Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

Let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: 

people say, “Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” 

Of course it is hard. That’s the point.

Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 

Forgiveness does not mean that the wrong didn’t happen; 

or that what happened, wasn’t wrong.

Nor does it mean you have to pretend.

It doesn’t even mean you have to like that person.

Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean 

there’s no accountability or recompense.

Forgiveness simply means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it is a choice. 

Think of the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

but what does she feel? 

At any time, she may feel grumpy or irritated or even regretful.

But those are feelings, they come and go.

So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

And I mean, more than once. Ask, ask and ask again.

You and I can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 

This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 

Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?

This is a good time to remember something 

the American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories;

namely, that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 

It may not make you feel good.

But God’s grace will always bring you closer to him.

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!

A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” That’s how you start. 

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 

That’s right; think about hell.

I suspect a lot of people don’t take hell seriously.

They figure only people like Hitler go there, that’s it.

The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

and he is always warning ordinary people like us about hell.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

Let’s try (count to ten).

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing that on that person.

Right? Because you don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 

That means wishing those people in hell. 

Or, do you mean you want God to forgive, while you refuse? 

That means you want God and that person to be at peace, 

but you don’t want to be part of it? 

Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

then our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. 

See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan,

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

That’s where each of us is measured by strict justice; 

no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get precisely what we deserve. 

So, if you have wronged no one, 

committed no sin, and you have a perfect score, 

you can apply for the Justice Plan.

Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,

you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 

without exception. 

Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!

It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 

You want mercy? Give mercy, even to your enemies.

In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 

to receive Mercy: that is, Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

And if we receive the Eucharist, that is accepting the Mercy Plan. 

You want Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Who is the watchman? (Sunday homily)

This Gospel passage reminds us that in following Jesus 

there is a social dimension. 

It isn’t just Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and US.

Both aspects – the personal and the social – need emphasis.

First, let’s talk about the personal.

As you and I grow into adulthood, 

we gradually transition from being “along for the ride,” with our family, 

to where we start thinking in terms of our own personal commitment. 

That tends to happen in our teen years, into our early 20s.

If you are in that age group, I’m speaking to you, right now.

When I was 19, I had a moment where I woke up to my faith, 

and I remember thinking, why hadn’t anyone challenged me?

The truth is, I had been given the challenge, but I hadn’t listened – 

till I was ready to.

So now, I’m giving you that challenge. 

Wake up! Jesus is real, and he invites you – 

you, not the people around you, you – 

to know him, be close to him, 

to take the driver’s seat in your own faith life.

And if you think, great, but I need help with that!

You’re right, and that’s actually something we all need.

But again, speaking to our teens and young adults,

There are a variety of opportunities in our parishes for you.

And if you don’t find it, call me. Email me. I will get you connected.

And that leads to the other point, 

about the social dimension to our Faith 

Our society stresses individualism, 

and each of us jealously guards our own ability to choose. 

As we all should know, there will be a ballot measure this November; 

and the word “choice” is used to defend the indefensible.

There’s a certain mindset that has a surface appeal:

Everyone does whatever he or she wants, to each his own.

For some things in life, that makes sense.

But at a certain point, it becomes an abdication:

It can really mean, I don’t have to care about you. You’re on your own. 

As to this ballot measure, voting for it would mean 

repealing even limited protection for unborn children’s lives,

and for vulnerable women from being pressured 

into a decision they’ll regret their entire lives.

The first reading talked about a “watchman.” Who is that?

Sometimes it’s a parent, or a pastor, or government;

But underneath it all is the duty each of us has 

to watch out for each other, as one human family.

People say, “am I my brother’s keeper?” 

forgetting that God’s answer to that question is, 

yes, we are!

This principle of social responsibility 

is woven deep in our Catholic faith. 

One of the things pagan Romans said about Christians 

in the early centuries was, look how they care for one another. 

And not just for fellow Christians, but for everyone, 

especially the most vulnerable.

There are times when justice – 

not merely as our government measures it, but as God measures it – 

demands more from us than just good conduct person-to-person.

For example, God’s Justice says 

that the good things of the world He created 

are intended for the benefit of everyone. 

And, those who have been left behind – in education, 

in opportunity, in material things – deserve special attention.

