Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Be ready (Sunday homily)

 This Gospel is read as part of the vigil prayers, for a funeral, 

which usually takes place at the funeral home. 

It’s easy to see why, because it offers us such an assurance: 

if we are ready for Jesus when he comes to us, 

he will not only take us to heaven, 

but he, the Lord, will actually wait on us! 

As I often say after I read this, at the funeral home, 

if you hadn’t heard me just read that from the Gospel, 

you might not believe God had made such a promise. But there it is.


So, these readings invite us to think about being ready – 

ready for God to call us. 

And it calls to mind what we used to call “a happy death” – 

that is, a well-provided-for death. 

So let’s talk about what that is.


A well-provided-for death means 

we have the chance to go to confession, 

and to receive the sacrament of anointing, 

and above all, to receive the Holy Eucharist. 


A well-provided-for death means 

we can make our peace with others 

and face eternity with a clean conscience. 

An especially beautiful way this happens 

is when family are gathered with the person who is dying, 

and they are praying together. 

If the priest is called – not necessarily at the exact moment, 

but in the last few weeks or days – 

then he can help the family with all this.


When this happens, it is a beautiful thing, 

not only for the one who is facing eternity, but for everyone. 


Now, here’s the thing. We don’t always get a warning. What then?


Well, then it comes down to how we live our daily lives, doesn’t it? 

My grandmother had a saying: “being a Catholic can be a hard life – 

but an easy death.” By that, she meant a faithful, practicing Catholic.


What’s “hard” about it?


Forgiving is hard. Keeping custody of the eyes is hard. 

Being honest and guarding our tongues is hard. 

Putting God first can be hard.


But, in another sense, it’s not hard at all. 

How to be faithful isn’t a secret. And we have a lot of help. 

That’s what the Church, the Body of Christ, is for. 

If you’re trying to live a Christian life, don’t try to do it alone. 

That makes it harder. 


Instead, seek out other practicing Catholics, and support one another. 

If you’re running with folks who are out late drinking and partying, 

guess what you’re probably going to end up doing? 


This is why God gave us each other, and above all, 

it’s why he gave us the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God. 

If you ever think, I don’t know how to be a good Catholic, 

then take a long, hard look at the saints. 


Pick one. Who is your own patron saint? Don’t know? You can find out. 

Ask your parents if they had a saint in mind when they named you. 

If not, then look up your own name, 

and find out what saints had that name. 


And if that doesn’t work, then you can just pick a saint, 

and make him or her your patron saint. 

Patron saints are not like girlfriends or boyfriends – 

you can have as many as you want, and they don’t get jealous!


The thing about heaven, we’re not going to end up there by surprise. 

And we won’t get there by being kidnapped. If we get to heaven, 

it will be because we aimed to get there; we wanted to be there; 

because that’s the treasure we wanted most of all.


So, you and I can take our chances 

and hope we’ll get a chance to go to confession in your final hour; 

or, we can get to confession every month. 

You can hope that you’ll have a priest bring you holy communion 

at the end; or, you can receive Jesus’ Body and Blood each Sunday, 

or even daily, if you want. 

We can hope we’ll make peace with others, someday, or…


Well, you get the idea.


Is today my last day? Is it yours? We can’t know. But we can be ready.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Only one thing to fear. And the one treasure you can take with you (Sunday homily)

 The readings could not be clearer.

So much of we think is important will fade away.

“Vanity of vanities…”


The stock market rises and falls.

Our physical bodies will eventually fail.

 “Vanity of vanities…”


Instead, as Paul encourages each of us: 

Set your hearts on what is above!


A priest I know was explaining about death to some schoolchildren, 

and he said something striking:


So many of us are afraid of death—

But not one of us can escape it. 

And he said, so what about death!

All death can do is take our bodies from us;

Otherwise, death can’t hurt you and me!


Meanwhile, sin can hurt us—

It poisons and kills the life of God in us, 

and that will separate us from God forever.


Yet, how many people aren’t afraid, at all, of sin.

Again, as Saint Paul said:

Set your hearts on what is above…


There’s a saying: “you can’t take it with you”—

but that’s not exactly true.

No, you and I can’t take money or any other stuff with us.


But there is one treasure you really can take with you, 

and it is the most valuable: other people!


If each of us makes it to heaven, the greatest joy—

beyond the supreme joy of being with Jesus Christ, 

in the Love of the Father and the Holy Spirit—

will be seeing all those who helped bring us there…

and all those you or I helped bring to heaven.


