📺 The Hound of Heaven

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Fr. Tony’s 8-minute Homily (everything on one page)

“The Hound of Heaven,” written by Francis Thompson, is one of the best- known religious poems in the English language.  It describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. The poem tells the story of a human soul who tries to flee from God, as it thinks that it will lose its freedom in the company of God. This is the story of Thompson’s own life. As a boy, he intended to become a priest. But the laziness of his brilliant son prompted Thompson’s father to enroll young Francis in a medical school. There he became addicted to opium that almost wrecked his body and mind. He fled to a slum and started earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches, and holding horses.

In 1887 Francis sent some poems and an essay to Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a Catholic literary magazine called Merry England.  The editor recognized the genius behind these works and published them in April 1888.  Then Meynell went in search of the poet. He arranged accommodation for Francis, introduced him to other poets and helped him to realize God’s love.

How Francis tried to run away from God, how God “hunted” him, how Divine love caught up with him – these are the themes of his stirring poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” Once we realize, as did the poet Francis Thompson, and as do all the saints, that God, in His Infinite love for us, will pursue our souls to the ends of the earth and beyond, then we will try to return to that Love , allowing the Hound of Heaven to “catch” us.

Today’s Gospel tells us about the breadth and depth and height of the Divine love of the Hound of Heaven for each one of us.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 Driving Miss Daisy

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Miss Daisy drove her Packard into her neighbor’s backyard. Boolie Werthan, Daisy’s son, thought that such an incident was sufficient evidence to warrant the end of his mother’s driving; she needed a driver, a chauffeur. Hoke Coleburn, a middle-aged black man, was Boolie’s choice for the job. Daisy, however, would not accept this restriction, this change in her life; she was not open to being transformed.

Boolie may have hired Hoke, but that did not mean that Miss Daisy had to use him. As Hoke stood idle, Miss Daisy took the street-car wherever she went, to the hairdresser or the grocery store. Hoke Coleburn was being paid for doing nothing. That is exactly how Miss Daisy wanted things.

As stubborn as she could be, Miss Daisy ultimately did change her attitude. One day she needed a few things from the store. She left the house and began to walk toward the streetcar. Hoke decided that Miss Daisy’s refusal to use his services needed to end. As she walked down the sidewalk, Hoke slowly drove alongside in the new 1948 Hudson Boolie had purchased for his mother.

“Where are you going?” scowled Daisy. Hoke replied, “I’m fixin’ to take you to the store!” Although still not content with the arrangement, Daisy agreed to get into the car; her conversion had begun. Daisy did not approve, but Hoke had become her chauffeur. Whether it was to the temple (you see Miss Daisy was Jewish), the store, or a trip to Mobile to visit relatives, Daisy and Hoke went together.

As the years passed, their relationship as driver and passenger grew; they bonded together. Then one day Miss Daisy’s conversion became complete. The process had been long and sometimes difficult, but now it was finished. She could finally say, “Hoke, you are my best friend.” — Alfred Uhry’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy, tells more than the story of a relationship between a black chauffeur and an elderly, rich, Jewish widow. It is the story of a challenge to be transformed in mind and heart from rebellion into a sense of acceptance in one’s life.

Lent is a season when the Church calls us to reflect upon our lives and see how we need to be transformed, to enter into a stronger relationship with God. Daisy’s experience is one illustration of a reality for all – transformation takes time, and shortcuts to its end-product only lead to problems and disappointments. Today’s popular and familiar passage from John’s Gospel challenges us, as it did Nicodemus, to be transformed by Christ.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 The long handled spoons

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Once a certain Saint asked God to show her the difference between Heaven and Hell. So God asked an angel to take her first to Hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them were eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he showed her his hand. A long fork about 4 feet long was strapped to their hands such that every time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity!” said the Saint.

Then the angel took her to Heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting around a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with four-foot forks strapped to their arms. But unlike hell the people in heaven were happy and laughing. “What!” said the Saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said the man in Heaven, “Here we feed one another.”

