’t mean that he looks down on religion or is indifferent to it. On the contrary, he says some beautiful things about it. The second volume, called The Other Half: A Self-portrait, describes a religious experience Clark had in the church of San Lorenzo in Italy. He writes: “For a few minutes my whole being was irradiated with a kind of heavenly joy, far more intense than anything I had ever known before.’’ Clark says the whole thing amazed him, because he was unworthy of such a beautiful experience. He couldn’t understand why it was given to him. As he reflected upon the experience, Clark was faced with an awkward question: What should he do about it? He was not a religious person in the formal sense. And if he suddenly became one, his family and friends would think that he had gone off the deep end. Year B

And so he chose to do nothing about the experience. He turned his back on it. Commenting on his decision, Clark writes: “I think I was right: I was too deeply imbedded in the world to change course. But that I had ‘felt the finger of God’ I am quite sure and, although the memory of this experience has faded, it still helps me to understand the joys of the saints.’’ hat story of Sir Kenneth Clark bears a striking resemblance to the story of the rich man in today’s gospel.

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Like the rich man, Sir Kenneth was a good person all of his life. Like the rich man, one day he found himself attracted to God in a powerful, unexpected way. Like the rich man, Clark had an experience that left him with a difficult decision: What should he do about it? Like the rich man, he thought about the price that he would have to pay if he chose to respond to the special grace. And like the rich man, Clark ended up saying no to the grace. He turned his back on it. he response of the rich man and the response of Sir Kenneth Clark remind us of Jesus’ parable of the sower. Specifically, it reminds us of the seed that fell on the footpath.

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Jesus explained that the seed on the path stood for people who receive the Word of God but the devil steals it away before it takes root in their lives. (Mark 4:15) Lectionary 143

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The two stories also remind us of something Saint Augustine once said. He had the same kind of experience that the two men in the stories had. The only difference is that he said yes to it. He wrote: “It is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge . . . and another thing to tread the road that leads to it.’’ he two stories hit close to home for all of us. They are stories we can relate to. They are stories about people who wrestled with priorities, just as we do.

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Sir Kenneth Clark’s priority seems to have been a combination of what his family and friends would think of him and of his own commitment to the world. And this priority took precedence over what seems to have been a clear call from Christ to come and follow him. Likewise, the priority of the man in the Gospel was to the treasures and values of this world. It took precedence over Jesus’ invitation to follow him more closely. Both men chose the fleeting pleasures of this world to the eternal treasures of the next world. his brings us to ourselves. Where does our priority lie? Do the pleasures of this world hold a higher priority in our life than do the treasures of the next world?

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“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.’’ And so the first thing we can do is to pray and plead for the prudence and the wisdom to see the folly of choosing the fleeting pleasures of this world over the treasures of the next world. The second reading concludes by warning us that we shall someday have to render an account of our lives to God. And so the second thing we can do is to meditate on the fact that God will hold us accountable for the decision we make. We can meditate on the fact that when we die and appear before God, God will hold us answerable for our actions and our decisions. In other words, the same choice that faced the two men in the stories faces us now. Like them, we must make a decision. And the decision we make will determine not only our happiness in this life but also our happiness in the life to come. et’s close with a familiar poem. It’s one we have heard before. But it’s one that we need to hear again and again. For it sums up the choice that each person created by God must make. The poem goes something like this:

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To every person there opens a way: a high way, a middle way, and a low way.

And if they do, how can we change this situation? How can we keep from ending up the way the two men in the stories did?

And the high soul takes the high way; and the low soul takes the low way; and in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.

he answer to that important question lies in today’s first and second readings. The first reading says:

But to every person there opens a way: a high way, a middle way, and a low way. And every person decides the way his soul shall go. John Oxenham (paraphrased)

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


29th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 53:10–11; Hebrews 4:14–16; Mark 10:35–45

Gus and Ruth Service and suffering go together like two rails of a train track.

woman named Ruth was walking out of church one Sunday morning. She spotted an old man struggling to put on his coat. She walked over, smiled, and gave him a hand.