And we will see the faces of people we never knew—

but who we prayed for…

We’ll see the child, whose mother we helped 

when she was in trouble, and needed food or shelter…


You will see those you had the courage to tell the truth to: 

Helping them reject what was wrong,

Or who you invited to come back to confession and Mass.


When I was in my 20s, I was away from my Catholic faith,

And a coworker invited me to come on Ash Wednesday.

And I did. That wasn’t the only reason I came back – 

but it helped, and here I am!


Who will you and I see in heaven, 

who we didn’t know we were bringing with us? 

That is God’s Treasure, which you and I can store up,

and never lose, but have forever.


Sunday, July 24, 2022

'Six minutes from Sodom to Heaven' (Sunday homily)

 The title of my homily is, “Six minutes from Sodom to Heaven”:

Some big topics, dealt with briefly: buckle your seatbelts!


Clearly, I could just avoid the elephant in the first reading.

You and I really need 45 minutes, but I’m only taking six.

So, I will be summary and I will not cover everything I should. 

That will likely leave questions, especially if you wonder how you, 

in your own situation, respond to God’s call.

Please do not hesitate to call or email me.


And, parents? I will be delicate.


So, some bullet-points:


The Church’s teaching on what is right and wrong 

in matters of chastity, including what is appropriate 

between two men or two women, has not changed. 


This teaching comes from Divine Revelation, 

both Old and New Testament. 


We also learn from how God designed the human person, 

which helps us know what is right or wrong.


Notice I am talking about chastity in general, 

which applies to everyone.  


Despite the slogans we hear,  

“Love” means different things in different contexts:

Parents and children; friends; siblings; and mom and dad.


The specific intimacy I’m referring to 

belongs only in marriage, male and female, 

and always open to the gift of life.


Everyone, without exception, faces daily choices – 

and hard choices – about cooperating with God’s Plan.


Everyone is called by Jesus to take up the Cross.


If your kids ask, “what is chastity,”

we can obviously say it is God’s plan for a particular form of love, 

but more broadly, it is about becoming truly generous 

and self-giving; saying “no” to me, myself, now, 

so I can more freely say “yes” to others.


And that generosity gives life – in at least one way, among others. 


And there’s the bridge to the rest of the readings.

To be a life-giver is a vocation for everyone, for every day of our lives. 

Jesus just gave us two examples:

answering another person’s need in the middle of the night;

and the capacity to forgive and move on.


One of the questions I wrestle with, maybe you do too, is: 

Why does God care? With any of the commandments?


A lot of folks seem to assume that God doesn’t care all that much.

He lets us live how we like, and it all sorts out in the end.

Apart from really awful people like Hitler and Stalin, 

everyone goes to heaven, so why sweat the details?


But if that’s true, God could have told Abraham that – but he didn’t.

Jesus could have told us that – but he didn’t.


The inescapable answer is that our choices matter a great deal.

They shape who we ultimately become.


By our choices – including whether we repent and convert –

either you and I grow into a God-like capacity to give ourselves away, 

or else we narrow ourselves, and even twist ourselves, 

around a counterfeit happiness that cannot truly satisfy.


I will be specifically personal here about myself.

My particular shape is not a result of a really bad bee-sting.

I like to eat, more than I should. 

That is a moral failing in me. Gluttony is a sin – not a grace.

Pray for me that I love carbs less, so I can love Christ more.


Each of us faces a path of conversion, personal to ourselves.

Each of us takes up the Cross, beginning in baptism.

Jesus offers everyone the best of gifts, the Holy Spirit,

who gives us clarity to see, and courage to choose: 

my “no” today opens up to thousand “yesses” in this life, 

and even more, eternal life.


Sunday, July 17, 2022

God's stunning invitation (Sunday homily)

 Notice in the first reading: God came to a meal. Why?

This was about friendship: 

God offered friendship to Sarah and Abraham.

What a stunning thing: “Friendship with God”!


God comes to a meal in the Gospel, too.

Martha is all worked up about it, 

and she is right in one aspect: 

what an honor it is to have the Lord visit her house!


Would that more Catholics would recognize that.

This is why we genuflect, if we are able. 

Pray for me, because I hurt my knee a few weeks ago, 

and it’s getting better, 

but I miss being able to genuflect.


Let’s talk more about Martha and her complaint, 

because that leads to something else that is startling.

Not only did God come to a meal; he came to give a meal.

This is the “better part” Mary has chosen: to let Jesus feed her.

And not only Mary; Martha, too. You and me.