Can we say this of our families, our neighborhood, our Church, our world? If we can say that, then we are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 Lifelines

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A number of years ago, these two verses, John 3:16 and John 3:17, took on extra-special meaning for many Bible readers. You may recall the episode. It involved our astronaut program. Space engineers were designing space suits for the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot. A part of the design of each space suit was an umbilical cord, consisting of a long flexible tubing. The purpose of the umbilical cord was to supply oxygen to the astronauts when they “walked” in space or passed from one module to another. The suit receptacle into which the command pilot’s cord fit was called J 3:16.

Designer Frank Denton said he named the two suit receptacles after the two gospel passages: John 3:16 and John 3:17.  Just as J 3:16 and J 3:17 supplied the astronauts with what they would need to survive in their journey from one module to another, so Jn 3:16 and Jn 3:17 supply us with what we need to survive in our journey from earth to Heaven. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).


📺 Glimpse of God’s love in tragedy

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Near Mobile, Alabama, there was a railroad bridge that spanned a big bayou. The date was September 22, 1993. It was a foggy morning, just before daybreak, when a tugboat accidentally pushed a barge into the bayou. The drifting barge slammed into the river bridge. In the darkness no one could see the extent of the damage, but someone on the tugboat radioed the Coast Guard.

Minutes later, an Amtrak train, the Sunset Limited, reached the bridge as it traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Unaware of the damage, the train crossed the bridge at 70 mph. There were 220 passengers on board. As the weight of the train broke the support, the bridge gave away.

Three locomotive units and the first four of the train’s eight passenger cars fell into the alligator infested bayou. In the darkness, the fog was thickened by fire and smoke. Six miles from land, the victims were potential food for the aroused alligators. Helicopters were called in to help rescue the victims. Rescuers were able to save 163 persons.

But one rescue stands out. Gary and Mary Jane Chancey were waiting in the railcar with their eleven-year-old daughter Andrea. When the car went into the bayou and began to fill rapidly with water, there was only one thing they could do. They pushed their young daughter through the window into the hands of a rescuer, and then succumbed to their watery death. Their sacrificial love stands out especially because their daughter was imperfect by the world’s standards. She was born with cerebral palsy and needed help with even the most routine things. But she was precious to her parents.

We, too, are imperfect – our lives filled with mistakes, sin and helplessness. But we are still precious to God – so precious that He sacrificed his Son Jesus to save us.

Today’s Gospel tells us how a perfect God sent His perfect Son to save an imperfect world.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 Bring your family to Jesus

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Mother Teresa was interviewed on American television years ago. She said, “It is very, very important, that the families teach their children to pray and pray with them.”

Then she added, “And we have enough reason to trust God, because when we look at the cross, we understand how much Jesus loved us. It is wonderful to be able to come to Jesus! That’s why God made Him – to be our bread of life, to give us life! And with His life comes new life! New energy! New peace! New joy! New everything! And I think that’s what brings glory to God, also, and it brings peace.”

Then she said, “I’ve seen families suffer so much, and when they’ve been brought to Jesus, it changes their whole lives.” [Robert H. Schuller. Believe in the God Who Believes in You. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), p. 126.]

I have also seen lives changed by the power of the cross. Have you? Today’s Gospel gives a parallel between the bronze serpent erected by Moses to heal the Israelites bitten by snakes and Jesus raised on the cross to save mankind.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 “I resolve to compose no more.”

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One day in his later years, the composer Johannes Brahms reached a point in his life when his composing almost came to a halt. He started many things, serenades, part songs and so on, but nothing seemed to work out. Then he thought, “I am too old. I have worked long and diligently and have achieved enough. Here I have before me a carefree old age and can enjoy it in peace. I resolve to compose no more.” This cleared his mind and relaxed his faculties so much that he was able to pick up with his composing again without difficulty.

Many of us are a bundle of anxieties. That is why we accomplish so little. What we need is to relax in the knowledge that we are loved. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him…” Do you believe in Christ? Then what in the world are you worried about? Accept His love. Lay your deepest concerns at the foot of the cross.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 Coming Home

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John Voigt and Jane Fonda play the lead roles in the movie, Coming Home, which is about an American soldier crippled for life because of the Vietnam War. The film focuses on the psychological as well as the physical ordeals of this paraplegic – how he struggles with the help of a woman to accept his handicap, reconstruct his dreams, and create a future for himself.

