Next homily post on September 13, 2015


Dear Friends: I am on a mini-sabbatical until Sunday September 13, 2015. Please watch for my next post at that time. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Peace and all good. RSV

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Homily – 5 July 2015 – Spreading God’s Mercy in the Public Square


Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 5, 2015 – Spreading Mercy: A Church in the Public Square

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend the French oratorio “Joan of Arc at the Stake.” [1] In his review, Anthony Tommasini called Joan an illusive and innocent figure who loved God and country. Even though she helped to save France from the unjust clutches of England she was burned at the stake. Joan of Arc was made a saint in 1920.

This weekend we celebrate independence from a tyrannical King George III. The protests, the battles and convictions of our nation’s ancestor’s were dangerous, visionary and prophetic.  And as we know the ideological principles and laws stated in our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution are not yet fully realized. 

Consider how long it has taken for the inalienable rights of all people to become law. Consider there is still no guarantee that these laws will be upheld. Power, greed and self-righteousness stand in the way. Apparently, working for justice alone is not enough to bring about equal dignity for all humans? Are there any other strategies?

Theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper wrote that the mercy of God is the essence of the gospels and the key to Christian living. [2] Kasper describes mercy as “God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care.” If we Christians believe that God’s brand of justice is mercy, if we are benefactors of this mercy, how do we share that free gift with others? 

The scriptures today are familiar to us. People with prophetic visions and voices are not always welcomed in their own communities. When his own people questioned his authority Jesus was quick to reply. He reminded them how their ancestors did not heed the prophetic wisdom of Ezekiel. Jesus was rejected not only for what he said but also for the mercy, the forgiveness and love he showered upon people suppressed by civic and religious leaders. Yet another and more contemporary model of such mercy is found in our collection of icons — Dorothy Day.

Historian David O’Brien called Day one of the most influential figures in the history of American Catholicism. Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement she challenged civic officials to create programs for people in need. She criticized the Catholic church for abandoning Gospel principles by not showing mercy and forgiveness toward enemies. The icon of Dorothy Day is looking at us asking what injustices do we protest in order to spread the mercy of God?

One finding in a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey said we Americans agree that protesting unfair treatment by the government makes the country better. Emulating the saints depicted in our church many parishioners are active in the public square. In one example, some of you participate in the Moral Monday protests at the Capitol. You have rallied to change laws that are immoral and unfair for the average citizen.

Mercy and love alone are not enough. They require action. We plant trees with branches that hold up all peoples. We learn to survive by respecting nature, animals and each other. We seek ways to renew the face of our own church to keep it relevant. We work to reshape systems that are unjust and oppressive. Our mystical garden is a global one. We labor in this vineyard to bring about what we believe to be the kin-dom of God.

Americans disagree on what it means to be American. Catholics disagree on what it means to be Catholic. Painful societal issues continue to divide us. Religions struggle to maintain a credible voice in cultural affairs. There is, however, a common ground we share with other faith traditions. Fortified by God’s mercy and forgiveness, we can be prophetic in the public square, voices of faithful people calling for liberty and justice for all.

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1. Performed by the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. Music by Arthur Honegger. Libretto by Paul Claudel. Marion Cotillard starred as Joan.

2. Kasper, W. Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. Trans. W Madges. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014) p.43

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Homily – 28 June 2015 – Renewing the Face of the Church


Homily for June 28, 2015 – Renewing the Face of the Church

Click here for today’s scripture readings

“Equal Dignity.” These two words taken from the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage express what we heard also in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. Everything and everyone that God created is good. The creatures of the world are wholesome … in the image of God’s own nature God made them.

The implications of the historic events that took place last week require patience, study, conversation and sensitivity. How, together as a nation and as a people of God, do we respond to racial violence in the United States? How do we respond to the new law governing same sex marriage declared by the Supreme Court?

In his eulogy at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney President Obama said for too long we have been indifferent “to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.” He surmised, the amazing grace of God moved people to forgive and bond together in their grief and hope.

