Good Friday: A Call to Abolish Capital Punishment

Posted in Evangelii Gaudium, Homilies, Lent, Pope Francis, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

death-penaltyThe following is the full text of the homily that was delivered at St. Anthony Shrine and Ministry Center in Downtown Boston on Good Friday April 3, 2015.


Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Oh, OOOoohh, Sometimes it causes me to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?

Where you there when they Crucified Cecil Clayton?
Where you there when they Crucified Manuel Vasquez?
Oh, OOOoohh, always, it should cause us to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified Walter Storey?


Or Donald Newbury, or Robert Ladd, or Warren Hill, or Arnold Prieto, or Charles Warner, or Johnny Kormondy, or Andrew Brannan?

These are the names of the ten human beings that the Government by the people, of the people, and for the people in this country have executed in several states just since the beginning of January of this year.

What we commemorate this afternoon is a state execution, the death of a man that was viewed as a threat to those in religious and civil authority, a man who was executed by the romans for what was considered “the fomenting of insurrection.”  We just heard the proceedings and we recognize the charge.

While we may honestly say that we were not “there,” when they crucified our Lord, we have to ask ourselves on this day when torture, capital punishment, and the death of innocents is front and center – Does the perpetuation of the injustice of the death penalty in our country cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble?

It Should!

Yes, it’s true, you and I are fortunate to live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a state in the US that has, since October 18, 1984, banned the death penalty.  But just down the street at the federal court house in this city, a trial is underway that is moving toward a sentencing phase in which the US government – in your name and mine – will seek to take yet another human life.

If on this Good Friday, you aren’t thinking about Cecil Clayton or, at least, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then you’re missing a big part of the picture.

One of the big temptations of Good Friday is to confuse “feeling sorry or sorrowful” with “feeling sorry for oneself!”  This, for example, is what the film “The Passion of the Christ” so often perpetuates. It was drawn not from good scriptural exegesis or sound theology, but from the gruesome visions of a German nun, whose written idea of what happened on Calvary is what the director primarily used in that film.

The effects of that film, and if you’ve seen it you know, is to play on the emotions that arise from watching obscene torture that makes the films of Quentin Tarantino look like Disney; to make individuals feel horrified and bad.

This is not what today is about!  This is not why Jesus was executed!

Taking today as an opportunity to dwell on “how bad we are” such that we stay in the realm of “feeling sorry for ourselves” is not the point.  Instead, yes, we should – today and always – reflect on how we need to repent for the wrong we’ve done and the right we have failed to do, but then we are, like Jesus after falling for the first, second, and third times, called by God to get up and move forward!

Pope Francis has talked a lot about Good Friday and the Death Penalty during his admittedly short, but powerful, term as Bishop of Rome.  In terms of Good Friday, he has asked us in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, whether or not we are “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”  Whether we, in other words, use this time of penance, prayer, and conversion to “feel sorry for ourselves,” to go around mopey or gloomy, to be a burden for others; or whether we move toward the joy of Easter, the joy which proclaims that indeed death and sin do not have the last word

In terms of capital punishment, the Holy Father actually today includes a reflection on the injustice of the death penalty in his own Good Friday meditations on the Stations of the Cross – he calls us to work toward ending this evil in our world. It is no accident that he also spent last evening celebrating the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper with prisoners and washing their feet.

Two weeks ago while meeting with a delegation of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis said that, “capital punishment is cruel, inhumane and degrading, and that it does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge.”

Indeed, you and I, as we follow the Lord along the Way of the Cross, bearing witness to the State Execution of the Word-Made-Flesh, should ask ourselves: What good does the Death Penalty Do???

Seriously, what good does it accomplish?  What grace, what healing, what contribution to human flourishing does it bring about???

It only brings about more evil.  The murder of someone is always still murder – to deliberately take another human life is always wrong, no matter who pulls the trigger or pushes the poison in the syringe.

Similarly, Pope Francis said that, “the death penalty is an affront to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of the human person, it contradicts God’s plan for humankind and society and God’s merciful justice.”

Many Christians fancy themselves as being “Pro-Life,” by which they typically mean that they are “anti-abortion.”  Many of these same Christians claim that the difference between abortion and capital punishment is “innocence.”  The unborn somehow have an innocent human life, but the inmate on death row has some other kind of life.

But the Gospel and Christ make it clear, all human life is innocent!  To say that we have inherent dignity and value as created and loved into existence by God means that there is nothing that can take that away from us.  As Sr. Helen Prejean, the death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking, frequently says: “We are all more than the worst things we’ve done!”