This Vietnam War vet’s situation is very similar to that of the Jews in the first reading. God often sends people to help us through a crisis: parents and children often intervene to assist each other; a true friend comes through when no one else will; sometimes it is a pastor, a teacher or a parishioner who bails us out. Like the Jews in exile, or like that Vietnam vet in Coming Home, we endure small deaths in many ways. Nonetheless, we can find new life because of our faith in the Lord Jesus. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).


📺 Saving Private Ryan

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Perhaps the most powerful movie I have ever watched is Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks, as Captain Miller, along with a ragtag squad of soldiers in World War II, give their lives in search of Private Ryan so he can be returned to his parents. Private Ryan’s parents had already lost their other sons in that terrible war that some of you know first-hand.

As they move in the search of Private Ryan, they argue with one another and sometimes fight with one another, “Why on earth are we risking our lives for Private Ryan? He is probably not worth it anyway.” Still, they push on. Finally at the big battle at the bridge, one by one, they give their lives for this no-named person called Private Ryan. Finally there is Captain Miller, lying wounded and taking his final breaths, looking up into the eye of the Private, saying just two words, “Earn it.”

The movie fast-forwards and now Ryan is an old man. Once more he goes to the rows of crosses that help us remember the high price of our freedom. He finds the grave of Captain Miller and falls to his knees, saying, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day at the bridge. I have lived my life the best I could. I hope that was enough.”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

📺 A baseball story

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Those who are “born again” claim Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. Let me share a sports story told by the outstanding Christian coach at Florida State University, Bobby Bowden. Back in the 1920s there was a great major league baseball player named Goose Gosling. His team was in the World Series one year. In the bottom of the 9th inning of the final game, the score was tied.

Goose came to the plate. He got the kind of pitch he wanted and hit a solid line drive over the shortstop’s head. It rolled all the way to the wall. The left-fielder fumbled the ball as he tried to make the play. Goose rounded second. As he neared third base, the coach was waving him toward home. The ball reached the catcher a half- second before Goose did. Goose lowered his shoulder as he had been taught and hit the catcher as hard as he could. The ball squirted loose and Goose Gosling stepped on home plate.

The fans erupted in pandemonium and poured onto the field. In all the confusion no one noticed the first baseman retrieving the ball, racing to first, and tagging the base. He then appealed to the umpire, claiming that Goose had never touched first base. The umpire agreed with the first baseman and called Goose out.

Many people are like Goose Gosling. They seem to be altogether successful. Everybody is cheering for them. They glitter with success. But if in the course of living, they never repent and claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they never even make it to first base.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

AA’s twelve steps and today’s readings

You do not have to be an alcoholic (or compulsive gambler or sex addict) to recognize that the famous twelve steps of AA reflect the essentials of the human experience of redemption. It is all there: the profound awareness of need for rescue by Another; the abandonment of self to God; the admission of one’s own responsibility for the moral harm of one’s behavior; commitment to prayer, reflection, and outreach to others.

The fact that the twelve steps are a “we” statement in the past tense testifies that it is an expression of a community which shares the experience of the healing power of rescue from evil by a caring God. That makes it a kind of Credo or confession of Faith. More accurately, it is a proclamation of sacred history: Here’s how God has acted in our lives.

AA’s twelve steps can help us get to the heart of this Sunday’s readings.

The first reading tells us how God has worked through Cyrus to rescue the Babylonian exiles from exile and “restore them to sanity” by bring them home. The same sense of rescue by “a Power greater than ourselves” is spelled out powerfully in the passage from Ephesians. Like the twelve steps of AA, this passage is the celebration of a community who have “turned their will and lives over to the care of God as they have come to know him” in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel passage for this Sunday is another classic confession of Christian experience of Divine rescue in Jesus. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”( Dennis Hamm S. J. ). 

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Gee, Mom, she thinks I’m real!

There is an old story about a family consisting of mother, father, and small son who went into a restaurant. As they were seated at the table, the waitress sailed up. You know, the particular kind of waitress who moves as though she were the captain of a ship. She sailed up, pad in efficient hand, looked, and waited. The parents ordered. Then the boy looked up and said plaintively,

“I want a hot dog.”