The people of Charleston SC are examples of healing and unity. We are challenged to change our attitudes about issues that divide and hurt us. The cries of the LGBTQ community to be treated equally and with dignity have been heard. However, a mixed response to the new law is already evident. Will we allow an amazing grace to guide us and heal us?

Today’s gospel tells two tales of healing and faith. Although there is no biblical reference to Jesus actually curing someone from disease he was a healer. Scripture scholars help us understand. John Pilch wrote that through healing people regained a sense of value in their lives and resumed their rightful place in society. Australian Brendan Byrne suggested, “It is a genuine exercise of faith that brings about the release of divine power.”

One of the saints in our icon collection, Kateri Tekakwitha, is a good example of healing power. An outstanding miracle was attributed to her intercession. A relic, a piece of Kateri’s bone, was placed on the body of a young boy with a flesh eating bacteria. The next day after months of fruitless health care the infection stopped its progression. No scientific or medical explanation; just the amazing grace of God at work again.

The image of Kateri in our church is looking at us this morning. Can we approach questions of equality and dignity in ways that heal? Two weeks ago I spoke of growing strong trees with branches that sustain all of God’s creatures. Last week I discussed surviving on this fragile planet by treating nature, animals and other humans with respect. This week, can you and I think of ways to renew the face of our church?

Some say we are a church that is divided and broken apart on many issues? Same sex marriage is one of them. Some people leave our church because it denies them dignity or seems irrelevant to their lives. Others are hopeful and stay because the church is slowly showing signs of change.

Our parish of St. Vincent de Paul has been evolving. In addition to our increased presence in the public square most notably here we have rearranged ourselves for worship. Gathered in this circle of friendship and faith we affirm our equal presence at this holy table and that each of us presides over this meal. This ecclesiastical change is no less revolutionary than what we have witnessed this past fortnight on a national level.

In a 2013 speech Pope Francis said: “Let us accept others; let us accept that there is a fitting variety, that this person is different, that this person thinks about things in this way or that — that within one faith we can think about things differently.” The pope continued, “Uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we want to impose uniformity on everyone, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

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Homily – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21 June 2015 – Weathering Storms: A Christian Survival Kit


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time B Cycle – June 21, 2015 – Weathering Storms: A Christian Survival Kit

Click here for today’s biblical texts

How can we explain the suffering endured by Job in the first reading when Job clearly was a just man who walked with God? How can we explain the violent and senseless killing of nine faithful church members who clearly believed in the mercy and justice of God?

The shootings in Charleston South Carolina were carried out by a young man who apparently felt threatened by people who were different from him. He harbored deep hatred toward the “other.”

Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote to his congregation last week, “a part of our human condition is paranoia and fear. The more we feed them the more fearful we become. We then need to separate ourselves or protect ourselves from them or actively find ways to destroy them.”

The psalm this morning describes people who are thankful for God’s care and protection from stress. During our liturgy we plead with God to protect us from all fears and anxieties. How, then, do we explain God’s apparent lack of concern in devastating situations. How do we respond?

Last week some members of our parish and I were at Coxsackie Correctional Facility for a bible study program. One inmate stood up and reiterated the question that is on everyone’s mind. If God is present to us and promises to protect us how could such a Godless act take the lives of good people … in a church nonetheless. Here is how I tried to answer it.

God does not leave us alone during tragic events. Rather, an evil action such as those church killings or the holocaust or any act of torture and terrorism ignores God’s presence and becomes an agent of destruction. Natural disasters are not acts of God. Evil actions carried out by human beings are not the work of God.

Last week I talked about strong trees with many branches. There, all of God’s people can find safety, sustenance and salvation. I am reminded here of the phrase in our Eucharistic Prayer that says God loves the human race and continues to walk with us. However, while praying to God for guidance and assistance we cannot always wait for God to intervene or tell us which way to turn.

The Rev. Emma Akpan of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said she would like to pray for Charleston, SC but cannot. “Prayer doesn’t seem like enough, she cried. I need action. I need change.”

