Sunday, October 02, 2022

The Vision -- of marriage, chastity and human identity -- will have its time (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, we heard the prophet cry out: “Violence! Ruin!”

With Habbakuk, we ask: Why?

Why can we never see the end of terror and conflict?

Why are people so cruel to one another?

“Write down the vision,” the Lord answers:

“The vision still has its time” to be fulfilled: “Wait for it.”

What’s the vision? Well, it’s God’s Vision—

as opposed to the alternative, which might be called,

“Doing it our way, without God.”

There are some messages you and I offer the world, 

as latter day Habbakuks,

that seems so very strange to our world:

Such as protecting every unborn child;

Practicing radical forgiveness;

And keeping intimate acts between couples open to the gift of life,

which means, no contraception.

But there’s Vision at work here—wait for it.

As you can guess, I’m going to deal with sensitive topics.

I want to be clear; but also delicate.

If your or I go out at night, and we gaze at the stars,

are we not filled with awe?

Surely God has some design and purpose in it all.

Who can doubt this?

That Divine purpose is not only written in the stars, 

but even moreso in ourselves.

One reason we Catholics cannot agree

with our culture’s values about marital intimacy

is because those values obscure that higher purpose.

You and I are made in the image and likeness of God:

and when a man and woman come together,

they are never more like God—because in that very moment,

they have the capacity to do what otherwise only God can do: 

create new life.

The problem with artificial means of family planning

is they redesign God’s design.

God’s plan is that the love-making act is also a life-capable act.

Natural Family Planning respects this.

But the mindset embracing artificial means 

is that procreation isn’t a gift but a problem to overcome.

As a priest, I am entrusted with an awesome power: 

I offer the Holy Mass.

Through this sinner that I am,

Christ makes his saving sacrifice present,

and nourishes us all with his true and real Body and Blood.

That awesome power and gift is not mine to control or redesign.

I have to be under God’s authority in this or I can do a lot of harm.

Well, as human beings, the life-creating part of us

is similarly an awesome power and gift.

And likewise, terrible consequences follow when we abuse this gift.

That’s why you and I are stewards of the gift of life, not masters.

This design is why marriage is only a man and a woman; 

because only that is a true “one flesh” union, 

a union that overflows into new life.

The issue of two men or two women is not “love.”

There are never any limits on love, rightly understood.

The issue is the right use of our bodies; respecting what they are for.

In the 21st century, we want what we want, here and now.

We want radical autonomy.

It is so seductive and appealing, but in the long run, it doesn’t work.

You and I were not made for radical autonomy.

Note how the conflict has moved past Catholic morality, 

to contest the most manifest facts of biology itself.

Yes, our Vision seems so out of step, and many – 

even some priests and bishops -- advocate abandoning it.

But, wait for it, it will have its time.

Has rejecting God’s plan for chastity and family – is it really working?

Are children better off when their parents never marry?

When they don’t even know their parents?

Is society better off?

This is Respect Life Sunday; and you and I must continue to speak up

against the destruction of the unborn

and we must embrace mother, father and child.

Not everyone marries; not everyone has children.

But everyone, in some way, belongs to a family.

And each of us, no matter who we are, can cultivate true family values –

Meaning, we build relationships 

not on the basis of what I get, but what I give.

The world’s vision that offered freedom ends up bringing despair.

We are nothing, and the world will better off without us.

God offers us a different Vision:

We are not only his image at our best,

but even when we’re broken and marred:

God so loves us so much that he gave his only Son.

Life is worth living because even at our worst, we are his beloved.

That’s our Vision. Wait for it. It will have its time.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Ease poverty -- both kinds (Sunday homily)

 In the readings we heard, there are two kinds of neglect: 

physical and spiritual.

The Gospel describes physical neglect. 

The rich man was aware of Lazarus at his gate;

he knew who Lazarus was, he’d seen him before.

His sin wasn’t failing to solve Lazarus’ problems.

His sin was choosing not to do anything.

Perhaps he thought others would take care of him.

Maybe he figured Lazarus brought his troubles on himself 

through bad choices – and for all we know, that was true.

You and I see lots of Lazaruses who wreck themselves 

with booze and drugs and bad company.

But let’s cut to the heart of it.

There is a very simple and sharp lesson from the Gospel:

If you and I forget those in need, we will go to hell.

I’ll say it again: if we forget the poor, we will go to hell.

Now, very often we view these as political issues, and they are.

Some of us would say, the government must do more.

Others would say, what the government is doing makes it worse.

Those are legitimate points for a discussion elsewhere.

But nowhere does Jesus say, 

you only have to help the needy when the government is well run.

Some might think this command only applies to the really rich, not us. 

To most of the Lazaruses in this world, you and I are “rich.”

Considering the advantages most of us have, they are correct.

Pity the rich man: he spent his life thinking he had it all;

Yet in abandoning his fellow man, he lost his own soul.

Which leads to the spiritual neglect I mentioned;

That’s what is going on the first reading.

The prophet Amos is describing those leaders 

who were in a position to help keep the nation on the right track.

But they didn’t care. 

The king, his advisors, the priests and the people of importance,

were either promoting false worship, or else unwilling to rock the boat.

I think I am guilty of not doing enough to help the poor.

And maybe many of us feel the same.

But here’s something to think about.

No one is going to oppose us if we do more to feed people, 

to provide clothing and vaccinations, and the like.

Everyone will approve of that.

But how do people react if we apply the same zeal 

to addressing spiritual poverty?

A priest stands in the pulpit and says, go feed the poor.

Everyone applauds.

But if I call attention to the debasement of our culture, 

and say that there are places on the Internet, 

and forms of music and entertainment that offend God…

If I insist that God has a plan for marriage and family 

and none of us has the right to re-invent it…

And if I, like Amos, summon others to fasting and confession…

There might not be so much applause. 

I might be lucky just to get silence.

And that doesn’t just happen to me—

it happens far more to you, 

if you speak up at work, or with family, or in other settings.