This does not excuse horrendous and tragic behaviors, crimes, and actions – no, those things certainly merit punishment.  But to say that a woman or man convicted of a crime has somehow lost their right to live is to take God’s judgment into our own hands.

Yesterday was the birthday of the late Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who was a tireless voice for the Christian prolife movement – he advocated for what is called the “seamless garment” doctrine, which means that you cannot pick and choose which human lives you think are valuable or sacred.

If you are against abortion, then you must be against capital punishment, you must be against euthanasia, you must be against systems of racial injustice, systems that perpetuate poverty, systems of discrimination, anything that threatens the dignity and value of all human life!

Pope Francis has said that, “All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”

On this day when we gather to recall the death of the Lord, his being tortured and executed, let us think of and pray for those who are being tortured and executed in our own day.  In a special way, let us begin again in the hope of the resurrection to be Christian women and men who work to overturn injustice, who tell our civil leaders that it is not ok to kill, who stand up for dignity of all lives.  Let us break away from any temptation to just feel sorry for ourselves, but instead repent and believe in the Gospel – recommitting ourselves to go out into the world and work for justice!

And let us not forget the names of those who will be put to death on our behalf, for we in fact were and are there when they were crucified, and this should cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Photo: File

Exciting News: New Book Coming Fall 2016!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 12, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Horan cover finalI’m delighted to be able to share some exciting news with you all. The title, cover, and pre-order information for my next book are now available. Due out in October is my latest book titled, God is Not Fair and other Reasons For Gratitude (Franciscan Media). In the coming months you’ll hear more about the book and its contents, but for now know that there are three basic themes: faith and culture, meaning of scripture for us today, and contemporary Christian living. I hope you have a chance to check it out and perhaps even pre-order it. Stay tuned for more information!

When I Went to Punxsutawney for Groundhog’s Day (02/02/02)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Fourteen years ago I did something that only a crazy group of college journalists would do — get in a car with no money, call just a few hours ahead for press credentials for an editor, reporter and photographer, and drive to Punxsutawney, Pa., for Groundhog’s Day on the 116th staging of the event, which also happened to be the curious date 02/02/02! Thanks to the magic of the internet the news editor on that trip, Matt Dabrowski, posted this story written by the reporter, Mike Trask, for our college newspaper The BonaVenture back in 2002. I don’t have access to the images I took that night/morning, but was able to find some photos someone else took that night that happened to capture me up in the press section near the stage (I’m the one wearing a red coat with a blue winter hat (look along the baseline of the stage and you’ll intersect my head to the right of center — click the image for a bigger view). For your enjoyment, here’s the story as it still appears on the BV web archive. As you’ll tell from the feature story, it was an adventure and nothing like Bill Murray’s famous movie of the same name. My favorite line of the whole piece is the retelling of our 3:00 am visit to McDonalds and WalMart for supplies. Enjoy and Happy Groundhog’s Day!

Punxsutawney ‘Craze’

By Mike Trask
Staff Writer

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. – Saturday morning Punxsutawney Phil, the world-famous weather forecasting groundhog, emerged from his oak-tree stump in front of about 40,000 rapid chanting fans.

It’s the end of a long night in this town of around 7,000 people, which expands to nearly six times its size every Feb. 2. The locals seem to not care, unless they are members of The Inner Circle, the planners and organizers of the event. Three gas-station attendants told us they never went to Gobbler’s Knob, site of the event.

“I watched it on TV once, seems kind of silly,” quipped one woman. She gave us (Dan Horan, assistant photography director; Matt Dabrowski, news editor; and myself) a coupon for a free sub, probably out of pity.

A member of the Punx-sutawney Lions Clubs stated, “I never go up to The Knob. I just sit around and wait for you guys to come around with your (note) pads.”

Nevertheless, people come in droves. Phil’s day is something of a combination between a rock concert, an Independence Day celebration and a religious revival.


The drive to Punxy takes a little less than three hours if you don’t obey speed laws. It is 109 miles from Allegany, according to Along the way we had our first bit of excitement.

In a town called Ridgway, Pa., we ran across someone in a white Dodge Acclaim with New York license plates and a Geneseo sticker in the back window. In the parking lot of Sheet’s, the Pennsylvania version of Uni-Mart, three young gentlemen started shouting gibberish at us. It was one of those moments that made you think, “Oh boy. What could happen tonight?”