We have the freedom to make choices. God seems to be absent only when we will God to be absent. When we do not recognize the presence of God in our lives and in the lives of others all day long, all week long, we risk making serious mistakes that affect our lives and those of others.

Here’s a good example. As we know last week Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’  — “Praise be to you.” The title is taken from the Canticle of Creation written by St. Francis of Assisi — one of the saints chosen by you to be in our collection of icons.

The encyclical frequently refers to St. Francis as an example of care for vulnerable persons. Francis is a model of the inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for poor people, commitment to society and interior peace. There is much to ponder in this encyclical but I want to point out an important thread known as “integral ecology.”

To be morally good and just, economic development must consider people’s need for freedom, education and meaningful work. The pope said confronting the climate crisis will require a “deeper, spiritual transformation of society, replacing consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”

Throughout the encyclical Pope Francis argues that everyone and everything is interconnected — to God, to creation, to one another. Job was punished not because he was a bad guy. He was being tested to see whether or not his sense of justice included others or was self-centered.

We do not know when the end times will be. We do know that if we want to partake in the beauty and grace of God’s creation, if we want to assure that every one else, including our children, will be able to live without fear and enjoy with equity this fragile planet of ours, we would be wise to take action to protect it and all of its inhabitants.

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Homily – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14 June 2015 “Planting Seeds of Faith and Courage”


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 14, 2015 – Planting Seeds of Faith and Courage

Click here for today’s biblical texts

As you know the recent storms and at least one tornado in our region lifted enormous trees up from their roots. I wondered how can such large trees with presumably deep roots topple over? Experts explain that, in urban areas, roots in shallow soil struggle to take hold, they do not have the room to spread out, they decay.

Trees are important symbols of strength and comfort. Poets and painters love them. We name streets after them. Trees convey meaning in different religions. The Jewish Kabbalah explains God’s interaction with creation. It is called the Tree of Life. In Christianity the Christ of the universe is the cosmic carpenter and, historically, Jesus died on the tree of the cross. The mighty cedar of Lebanon in today’s first reading stands for the restoration of David’s kingdom after the exile. The branches refer to all the nations of the world.

The gospel, known as a kin-dom parable, offers a slightly different message. There are actually two seeds in this parable. The first one is a reference to the foundational ministry of Jesus. The kin-dom of God, although still not complete, continues to emerge ever so slowly. It manifests itself depending on how we respond to the Word of God in Spirit.

The second seed is the mustard seed. It grows into a shrub with large branches that offer shelter for birds of the sky. This image suggests there is room for every person, every kind of human being, in the enormous kin-dom of God. We believe, while only God is responsible for bringing the kin-dom about, we are partners with God in that effort.

Think of the opportunities we have to plant seeds on solid, fertile ground that will grow and bear fruit for a long time. For example, the seeds planted by the founders of our country. I am not referring to George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon or Thomas Jefferson’s arboretum at Monticello. Rather, consider the vision they and others had for a country rooted in the principle of equal opportunities for all — a vast nation that provides room and shelter for diverse peoples of all classes. Our American flag reminds us of their foresight.

Think of the seeds planted by Pope John XXIII, one of the saints written in our collection of icons. I am not referring to his recent canonization but his vision for the Catholic church. In his opening talk he boldly insisted the Vatican Two Council must allow the church to “dedicate itself resolutely and fearlessly to the task which our times require.” He called for using the “medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

Think of the seeds planted by the parents who are baptizing their children in this church today. I am not referring to the mysterious effects of this sacrament. Rather, think of the contributions that these children can bring to the world as they grow up among us inspired by the good work of their parents and whatever community will nurture their faith in the future.

There are many branches in our spiritual trees, many religions and ways of life. You and I are those branches. As members of God’s kin-dom on earth we provide shelter and sustenance for each other. Sometimes we sway uneasily in the winds of uncertainty but our faith and good work can steady us. Some of us break off from the tree in search for other fruits.