Our social concern leads us to personal action –

Individually, and our parishes, 

support many activities aimed at helping people in need 

and advocating for change –

and sometimes it calls for political action.

I already mentioned the referendum in November.

Here’s another example: the question of immigration. 

It’s a complex subject. 

There are at least two valid principles at play.

First, that a nation has the right to control its borders.

Second, we are our brother’s keeper.

So, how do you and I balance those? 

It’s not easy, 

and good, reasonable people can reach different answers.

What we can say is this: 

it is certainly a wrong approach, from a Catholic perspective, 

to leave aside those starting principles entirely. 

So, yes, while caring for one another requires good laws, 

that doesn’t keep each of us from doing what we can individually.

If you want to give extra help to those struggling economically?

Be a generous tipper at restaurants. 

You and your family can make casseroles for hungry people; 

And there are so many ways to volunteer our time.

Watch the bulletin for details.

And if you can’t find a way to make a difference, 

contact Jennifer Zwiers, our new Director of Care. 

This is her job: to help our family of parishes 

give the best support we can to those in need;

to be the watchman for one another as Christ calls us.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

What is intimacy? (Sunday homily)

 That first reading is surprising:

Do you and I talk to God this way?

“You duped me!” I am miserable because of You!

If you think about it, that’s a conversation

between two who are very close.

That’s intimacy.

“Intimate” means what is most personal and private;

what is closest to who we really are.

So “intimacy” is sharing that with someone else;

it’s when we feel free and safe doing that.

Jeremiah felt free and safe to yell at God!

Now, “intimacy” is often used to describe

a physical relationship: acts pertaining to marriage.

But if we primarily associate intimacy with those physical acts,

that can lead to some big misunderstandings.

Where does that leave a close friendship, or the intimacy of siblings, 

or the closeness we want to have with our parents or children?

What about intimacy with God – 

as Jeremiah had, and as the Apostles were drawn into by Jesus?

This is a point I make with couples when they are engaged.

Our society takes for granted that a couple will get pretty physical.

Waiting till marriage may sound like an outmoded idea,

but the danger is that focusing on one aspect 

can cause many other important but boring issues to be neglected, 

which are the broader dimensions of true intimacy.

Discovering each other’s values and hopes, 

with questions like, do you want children? How many?

What are your religious and spiritual priorities?

If we go to different churches, how will we deal with that?

What about money, budgeting, credit?

All these different threads, if woven together, 

make a marriage so much stronger; 

and if neglected, there will unhappiness later.

When you think about it, it’s obvious that intimacy 

in the truest sense goes so far beyond the physical. 

It’s a sharing of all that matters most.

This experience is what is nourishing and life-giving, 

both in our friendships and our families,

 and of course, all this is a reflection of the intimacy 

we can have with God, who is our source and our hope.

I submit there is a crisis of intimacy in our time.

Many people report not really having close friendships.

Sustaining this intimacy is a huge issue in married life.

And although I can’t prove it, I suspect this intimacy deficit

is behind so many problems in our time, from drugs to young people 

feeling alienated from society and even from their own bodies.

If that’s true, then one way you and I can make a difference 

is almost too simple: form and deepen those relationships – 

with friends, with your spouse, with your children, and with God.

Look at what’s happening in the Gospel. 

Jesus is drawing the Apostles, Peter in particular, into intimacy.

Notice the Lord shares the “inside story” of his plan for saving us, 

and he describes how it will involve a terrible cost: his own life. 

Peter draws back, he isn’t ready for that.

But Jesus insists:

If you want to know me, walk with me, this is the path.

What he says to Peter, he says to you and me:

You can’t know Christ without his Cross.

Intimacy isn’t just about good stuff, the fun stuff,

without the deeper stuff, without pain and cost.

It is risky, it is costly; but is it worth it? You tell me.

Is it worth it having a close friend, a life-partner,

having that place of trust and safety?

This points to the true heart of the Gospel, the part many miss.

Our Faith isn’t just a series of beliefs.

Jesus comes to welcome us to intimacy 

only a Creator and creature can have. 

This is where personal prayer and time with God is essential.

And reconciliation and working things out in confession.

At a certain point, there are no shorter short-cuts.

Nothing is more personal. 

And no one can do it for you. 

