7 April 20195 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
5 Lent
Fifth Sunday of Lent - Cycle C
John 8, 1-11

When I was five years of age, an elderly Sister of Charity of Mt St Vincent in New York taught me a memorable lesson. She had caught me accusing a playmate of a "crime." She told me to point my finger at him one more time. I did. Then she asked none too sweetly, "Do you see that while one finger is pointed at the boy, three fingers are pointed at you yourself?" As young as I was, she had made her point indelibly.

But she was not finished. "Try, James, to spend more time in the future improving your own faults," she said with no trace of a smile. "Then you will not have time to criticize others." To make matters worse the "charge" against my friend proved subsequently to be unjustified. The Charity religious should have been named a Doctor of the Church.

The bad people of this Gospel story were the Scribes and Pharisees. They were proponents of capital punishment. None of us likes to identify with the heavies in any story. Yet, national polls show that despite the pleas of America's bishops as many as 80% of us favor capital punishment. Do we really differ then that much from the antagonists of John's Gospel today?

Let us even refine the case more narrowly. Drunk and rowdy college students partied outside a prison in Florida. At the death hour, they cheered the electrocution of some poor wretch inside. Then, as his incinerated body passed them in a hearse, they loudly and cruelly saluted him with raised cans of beer. So much then for the innocent mirth of youth! Unhappily, though, it can be argued it was we their seniors who taught them this eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth philosophy.

We have this lust for pay-back revenge even though our own Leader is the most celebrated victim of capital punishment in recorded history!

How would Jesus have reacted outside that Florida prison? I wager He would have been once again weeping. His tears would be not only for the just murdered man but also for the college students. I wager my sharp Sister of Charity would support that summation of her one-time first grade student.

How is Old Sparky, aka the electric chair, or a lethal injection or gassing any different from the stoning clearly put down by the Christ in today's Gospel? If one is genuinely pro life as many of us like to think we are, must we not struggle for life from the womb to the tomb? Given what the Master teaches us in this famous Gospel, must not rehabilitation rather than capital punishment be the most significant plank in our criminal justice system? And, if rehabilitation does not work, then there is always life behind bars without parole. The keys can justifiably be thrown away. Society must be protected.

This Gospel does give us a lot to think about, does it not? It can cause us to sit down face in hand and rethink our own position on capital punishment. But I do suspect that is what our controversial Teacher intended in the first place.

After all, His audiences did regularly run Him out of almost every town He preached in. Clearly He was not throwing pious platitudes at them. The record shows that every time He spoke it was a "go for broke" scenario. He was the supreme challenger. He remains so today.

Scholars say that our early followers in the faith found themselves upset by this Gospel account. They wished John had never written it. In their mind, the narration has the Teacher being soft on sin. But this is sheer nonsense. Jesus does not say to the woman, "Worry not. Adultery is quite permissible." Rather, He does say without qualification and, I dare say, with some anger once they were alone together, "Go, but do not sin again."

The next time you find yourself pointing a finger in accusation at someone, do steal a look at the three fingers that are accusingly pointing themselves at your own honorable self. Then put the wagons in a circle and reconsider your accusation.

At that point, consider Mother Teresa's advice. The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
5 Lent
Fifth Sunday of Lent: On the Throwing of Stones

A woman caught in adultery, the law of Moses saying that she should be stoned, the leaders of the Jewish people using her as an opportunity to attack Jesus, those who judge others, and Jesus, the Fountain of Divine Mercy, all of these are elements in the succinct yet profound scene presented in today’s Gospel.

It is true that the woman was a pawn in the battle between the forces of evil and the Force of Good. But she still was a sinner. The passage never hints that she was innocent. Jesus himself tells her to avoid this sin. We don’t know if she was caught in a onetime situation, a long term affair, or if she was practicing the oldest profession. But we do know that there was no doubt that she had sinned. Her action or actions could not be justified whether she sinned once or many times. We often fall into the trap of only recognizing our own sinfulness if there is a large number of sin. No, sin is sin, and whether we sin once or many times, we are still sinners.

She must have been terrified, dragged by these men to be stoned. She had no defense. She had no one to stand up for her. No one, except Jesus. She had all she needed. Jesus did not see a sinner. He never does. He saw a person who needed mercy. When we approach the Lord to receive the sacrament of forgiveness, He doesn’t see sinners; he sees people who need Divine Mercy. We all might feel ashamed to face up to our sin. That’s normal. We should feel terrified to have the forces of evil deal with our sins rather than humble ourselves and seek the Divine Mercy of the Lord.

The Law of Moses said that she should be stoned. This was a gruesome way to die. The community participated in the execution. Perhaps the ancient Law wanted to demonstrate the weight of the sin by having the people do the killing. Having done that, there would be less chance that they would commit that sin.