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Some time later she saw him again. This time they struck up a conversation. She learned that she passed the old man’s apartment on her way home, so she gave him a ride. That began a weekly routine that lasted for two years. Then one Sunday Gus didn’t show up at church. Ruth went to his one-room apartment and found him deathly sick. He entered the hospital the next day. A few days later Ruth got a call from a nurse at the hospital. Gus was dying. He had only a day or so to live. “Have you informed his relatives?’’ Ruth asked. “He has no relatives,’’ the nurse replied. “You are the only person he told us to notify in case of emergency.’’ Ruth was shocked. “Was Gus really that alone?’’ She hurried to the hospital. When she arrived at his bedside, Gus was breathing hard and unable to speak. He did, however, seem to recognize her. And his eyes did seem to respond to her words of love and comfort. A few minutes later Gus died.

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hat story dramatizes in a moving way the two themes of today’s Scripture readings,

Year B

especially the gospel reading. Those themes are suffering and service. Suffering and service are like the two rails of a train track. Where you find one, you find the other. The two go hand in hand. They do this for three reasons. First, service always entails suffering. You can’t help another without making some sacrifice on your part. We see this in the story of Ruth and Gus. For two years Ruth sacrificed for Gus. Granted it wasn’t a great sacrifice; still it was a sacrifice. A second reason that suffering and service go together is that God always invites those who suffer to put their suffering at the service of others. God always invites them to use their suffering in a spiritual way. God always invites them to unite their suffering to the suffering of Jesus. Gus did that in the story. He suffered from old age and loneliness. But he didn’t let that suffering go to waste. He continued to pray to God. He continued to unite his suffering to the suffering of Jesus. In doing this, he served the Body of Christ in a spiritual way, even though the other members of the body were unaware of it. Finally, there is a third reason that service and suffering go together. It is so obvious that we tend to overlook it. They go together because one of the simplest ways we can help others is to try to lighten the load of their suffering. But we tend to forget this. We forget that the simplest and easiest way to serve others is to try to reduce the burden of their suffering. This is the way that Ruth served Gus. It is also the way that Jesus served his suffering brothers and sisters. Lectionary 146

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So let’s take a closer look at how we can serve those around us— especially members of our own families— by trying to lighten the load of their suffering. erhaps our biggest obstacle to doing this is our insensitivity to suffering people around us. An illustration will help.

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Helen Keller was blind, deaf, and dumb. When somebody asked her what caused her the greatest suffering— her blindness, her deafness, or her dumbness— she replied without hesitation, “My deafness.’’ She explained that when you are deaf, your biggest door to the everyday world closes on you. You can’t communicate with people around you. You can’t hear their simplest statements. You can’t understand their simplest questions. You feel left out and abandoned. You feel like Gus did in the story. But there’s an even sadder side to it. When you’re blind, you carry a white cane. People know that you’re blind and treat you with special concern. On the other hand, when you’re deaf, there is no sign that you carry. So people don’t treat you in a special way. Often they treat you worse than usual because you don’t respond to them. They think you are ignoring them. And so you suffer even more. It’s this kind of suffering that is especially hard to bear. It’s this kind of suffering that we need to become more aware of. It’s this kind of suffering that Gus endured. Nobody was aware of how alone he was.

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here are two ways we can cultivate a keener awareness of this kind of suffering.

One way is to begin making a conscious effort to focus on the needs of others rather than on our own problems and needs. 116 Ordinary

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In the Great Depression of the 1930s government agents used to travel through the Tennessee mountain area, making on-the-spot appraisals of the needs of impoverished farmers. And they would give them on-the-spot money to buy food or to make necessary repairs. One agent found a woman in a cabin. It had a dirt floor and several broken windows. He said to her, “If I gave you a government check for $200, how would you use the money?’’ She thought a moment and said, “I reckon I’d give it to the poor people in these here mountains.’’ That old woman had developed the art of focusing on the needs of others rather than on her own needs and problems.

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second way we can cultivate an awareness of the suffering of others is through prayer.