“No hot dog!” said the mother. “Bring him potatoes, beef, and a vegetable.”

The waitress paused for a moment, and then looked at the boy squarely and said, “Yes, sir. What do you want on your hot dog?”

“Ketchup – lots of ketchup – and a glass of milk.” “

One hot dog, coming up,” said the waitress and sailed off toward the kitchen.

The boy turned to his parents said, “Gee, Mom, she thinks I’m real!”

One reason that we are real is because God thinks we are real. He created all of us to be His children. That process of becoming God’s children may be for us as radical as being born anew, as Jesus told Nicodemus, but it is precisely that for which we were created. For Christians, to be real is to allow ourselves to be loved by God, and to love God in return, which, according to St. John, means living the truth.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Emergency Night call

One of the things that pastors, doctors, fire-fighters, and police have in common is that they all receive occasional night calls. And most pastors would agree that some of our most significant opportunities to help people have come in response to night-time calls, usually of an emergency nature. However, not all of our night calls are that significant.

Dr. Robert Ozmont of First United Methodist Church in Atlanta received a call one night about 2:00 AM. He did not know the lady who called; she had found his number in the yellow pages. She had a problem. By any objective measure it was not an emergency; certainly it could have waited until morning. Nevertheless, Dr. Ozmont tried to offer what advice he could.

Then he asked, “Ma’am, do you belong to a church in Atlanta?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I am a member of Calvary Presbyterian.”

“Why,” asked Dr. Ozmont, “didn’t you call your pastor about your problem?”

“I thought about that,” she said, “but my pastor works so hard that I just hated to bother him in the middle of the night.”

The Gospel of John tells us about a night-time call Jesus received from a prestigious Jew named Nicodemus.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Doctor checkup

A little girl went to the doctor for a check-up. When the doctor came into the examining room, she held up both hands to get his attention and then she said: “Doctor, I know what you are going to do. You are going to do 5 things. You are going to check my eyes, my ears, my nose, my throat and my heart.” The Doctor smiled and said: “Well, Sarah, that is exactly right. Is there any particular order I should go in?” Sarah said: “You can go in any order you want to… but if I were you, I’d start with the heart!!!”

That’s what Jesus did, wasn’t it? He started with the heart. He started with Love… and that is precisely what he wants us to do!

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Chain of love

Before we are able to give love we must receive love. Let me give you a powerful example.  Once years ago there was a little girl in an institution who was almost like a wild beast. The workers at the institution had written her off as hopeless. An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child, however. She felt she could communicate love and hope to this wild little creature. The nurse daily visited the child whom they called Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in her room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly “hopeless case” was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institutional experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others.  It was Anne Sullivan who, in turn, played the crucial role in the life of Helen Keller. It was she who saw the great potential in this little blind, deaf, and rebellious child. Anne loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed, and worked with her until Helen Keller became an inspiration to the entire world. It began with the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally every person who has ever been influenced by the example of Helen Keller. (Jeffrey Holland in Vital Speeches)

That chain of love goes on forever. Before it began with that elderly nurse, though, we have to go all the way back to the beginning when God first loved His creation and then created it.

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).


“I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.”

One of the “ministers” (that means lay persons), of a local Church was delivering meals as part of his work with a “Meals on Wheels” mission. He took the meal to a home of a woman whose only child was visiting that day. He congratulated the woman for having such a nice son, and said, “I have eight children of my own.” “Eight kids,” exclaimed the woman. “I love my son so much that I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.” “Ma’am,” the man said gently, “you don’t divide love–you multiply it.”

Jesus’ Love is not zero-based: the more you give, the less you have. Jesus’ Love is eternity-based: the more you give, the more there is to go around. Jesus’ Love is other-based: we are to reach out in love to “all people” and “especially to those of the family of Faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Miracle of new birth

One rainy Sunday afternoon, a little boy was bored and his father was sleepy. The father decided to create an activity to keep the kid busy. So, he found in the morning newspaper a large map of the world. He took scissors and cut it into a good many irregular shapes like a jigsaw puzzle.