So here’s the question: do we only believe in one kind of poverty?

That the only poverty that God cares about is physical?

That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Sunday, September 18, 2022

What to do with your stuff (Sunday homily)

 The parable Jesus told is confusing in some ways. 

But here's the key point: 

Jesus is telling us to have the right approach 

to money, and stuff, and material success.

Let's compare the worldly way with God's way:

The worldly way is to use people to gain success and money;

God's way is to use money and position to gain people – 

that is, for the Kingdom.

One of the principles our Church teaches 

in the category of social justice 

is "the universal destination of goods." 

What does that mean?

It means that while we may own this or that thing, ultimately, everything belongs to God; 

and God gave everything in Creation for all his children to enjoy.

Think of a family. Dad passes out slices of pizza to everyone. 

He intends everyone to get some. 

What happens when Dad looks up and sees one child has three slices, and two have none?

God doesn't intervene the way my father, or yours, would. 

But he sees, and he will hold us accountable.

Now, the point is not socialism, 

because that just lets someone in government play god, 

and they make a mess of it. 

Rather, the point is that you and I help 

every one of God's children get a fair chance. 

My pizza analogy can be misunderstood, 

because while on any given day, 

there is only going to be a specific amount of pizza on the table;

but it isn’t that simple with the resources God has given us.

Many people mistakenly argue that our world is resource-poor,

and that we have too many people. 

First, it is simply not true that we are lacking in resources.

This is a good and abundant world. 

It is a worldly thing to say, there are too many people.

God never says that.

Remember the large, hungry crowds following Jesus?

The disciples voiced the worldly mindset when they said, 

“send them away.”

Second, that “too many people” mentality fails to grasp 

that people, themselves, are the greatest resource of all. 

It took human ingenuity to turn mold – that grows on cheese – 

into a revolutionary life-saving medicine: penicillin.

God desires that you and I use the intellect he gave us

to continue making the best use of our good and abundant earth, 

for the sake of human well-being. 

Let's get back to how we approach our stuff and our plans.

It is good to be a go-getter; and to seek financial security.

But the key question we might ask is...

What is it all for?

What will I do with my success, and whatever stuff I acquire?

Jesus praised the dishonest steward for being prudent.

He used stuff to gain people.

And Jesus’ point is not to favor dishonesty, but to say, 

Shouldn’t you and I, as children of light,

Do the same thing: to use our stuff to gain people for the Kingdom?

If you have a house, you can welcome people.

If you have a car, you can give rides.

And whatever you have – money, stuff, talent, or time –

you can give it away.

Of course, the most important “thing” to give away is…yourself.

You and I can do a lot of good with stuff; but it is giving ourselves, 

creating relationships, that makes the most difference.

We talk a lot about “stewardship,” but that’s all it really is.

If we reach heaven, you and I won't see any of our possessions there. 

What we will see is people. And won't it be wonderful 

to see all the people we helped get there, with our stuff?

Sunday, September 11, 2022

God's shocking mercy (Sunday homily)

 The readings are all about God’s mercy. Let me make three points.

First: God’s mercy is so generous as to be shocking.

Second: God’s mercy requires a response.

Third: That response is both hard – and easy.

Scripture scholar Brant Pitre points out something 

about the parables of Jesus that we may not realize: 

hey often contain a twist or a surprise.

In the first parable, Jesus says, 

“what man…would not leave the ninety-nine…

and go after the lost one until he finds it?” 

And the answer is, no one would do that! 

If you leave 99 sheep unguarded, you will lose a lot more.

In the second parable: who would throw a party 

to celebrate finding a $10 bill? Has anyone here ever done that?

Now we come to the third parable. The son’s sinfulness is extreme. 

He wants his father dead; and he coldly abandons his family.

But the twist is in the response of the Father. 

His response is even more extreme.

He searches the horizon for his son and he runs to him.

He restores him without any conditions.

When God gives, he always gives super-abundantly. 

Manna in the desert. Wine at Cana. Dying on the Cross. 

And so it is here.

So listen: if you ever doubt God’s mercy, 

Or fear you weren’t forgiven: STOP IT!

We all have these feelings; 

but be clear on this: if we ask for God’s mercy, he will give it. 

One drop of Jesus’ blood can wash away all sin, 

and when you receive absolution in confession, 

you are bathed in God’s mercy. 

It’s not because we deserve it, or work for it, 

or are in any way worthy of it. 

The psalm we prayed was written by King David, 

after he committed rape, adultery, murder,

betrayal of a loyal servant, and lies to cover it all up. 

And God forgave him.

God’s mercy is so generous that it’s shocking.

Now, second: God’s mercy requires a response. 

This is where God’s mercy is misrepresented.

The usual idea is that Jesus is a kind of flower-child,

criss-crossing the landscape, passing out hugs 

and he doesn’t ask anything in return.

The truth is, our Lord could be a kill-joy: 

Talking about hell and the need for radical conversion.

We heard it last week: take up your cross. Die to ego, die to money, 

die to family attachment, die to sex, die to ambition, die to self. 

The younger son had to die to his pride and dreams and come home. 

Or else, he’d have died in his sins.

So we must respond to God’s mercy.

And that means seeking mercy for others;

and, of course, for ourselves. 

Those go together: the more we know our own need for mercy, 

the easier it is to seek mercy and give mercy to others.

The older son presents himself as without sin;

No wonder he had no leniency for his brother.

Finally, the response that mercy demands is both hard and easy. 

The sins in our lives: what keeps us from leaving them behind?

If we’re visiting the dark places on the Internet, 

or inflicting anger on others around us, 

or making a god of money or food, why don’t we give these things up? 

Because it can be hard. Sometimes it seems impossible.

Or sometimes, we just don’t really want it enough.

The son didn’t come home until he became desperate. 

Nevertheless, he HAD to respond, in order to receive it.

And yet, the response is the easiest thing in the world. 

Go to the Father! Go to confession! 

Don’t worry if you forgot how; the priest knows, and we’re not nervous. 