You must respond to his invitation yourself.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Out of the shallows (Sunday homily)

 In the second reading, Saint Paul realizes—

and he is awed by the thought—

that God’s Plan for saving the human race will come to pass,

despite all that seems to stand in the way.

Consider: in this year of our Lord 2023,

Christians are spread throughout the world;

Over one billion Catholics,

another billion other Christians.

The Church is growing rapidly in Asia and Africa.

While Christians continue to be persecuted to this day,

we have parishes and schools,

universities, and hospitals, endowments,

seminaries and religious orders.

Sure, we have plenty of problems, but compare our situation to Paul’s.

When Paul wrote these words,

the number of Christians, everywhere,

was in the thousands—

spread thin from Rome to Jerusalem.

Some were wealthy, most were dirt-poor – many were slaves.

They met in secret; they were despised and hunted.

How often, we fear and wring our hands;

Paul, in his time, said: to God be glory forever!

It’s all about perspective.

It has been a while, but sometimes I visit people in jail.

As I was about to give an inmate the Eucharist, I said,

this is a dark place, you have lost so much;

but I’m about to give you the Body and Blood of the Lord.

His flesh and blood, united to yours.

You will be Christ in this place!

And no one can take that away from you!

We believe in and experience Christ’s presence here…

In jail, you really feel His Power there!

To witness such moments

makes me so grateful I am a priest.

Here’s the challenge for us:

Do you and I have to be behind bars before we experience this?

Shall we wait till we lose our jobs, our health, our homes,

before we can know this gratitude and peace in the Lord?

While hard times often “force” us

out of the shallows, and into the depth,

even so, the opportunity to enter the Deep

is always before us.

The tools you and I have are so powerful – if we use them.

A daily routine of prayer, it doesn’t have to be a burden.

Examining our conscience regularly, and regular confession.

Pray the Rosary. Keep the Lords Day.

Notice, it’s not a matter of what we know;

how many great saints were simple folk.

It doesn’t have to wait for us to finish school

or raise our family, or retire from our jobs:

saints are made at all ages,

in family life, in the workplace and in prisons.

In the Gospel, the Lord asks all the Apostles;

but only one dared respond, “You are the Christ!”

May I submit that, for probably most of us,

the greatest challenge we face as Christians

is not opposition; not health or money issues.

Threatening as these are,

beyond all this is a far greater danger:

that most of us, most of the time,

won’t be forced into the Deep;

so we happily splash around in the shallows.

Right at this moment, you and I know

his question for Peter is for us, too:

Who do you say that I am?

It’s not an intellectual challenge; it’s not a test.

It is simply a choice:

Who am I…to you?

What will you do with Me?

Will you follow me?

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

TL;DR version of the prior post explaining Beacons of Light

What people want:

Joe from St. Kunagunda:    "My parish has its own pastor!"

Sally from St. Christina:     "My parish has its own pastor!"

Charlie from St. Sylvester: "My parish has its own pastor!"

It works fine when you have three priests, three pastors.

When you have one priest who is three pastors, it sort-of-but-not-really "works." That priest must operate as if each place has its own pastor. That means, he must act-as-if he is three separate people.

Which is impossible. 

Hence, it will fail; how it fails can manifest different ways, but it is still failure.

Understand, the let's-pretend we're on our own scenario can seem to work for a while, as a kind of Potemkin-parish; most people think everything is about the same, because to most people, it is. The hidden reality is very different. Few know, precisely because it is hidden. Eventually it falls apart, and everyone is shocked. "But it looked so solid!"

When a new model is tried that can work, given the limited options? 

"What a terrible priest! What a terrible bishop! Why can't it be the way we want?"

Indeed, that is the question. But, supposing it cannot, what next?


- Miserable or absentee pastors.

- Lay trusteeism which is a fun ride till it's a terrible one.

- Creating the best new reality with the actual resources (including human resources) available, rather than those we wish we had, but don't know how to make happen.

Understanding Beacons of Light

Saint Stanislaus Koska, a former Catholic church
(Credit: Jonathunder at Wikipedia)

As I write this, I'm killing time before a meeting later. And I'm reading items on Facebook. That includes people I know and respect, expressing deep unhappiness about the "Beacons of Light" reorganization plan now being implemented in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The basic thing is organizing approximately 200 parishes into approximately 55 or so "families," but eventually, they will become 55 or so combined legal entities. This upsets people, understandably, because it means what had been a stand-alone parish will become part of a larger, multi-site parish. Many people are deeply concerned that what they love will go away.

