Sunday, January 28, 2024

God will speak. Share in the prophetic work. (Sunday homily)

 There is a key detail about the first reading 

that occurs in the verses just before what we heard today.

Moses warns the people: don’t go after soothsayers, 

don’t conjure up ghosts. You don’t need to do that. 

Rather, Moses said, God will give you a prophet.

This is a very important principle underneath our entire Catholic Faith. 

So simple that people miss it. But it changes everything. And it is this:

Our God is on our side. 

You and I don’t have to find some magic code to unlock his secrets. 

God wants to reveal himself. And he has!

He not only wants to light up the path for us, he already has!

Jesus says, in another passage, “I am the way.” 

You and I don’t slash our way through a dangerous forest.

No: we are given a big, beautiful highway, well lit, well marked.

Stay on it, all the way to heaven.

Not only need we not consult fortune-teller,

You and I absolutely must not do that. 

Why not? 

Well, first, since God says he doesn’t talk to us that way,

Then if you try to “dial up” God through a séance, 

then who are you really talking to?

You could be messing with spiritual evil.

Notice how Jesus handles demons. He doesn’t chat. He silences them!

The devil is a liar. Why would anyone want to seek his advice?

The second reason we don’t mess with horoscopes 

is because of what we’re truly trying to do:

which is to manipulate God.

There’s an ego thing here. 

We humans don’t want to be told to wait, or be patient, 

To be left out of the “inside story.”

That’s why people love gossip. And why we spread it, 

so people will think we’re wired-in. 

And that does so much damage.

You know works better, but we never want to say:

“I’m not that important; I don’t know anything!”

But Moses’ point – God’s point – 

is that you and I truly on the “inside” to the extent we need to be. 

We’ll get all we need.

So: Moses promised us prophets, and the final fulfillment of that 

is Jesus Christ, who is not merely “from” God, he IS God!

But here’s how we go to the next level. 

You and I aren’t merely along for the ride.

Jesus puts you and me to work in his prophetic ministry.

When you and I were baptized, we became part of Jesus, 

and therefore, we share in his prophetic authority, 

his kingly and his priestly authority. What does that mean?

Well, in the second reading, Paul explains 

that even whether you or I get married, or remain unmarried, 

is part of this prophetic task. 

Sometimes we want to have it both ways. 

When someone else is deciding, you or I might get our back up, 

and insist on telling that person how to do it. 

But then, if the one in charge says, OK, can you help with this? 

Some people say yes, but others will back away and say 

“oh no, that’s not my job!”

Jesus includes you and me in the whole project. 

We really are “insiders.” You want to be a prophet? 

Learn your faith, and be ready to share it.

Moses told us the true prophet says what God says. 

So if you and I want to be true prophets, 

we unite our message with what God speaks 

through the Body of Christ, the Church. 

Jesus gave his prophetic authority to the Church as a whole.

And if you haven’t figured it out, let me connect the dots. 

The “Beacons of Light” project underway in our parishes, 

together under the patronage of Saint John Paul, 

is about being – together – a prophet to our community. 

That’s what Archbishop Schnurr means when he keeps saying, 

and I say it too: we are going to focus on evangelization, 

more and more and more.

You and I, and everyone, from age 1 to age 101 and beyond, 

must get out of the mindset that we’re just…”absorbing.” 

We’re just along for the ride. No!

There’s urgent business of saving souls and changing lives. 

Jesus is on the move, and we’re moving with him. 

There’s work to be done, 

and everyone, without exception, has a part to play.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

My version of the Archbishop's homily on the CMA (Sunday homily)

 Jesus has an urgent message in the Gospel. It can even be startling. 

Imagine sitting at the dinner table, 

You’re talking about sports or the events of the day, 

and a family member stands up and blurts out, 

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!”

Something like that might be laughed off.

But if we take it seriously, it’s not change around the margins. 

It’s a total transformation. A new life.

So, for such a message not to be waved off 

requires a certain depth of credibility on the part of the messenger.

Notice the two things I am highlighting:

- Jesus’ call to us to change ourselves and to help others change, 


- Our own credibility as messengers for Christ.

That’s a good segue into our annual Catholic Ministries Appeal. 