I admit we may talk too long, 

but in the end, if the penitent turns from sin,

the priest has to give absolution, that is, mercy!

God is shockingly ready to forgive. He waits for your response.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

With Jesus it's all or nothing (Sunday homily)

Jesus' idea of all or nothing is a little different from that of Ado Annie & Will Parker

During Lent, we talk about “giving things up” and making sacrifices.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus makes clear: that’s not just Lent.

It’s all the time. Lent is just when it’s dialed up.

I’m sure we’ve all noticed some other churches, or pastors – 

you might see a billboard or a TV ad – 

that will say something like, “no expectations; just come.”

And while I get the appeal of that, 

could it be more obvious that isn’t what we just heard Jesus say?

First, he said, “hate your family and possessions, even your own life.”

Now, he doesn’t mean “hate” in the sense of contempt or malice.

He means what he says later: completely letting go of the attachment.

Remember the story of St. Francis of Assisi.

His family was wealthy and his father wanted him to be part of that.

Francis wanted to live free of all attachments.

At a certain point, Francis had to stand up to his father;

and in front the whole town, he gave up everything—

he even took off his clothes and handed them back to his father.

Sometimes children have different dreams from their parents—

they choose a course that means less money or prestige.

If they choose the religious life or the priesthood,

then it means no grandchildren!

I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve had parents admit to me,

they discouraged their children from the priesthood or religious life,

precisely for these reasons:

Their children won’t make money, and there won’t be grandchildren.

It’s a funny thing; in so many stories of the saints – 

whether it’s Francis, or Aquinas, or Rose of Lima, and many more –

you have this happen: family members try to talk the saint out of it. 

Imagine being those family members in eternity.

Someone says to you, Oh, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was your niece! 

How wonderful! 

And you hang your head as you say: “I tried to talk her out of it.”

I know we all feel a little nervous around zealots,

someone who is just a little TOO intense!

But here’s the truth: that’s the kind of folks Jesus hangs out with.

I’m not saying everyone has to be a John the Baptist or Rose of Lima.

But beware the voice of caution inside us that always says, 

hold back, be careful, don’t go overboard.

And I’m telling you – and you know this is true –

That more than we like the push of the Holy Spirit 

precisely IS to “go overboard.” Remember Peter? 

He stepped out onto the water; he literally went overboard! 

Saint Paul writes from prison. He wasn’t “careful”; he went “too far.”

Jesus says, go overboard, but he also says, “count the cost.”

So, what is the cost?

Well, it costs something to help the poor. Not just money, but time.

If we obey Christ and wait till marriage, that costs us something.

One of the treasured possessions many of us grip tightly 

is our own self-righteous fury: “How dare they?!”

That is hard to let go of. 

In a lot of places—Egypt, for example—

Christians pay a huge cost.

Their jobs, their businesses, their families, their homes,

their churches and their lives.

In Germany, a Christian family saw the government storm their home

and take their four children away. Why?

Because they were home-schooling their children.

In our country, medical professionals or those in the wedding business 

are being forced out because they won’t get on board with abortion, 

or euthanasia, or a redefinition of marriage, 

or some extremely questionable medical practices involving children 

in this whole thorny issue of “gender identity.”

There’s no avoiding it: count the cost of being Jesus’ disciple.

Is it a good deal? Well, we get to know and live with the Holy Trinity. 

We get our sins forgiven; our lives are changed. We become saints.

In the resurrection, we get our bodies back, new and improved. 

We will enjoy a new heavens and a new earth forever.

The price is: everything. All in. All of me, to have all of Him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Peace with God means peace with yourself (Sunday homily)

When we are children, we all have those moments 

when we are trying to get mom or dad’s attention. 

Look, mom! Look! Look! LOOK!!

Of course, our parents want to look and see what we’re doing;

But they might be driving, or fixing dinner, 

or getting other work done, and they can’t always look. 

They might even get irritated.

But let me tell you something, 

and this is true no matter how young, or how old, you are: 

parents never stop wanting to look at their children. Never.

Whenever I have a baptism, afterward, I ask to hold the baby.

You know what happens: if the baby is peaceful and content 

in her mother or father’s embrace, she getting agitated and cries. 

Then, when I give the baby back, he’s calm again.

That infant recognizes his parents, but doesn’t recognize me.

That connection literally begins with conception, 

and cultivated in a thousand ways from that point on.

That complex reality of love and trust and interdependence

is absolutely necessary for each of us to be healthy and balanced.

Not just as children but throughout our lives.

On the other hand, some children do not experience this, early in life, and that can leave a wound that it can take a long time to heal.

What I’m describing happens both on this natural plain, 

and on the supernatural level.

All this came to mind because of what happens in the Gospel:

People jostling for the best seats; not because they are most comfortable, 

but because they gain the attention of the host.

They want to impress, or they need to push some agenda.

But consider: if you have a solid relationship with the host, 

why do you need to do any of that?

This is the key to true humility: knowing who you are; 

having that peaceful, confident relationship with God.

What passes for humility – downing myself, denying our gifts – 

is actually false humility.

Accepting mistreatment, being a doormat – 

is not only false humility, it is a destructive distortion. 

True humility comes from having that good relationship with God, 

and therefore, having security and confidence. 

That enables you and me to acknowledge our gifts 

and accept our weaknesses. We know who we are in God.

Then there’s no need to impress anyone.

So, the natural next question is, how do I get to that place?

Just as baptized child needs to be in his or her parents’ arms,

So you and I need to have a strong relationship with God.

Without that, we have a spiritual wound, an insecurity.

We don’t fully know who we are.

That friendship with God requires more than an hour a week.

It needs periodic apologies and patching things up;

In spiritual terms: a regular examination of ourselves,

And frequent use of the sacrament of confession.

Today is a good day to ask: do I have that friendship with God?

And to do the work to build that friendship.