Martha is thinking about the practical stuff – good!

But the main point is friendship with Jesus. 


Here is an astounding thing to say but it is true:

God, being God, is incapable of pain and sadness and need. 

He cannot be injured, he cannot lack for anything.


However: by becoming human, in Jesus,

God in a manner of speaking, “gained” the capacity to feel longing.

For our friendship.


And I don’t mean “Facebook friend”; a true friend.

Friends give each other time, they spend time together.

Above all, friends are friends 

to the extent they share something together.

The author, C.S. Lewis said,

Lovers gaze at each other; friends gaze, together, 

at some object or goal they both love and value.


This is why Jesus said: you are my friends, if you do what I command.

It’s another way of saying, if you love what I love.


This is why, to be a friend of God 

is not merely to have warm thoughts about him,

but to love what he loves, 

and to flee from what he tells us is destructive.


That is why, when you and I come to Holy Mass, 

we aren’t just here to see, but to listen.

We aren’t here only to get, but to give of ourselves, 

to God above all, and to one another.


And, obviously, this isn’t just about one hour a week, but all 168 hours.


To state it plainly: the goal of being a Catholic 

isn’t just to get the necessary punches on our card to earn heaven – because no one earns heaven.

Rather: the path is to let God soften our hearts, 

to change, to become friends – which we call “saints.”

You and I don’t earn heaven; we allow God to make us heavenly.


So, for that reason, God not only comes to the meal; 

he not only gives the meal, God IS the meal!

I mean, of course, the Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist, 

Jesus himself, his very self!


This isn’t a drive-through; 

coming here isn’t about making someone else happy.

God seeks you and me as his friends!

Maybe you are reluctant, or you aren’t sure what to do.

Perhaps you’re honestly not ready for all that “friendship with God” really means.

Credit to you for realizing, that has huge implications; 

As Jesus said: “Count the cost.”


Who knows, but today might be the first time 

you really thought about it!

Then, I guess I’ve done my job.

Today is the day to begin – or renew – that friendship.


Sunday, July 10, 2022

God's not hidden; we blinded ourselves (Sunday homily)

 What does Moses say in the first reading?

God’s commands aren’t mysterious.

They may be unwelcome, and hard to live by; but not hard to find.


I wonder if anyone here is like me:

If I can’t get my phone to do what I want, I say, “Stupid phone!”

If I start the coffee and come back 5 minutes later

and it’s all over the counter, what do I say? “Stupid coffee pot!”


See a pattern? It’s never a failing in me!

So it is with God’s Law.

If we find it hard to live by,

instead of considering that the flaw is in ourselves,

what do we say? “Stupid commandments!”


Before electric light was common, when you looked up at night 

you saw the splendor of the Milky Way.

Now, because of the wonders of electric light—and it is a wonder—

all that is invisible to us.


The galaxy didn’t go anywhere, and it isn’t any less brilliant.

Rather, we have blinded ourselves with our own invention.

And we’ve done exactly the same with God’s Law.


Our culture and society are evolving along paths 

no human society has ever ventured upon.

Never has any nation been so collectively prosperous.


Did you know we actually have “gourmet pet food”?

They offer “pet breakfast”; “pet appetizers”; 

and “restaurant-inspired” cat food.



So, right there: I didn’t know cats had restaurants.

I thought they liked trash cans!

See, this is pure human vanity.


Our technology tempts us to think we can do anything:

Control life from before the beginning, and when it ends.


At this stage of our culture,

we have convinced ourselves 

that everything can be reinvented and reconstructed:

Marriage, family, human identity, even human life itself.


But here is the weirdest thing of all:

That everything I just described is considered “normal.”

It’s not normal. Not even “the new normal.”

It’s the greatest experiment in human history.

And it’s a little early to congratulate our success.


We tell ourselves we’re finally “in control”—but are we really?


It suddenly occurs to me that here we find the answer

to one of the most difficult questions ever:

why does God allow poverty and suffering?


And the answer might be this: that when you and I face—

not from a distance, but right before our eyes—

a fellow human being, hungry, poor, in pain, 

perhaps entangled in addiction or other destructive habits,

this experience explodes the illusion of control.


What did our Lord say? “The poor you will always have.”

He didn’t mean, so don’t bother.


What he might have meant, however,

was that whenever we think you and I can handle anything—

look closely at the concrete reality of poverty and suffering.


You think we can fix anything? Well, we haven’t fixed that.

So much for our pride. Pride says, “we’ll fix it!”