There are many angles from which to approach this. Let me try to hit them all briefly.

First: what will or won't "go away." 

There's NO GOOD REASON (but could be BAD ones) for any "parish" to "go away." Let me explain the quotes, because I think a lot of the unhappiness derives from the multivalent meaning of words.

When you say "my parish," do you mean the legal structure; or do you mean the physical place; or do you mean the community of people for whom the legal structure was created, and for whom the place is a center of gravity? Three different realities, they are not identical or coterminous. 

To add clarity, let me create three clunky terms: "parish-corporation," "parish-place" and "parish-people." Follow? Hang with me please

The legal structure is boring but important. A parish, under church law, is essentially a corporation. It stands apart from other parish-corporations, and therefore, the persons who are legally responsible for them must administer them in a certain way. That means the pastor, who alone -- other than the bishop -- has the legal authority to act on behalf of that parish-corporation. His moral and legal duty to administer that corporation is serious, and it is greatly complicated when he is asked to administer more than one, of the multiple parish-corporations are adjacent to, or intertwined with, each other. This is not well understood by those who get upset about Beacons of Light.

That said, changing the legal structure -- i.e., combining multiple parish-corporations into a united parish-corporation -- does not necessarily change a whole lot for the parish-place and parish-people involved. 

Imagine in the town of Happy Valley, you have three parishes: St. Kunagunda, St. Sylvester and St. Christina the Astonishing. At one time, each was helmed by separate pastors; but for various reasons, they now share a single pastor, and have for some time, and are almost certain to be so led for the indefinite future. 

I will skip over, for now, why combining the three parish-corporations into one is advisable, and just assume that it is will happen. What does this change for the physical locations and the people who gravitate there? Does it force any outcome?

The answer is NO. There is no necessity that any of the three locations undergo a single, meaningful change. There might be changes in tax ID numbers, or record-keeping. There would likely be signs saying, "St. Kunagunda Church, part of St. Oddo Parish." But all the activities that took place the day before the combining of legal structures are still underway the day after.

I know what you're saying: but it's a prelude to closing ___ Parish! 

Tell me, what benefit would there be to anyone to close a church that is well attended and well supported (as opposed to one that is neither)? What does the pastor or bishop gain by doing it?

Other than misery, alienation and people who used to give, but no longer will?

Only an extremely stupid pastor or bishop would mess with success. I'm not saying there aren't stupid pastors or bishops. I'm saying, that's not usually the case -- not that stupid.

Pretty often, the closure comes because people drift away, the money needed to keep things going isn't there, debts mount, and then...why be surprised if the place closes?

On the other hand, if the people will support keeping a place active, there is no benefit to fighting them, and great benefit in giving them what they want.

Now, if there aren't enough priests, that may affect the number of Masses. But in the case of Beacons of Light, that isn't the critical issue. The issue that is generating great unhappiness in some quarters is precisely the legal structures changing, which are taken (I think) to presage other changes. 

All I mean to do is challenge that assumption. I think a very good argument can be made (and I will try presently to make it) that combining the corporate structure can and will have the opposite effect, of benefitting the life of the parish-places and parish-people.

Second: why you don't really want a pastor to help multiple (i.e., independent) parishes

This is what many people think they want. They want their parish-place and parish-people to stay on their own as they have been. They fear the combination of the parish-corporation will inevitably lead to the end of what they love about parish-place and parish-people.

There is a kernel of truth in this, which I will touch on below. But let deal with why you actually don't want to maintain the go-it-alone parish structures, when the multiple parishes share now, and will for an indefinite time to come, share a pastor.

A pastor has a moral duty to that parish-corporation that must not be compromised. He must act in its best interest. He must review records, keep track of all assets, that is, the "patrimony," and he must lead the pastoral care of the parish-people. If he is asked to do this not only for St. Kunagunda, but also St. Christina the Astonishing, etc., he must act, in effect, as three separate pastors. This is the point that isn't really understood until you've lived it. Very often, the pastor must "personify" his parish, especially in relation to other parishes. This is bound up with how Canon law describes him as the "juridical person."