Then any seat in the house is the best seat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Q&A with the Lord your God (Sunday homily)

 Perhaps you have noticed there are times when 

someone asks Jesus something, 

but his response doesn’t really answer the question!

Rather, Jesus answers the question that should have been asked.

So, today, “Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?”

Pay attention to how Jesus responds.

He refers to a narrow gate—so that sounds like “few,” right?

But, later, he refers to people coming from east and west, 

north and south—that sounds like a lot.

So the question Jesus actually answered was, 

not “how many” are saved; but simply, how to be saved.

And that is by striving to enter the “narrow gate.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the gate, 

and whoever enters through Me will be saved.”

So, why is the gate is “narrow”? That sounds bad.

But remember why cities had gates: 

because they also had walls, to keep out threats.

A narrow gate means you can see clearly who comes and goes.

That is perfectly apt for Judgment Day:

no one will slip anonymously into the Kingdom. 

One by one, you and I will meet the gaze of Jesus our King, 

and either he knows us, or not.

A narrow gate doesn’t mean only few enter; 

it means you have to be patient and wait your turn.

It also means that while you might squeeze in,

Nothing you bring with you, will.

Not bad habits and attachments to food or booze or the Internet.

Nor the baggage of unforgiveness and recrimination.

All that must be left outside, or else we are left outside.

Notice also what our Lord said:

“Many will attempt to enter, but won’t be strong enough.”

In fact, none of us is “strong enough”! No one!

You and I have got to drive out of our minds  

every last trace of the idea that anyone 

gets to heaven because we’re good enough!

No one can be “good enough”; no one can be strong enough.

You and I get there by grace, which makes us fit for heaven.

Remember the lost sheep – how did it get back home?

The Lord puts it on his shoulders.

Only Jesus is “strong enough”—and he will carry us through!

Till now, there’s a word I haven’t uttered: hell.

Is hell real? Jesus knows that it is. He talks about it a LOT.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that people will be cast out, 

because he never knew them.

That means there was never a true friendship.

What’s more, when you and I arrive at the narrow gate, 

will we actually be willing to leave behind whatever we brought along? 

People assume that there will always be a chance to repent, later.

But let’s be candid: as the years go by, 

we not only get hardening of arteries;

even more, you and I also get hardening of habits and attitudes.

“Later, later, later” pretty easily turns into “never.”

Assuming you can always repent later is called “presumption.”

And it leads to a hardness of heart.

So, what about hell?

The conclusion I reach is this:

No one is “sent to hell” so much as people turn away from heaven.

We “refuse” heaven by refusing the graces God gives us.

The most dangerous spiritual place to be 

is not being constantly in line for confession, 

having failed over and over, and feeling as weak as a kitten.

No, the dangerous frame of mind is to think, 

I don’t need conversion. I’m just fine.

But the good news, which Jesus puts right in front of us, is:

There is a way to heaven; it’s narrow, but wide enough for two; 

Jesus, carrying you.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A choice between what is easy and what is right (Sunday homily)

 If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will recognize 

these words of Dumbledore: 

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time 

when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

The words of Jesus in the Gospel hit us like bucket of icy water. 

He brings division. People will be set against each other. 

This is nothing like how so many people imagine Jesus, 

giving everyone a hug and a peace sign.

It is true that Jesus opens his arms to anyone. He forgives every sin.

That portrait is accurate. But it is not the entire truth.

Remember Jesus also made a whip out of cords

and drove people out of his Father’s temple.

The thing people miss about that episode is this: 

If that’s how Jesus reacts to impurity in a physical building, 

that he predicted would be destroyed…

Then, how do you suppose he reacts to impurity 

in the temple of our lives, the temple of God that you and I are?

The Cross of Jesus Christ represents ultimate mercy, 

but at the very same time, it represents the ultimate choice.

The Cross looms ahead of each of us, in the middle of the path.

You and I must go to one side or the other,

with the sheep or the goats. 

With the criminal who in an instant of faith became a saint, 

or the thief who reviles Jesus in despair.

One of my favorite books is by C.S. Lewis, called The Silver Chair; 

it is part of his “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

At the climactic moment, the evil queen 

is trying to cast a spell over our heroes.

As she plays soothing music, she tells them 

there’s nothing to fight about, there’s no problem, 

just relax, go to sleep, go to sleep.

And there are voices in our culture doing the exact same thing.

There isn’t any actual truth, they say, it’s all just our own preferences.

The only real mortal sin is to say things that are unpleasant, 

that might “trigger” someone.

Calm down, just do as you please, choose a person truth…

Go to sleep, go to sleep…

Now picture Jeremiah, or any of the saints.

Think of Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in witness today: 

how do you suppose they react?

They don’t go to sleep. They lift up Jesus Christ!

The purpose is not to offend, to pick a fight.

The crucifix is not a weapon; it is a revelation; and an invitation.

But sooner or later, either we speak what others crave to hear;

Or else, what they need to hear. What is easy; or what is right.

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.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Post Roe: Let us 'bind up the nation's wounds.' (Sunday homily)

 In these readings, we hear about being called – and not turning back. 

We have the Lord Jesus setting the apostles straight 

about the right way to carry out his call. 

And we have St. Paul, right in the middle, talking about “freedom.”

That’s a word we love, especially as Americans. 

Unfortunately, what it means politically, and what it means in the Bible, 

are far from the same.

Our social and political version of “freedom” is, 

I want to do what I want. “The American Dream.”

Leave me alone, Big Government! 

Don’t track me online, Big Tech!

St. Paul reminds us why God gives us freedom:

So that you and I can become who we are meant to be.

To be our “best version of ourselves” as someone else said.

This disagreement about what true freedom means 

is at the heart of so much that divides us as Americans.

Look at what happened on Friday.

June 24 must go down in history as a great day, 

because the U.S. Supreme Court 

corrected a terrible error from 50 years ago. 

In overturning Roe v. Wade,

the court stopped being a roadblock to protecting unborn children.

But notice how much rage is being generated, along with anxiety.

And I am not making light of anyone’s feelings here.