Prayer has a remarkable way of making us sensitive to suffering as no other exercise does. Try it for just one month, and you’ll discover this firsthand. Try praying just one prayer daily for the gift of sensitivity to others, and you’ll see what I mean. And an ideal daily prayer to pray is the prayer of Saint Francis: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


30th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52

The Medical Student God and other people are more willing to help us than we are willing to ask them for help.

f you flew on American Airlines during the month of October 1988, you may have pulled out a copy of the American Way magazine from the seat pocket in front of you. If you did, you may have noticed an article in it written by a retired physician, Dr. Fred C. Collier.

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Fred was a medical student in the Army Specialized Training Corps in 1945, when World War II ended. He was from a Kansas family that didn’t have the kind of money he needed to complete medical school on his own. And so when he mustered out of the army, he had no idea how he’d ever finish school, if, indeed, he’d ever finish at all. Then one day he happened to pick up a copy of a magazine in a barber shop. One of the articles talked about the kindness and compassion of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, had died a few months before. That article planted a seed in Fred’s mind. He went to the local library and, with the help of the librarian, found Mrs. Roosevelt’s home address. Then he sat down and composed a letter telling her about his plight. He wrote it and rewrote it until he had it exactly the way he wanted it. When he put the letter in an envelope and dropped it in the mail box, even his young wife wondered if it was worth the time and postage he’d spent on it. Year B

To Fred’s amazement, Mrs. Roosevelt agreed to meet him. When the meeting ended, she promised to help. In the months and years ahead, Fred got checks through Mrs. Roosevelt from a variety of sources, including her own personal checks. Fred, in turn, kept her informed of his progress and sent her copies of all his term papers. Her secretary said later that she always read them with great interest. Later Mrs. Roosevelt visited the couple in their sparsely furnished apartment. The owner of the apartment house nearly collapsed when he recognized the famous visitor. When Fred finally finished medical school, he told Mrs. Roosevelt that he didn’t know how he would ever be able to repay her. She said that repayment was neither necessary nor desirable. Then she added: “I will be adequately repaid if, when you are financially secure someday, you help out someone else who is truly deserving, as you were.’’ red’s story has a lot in common with the story of the blind man in today’s gospel.

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Like the blind man, he had a problem that he could not handle by himself. Like the blind man, he turned to someone outside himself for help. And like the blind man, Fred was helped beyond his wildest dream. he story of Fred and Mrs. Roosevelt and the story of Jesus and the blind man illustrate an important point.

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There are times when all of us need help, and we must turn to other people or to God for that help. Lectionary 149

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First, let’s consider turning to other people for that help, just as Fred turned to Mrs. Roosevelt. young priest was teaching in an inner-city high school in Chicago. The school’s budget had no room for things like classroom decoration.

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One day, when the priest was doing some painting in the room, one of the students offered to help. That student ended up spending over 40 hours helping the priest. After the room was fully redecorated, the priest called the boy’s father and asked him what gift he could get the boy to show him his appreciation. The father replied, “Don’t get my son anything. Give him the honor of having done something out of the goodness of his heart for you and for his school. That is the greatest gift you can give him.’’ There are many people like that father and his son in the world. They are more than willing to help others. And they will do it out of the goodness of their heart, just as Mrs. Roosevelt did— and just as we would do if someone asked us.

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his brings us to our second point: turning to God for help.

There are times in our lives when we can’t help ourselves and when other people can’t help us either. At times like these, we must turn to God for help, just as the blind man turned to Jesus for help. The model of how we should seek God’s help is Jesus himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus turned to his Father for help, praying this same prayer three times: “Father . . . all things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. 118 Ordinary

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Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

Mark 14:36

Jesus presented his needs to his Father, saying, “All things are possible to you.’’ But then he added, “Not what I will but what you will.’’ And God helped him in his time of need. God did not do this by taking away his suffering. Rather, God gave him the strength to bear it. And that’s often how God helps us, too. God does not always answer our prayers the way we had in mind. But God does answer them in a way that is often more appropriate. nd so today’s gospel reminds us that there are times in our life when we must turn to others and to God for help, just as Fred and the blind man had to do.

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And if we do this prayerfully, they will help us. And they will help us in ways more beautiful than we ever dreamed of. et’s close with a familiar prayer. It illustrates how God often answers our prayers but in ways we never dreamed possible.