There was more to the stoning than that, though. The men doing the stoning would release their venom on the accused. The woman would feel hatred with every rock, finally begging to be released from a world that had no place for her. These men thought that they were fulfilling the law by hating. This was the law that Jesus came to change. How could this be the way of the Lord? Jesus came to bring love and mercy to the world. There were many things about the old way that would have no place in the New Kingdom. Hatred, vengeance, an eye for an eye, all these needed to be removed from the Christian’s way of life.

Sadly, we have yet to learn that hatred can have no place in our lives. Demagogues of the last century, and now of the present century, appeal to base hatred in order to be elected to office. Hitler was not the only German who hated the Jews. He used the hatred that many of his countrymen had for Jews to get himself elected chancellor. It is terrifying to think that this same tactic has a role in our present political process, only instead of Jews, hatred is being focused on Hispanics and Moslems.

The leaders of the Jewish people saw in the woman an opportunity to attack Jesus. They didn’t care whether the woman lived or died; she was just a pawn in their battle against the New Kingdom of God that Jesus was proclaiming. Their actions were despicable. Some say it is the way of the world to use others to forward one’s own agenda, career, position in society, etc. If that is the case, then the way of the world is despicable. Our way needs to be the Way of the Lord. And yes, the Way of the Lord often leads to the Way of the Cross. But the Cross gives us eternal life.

Those about to throw the stones are those who have no problem judging other people. All of us have to fight the inclination to be judgmental. Someone may be a sinner, but it is up to God, the Just Judge, to make that determination, not up to us. So often, we attempt to hide our own sins behind the sins of others. We transfer our hatred for ourselves into hatred for others. Instead of throwing the first stone, we need to remove sin from our own lives.

The central figure in today’s Gospel is not the woman, or the leaders of the Jews, or those about to throw stones, but is Jesus. He sees the person who is being condemned, not just her sin or sins. He is not concerned about the ancient law he came to transform. He is not concerned about the venom of the leaders of the Jews. Nor is he afraid of the angry crowd with stones in hand. All he is concerned about is this woman who needs mercy.

The Lord is not concerned about what sins we have committed. He is not concerned with which commandments we have broken. He is only concerned about what these sins are doing to us. He sees us as he saw that woman, cowering before him, expecting his judgment, needing his mercy.

His mercy is there for us. The only thing he asks us to do is to extend this mercy to others. We need to stop judging others, stop pre-judging whole groups of people, stop using others for our own gain. We need to start defending the poor and stranger among us. We need to pick up those who others have knocked down. We need to work hard for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to be fountains of mercy. We will only fulfill the purpose for our existence if others are able to say, "In you I experience Jesus Christ."

The Christian does not throw stones. The Christian bathes people with mercy.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
5 Lent
How Jesus Enables Us to Refocus
(April 7, 2019)

Bottom line: When we encounter Jesus he refocuses our lives. "See, I am doing something new".

In our first reading God says, "I am doing something new". This newness overwhelms things past. "Remember not the events of the past," God says, "the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new".

From my years as a priest I know people live with regrets. I have my own remorse. But God says, "Remember not the events of the past...I am doing something new."

What is the new thing God is doing? St. Paul gives the answer. He speaks about his encounter with Jesus - not Jesus limited by time and space - but Jesus risen from the dead. Paul is a young man who thinks he has it all together, who know where he is going. Jesus turns his world upside down. For Jesus' sake Paul considers those old things "so much rubbish".

Don't get the wrong impression. The things Paul now considers "so much rubbish" were pretty good. He knew the Bible intimately and he scrupulously fulfilled the commandments. Still, in comparison with knowing Jesus - or being known by him, they are small potatoes. For the sake of knowing Jesus, Paul says, "I have accepted the loss of all things."

In the Gospel we see someone who - for a different reason - has lost everything. Because of her reckless behavior she is exposed to public shame. She loses her family. If she has children, she will never see them again. The man who promised he would always care for her, well, he has vanished. She wants to die - and the community has condemned her to death. She has lost everything.

Unexpectedly a man speaks up. He doesn't exonerate her, but he issues a challenge: Those of you, so anxious to condemn, think about your own sins. The accusers leave one by one. "So he was left alone with the woman before him." Augustine says that in the end only two remain: miseria and misericordia. Miseria means anguish, wretchedness, misery. Misericordia combines two words: cordia (heart) and miser (misery). Misericordia, mercy, refers to Jesus' heart for the wretched.

When all is said and done, you and I are like that woman: alone with Jesus. He is the greatest treasure. Like Paul she wants to share that treasure but she doesn't know how. I want to give you an idea how to share Jesus - especially as we enter these last two weeks before Easter.

Begin by praying for the person you want to bring to Jesus, maybe someone in your own family or someone you work with. Pray by name. Then if Jesus opens the opportunity, let them know. This morning I was praying and you came into my mind. I sense you are going through some difficult times. This may lead to a conversation - or not. Invite them to come to Mass with you. Easter's a great time - and we will do our best to make it a good experience.