But notice what people are angry about: 

to their view, they lost a “freedom.”

Freedom to do what? 

Well, there’s no nice way to say it: to take a human life.

And that’s why so many of us are celebrating: 

because now, the unborn can regain their freedom simply to live.

With God’s help you and I must be messengers 

for this true freedom, again, not just license to do as we please, 

but to be truly and fully human as God created us to be, 

and to allow every child of God that freedom, 

including his smallest children.

Answering anger with anger won’t help.

Responding to anxiety and fear with love and patience will heal.

For example, Archbishop Schnurr sent out an email yesterday,  

encouraging all of us to keep supporting efforts to help women 

and families facing difficult circumstances around a pregnancy.

There are wonderful efforts already happening in this community, 

and if you never got involved before, now is a great time to start.

I will mention four organizations right around us:

Rustic Hope, Elizabeth New Life Center, 

New Choices shelter for those facing domestic violence, 

and Shelby County Right to Life.

This is a good time to mention Project Rachel, 

which seeks to offering reconciliation, healing, and peace 

for those involved in an abortion. 

This truly is a moment to celebrate and give thanks to God.

That’s why we’re using a Mass of Thanksgiving today, 

as the Archbishop suggested, 

instead of the usual prayers for this Sunday.

There seemed to be no right place to say the following, 

so I’ll say it right now.

This is my last weekend with you as your pastor.

No words are adequate. My heart is full. Thank you so very much.

Enough about me; let’s get back to God’s work.

There are some powerful lessons to take from these amazing events.

One: never give up! I am 60, and it took most of my life 

to get to this point, and I truly wondered if I’d live long enough. 

Two: this is a work of Divine Providence.

This isn’t just about politics. Pause to notice God’s hand at work.

As Christians, helping people see that is also our task.

Yes, laws must change. So must hearts.

Three: you and I must get right back to work on this.

Not everyone understands what happened Friday.

The Supreme Court did not outlaw anything.

It decided to overturn prior rulings 

that blocked laws protecting the unborn. 

So now you and I as citizens must tell our governor and our legislators 

to do their jobs and protect unborn children. 

All these years, candidates like our governor, 

senators, congressmen, and state officials told us: 

they would protect the unborn from the moment of conception. 

But the courts were blocking them, 

and they couldn’t do more than half-measures.

God has removed those roadblocks!

Now, you and I must respectfully, but vigorously, tell the politicians: 

Do what you always said you’d do when the time came.

The time has finally come! Thank God!

Finally, as we celebrate and give thanks,

we might take inspiration from the words of Abraham Lincoln  

in his second inaugural address, 

as the Civil War was, thankfully, near its end:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, 

with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, 

let us strive on to finish the work we are in, 

to bind up the nation's wounds 

[and] to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace.

That sounds like an excellent plan.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Don't be afraid to be used up for the Kingdom (Pentecost)

 The readings for Pentecost are different for the Vigil and the Day. 

At the vigil, we hear from Genesis about how 

people tried to make a name for themselves 

by building the city of Babel. 

They aren’t interested in God.

This is the same city later called Babylon – 

which becomes, in Scripture, 

a symbol of all in the world that demands our loyalty other than God. 

You will remember how King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue, 

and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to worship it, 

and they were thrown into the fiery furnace. 

Babylon always opposes God directly. 

Babylon lives on in our culture and government.

On the day of Pentecost, we hear 

how the Apostles and the other first Christians, 

including Mary, are praying for the Holy Spirit. 

See the contrast? 

A city that worships itself, Babylon, and the City of God.

Recall what we talked about last week:

Jesus ascending to heaven is not about him going away,

But rather, about him reorienting all Creation around him.

Jesus is in the process of bringing heaven and earth together.

So, pouring the Holy Spirit into Creation – “baptizing” it as it were –

is the necessary next step of bringing us earthly creatures to heaven, 

and “heavenizing” – to make up a term – this world.

If you have ever been unclear about what your task is as a Christian, there it is: 

let God “heavenize” you, 

which is a necessary part of you helping heavenize this world.

It may occur to you to ask: 

if God is heavenizing the world, why are so many things so bad?

I would remind you that you and I cannot know 

what this world would be like without God’s grace now at work.

We live in a pretty nice corner of the world.

The land is fruitful, and this time of year is especially nice.

But what if all the water, all the rain, went away?

It would all be a lifeless desert as dead as the moon.

Now, I want to call attention to something 

you’ve observed over the past seven weeks: this candle. 

It was so tall when we first lit it at Easter! 

Why does that crazy Father Fox let it burn down like that? 

It’s not very pretty anymore. 

A candle has but one purpose: to give light. 

As it burns, it is used up.

The Easter Candle stands for Christ. 

Remember: Jesus came into the world to be spent—

To be used up—for the salvation of souls.

And that’s what our lives are for. 

You and I are only going to get so many years in this life. 

When our time ends, will we want to say to Jesus: 

look, I didn't burn my candle, I kept it pretty, see?

Light that candle, keep it burning! Burn with the fire of God! 

This is what the Church of God is. This is what you are, O Christian! 

Lift up that light! Lift it up! Let it shine!

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Ascension - Mass - Heaven (Sunday homily)

 The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us. 

Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us: 

he goes ahead and, as he said, he prepares a place for us.

The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.

It’s the exact same thing with Holy Mass.

It is about getting us to heaven.

Not everyone really gets this. 

For one, way too many people take heaven for granted.

And if you do that, Mass doesn’t really make much sense.

It would be like going into court, facing a trial, 

but there’s no chance of a guilty verdict. 

Then there’s no meaning. You could sleep through the whole case.

So it is for many people coming to Mass.

Since heaven is certain, Mass is a big bore.

Or we come expecting to hear something inspiring.

Or our goal is to reflect a little. Or to see friends.

A lot of people expect Mass to lift their mood.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these objectives; 

but none of these is the point of Mass.