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I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . . I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . . . I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . . . I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed. Unknown Confederate soldier Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


31st Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 6:2–6; Hebrews 7:23–28; Mark 12:28–34

God’s Footprints

Then she recalled something that the Indian poet Tagore wrote to a friend who had visited him in time of need. He said, “After you had taken your leave, I found God’s footprints on my floor.’’

Love of family, neighbor, and God are inseparably interwoven.

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rdis Whitman is an author. You see her articles in magazines like the Reader’s Digest.

It underscores the point that love of God and love of neighbor are closely linked. In fact, they are so closely linked that you can’t separate them. They are two sides of the same coin. Where you find one, you find the other.

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In one of those articles she describes a moving episode from her own personal life. Her son had died a few months earlier, and she was having a hard time coping with his death. One night her college-aged granddaughter and her granddaughter’s boyfriend decided to try to bolster her spirits. So they invited her to go with them to a nightclub. To their delight, Ardis accepted. Everything went along fine. They were having a delightful time, until the band played an old favorite that reminded Ardis of her son. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she began to weep silently. At that moment the two young people did an incredibly beautiful thing.

hat story fits in beautifully with today’s Scripture readings, especially the gospel reading.

Touching on this point, the apostle John writes in his First Letter: “For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen.” 1 John 4:20 And so love of God and love of neighbor are so closely linked together that when we cease loving one, we also cease loving the other. But it does not stop here. It goes even further. When we stop loving our neighbor, we lose contact not only with God but even with our own soul.

Spontaneously, they both reached out and gathered her hands into their own.

There’s a popular saying that expresses this truth graphically. It says:

There the three of them sat— their hands locked in love and affection. It was a beautiful healing experience for Ardis. She felt protected in a “circle of safety,’’ in a “place of love.’’

“I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.’’

Commenting on the experience, she wrote, “It is not surprising that heaven comes down to touch us when we find ourselves safe in the heart of another person.’’

The point is clear. The key to maintaining contact with God and with our own soul is to maintain loving contact with our neighbor.

Year B

Lectionary 152

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The story of Ardis Whitman and the two young people recalls something else about love.

Not too many years after they reconciled, her brother died in her arms. The woman concluded her letter, saying:

Tragically, our failure to love God and neighbor often starts with our failure to love our own family. When we stop loving our own family, we stop loving God and our neighbor.

“I am grateful for the years we had together, but I could scream when I think of all the years we missed because we were too bullheaded and shortsighted to try to get along.’’

This invites us to ask ourselves an important question. How loving are we toward the members of our own family? If the answer is “Very loving,’’ then all is well. On the other hand, if the answer is “Not very loving,’’ then all is not well. For we are probably not very loving toward God and our neighbor either. As John says, “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.’’ The key to loving God and neighbor is to love the members of our own family. ome time ago a woman in Arizona wrote a letter to Ann Landers.

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She said that she hoped that her letter would help members of other families to love one another. She told how she and her brother had treated each other coldly, even bitterly, for years. It took the death of their father to make them stop fighting and to begin loving one another. That reconciliation changed their lives.

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’m sure many of us can relate to that woman’s remarks. We too are sometimes too bullheaded and shortsighted to try to get along with people, especially members of our own family.

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By way of contrast, what a beautiful world it would be if we could imitate the example of Ardis Whitman’s granddaughter and her granddaughter’s boyfriend. What a beautiful world it would be if someone could say of us what the Indian poet Tagore said of his friend: “After you had taken your leave, I found God’s footprints on my floor.’’ et’s close with a thought that is inscribed at the eastern entrance of Rockefeller Center in New York City. It reads:

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“Man’s ultimate destiny depends not on whether he can learn new lessons or make new discoveries or conquests, but on his acceptance of the lesson taught him close upon two thousand years ago.’’ And what is that lesson? It is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . . [And] love your neighbor as you love yourself. Mark 12:30–31

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12

What Is a Saint? Saints are simply people who took seriously Jesus’ invitation to love one another as he loved us.

hen we think of the saints, we think of people like Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He was born about the time that Columbus discovered America.