Paul challenged the people of Corinth to be courageous in their faith. It was the same message presented to the Israelites at the end of their oppressive captivity. They were urged not to return to the status quo of pre-Exilic times but to imagine brand new possibilities for living without fear without forsaking their traditions or their visions.

Faith can serve as a strong foundation to restore life to our families, societies and religions. However, that faith must grow. We can make all things new again not by returning to old rules but by planting seeds of hope in fertile ground so that strong branches of fruits and flowers can grow.

And, there is something else. Once protected within a forest, large tall trees become vulnerable and can fall down when left standing alone in a storm. The same is true with us.

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Homily for Trinity Sunday 31 May 2015 – “Partners With God”


Andrei Rublev's Trinity

Trinity B – 31 May 2015 – “Partners With God”

Click here for today’s scripture readings

On Pentecost we unveiled our own collection of original icons. Three of the saints were obvious choices — Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac and Rose of Lima. The other five were selected by you the parishioners — Francis of Assisi, John XXIII, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Dorothy Day and Kateri Tekakwitha.

Looking closely at them we find they reveal something of ourselves. They mirror for us the values and beliefs of this particular faith community — our care for one another, social action beyond these walls, our attention to faith formation, prayer and worship.

Today we celebrate a key doctrine in Christianity. And, there’s a famous icon for that. In the 15th century Russian artist Andrei Rublev wrote an icon for the Cathedral of the Trinity Lavra (monastery) of St. Sergius. The original hangs in the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow where I had the chance to view it some years ago. That icon is known as “The Trinity.”

It depicts the beauty of the hospitality that Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15) showed to three strangers near the oak trees of Mamre. The visitors are depicted as angels — the embodiment of God shown in equal dignity. When the icon was created, the Trinity was thought to symbolize spiritual unity, mutual love, the world and a readiness to serve.

That icon could be understood literally — three angels sitting around a table under a tree. As a metaphor, however, it reveals the nature of God and how we relate to God. It is the setting for Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality toward the visitors. It is also God’s place of hospitality for us. Our place of worship here at St. Vincent de Paul reflects that same spirit of inclusivity and hospitality. Our gathering in a circle as an assembly of saints continues to reshape the way we pray, sing, and treat one another.

The secret words for grasping the Trinity are “relationships” and “hospitality.” The feminist Reformed theologian Letty Russell uses one word to explain ways in which we connect with God and each other — partnership. She wrote, “The partnership of God in the persons of the Trinity provides an image of mutuality, reciprocity, and a totally shared life.” [1]

Some parishioners helped me understand this partnership in different ways. One quoted spiritual writer Philip Yancey. [2] God is without us  (in the sense of being more than we are). Jesus is with us. The Holy Spirit is within us. Another offered a reference to St. Bonaventure who called the Trinity a fountain of love. The author Richard Rohr [3] said this ever flowing font of love is the blueprint and pattern for all relationships and thus all of creation.

The first reading today speaks of God being revealed in creation. God is present on the edge of the world and very much in the world. God is both immanent and transcendent. There are references to God, Christ and the Spirit among us in the second reading. And, although the gospel refers to a Trinitarian formula for baptism the Trinity was not defined as dogma until the early fourth century at the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople.

If we believe that the Trinity is about relationships and partnerships then it makes sense that we live accordingly. Here is where we have some work to do. Our Catholic tradition continues to establish partnerships with other Christians, Muslims and Jews. Our church is also very much present to people living in poverty and on the fringes of society.

However, when it comes to the members of our own church our religion still struggles to find ways to employ a Trinitarian based hospitality in relating to women on equal terms, opening new doors for divorced and remarried persons, respecting the relationships of same sex unions and honoring emerging definitions of the word family.

Works of art in our churches tell stories. They speak of the lives of women and men, saints and sinners, our ancestors in faith, models for living justly and humbly. They also say something about us and they speak to us. Those ancestors of ours continue to invite you and me into a loving partnership with them, with God and with one another.