So think about that: Father Ernest, Pastor of St. Sylvester, must personify that parish to Father Ernest (himself!), pastor of St. Christina; then, again, he must represent those to, to himself, as pastor of St. Kunagunda. 

Couldn't he conflate these distinct fiduciary responsibilities? Yes! It's called combining the parish-corporations into one; but as long as there are distinct corporations, he must manage, somehow, to avoid a conflict of interests. And they come up rather more frequently than you may realize. They are not so hard to avoid if he has good cooperation among the lay collaborators of the several parishes; but that doesn't always happen. Then what?

If you maintain separate legal entities, then you must maintain separate accounts, separate books, separate inventories of assets, and separate lines of accountability. This multiplies the time the pastor must spend reviewing books and inventories; and it adds a special complication: creating special structures and methods of preventing improper commingling; and avoiding suspicion of the same.

Let me summarize it this way. I've lived this reality both where there is good cooperation and refusal to cooperate; the latter is awful, but the former is still difficult. My first year here was made so much more bearable because everyone knew we were moving toward becoming one family. Had that not been in view, the past year would have been extremely difficult.

To state it simply: if you don't understand why this is difficult for the pastor, ask questions and listen. 

Two examples, both real:

a) Parish-corporations that share pastors will inevitably share some expenses, perhaps quite a lot of expenses, especially if they share employees. Quite a lot of time will be spent on analyzing, proposing, debating, negotiating, implementing, and evaluating plans of sharing and distributing those expenses. Then it all has to be re-done every few years, because the odds of getting it right the first time are nil. It's all about what's "fair," and that is far from obvious or uniform. "Fair" is whatever everyone can live with.

b) Pastors will inevitably be moving from site to site as they carry out their duties. It becomes tremendously easy for valuable items to "drift" from site to site with him. As a result, it's remarkably easy for sacred vessels, vestments, ritual books and other things to migrate. Not a big deal, until it is. "Where's the ciborium that was donated 50 years ago?" It may seem a small thing, but again, from actual experience, it's a headache to keep track of, but if I don't make sure it's attended to, it can become a real problem and an injustice.

Some will say, but the pastor should simply give responsibility for money, for budgeting, for oversight, to others! Let him focus on spiritual things!

First, that's a kind of gnosticism to separate the temporal from the spiritual. God didn't create us as angels, but as body-soul combinations. 

Second, what that really means is that the priest goes from being the leader of the parish, to an employee. Whoever makes the decisions about the physical assets is in charge, whether that be the priest, or a deacon, or a single layperson, or a committee of laypeople. The latter was tried: it was called "trusteeism." It became a huge problem, and a recent example is the sad story of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis. Short story: a Catholic parish, administered by a lay corporation, ended up not being a Catholic parish. A bad end for anyone who wants to safeguard the parish-place and parish-people by demoting the priest from leader to "sacramental minister." And don't tell me, "but that's not what we intend!" The good folks who set St. Stanislaus on that bad road didn't intend the outcome either.

Third, the other option is to accept poor pastoral leadership as "normal": if a man must lead multiple, legally separate parish-corporations, he will be a miserable pastor who tries, but fails, to do an impossible job; or an absentee pastor who happily doesn't try. Hard to see how either is good for the parish-people or parish-place, even as it protects the independence of the parish-corporations!

The point I'm making is this: given the reality of not enough pastor-capable priests, that narrows our options. I wish it were otherwise! But for now, and for the foreseeable future, we have too many parishes for too few pastors. At this point, combining the parish-corporation offers a way to minimize the pastor's time spent complying with the demands of muliple parish-corporations, increasing the time he can give to the parish-places and parish-people.

And here's a point I wanted to make earlier. A lot of people are mad at the Archbishop, and those he consulted, about this whole reorganization -- as if this came out of nowhere. The event you are unhappy about didn't happen in the last two or three years; it was already underway 20-plus years ago: when we knew pastors leading multiple parishes was the reality that wasn't going to change quickly. I'm not saying it cannot change; and to his credit, Archbishop Schnurr has tried to change it. But at some point, you can't pretend reality isn't real, especially when it comes at the cost of miserable pastors who are told they must give their parishioners the pretense of things not changing all that much, or do-the-minimum pastors who let things go; they will go for quite awhile before people realize how far gone things are.