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As a teenager, Ignatius lost both of his parents and began to live a worldly life as a page in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were the Spanish king and queen who sponsored Columbus on his voyage. After Ignatius turned 20, he became a soldier and was seriously wounded in battle. During his long, painful recovery, he underwent a profound religious conversion. Some time after his recovery, Ignatius set out on a pilgrimage. Coming upon a beggar one night, he stripped off his nobleman’s clothes and exchanged them for the beggar’s filthy rags. Then he spent the rest of the night in prayer before a shrine of Our Lady. Eventually, Ignatius took up residence in a hillside cave. There he spent long hours in prayer and penance. Out of this experience came the inspiration that led him to found a religious order. It was an order of men who dedicated themselves to Jesus, in much the same manner that the twelve Apostles dedicated themselves to Jesus. Ignatius called his order the Company of Jesus, or Jesuits. Year B

Numbering over 20,000 men worldwide, it operates over 50 high schools and nearly 30 universities in the United States alone. The spirit of Saint Ignatius is beautifully summed up in his own Prayer for Generosity: “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.’’ t is saints like Ignatius that we honor today. Having said this, however, we must also utter a caution.

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The exploits and accomplishments of saints like Ignatius of Loyola can get in the way of what a saint really is. A saint is simply a person like ourselves who opened himself or herself to God’s grace in a generous way. A saint is a living reminder that God’s grace can work miracles in us, if we but let it. A saint is a dramatic illustration of God’s power at work in people’s lives— people like you and me. he word saint comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means “holy.’’ Literally, the word saint means “holy one.’’

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It recalls God’s command to the Chosen People: “. . . keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.’’ Leviticus 11:44 Early Christians, like Saint Paul, referred to one another as “holy ones,’’ or “saints.’’ The New Testament uses the word over 60 times in this sense. Lectionary 667

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With the passage of time, however, the word saint was reserved exclusively for those Christians who were martyred or who had lived lives of remarkable holiness.

This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory, to share their prize of everlasting glory.

At first, a person was declared a saint by popular acclaim of those Christians who had seen the person martyred or who had witnessed the person’s holy life. Beginning around the year 1000, however, Pope John XV set up a more exacting process for declaring a person a saint. Called canonization, it involves a rigorous investigation of every aspect of the person’s life. Today, the Church recognizes as “saints’’ thousands of men and women whose lives have mirrored, in a special way, the holiness of God. It is these people whom we honor today. They are simply people like ourselves who did ordinary things in an extraordinary way. They are simply people like ourselves who took seriously Jesus’ invitation to love one another as he loved us. They are living reminders that God’s grace can work miracles in us, if we but let it. et’s close with a prayer that summarizes the spirit of today’s feast. It is from the Preface of the Mass for Holy Men and Women. Addressed to God, it reads:

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Father . . . you are glorified in your saints, for their glory is the crowning of your gifts. In their lives on earth you give us an example. In our communion with them, you give us their friendship. In their prayer for the Church, you give us strength and protection. 122 All

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


32nd Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 17:10–16; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:41–44

Three Widows Grudge givers say “I hate to’’; duty givers say “I ought to’’; thanks givers say, “I want to.’’

Elizabeth once told a friend, “I’d like to retire from the turmoil of the world and lead a simple life of prayer, but God wants me to do something else, and I must always choose God’s will over my own.’’

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lizabeth Seton died at the age of 46.

wo years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a remarkable woman was born in New York City. Her name was Elizabeth Bayley.

In her lifetime she wasn’t a mystic. She wasn’t a stigmatic. She wasn’t a martyr. She was simply a widow who gave what she had to God.

At the age of 20 she married a businessman named William Seton. Neither she nor William was Catholic. In time the couple had five children.

She was simply a single parent who turned a tremendous tragedy in her life— the loss of her husband and the rejection of her family— into a spectacular gift to God and to the Church.