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1. Russell, Letty M. Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church. (Westminster: John Knox, 1993)

2.  Yancey, Philip. Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)

3.  Rohr, Richard. God is in Everything. Center for Action and Contemplation, May 25, 2015

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Homily for Pentecost 24 May 2015 – An Assembly of Saints


Pentecost B – 24 May 2015 – “An Assembly of Saints”

Assembly of Saints, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY

Assembly of Saints, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY

(Note: Today at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY, we will be blessing eight newly installed original icons written by Christine Simoneau Hales (Philmont, NY). This installation marks the conclusion of the enhancement of our church interior. The subjects for the icons, chosen by the parishioners, include Elizabeth Ann Seton, Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, John XXIII, Kateri Tekakwitha, Louise de Marillac, Rose of Lima, and Vincent de Paul. Come visit when you can to see this assembly of saints!)

Click here for today’s readings

This weekend Jews are celebrating an ancient grain harvest festival called Shavuot. Since biblical times the feast has been associated with the giving of the Torah, the five books of Moses, on Mount Sinai and the establishment of Israel as God’s people. During this weekend Jews read the Book of Ruth. The major theme in that Book is loyalty. It speaks of faithfulness arising from commitment between God and the human beings and between members of families and our communities.

Pentecost is a celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit God. Today’s gospel suggests that took place on Easter Sunday evening. The Acts of the Apostles places it on Pentecost – 50 days after Easter. Precision is not an issue here for the Spirit is always at work. Traditionally Pentecost marks the foundation of a church that extends beyond the women and men who followed Christ. It is a gift to whole world. Thus the reference to the diverse languages in the first reading this morning.

It would take team work to establish a church. Advocates working together. The second reading suggests that spiritual gifts are diverse and revealed in many forms. The Spirit of God cannot be contained or even defined. Certainly it is not something that only a few people possess. The author here is urging the readers to reflect on what it means to live a new life in Christ.

Discovering the Spirit in one’s own life may take time. Once that Spirit is uncovered and allowed to flourish it can change a person’s life. Learning to use that spirit can strengthen us and enable us also to contribute to the common good. It is used to build up the community in the hopes that the strength of that community would, in turn, build up and sustain humanity.

Long before the young church became organized in hierarchical and clerical ways it relied on the different gifts of community members to advance the message of Jesus of Nazareth. Not all gifts were appreciated then. Not all gifts are acknowledged now.

It is a tradition in most world religions to recognize and revere women and men who have been inspiring and instrumental in spiritual, physical and mental ways. This past week the Vatican identified different men and women who continue to spark our own initiatives in the public square.

Oscar Romero from El Salvador was beatified yesterday. He was a critical public voice for victims of human rights abuses and a threat to the authorities. Some churchmen still seek to block this honor thinking it would be an endorsement left-wing Marxist ideologies.

Two of the four women religious who were named saints earlier last week lived in 19th century Palestine. Sisters Bawardy and Ghattas were signs of hope and encouragement when violent persecutions drove Christians away from Jesus’ homeland.

Most often these sacred ancestors of ours are closer to us than we think. They are our grandparents, parents, guardians or teachers we had in school. They are our close friends or co-workers. They are the strangers we encounter who live on the edges of society. They are members of our parish. I drew these examples of saints in our midst from suggestions sent to me by readers of my homily blog. Thanks to each of you.

Today we blessed these eight icons just installed in our church building. Let’s get to know them better and introduce our children to them. They complement this circle of sainthood made up of ordinary people like you and me.

Icons are not like other graphic images. They are not painted but written like holy scriptures. They do not intend to call attention to themselves. We look through them to find a deeper meaning perhaps something more of ourselves. Who were these women and men, what did they believe, what did they do, what made them do it? We peer at them but let us not forget they are are looking at us. They wonder who are we, what do we believe in, what are we doing, what made us do it?

The Catholic catechism asks this question. “What is the church if not the assembly of saints? The communion of saints is the church.” (No. 946) This teaching is a reference to us. How will we join those first Pentecost saints in building up the church so that we can build up the kin-dom of God?

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