Then, only 16 miles from Punxy, we had problems. On Route 119 a car had wrecked. People had been thrown from the vehicle. Immediately we felt a sense of dread. It gave me that sinking feeling in my stomach. Thoughts raced through my head. I had been driving about 80 mph and that guilty, that-could-be-me feeling raced around in my head. A report in The Courier-Express, a central Pennsylvania daily newspaper, said a man from Kansas died and three others were injured.

Police officers, fire fighters and other rescue workers rushed to the side of the road. Traffic backed up. We were the first car that had been stopped and, after about 15 minutes, police directed us on a detour. A cop shouted something like, “Go left. Go left again. Go to Sykesville and you can get back on the 119.”

The craziness began. If you’ve never been to Sykesville, Pa., you aren’t missing anything. If you ever travel through it, don’t blink. The road we took could’ve been confused with something from “The Blair Witch Project.” The one-lane road had no name that we could find, no lights and made me wonder if it was the end of the Earth. It weaved in and out of woods through a dense fog. Somehow, maybe by luck, maybe by an act of God, we emerged onto the 119 and continued our journey. We chalked it up to one of those experiences you inevitably encounter on a spur-of-the- moment road trip.


We arrived in Punxy at 11 p.m. Friday night, over seven hours before Phil’s scheduled forecast. People littered the streets of the quaint town. Lines formed outside most of the bars. More than once we saw vomit on the sidewalk. The town simply cannot hold the number of people here.

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President Obama cites Pope Francis in State of the Union

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , on January 12, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated a call for an end to Islamophobia and cited Pope Francis’s address to the same legislative bodies last September in support of tolerance, openness, and respect for all faith.

That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.

The full text of the President’s address can be found here.

Photo: Pool

Christmas: The coming of the Poor, Refugee, Prince of Peace

Posted in Homilies, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 24, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

flight-to-egypt-iconThere is often a lot of attention given to the “reason for the season” or the admonition to “keep Christ in Christmas,” but far-too-little attention is paid to who this Christ is and what it means for us.

Pope Francis, in his Christmas night homily, explains that we live in a world that is oversaturated with the self-centeredness that comes with an over-busy lifestyle and a way of being in the world that leaves us “drunk” with the need to acquire more without thought about the cost, without concern for others. Pope Francis explains:

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will.

I believe that the way we come to this strong sense of justice, mercy, and discernment of God’s will is by remembering the one whose birth we celebrate today. The Christ who enters our world as one of us is a poor, refugee, prince of peace!

Christ is poor. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are reminded of whose birth it is we celebrate on Christmas day — the birth of the God who empties God’s self to become like us. God surrenders at every turn all that comes with being divine, all-powerful, all-anything to be a vulnerable, humble, child. As we hear in tonight’s Gospel, Christ is born to an unwed young women, a peasant teen whose life was nothing of luxury or comfort. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Christ’s poverty was, in a cosmic sense, voluntary. But in a contextual sense, we was nonetheless born into a world that had no room for him.

Christ’s poverty should call us to remember the suffering of those who likewise are born into this world without the support and care, the resources and privileges that so many of us can give thanks for having. Christ is the one who stands by them. Christ is the one who calls us to do likewise.

Christ is a Refugee. How quickly we forget what we read in the very next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter Two we read about the magi’s visitation and Herod’s call for the slaughter of children (the event we commemorate in just three days, December 28th). Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus seek refuge in Egypt, crossing the border into an unknown land, fleeing the violence and terror of their homeland. Christ is not only a refugee who fled violence, but was also a Cosmic refugee who, as we read in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, was rejected by his own. Elsewhere in the Gospels we hear how Jesus is abandoned, rejected, and dismissed by his fellows including family, friends, and disciples.

Christ’s status as and experience of being a refugee should call us to be mindful of those who, like the infant Jesus, flee violence and terror in our world today. Christ enters the world unwelcome and stands in solidarity with those who are abandoned, rejected, and dismissed. We must welcome those refugees seeking protection and safety in our world today. In a time when political rhetoric in this country has ramped up fear and xenophobia, we should stand as Christians who celebrate the Christ who is himself a refugee and welcome refugees.

Christ is the Prince of Peace. He came into the world bringing, as we pray in the Eucharistic prayer, peace — a peace that the world neither knows nor can give. In the face of violence and fear, Christ always proclaims a message calling the world to “be not afraid,” to “turn the other cheek,” to “love one’s enemies.”  The message of the Christ who enters our world as the Prince of Peace is one that condemns violence and retaliation, who calls us to turn swords into plowshares, who surrenders his life for the sake of others.