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Then tragedy struck: William contracted tuberculosis. William moved his family to Italy, hoping that the climate would help him. But his illness was terminal. He died a few years later. With the help of a generous Italian family, the Setons moved back to the United States. The goodness of that Italian family led the young widow to investigate the Catholic Church. Two years later she became a Catholic. Elizabeth’s relatives and friends were shocked. They virtually disowned her, and she was forced to get a teaching job to support her five children. To make a long story short, when the children came of age, Elizabeth became a religious and founded the American branch of the Sisters of Charity. It was this order that pioneered the great Catholic school system in America. Year B

How fitting it was, then, that in 1975 Elizabeth Seton was canonized the first American-born saint. he story of this generous widow fits in beautifully with today’s Scripture readings. For two of those readings are also about generous widows.

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The first reading concerns a widow who shared with the prophet Elijah all the food she had to live on. The gospel reading concerns a widow who gave to the Temple in Jerusalem all the money she had to live on. Like Elizabeth Seton, each of these two widows gave with the same generous heart. Each had a perfectly legitimate reason to excuse herself from giving, but each refused to exercise that excuse. Like Elizabeth Seton, each knew that the important thing Lectionary 155

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was not what she had to give but the love with which she gave it. Each knew that what counted in God’s eyes is not the size of the gift but the size of the giver’s heart. In spite of this, however, each gave not from her surplus— what she could afford to give, but from her substance— what she could not afford to give. She gave with the same generosity that God gives to us. As a result, God blessed each widow with the same generosity that she had shown God. omeone once said that there are three kinds of givers: grudge givers, duty givers, and thanks givers.

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Grudge givers say, “I hate to give.’’ Duty givers say, “I ought to give.’’ Thanks givers say, “I want to give.’’ In other words, grudge givers give reluctantly and with a certain feeling of resentment. Duty givers give reluctantly too, but with a certain feeling of obligation. Thanks givers, on the other hand, give from the heart, without any feeling of resentment or obligation. The three widows are beautiful examples of thanks givers. They gave under no pressure. They gave under no obligation. They gave from the heart.

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Do we give grudgingly because we have to— because we will be embarrassed or thought less of if we don’t give? Do we give dutifully because we feel obligated or required to do so? Or do we give thankfully because our love and our faith tell us to give— just as the love and the faith of the widows told them to give? f our giving is less than it should be, then Jesus is speaking to us, in a special way, through today’s Scripture readings.

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For he is reminding us of something that he said elsewhere in the Gospel: “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands— all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.’’ Luke 6:38

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et’s close with a brief meditation on God’s own generosity in giving to us:

We ask for a flower, and God gives us a bouquet. We ask for a leaf, and God gives us a tree. We ask for a drop of water, and God gives us an ocean. We ask for a grain of sand, and God gives us a beach. We ask for a blade of wheat, and God gives us a wheat field. We ask for something to eat, and we are given God’s own body and blood.

he stories of the three widows invite us to ask ourselves how we give.

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Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


33rd Sunday of the Year Deuteronomy 12:1–3; Hebrews 10:11–14, 18; Mark 13:24–32

Preparing for Bad News Jesus’ words about the end of the Old Testament era apply also to the end of the world.

ome time ago syndicated columnist Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article called “Preparing for the Bad News.’’ He began by telling his readers:

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“It’s not considered very fashionable to say the Russians have a great idea. But the Russians have a great idea. I think we Americans might copy it.’’ Greene continued by describing how the Russian government— at least, before glasnost and perestroika— prepared its citizens for bad news. They interrupted all regularly scheduled radio and TV programs and began playing somber symphonic music in place of them. Sometimes the music played for an hour. Sometimes it played for an entire day; sometimes it played even longer. The purpose of the music was to prepare the people, psychologically and spiritually, for an unpleasant announcement, for example, the death of a Russian leader or the death of a Russian cosmonaut.

He tells them that a great catastrophe is going to take place in their lifetime. Moreover, it will be preceded by certain signs. History records that Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This catastrophe took place within 40 years of Jesus’ death. It brought an end to the Old Testament world as Jews of Jesus’ time knew it. This helps to explain why Jesus’ warning of the catastrophe has always been interpreted by Christians as a warning, also, of the end of the entire world. And this is how the Church uses it in today’s gospel: to refer not to the end of the Old Testament world but to the end of the entire world. No one knows the day or the hour when that monumental event will take place. Only our Father in heaven knows this. But certain signs will precede that end, just as certain signs preceded the end of the Old Testament world.

ome people think there are signs taking place today that suggest that the end of the entire world is near.