Then he said to his son, “See if you can put this puzzle together. And don’t disturb me until you’re finished.”

He turned over on the couch, thinking this would occupy the boy for at least an hour. To his amazement, the boy was tapping his shoulder ten minutes later telling him that the job was done. The father saw that every piece of the map had been fitted together perfectly.

“How did you do that?” he asked.

“It was easy, Dad. There was a picture of a man on the other side. When I got him together right, the world was right.”

A person’s world can never be right until the person is right, and that requires the miracle of new birth. Don’t you dare stop asking God for the experience of new birth until you can shout from the housetops, “Through Jesus Christ, God has fundamentally changed my life!”

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).


A newfound glory which shines

During the American depression (1929-1939), a ferry-boat captain managed to eke out a modest living for himself and his family by piloting his boat up and down the Mississippi. His boat was old and in poor repair. The engines were grimy, spewing forth soot and smoke as the boat made its seemingly endless shuttle on the river. The captain was as unkempt as his boat, his manner with passengers often surly and rude.

As it happened, the captain was proselytized by one of his passengers, a traveling missionary who introduced the captain to Christ and to the Gospel. The captain’s conversion was profound and authentic.

One of the first things he did was to clean up his ferry-boat and repair its engines. The decks and deck chairs were freshly painted, and all the brass fixtures were polished. As to his personal appearance and demeanor, the captain was utterly transformed. Clean-shaven, and with a smile, he greeted his regular customers who immediately remarked about the pleasant changes he had made.

In reply, the captain said, “I’ve got a newfound glory and it shines out in all I do; that’s what Christ does for a person. He gives him a glory!”

In his letter to the Christians of Ephesus, the author of today’s second reading described a similar transformation that had taken place in his readers because of Christ. (Sanchez Files).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

A serpent on a pole and a man on the cross:

According to Greek mythology, Hermes, messenger of the gods carried a caduceus as a symbol of peace. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, it became the badge worn by heralds and ambassadors signifying their inviolability. Originally the caduceus was a rod or olive branch decorated with garlands or ribbons. As time passed, the garlands were interpreted as two snakes, intertwined in opposite directions with their heads facing away from each other. A pair of wings, representing the swiftness of Hermes was attached to the staff above the snakes.

The similarity of the caduceus to the staff of Aesculapius, the healer, (a single serpent twined around a staff branched at the top), resulted in the adoption of the caduceus as a symbol of the physician and as the emblem of the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Serpent-signs of healing, like these, played a main role in mythological and religious traditions throughout the world and were known to our ancient Israelite ancestors as well. According to the narrative from the book of Numbers (21:4-9), the wandering Hebrews were instructed by Moses to look upon the bronze serpent entwined on the staff as he held it aloft. Those who looked at the serpent were healed.

St. John incorporated this event into today’s Gospel pericope and offered the raised serpent-sign as a type or pre-figuring of the lifted up and crucified Christ. (Sanchez Files).

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Create him not

Jewish legend has it that when God was about to create man, He consulted the angels about His throne:

“Create him not,” said the Angel of Justice. “For he will commit all kinds of wickedness against his fellowmen; he will be bad and cruel and dishonest and unrighteous.”

The Angel of Truth said, “Create him not, for he will be false and deceitful to his brothers and sisters ,and even to You.”

“Create him not,” said the Angel of Holiness. “He will follow that which is impure in Your sight and dishonor You to Your face.”

Then stepped forward the Angel of Mercy said, “Our Heavenly Father, create him, for when he sins and turns from the path of right and truth and holiness, I’ll take him tenderly by the hand, speak loving words to him, and then lead him back to You,.”

And God indeed created man, following the counsel of the Angel of Mercy.

This story shows to us the message of Christ in today’s Gospel of Fourth Sunday of Lent in the B Cycle. And the verse John 3:16 has been called a summary of the Bible, and a summary the entire Gospel as well. Maybe because we can find the acronym, GOSPEL Let us listen very carefully: “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, so that whoever who believes in Him should not Perish but have Eternal Life.” (3:16). (Fr. Benitez)

Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

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