Which means, by the way: if these goals don’t happen –

if you aren’t inspired, if you can’t have quiet reflection, 

if you don’t see any friendly faces, 

and you don’t come out of church feeling bubbly –

that doesn’t mean you, quote, “didn’t get anything out of Mass.”

It means, rather, you misunderstood what Mass is actually about.

The Mass is about getting us to heaven.

And that, in turn, means you and I must change; 

and that means, probably – Ha! Almost certainly – 

changing in a major way!

See? That’s why people prefer to think heaven is a lock.

Because then they don’t need to face the need to change.

What Holy Mass does, just like the Cross, is to confront us.

It is like a mirror, showing us our desperate need.

And only then is Jesus’ offering on the Cross good news!

You’re drowning! I’m here to save you! Good news!

But not if I say, “Who’s drowning? I’m not drowning! Cough! Cough!”

The point I’m trying to make here is this:

There is something powerful, electric, going on.

Something more dramatic than anything you and I can imagine.

We might think of a frightening thunderstorm, rocking the house.

Or the cascade of shocking news, hour upon hour on TV.

Or the real suffering of people in our own lives.

Still, beyond all these very real, very human trials,

is the greatest drama of all, which is no less real, 

despite being mostly invisible to us.

That is the fate of my soul, and yours, and the souls of humanity.

If you’ve ever been bored at Mass – I’ll confess and raise my hand!

Then I’m offering you a remedy.

Remind yourself what is at stake, what is actually happening, 

even though it is, as I said, not visible to us.

You can’t see him on the Cross. You can’t see him rising from death.

You can’t see him returning to his throne at the center of all things.

But let me point out what you do see, and hear, and say:

You hear Jesus say, “this is my body, given up for you.”

“This is the chalice of my blood, a new and eternal covenant.”

“This is for you,” he says.

In time, he then went to the Cross and offered himself.

And in mystical realm that embraces all time, 

this offering is not merely past; 

it’s past, and yet we’re present to it; it’s still active.

Holy Mass is our portal into this reality beyond time.

What you see, at Mass, is the priest raise up the Body and the Blood.

Very important: no longer merely bread or wine, but the Son of God! 

And the priest, and, in a way, the Son himself, and in a way, we – say,

“Through him, with him, in him”: this is the offering to the Father.

This is what gives us salvation! This is the entirety of our hope!

Again, this is hope for us if we will let God change us.

This is why receiving Holy Communion 

without repenting and confessing our mortal sins is so awful. 

It’s a sacrilege against this salvation, because we’re saying, in effect: 

I don’t need to change. God must change.

Now, we know all that happens at Mass. It’s so familiar.

But what if we didn’t?

What if you and I could hear and witness this as if for the first time,

as if we didn’t know what the outcome would be?

Ask God for that grace.

And as we recall his Ascension, this is not a “going away” party.

Rather, the Great High Priest is bringing the drama of salvation 

to the next chapter. 

This isn’t about him going from “here” to “there.”

Jesus hasn’t, really, gone anywhere.

It’s about him reorienting everything toward heaven.

Here’s there; he’s here. 

And right now is that phase of history 

in which “here” and “there” slowly become one.

That conversion of all things is what you and I must be part of.

Thank God, the Holy Spirit is poured into our lives to make it happen!

Our task – simple yet big enough – is to accept that help.

Then you and I we’ll be part of that glorious future. That’s heaven. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The City of God (Sunday homily)

 In the second reading we have the new Jerusalem, 

the city of God.

The thing about a city – or, even a rural area like ours –

is there is a lot of interdependence.

When I got up this morning, I wanted water, I turned the knob.

Food for lunch in the fridge. A/C hummed all night.

But all those wonderful things only happen 

because of those who run the water plant, 

maintain the electric lines, and who bring food to the store.  

The City of God works the same way. We belong together.

Our American way of thinking emphasizes individualism.

We like being free to do as we wish.

So a lot of Catholics tend to think about faith 

as being an individual thing.

And when we, or our bishops, talk about the obligations 

of being a Catholic, it doesn’t always register.

I think this explains why so many don’t go to confession.

Why can’t we just tell God? 

And the answer is because our sins don’t just involve God, 

they involve his Body, the Church.

And so, also, our reconciliation is in and through the Church.

Most of us were born American citizens,

but if you talk to people who are naturalized, 

they’ll tell you about the many steps they took, 

and they’ll talk about how powerful it was 

to swear their allegiance and become a citizen.

Well, it’s even more true with baptism. 

That’s why we renew our baptismal vows at Easter, 

and why we profess our Creed each Sunday. 

And being a citizen in God’s City, the Church,

Means we live our lives in our Faith and by our Faith.

When you think of it that way, 

how can we have a part of our lives we live outside the City?

And yet, that’s where a lot of Catholics are. 

Go on the Internet--get outside; 

how we run our business, or treat other people, 

how we shop or how we vote: we go outside the City.

And this is why we come here every Lord’s Day.

This is where the city we are not yet--

but which God is fashioning us to be--is made present.

This city doesn’t have a mayor; we have a King.

And the King is here! Of course, we come!

If you read further in the book of Revelation, 

you’ll see that in the center of that City is a Tree, 

“the Tree of Life” – and it gives fruit 

“for the nations 12 months a year.”

That Tree is the Cross. 

That Tree, the Cross, is made present at every Mass on the altar.

The fruit of that tree is the Most Holy Eucharist!

This church, right here: we’re in the City of God right now!

Of course, we come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Let Mary be your companion (May Crowning)

 We honor Mary, which is quite right to do, 

because of her amazing generosity: she said yes to God. 

We honor her because she acted at the great fulcrum of history: 

everything that matters for us hinged on her yes to heaven. 

So, we have St. Bernard, who wrote a moving appeal 

to the Blessed Mother, as if he – and all humanity – 

were watching in the wings as Gabriel came to her. 

He says, answer boldly, don’t be afraid to answer, we all beg it of you!