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One sign they point to is the proliferation of military weapons, especially among terror-oriented nations.

Greene admits this practice drives the Western news media crazy, but he believes the Russians have a point. People need to be prepared for bad news.

For example, nearly a dozen countries, some with a reputation for terror tactics, now have the nuclear capacity to plunge our world into a dark age.

oday’s gospel portrays Jesus preparing the people for bad news.

One mistake or one angry act could trigger an event that could doom millions of people— even our entire planet.

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No prudent person can take lightly such a disturbing possibility. n today’s gospel, Jesus sets before us two sobering themes— the suddenness with which our life could end and our preparedness for that end.

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These are gutsy themes. These are themes that we cannot afford to take lightly. These are themes that we cannot afford to dismiss casually. These are themes that have a potential to change our lives. And that’s why the Church sets these two themes before us at the end of the liturgical year. It wants to remind us, as Jesus reminded his disciples at the end of his own earthly life, that life on earth is but a brief preparation for an eternal life to come. Therefore, we should not get so involved with our earthly life here that we lose sight of our eternal life to come. No one knows when our earthly life will end or when the world will end. Only the Father in heaven knows this. Therefore, we should always be prepared for that moment. It will come when we least expect it. It will come suddenly, giving us little or no time to prepare. few years ago a Japanese airliner crashed into a mountain, killing 520 people.

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Minutes before the airliner hit the mountain, the passengers were told the plane was doomed. Then the tragedy occurred. When rescuers reached the plane, one of the things they found in the debris was a pocket calendar 126 Ordinary

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that belonged to a Japanese businessman. Across the pages of the tiny calendar the man had scribbled several hasty notes as the final minutes ticked off. For example, one note read, “We’re not going to make it . . . I’m sad!’’ A second note addressed to his family read, “To think that our dinner last night was the last time [we would be together].’’ And a final note addressed to his three children read, “Be good, work hard, and help your mother.’’ hese hurried notes are those of a man caught off guard. No somber music played for an hour or a day to prepare him for the bad news.

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It came suddenly, like a thief in the night. This is also the point of Jesus’ remarks in today’s gospel. None of us knows when the end of our life or of all life on earth will come. Therefore, we must be prepared always. This is the message that Jesus speaks to us in today’s gospel. This is the message that Jesus wants us to ponder prayerfully. This is a message we cannot afford to ignore. et’s close by listening to a passage from James Weldon Johnson’s book God’s Trombones. It describes the final moment in the life of a saintly woman named Caroline. She was fully prepared for death when it came. Johnson writes of Caroline:

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She saw what we couldn’t see; she saw Old Death. She saw Old Death coming like a falling star. But death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline; he looked to her like a welcome friend. And she whispered to us: “I’m going home.” And she smiled and closed her eyes. Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B


34th Sunday (Christ the King) Deuteronomy 7:13–14; Revelation 1:5–8; John 18:33–37

The Prince and the Pauper Christ the King became one of us and died for us. What are we going to do for him in return?

Both boys grew up with totally different views of the world. But one thing about them was totally the same. Both grew up with the same freshness, the same sparkle, the same enthusiasm that you find in all boys on the verge of entering adolescence. ne day Tom Canty found himself outside the gates of the royal palace. He was awestruck by its beauty. As he edged closer to the gates to get a better look at the palace, the royal guards charged him and brutally threw him to the ground.

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hen we hear the name Mark Twain, we usually think of such books as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But Mark Twain wrote another book called The Prince and the Pauper.