Yes, combining parishes does involve loss

I'm not going to pretend it is all positive. There is something lost when you no longer have each church (parish-place) as a stand-alone parish-corporation. When you create a new, larger entity -- call it the combo-parish -- helmed by a single pastor, it isn't only the legal structures that become one. In some fashion, it all becomes one. 

Indeed, the term "family" is very helpful here. Has anyone ever heard of a family that embraces more than one physical home? With multiple traditions and activities, that not all take part in? Of course! Isn't that exactly how most extended families operate?

I realize this raises questions, but it seems to me, most of the success or failure of this depends on how people respond. If the people who identify with St. Sylvester must start to share their beloved church, and events, with people who identify with St. Christina and St. Kunagunda, is it really all "loss"?

Cannot each part of this new family have a moment to consider, "what special thing do I bring to this family?" Each member of a family is unique; yet part of the larger family. So cannot St. Kunagunda continue to be a special parish-people and parish-place, while becoming part of a united parish-corporation? I readily believe it can fail: but please tell me why you think it must fail.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Widening our narrowness (Sunday homily)

 Several years ago, while making a trip to the Holy Land, 

 I changed planes in France, and while waiting for my flight, 

a group of Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the gate. 

As they waited, they gathered in a corner to pray together. 

As you would be, I was curious, but I did not want to stare. 

Above all, I respected and admired their zeal. 

In the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that to be a Christian 

means being grafted into the “vine” of Israel. 

The Jewish People are God’s Chosen People, 

and one of the things Jesus came to do 

was to extend that chosen-ness to all humanity. 

That’s what the first reading foresees. 

Keep this in mind as we look at this strange episode in the Gospel. 

Lots of people think Jesus is denigrating this woman, 

and that he is not interested in welcoming her. 

But stop and think: does that really sound right?

But then, why does he speak this way? 

The detail in the background, that explains the situation, is this:

One of the key story-lines of the Gospels 

is how the Apostles grow in faith.

Jesus is repeatedly challenging their narrowness,

and, by extension, our narrowness.

That’s what’s happening here. 

Notice, the Lord waits to see what the Apostles will say.

Their advice: “Send her away.”

That’s what they said before, when parents brought children, 

or when they faced thousands of hungry people: “Send them away.” 

What do you think I want to say when someone knocks on my door? “Send them away!” 

So what we hear is Jesus saying, out loud, 

what’s in the Apostle’s hearts. 

This is all about how they will carry out 

the missionary task Jesus will give them.

Jesus knew what he was doing: 

he wanted her great faith to expand the faith of the Apostles. 

And, it worked. The Apostles went to the all the world,

and today, the face of the Church includes every human face.

Obviously, and sadly, there is plenty of narrowness still.

Worse, we Christians let that narrowness take root in ourselves, 

rather than joining the Apostles in the conversion Jesus led them to. 

This is where I could trace out points about racism, 

about rash judgment, about closing people out, 

because they are “they” and not “we.”

This is where someone might want me to talk about public policy, 

but the trouble is, that gets really complicated, 

and I only have a few minutes. 

The broad point that needs to be made is that we Catholics 

believe in human dignity, and human brotherhood, 

regardless of race or religion or politics or anything else 

that becomes a label or a barrier.

This applies both in, and beyond, politics; it’s about how we live.

Are you and I narrow? Or can I see – and say – that this other person, 

regardless of skin color, or language, or clothing, 

or tattoos or nose rings or whatever, 

“you are my brother,” “you are my sister.”

And I might add: just because you or I don’t agree with someone’s opinions, 

or way of life, doesn’t change the basic calculus.

We don’t just treat well the people we agree with.

I want to remind you that the real goal of our parish reorganization 

is to become an evangelizing, outward-focused community of faith.

And if it works, we may see people showing up 

who don’t seem to be the “us” that you and I are used to.

It’s going to be a conversion moment, and don’t say no one warned you.

Meanwhile, back to those men I saw in the airport. 

However different they might have seemed to me, or you,

Our vocation is exactly the same:

Keep praying. Keep faithful. Keep bearing witness. 

Don’t be afraid to stand out.