Keep your focus on Jesus. It's not about you. It's about Jesus. For him it's worth the loss of all things. He fulfills what God promises about "doing something new". Jesus enable us to refocus our lives. Next week we'll see how Jesus does it. On Palm Sunday we begin the week that leads to the resurrection - where Jesus breaks the bonds of time and space. That's why he can become bodily present in the Eucharist. When we encounter Jesus he refocuses our lives. "See, I am doing something new". Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
5 Lent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
5 Lent
Fifth Sunday of Lent

It may surprise you but the wonderful story of the Woman Caught in Adultery set before us today is not included anywhere in the most ancient manuscripts of the Gospels. It only appears in written form from the fourth century onwards. Despite this the scholars tell us that it is a much older story and was known by Christians from the earliest times

Of course, the Apostles when telling the story of Jesus did not write anything down in the early years of the Church, mostly they preached without notes. They spoke from the heart, telling the people what had happened and especially what they themselves had witnessed. As the Church expanded, however, it became necessary to write things down for those Christian communities which had no access to an Apostle or one of their followers. The people in far-flung Christian communities wanted to hear what Jesus said and did and so had to rely on accounts written down by other Christians who had heard the Apostles preach.

Much later on these written accounts were compiled and put together by the Evangelists in coherent and ordered accounts of the life of Jesus. These Gospels were then copied as faithfully as possible and distributed to all the congregations of Christians spread across the empire.

The question remains why this account of the woman caught in adultery was omitted from the texts of the early written Gospels. There is, fortunately, an explanation. In the ancient world, especially in Greece, there were many pagan temples and a lot of Christians were converts from paganism. A feature of many of these pagan temples was prostitution. Temples dedicated to Aphrodite or Venus across the empire had former slave girls involved in fertility rites which included sexual intercourse.

Naturally enough, the newly converted Christians wanted to separate themselves from their former pagan religion and in accordance with Christ's teaching they placed consecrated virginity and fidelity in marriage as very high on the list of Christian virtues. Anything involving adultery was absolutely shunned. In the story given to us today it was probably thought by those early Christians that Christ was being overly lenient on the adulterous woman.

The fact that he doesn’t condemn her sin would probably have been seen by those first Christians as somehow showing tolerance towards her behaviour. But of course, the words, ‘Go away and don’t sin anymore’ cannot actually be seen as acceptance of her actions by Jesus. He takes it for granted that she has sinned and bestows on her forgiveness but warns her not to fall into sin again. As time passed, and particularly after the Emperor Constantine closed down all those temples dedicated to fertility, the text of this story gradually worked its way back into the canon of scripture.

Another aspect of the story which modern readers find curious is that it was only the woman who was brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees who wanted Jesus to order her death by stoning. We are left wondering where the man is. Actually, if you were to strictly follow the law which is found in Deuteronomy 22:22 both the man and the woman should have been stoned.

Clearly the Pharisees were being partial; they weren’t really interested in the guilt of the man or the woman but were using her as a pawn in their plot to catch Jesus out. They are more interested in bringing him down. They know that if Jesus did not strictly apply the law he would fall out with the faithful Jewish believers, but if he did follow the law then he would incur the wrath of the Romans who reserved to themselves the death penalty.

It was a classic Catch-22 situation, whatever Jesus did he was going to fall foul of one group or another. But Jesus does not fall into their trap. When he invites only the one without sin to cast the first stone, they each look inwards at their own actions and gradually slope off beginning with the eldest who were presumably the wisest and most introspective. By doodling on the ground Jesus gives them the time they need each to search his own heart and come to the conclusion that they are all of them sinners in one way or another. By doodling on the ground Jesus does not look them in the eye. He does not judge them but gives each one the space he needs to come to his own decision in the matter.

Of course, this whole story is about Jesus showing compassion to this poor woman, and indeed, even to her accusers. Jesus is the ultimate judge and Lord of All. He is the one before whom all of us will be judged. But his judgement will be a compassionate one. He is not lenient; for him a sin is a sin and he calls sin out without equivocation. But he is a forgiving God who understands our human weaknesses and who wants to bestow his love and mercy on us. On our part what we need to do is to admit our faults and implore his mercy.

We Catholics have the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation precisely for this purpose. We are able to speak to the priest as we would speak to Christ and through the priest receive the compassion and healing that Our Lord imparts to us. Our own Penitential Service for Lent will be on Wednesday of Holy Week in St Mary Magdalen’s Church. Please do come along and make use of this wonderful healing and saving sacrament.

In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah recalls the Exodus and the journey through the desert of Sinai and reminds us how God gave his people water to drink. The water is, of course, a symbol of our salvation. Isaiah is reminding us that what God wants above everything else is to give us salvation. He wants to save us from our sins and to heal our bodies and our souls. His constant wish is that we should turn to him in love and implore his mercy. There is no better time to do this than in this holy season of Lent which is above all a time for repentance, forgiveness and salvation.
These homilies may be copied and adapted for your own use; however, they may not be commercially published without permission of the author.