Or, we have a Protestant poet, Wordsworth, 

who described Mary as our “tainted nature’s solitary boast,” 

and I confess those words bring tears to my eyes 

every time I call them to mind.

My point being to describe – and defend – 

our extravagant honors to Mary.

I might add, in passing here, that sometimes our friends and family 

who are not Catholic do not understand this. 

They think it goes too far and they suggest we are worshipping Mary 

in a way that only God is to be worshipped.

I want to answer those objections, as someone who – 

when I was in my 20s – would have made those very same arguments! 

Because in my 20s, I was away from the Church 

and bought into many of those ideas.

Let me point out, first, that if you understand clearly 

what IS Catholic worship, 

you will realize how wrong it is to say we worship Mary.

What, after all, is the heart and center of Catholic worship? 

What are we all commanded to do at least on Sundays, 

but attend Holy Mass? And Holy Mass is offered every single day. 

Here is something you will never see; indeed, it makes me shudder 

to think of it: you will never, not ever, see a Catholic Mass 

offered TO Mary. 

When the priest lifts up the Body and Blood, what does he say: 

“Through him, with him, in him, O God almighty Father, 

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is YOURS, 

forever and ever.”

There it is: the Mass is offered TO THE FATHER, 

through JESUS, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Never, not ever, will you hear a priest say these words to MARY. 

Likewise, we believe that as the consummation of Mass – 

if we are in a state of grace, we receive the Eucharist – 

which is Jesus of course. 

But here’s a great way to explain our devotion to Mary. 

We worship Jesus – particularly in the Eucharist. 

But we know that without Mary, there would be no Eucharist. 

She gave us his Body and Blood, when she conceived him in her womb! 

So while we ADORE Jesus, we are GRATEFUL to Mary.

The other point I want to make is this. 

In a prayer of dedication used at baptisms, it says, “our love for you” – 

that is, Mary – “is only a participation in the love of Jesus for you.” There it is.

Who can doubt that Jesus’ own love for his mother 

must be more intense than a thousand suns? 

Each of us feels such great gratitude and love for our own parents, 

who can ever imagine Jesus feeling any less? 

Indeed, it surely must be far, far MORE than our love can ever be.

So I will just say that if you think Catholics get silly 

in our love for Mary, 

all you really have to do is think long and hard 

about how much Jesus must love his own mother. 

She who, after all, was mocked by people who ridiculed her claim 

that the Holy Spirit caused her pregnancy. 

She who suffered in so many ways 

as a result of being the mother of the Messiah, 

and the worst of it, of course, 

was seeing her son tortured and murdered. 

Who could ever bear such a thing?

And what son could see his mother so tormented, 

and not feel a gratitude and love beyond all description? 

If you think Jesus could behold that 

and not love Mary beyond all words, you are basically saying 

he had no human heart at all, but was some sort of emotionless robot.

So, our friends who mean well when they say we overdo it, 

while intending only to honor Jesus, actually end up – 

again, unintentionally – diminishing him. 

But back to the main point which is this.

Yes, we honor Mary, we thank her, we love her. 

But do not make the mistake of thinking she is unapproachable. 

That she is simply to be admired. That would, indeed, go too far.

Mary is a companion, as are all the saints. 

As we are called to be to each other. 

The Scriptures always show her companionship. 

Immediately, she went to visit Elizabeth and Zachariah, 

no doubt because she learned her relative was six months pregnant. 

She accompanied Joseph and Jesus to Egypt 

and to Jerusalem for Passover. 

She and Joseph searched for Jesus when he was missing. 

After Joseph died, 

Mary was with her son and his companions constantly, 

right up until the day he died. 

She was with the apostles, praying for the Holy Spirit, 

in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven. 

And remember, Jesus gave Mary to the Apostle John to care for, 

and tradition tells us that is what he did, 

until her life on earth ended and her body was taken to heaven.

Surely she, too, cared for John?

What I invite you to do is remember this prayer book in the pews – 

on page XX you will find a litany to Mary. 

Some of the titles are obscure – 

although you can look them up online if you like – 

but many are perfectly understandable. 

They are invitations for you 

to see her as a companion in your own troubles:

“Mother most amiable” – that means friendly

“Mother of good counsel” – she will always give you good advice

“Mother of mercy” – 

she will always welcome you and help you seek out her son for forgiveness.

“Mother most prudent” – 

no one has a more level head and calm disposition. 

She’s been through a lot!

“Virgin most powerful” – her Son is God and he’s always listens to her!

She is a companion when you are sick, when you are afraid, 

and when you have lost your way. 

She knows what sorrow is, what missing someone you love feels like, 

and she knows the heartache of losing someone you love. 

She was there when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, 

she helped take care of Zachariah, she cared for Joseph until he died,

 and she stood at the foot of the Cross. 

There is no trial, no fear, no pain, she doesn’t know.

Let her be your companion.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

What should Peter say to a transgender sanhedrin? (Sunday homily)

When we hear in the first reading, 

the Apostles saying what the Lord sent them to say, 

and they are met with hostility...

Let’s hit the obvious point: 2,000 years and nothing has changed.

You and I face the same choice as Peter: Do we obey God or men?

An urgent case right now is what’s happening in the medical field.

There are powerful forces, including in the federal government, 

who believe doctors, nurses, pharmacists, 

and others in the health profession, 

must not be allowed to refuse to take part in an abortion, 

or in a suicide, 

or in providing drugs or surgery that facilitate someone to say, 

I’m not a girl anymore, I’m a boy, or vice-versa.

I’m going to take a couple of minutes on the transgender question, 

because this is still pretty new, it’s confusing, 

and people don’t know how to respond.

A great deal of what you hear on transgender issues 

is propaganda and outright lies.

They refer to so-called “transgender medicine.”

No! It’s not medicine, it’s abuse, it’s quackery, it’s magical thinking.

I’m now going to state, not theology or faith, but biological fact; 

as much a fact as that this planet is round, and we circle the sun:

human beings are either a boy or a girl.  