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In some ways The Prince and the Pauper is a more important book than either Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. It concerns two boys born in England. The first boy was born to the royal family and was direct heir to the throne of England. He was given the title the Prince of Wales, and eventually he became King Edward VI. Commenting on his birth, Mark Twain says: “England had so longed for him, and hoped for him, and prayed to God for him, that now that he was really come, the people went nearly mad for joy. . . . Everybody took a holiday, and high and low, rich and poor, feasted and danced and sang.’’ n the very same day that the prince was born to the royal family in the palace of London, another boy was born to a poor family in the slums of London. He was given the name Tom Canty, and eventually he became a beggar boy. Commenting on his birth, Mark Twain says:

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“He was an unwanted boy.’’ Nobody longed for him; nobody hoped for him; nobody prayed to God for him. And now that he was come into the world, nobody feasted, nobody danced, nobody sang. Both boys grew up in totally different surroundings. Year B

The young prince happened to see the incident and came running to Tom’s defense. Then to the consternation of the guards, the prince invited Tom to visit his royal quarters. Tom was absolutely flabbergasted. He’d never seen anything like this before. And the prince was charmed by the spontaneity and genuineness of his new friend. Then something unusual happened. As the prince was showing Tom the huge mirror in his room, the two boys couldn’t believe what they saw in the mirror. Except for Tom’s rags and dirty face, he was a perfect look-alike of the prince. Amazed by their similar appearance, the prince said to Tom: “Thou has the same hair, the same eyes, the same voice . . . the same form and . . . face . . . that I bear. Fared we forth naked, there is none could say which was you and which was the Prince of Wales.’’ The two boys were practically identical twins. Then they both got the same idea. Wouldn’t it be fun to switch places and play a trick on everybody? So the prince put on Tom’s beggar clothes and wandered off through the slums of London and rubbed elbows with the poor and exploited. Lectionary 161

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Meanwhile, Tom put on the prince’s clothes and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. After a while the boys tired of their game. The prince returned to the palace and tried to enter it. But the guards seized him. When he refused to go away, they threw him into the palace prison. No amount of persuasion would convince them that he was really the Prince of Wales. Even Tom’s attempts to set things straight failed. To make a long story short, the situation finally got ironed out. But something important happened in the process. As a result of his experience, the prince learned firsthand what it meant to be poor, to be treated badly, and to be oppressed unfairly by those in authority. The prince eventually became king and was one of the most merciful and best-loved kings ever to reign on the throne of England. he story of The Prince and the Pauper is not unlike the story of Jesus Christ and each one of us. We are the beggar boy; Jesus is the prince, destined to become the king of all creation.

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Jesus switched places with us. He exchanged the royal robes of his divinity for the dirty rags of our humanity. Like the prince in Mark Twain’s story, Jesus learned firsthand what it is like to rub elbows with the poor and with the downtrodden. Unlike the prince in Mark Twain’s story, Jesus did something infinitely more. He died at the hands of his own subjects, rose from the dead, and now reigns as king of heaven and earth. This is the great mystery that we celebrate on this feast of Christ the King. 128 Ordinary

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We celebrate the fact that Jesus, the king of heaven and earth, understands our situation. He became one of us and experienced firsthand what we experienced. He did more; he suffered and died for us. bout the time that Mark Twain wrote his story The Prince and the Pauper, Abraham Lincoln was president of our nation. On Good Friday of April 1865 he was assassinated in Washington, D.C.

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His body was placed on a funeral train to be taken to Springfield, Illinois, to be buried. The train stopped in various big cities along the way for people to view the remains of the president. In the line of viewers in Cleveland, Ohio, was a poor black lady and her little son. When they got to the president’s body, the poor lady lifted her son up and said, “Honey, take a long look. That man died for you.’’ n Good Friday Jesus also died. He was not the president of our nation. He was the king of heaven and earth. And what the black lady said to her little son, I now say to each one of you: “Honey, take a long look. That man died for you.’’

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If the king of the universe died for us, the beggars of the world, what should we do for him in return? And so on this feast of Christ the King, it is appropriate for me to point at the crucifix in this church and say, “My brothers and sisters, take a long look. That man died for you.’’ And it is appropriate for you to respond by asking yourselves three questions: What have I done for that man in the past? What am I doing for him right now? What will I do for him in the future?

Sunday Homilies Series II by Mark Link, S.J. © 1990 Mark Link

Year B

Sunday Homilies series II  

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