Christ who is the Prince of Peace calls us to resist the violent rhetoric we hear in the world today. As politicians and commentators stoke the fire of fear and terror, the message of the Prince of Peace is one that calls us to respond to threats with love, to surrender our thirst for power and control, to be more like Christ who sought only to do God’s will in terms of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.

This Christmas is a time not only to celebrate with family and friends, but a time to remember whose birth it is that we celebrate and what it means for us to call ourselves “Christians” in turn.

May you have a blessed Christmas and celebrate the coming of the poor, refugee, prince of peace by your words and actions!

Photo: File


O Come Emmanuel: Everyday Incarnation

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 23, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

incarnationO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

There is only one Incarnation, but there are infinite signs of emmanuel.

I am struck today by the text from Isaiah that is the source for this antiphon: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The name of the coming Lord was foretold, but it wasn’t a proper name so much as a description of what God was about to do and what God has intended from all eternity.

The pregnant young woman, Mary of Nazareth, was a sign that fits the description of Isaiah, but she hasn’t been nor remains the only sign of emmanuel, God-with-us. If we are able to open the eyes of our hearts to see the presence of God around us, we know too can see signs of a divine love so powerful that it could not be contained simply to Godself, but must overflow into creation and in the ultimate expression of love in God’s becoming one with us.

Some years ago I wrote an article titled, “A Newborn and St. Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life as Incarnational Encounters.” In it I talked about how the experience of meeting and holding my godson, the firstborn of my two best friends from college, had been for me an experience of the Incarnation, of emmanuel. I saw reflected in the preciousness of this new life the reality of a mystery beyond words, a mystery that lies deep within each of us in the very contingent existence we experience. We didn’t have to be. Nothing did. Yet, God loved each of us and all of creation into existence.

In addition to experiencing the Incarnation in meeting this newborn child, I also recalled how St. Bonaventure in his treatise The Tree of Life offers a mystical reflection that would later serve as the foundation for and become popularized by Ignatian imaginative prayer and reflection. Bonaventure invites his readers to enter into the Gospel and imagine themselves there at the crib, alongside Christ, at the cross, and to experience what is being experienced in particular moments of God’s history with us as one like us.

Bonaventure’s reflections on the nativity are particularly striking for their vividness and beauty. His is a guided meditation: “Do not now turn away from the brilliance of that star in the east which guides you. Become a companion of the holy kings… adore, confess and praise this humble God lying in a manger.” He then invites us to “embrace that divine manger; press your lips upon and kiss the boy’s feet.” To kiss the newborn baby’s feet like parents admiring the new life they’ve co-created is something that has always stayed with me. It is real and lovely and far-less-abstract than talking about “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas.”

This sort of reflection helps me to think about the everyday experiences –- like new parents with their child or the love between partners or the beauty of creation –- that helps reveal and remind us of emmanuel. Christmas then is not simply a once-a-year time for presence and songs and “keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas,” but is the starkest reminder of how Christ is already in Christmas and the day after Christmas and the day after that!

How better could we celebrate what we believe about the Incarnation than shifting our awareness to the presence of God-with-us still? May this Christmas be the beginning of putting “Christ” back in the “everyday!” And may we all bear witness to the infinite signs of presence and coming of Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock
Originally published in 2013

O King of Nations: Word Made Flesh for Us

Posted in O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 22, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

O King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

While there are certainly roots for this antiphon in the prophecy of Isaiah, I feel more compelled to reflect on some passages in the New Testament that this antiphon alludes to in its incarnational language. The first is the early Christian hymn found in the Letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5b-11)

The Incarnation is, as the antiphon reminds us, the ‘keystone’ or centerpiece of creation. In the birth of Christ God unites creation with God’s very self in a way that points toward the eternal divine plan — that all creation return back to God. God desires, it would seem, nothing more than to be in relationship with us.

It is through the Incarnation (life), death and resurrection that God reconciles all things to God’s self. It is not simply the crucifixion, as some morbidly disturbed individuals wish to insist. Instead, it is God’s entrance into the economy of salvation, as part of creation, that is the unifying element. God so loved the world…

Let’s also look at Ephesians 2:13-18. Here we sense some more of the Christocentricity of God’s plan, while we also recall that it is precisely Christ who stands at the center of salvation.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments an legal claims,that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Let us not lose sight of the meaning of Christmas, the true meaning — that God became one like us. This very act, planned as it was from all eternity (sorry Augustine, no Felix Culpa), is the high-point of salvation history. It is both a sign and an action; a sign of God’s plan for creation and the action of bringing that creation back to God.

By becoming a creature, fashioned from the dust, God saves us.

Photo: Stock
Originally Published in 2010


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