In extremely rare situations there can be some physical ambiguity, 

but the fundamental male or female identity is still there.

And there are all manner of ways people’s thinking or self-perception 

can be out of sync with themselves or the world around them.

So, people feeling at odds with their physical bodies is not fake.

It’s not a joke. This a difficult trial deserving real help.

Even so, whether you are male or female is not a choice or a mindset.

And no surgery, no drug, nothing can undo the basic biological fact.

By the way, this isn’t the only way this happens in life, 

that we long to change something about ourselves, but we cannot.

Some things we can change. Others are beyond our control.

If the latter, it becomes a matter of better or worse ways 

to carry our cross and make peace with the hand we’ve been dealt.

One more key detail: this whole thing is largely aimed at children.

Again, children. Not just under 18, but pre-puberty.

And you should know that counselors and psychologists 

and other medical personnel are being told, 

that if a child comes to you, you must – MUST – “affirm only.”

What does that mean?

It means you are not allowed to assist that child 

to get back to a place of self-acceptance. 

Instead, you can only say, OK, you are now a boy, 

here’s a drug, here’s a surgery, your life is altered forever.

All before you hit 15 years old.

All that is only one way you and I must be Peter today,

and obey God rather than men. 

There are lots of other hard things our Lord had to say: 

about money, about possessions, about the poor,

about clearing my own eye before dealing with your flaws.

And sooner or later, you and I aren’t actually Peter being brave.

We’re the Sanhedrin saying, I don’t want to hear that!

Notice Jesus asked Peter about his love three times.

They were using two different words translated as “love.”

Jesus was asking, Do you love me with a go-to-the-cross love?

Peter comes back with a, yeah-you’re-kind-of-cool “love.”

Peter’s love was weak, but Jesus built on that, 

and Peter ultimately did go to the cross.

Give Jesus your little bit of love and he will get you there.

When you and I face our Sanhedrin, our “stop saying that” moments, 

there is no excuse to forget that we want the good, 

including the final good of heaven, for each person we disagree with. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Mercy, Resurrection, Eucharist Junction (Sunday homily)

 So, this Sunday we focus on three things.

First, the Mercy of God since this is Divine Mercy Sunday. 

Second, the Resurrection. 

And third, about the Holy Eucharist, because our second graders are making their first Holy Communion.

Let’s start with God’s mercy, because that’s what it’s all about.

Why did God do any of the things he did for us? 

Come to earth, take up the cross, give us the sacraments?

It’s all mercy, it’s all about saving us, changing us, making us saints.

So, what I’m going to say next is just for some people here, 

because some good folks, who are trying SO hard, 

need to stop and, if you will, press their nose to that image of MERCY. 

Let me explain it this way: we humans have a NEED:

we are alienated from God. 

God responds with a GIFT: that is, his Mercy. 

So, again, NEED and GIFT.

Some folks don’t really take their need seriously. 

As a result, they undervalue the gift.  

So, if you think pretty much EVERYONE goes to heaven, 

then where’s the urgent need?

Meanwhile, there are others, some of whom are here;

And you focus so intensely on your NEED – 

“I am so sinful, I am so, so far from what God wants!” – 

that you don’t focus enough on the GIFT.

Remember what St. Faustina said: “Jesus I TRUST in you!”

Take an example from the Apostle Thomas. 

He started out looking at his doubts and fears; i.e., at himself.

Jesus tells him, don’t look at yourself, look at ME: 

see my wounds, touch them. Believe in ME. 

When you and I get overly anxious about our sins, it’s the same.

Yes: take a few minutes to examine yourself. But then stop! 

Shift your gaze from your own failings, 

from your impossibility and look at JESUS: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

This is where his Resurrection is so important. 

Jesus rising from the dead proves everything he said was true. 

Every word.

No wonder Thomas fell to his knees and said: “my Lord and my God”!

Second, when he shows us his resurrected body, 

Jesus isn’t just “showing off”: “Look at what I have!”

He’s showing what is, and will be, OURS.

Lots of Christians are mixed up on this point. 

They think our goal is to ESCAPE this life.

So, they think the body doesn’t matter after they die.

No, no! Jesus did not come to lead an escape from this world,

But rather, to lead the REDEMPTION and healing of this world.

So, even after death our body is sacred. 

And we will have it back, new and improved: what Jesus shows us.

Now we come to the Most Holy Eucharist. 

We talked about mercy, 

and we talked about sharing Jesus’ resurrected life. 

This – and more – is what the Most Holy Eucharist is.

Don’t miss the connection: 

On the first Easter, Jesus SHOWS us his risen, live-forever-body. 

Then at each Mass he GIVES us his flesh and his blood, his very self.

The connection is absolutely necessary.

Very important: what he GIVES us is identical to what he SHOWS us. 

What lies ahead for Jesus’ disciples is far more than we may realize.

I wonder if many imagine, in the New Creation, Jesus is on the throne, 

and we’re like his pets, gathered at his feet.

No! Jesus told the Apostles that they would sit on thrones beside him. 

Everything Jesus has, everything Jesus IS, he GIVES, he SHARES,

and in giving us himself, he changes us to become ONE with him. 

This is why there can be no question 

that the Eucharist is more than mere bread and wine. 

It is not merely a symbol or a reminder. 

The Eucharist is precisely what Jesus said, what Saint Paul said, 

what the first Christians all said and believed: 

the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. 

Very simply, the Eucharist IS Jesus. 

Yes, it keeps the appearance of bread and wine 

because isn’t that more approachable than the alternative?

If the Eucharist is not Jesus, then what does he give us?

Bread? If I eat too much bread, I get fat. 

Too much wine, I get sleepy and then a headache.

These cannot save me. I need Jesus and nothing else will do.

Jesus gives us HIMSELF, and his TOTAL self. 

That’s what the Eucharist is. You don’t have to see it. 

And you don’t have to take my word for it. 

Believe the one who came to earth to take up the Cross,

who came back from the dead, all for you, all for me.

Believe him when he says, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”