Humility says, “we’ll see if we can help.”


And so it also occurs to me that God’s decision to enter history

by becoming one of us, in Jesus Christ,

is more important and more necessary than ever.


Just as coming face-to-face with human suffering and frailty

blows up the illusions of our power,

so the encounter with Jesus, God become man

exposes as hollow our claims that God is invisible: 

that we can’t find him.


You and I don’t have to find God. He found us.

The Light of God, like the light of the stars, is there, 

if only you and I humbly dim the lights of our own vanity.

Then we’ll see Him again.


Sunday, July 03, 2022

Introducing myself to my new parishes (Sunday homily)

 Hello! I am very glad to be here, and very glad to meet you at last!


As you may imagine, this past week, past month, 

has been rather hectic. Well, maybe I should say, last six months?


So, as I say, I’m glad to be here.


Let me tell a little story on myself. 

When I was in the seminary, this first reading would come up 

as part of Morning Prayer every couple of weeks. 

And, without being too explicit about it, 

the imagery of the “abundant…” -- well, let’s just say “abundance” – 

used to get us seminarians chuckling and smirking. 


With that out of the way, 

it’s worth really considering further the imagery Isaiah chose. 

The prophet either gave this message 

right before Jerusalem was destroyed in war, 

or else when the people returned from exile to rebuild. 

In any case, not a picture of abundance and comfort.


Meanwhile, you and I still do live in a world of tremendous abundance, 

even if the prices get more abundant ever day.

On Monday, we will celebrate our nation’s 246th birthday, 

and that is a cause for great joy. We’ve come so far!


But when you hear “Jerusalem” in Scripture, 

it’s always about something more than an earthly city.

“Jerusalem” stands for hope. It stands for that city we long to be.

Therefore, when you hear “Jerusalem,” think of the heavenly city.

And, along the way, Jerusalem stands for us, the People of God 

who are earthly and so far from the ideal,

yet by God’s grace, day by day becoming that heavenly reality.


So, now let me bring up everyone’s favorite topic: “Beacons of Light”!


As we all know, this weekend begins a new reality for 

St. Henry, Our Lady of Good Hope, and St. Mary of the Assumption.


We are now a “family” of parishes, with one pastor.


I will not be surprised if you haven’t unraveled 

all the implications of that yet, because I haven’t, either. 

But it is necessary to say – and I will be saying this over and over – 

that there are a great deal of implications to work out.


That’s my task as your pastor; but I will be asking each member 

of all three parishes to help me do that. 

I’m not merely talking to the person behind you or in front of you,

I’m not just talking to your mom and dad. I mean you!

Everyone is going to play a role.


I don’t want to make any news here today, 

because I don’t want folks at the other Masses, at the other parishes, 

to hear it second-hand.


But I will stress this point: over the next few weeks and months, 

one of the things I’m going to emphasize is communication. 




You and I know how these things can go: people hear rumors, 

folks get all upset; there can be twelve versions 

of what the priest supposedly said in a matter of hours,

all traded in the aisles of Krogers or on Facebook.


So: please feel free to repeat and share this information:

As you and I work out whatever rearranging comes with this change, 

your pastor – that is, me – is going to make absolutely sure 

that all our plans, all our discussions, 

all the ultimate decisions and their reasons, 

are going to aired out through lots and lots of communication.


If you never paid attention to the bulletin, 

I strongly suggest you start.

If you get a letter from me, please read it closely.

We may use our websites, or Facebook, and other tools.

I expect will have some meetings; everyone loves meetings!


I’m not trying to launch a revolution, but there will be change.

I simply want to assure you it won’t be in the dead of night.

It’s not something that’s just going to “happen” to you, to us.

You and I, all our family of parishes, will enter into it together.


Back to Isaiah’s prophecy. As I said, he wasn’t talking to people 

who were in a comfortable state, but who longed for it.

He was assuring them and us that God will supply us 

the nourishment to sustain us.

That’s what our parishes – our family of parishes – are meant to be.


As you can imagine, I have some unpacking and organizing to do, 

at my house and my office. 

But that’s not my mission; 

that’s a tedious but necessary step that needs to be done well, 

so that I can then launch on my mission, which is to be your pastor.


Similarly, in this next period of adjustments, 

whatever rearranging you and I decide on, 

the whole point is to set the conditions for our family – 

our spiritual family, our three parishes – 

to live and work and pray together as a family. 


Our main task – and we want to get to it as soon as we can – 

is to be a source of God’s divine life to each other, and our community.