This is the weekend all parishes in the Archdiocese 

highlight this project. 

Many times you hear an audio message from Archbishop Schnurr. 

I personally prefer to build my homily around his message.

The good parts came from him; any clunky parts are what I added!

The Catholic Ministries Appeal is something 

the entire Archdiocese does, together, 

doing so much to offer help and hope,

far beyond what any of us could do alone.

And the many good works of this fund 

are what show our world that we don’t just talk a good game; 

this demonstrates that we live it. 

That makes us credible witnesses for the Light of Christ 

in a world of many dark places.

Through the Catholic Ministries Appeal you and I support: 

Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio; 

Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley; 

hospital, campus, and prison chaplaincies; 

the Center for New Evangelization; St. Rita School for the Deaf; 

Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology; 

and our retired priests and senior clergy. 

This is how you and I serve hundreds of thousands of meals 

every year to the hungry, 

and provide a life-changing education at St. Rita School for the Deaf.

Last year, we welcomed seven people in prison, into the Catholic Faith. Our hospital chaplains, in their outreach, 

made more than 40,000 visits to patients and families.

If you have a family member in college, 

our campus ministries are helping them live their faith 

at a challenging time in their lives.

We ordained seven men to the priesthood last spring, 

along with fourteen men as permanent deacons. 

More than 50 seminarians are studying for our archdiocese, 

and we have more than 100 retired priests, 

many of whom, like Father Tom Shearer, 

are staying active and providing invaluable help. 

The one-day Genesis pre-Cana retreat for engaged couples 

offered throughout the year was made possible by 

the Center for the New Evangelization. 

The same Center also brings Totus Tuus 

to our parishes each summer for our children.

To repeat: this $5 Million fund is a way we, together, 

can shine the light of Christ in our community, 

showing this community we are serious about following Jesus.

Last year’s CMA campaign reached new heights in lives changed. 

On behalf of Archbishop Schnurr, 

thank you to everyone who helped in the past, 

and thank you for your continued involvement. 

If you have not donated to the CMA in the past, 

please consider joining thousands of others this year

in supporting these worthy ministries.

Ultimately, this is an opportunity to give a response, 

not to the Archbishop, but to God. 

This is one practical way you and I say thank you, 

and make a difference. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

'Stay close, stay quiet' (Sunday homily)

If you want to boil down these readings to a few key words, 

how about this: “Stay close; stay quiet.”

Samuel is in the House of the Lord. 

God is speaking to him but he’s too quick to act; 

he runs around, and Eli tells him: stay put, stay quiet. 

That’s how Samuel begins to hear God and to know God.

You and I are all different. 

Some of us are all action, no contemplation. 

Others of us are always up inside our head, 

and just getting out and volunteering at a homeless shelter 

or visiting someone who is in trouble might help us rebalance. 

You know who you are. 

If God is nudging you, either toward more quiet, or more action, 

Make Samuel’s words your own: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Now, let’s talk about the Gospel. 

Did you find the reaction of the two disciples humorous? 

When Jesus asks, what are you looking for? 

Their answer seems odd: where are you staying? 

We might imagine Jesus saying, 

“uh, at the Holiday Inn, why do you ask?”

But it turns out, they ask the perfect question!

They could have asked, “Who are you?” 

Or, “What’s special about your teaching?” 

Or, “what will it cost us to be your followers?” 

But where Jesus is – and being with Jesus – is the perfect focus.

Staying close and quiet with Jesus will give them all the answers. 

Here’s something we’ve all seen.

A small child is in a crowd of people, lost in thought, 

or looking around, assuming mom or dad is right there. 

After a bit, the child looks up with fright: 

"Where's mom? Where's dad?!"

They’re only a few feet away, but it’s still a shock,

and the child scurries to grab mom or dad’s leg.

You and I are that child. It is so easy to focus on our own stuff, 

and to lose track of how close we are to Jesus.

And since we’re not talking about physical nearness, 

but nearness of heart, doesn’t that make it trickier to perceive 

if we’ve drifted off? How do we know?

When it’s our physical health, how do we monitor it? 

We learn to read the signs of our own body, and pay attention. 

Maybe you check your forehead 

or listen for any wheezing in your chest. 

Also, we know better than to go only on what we learned as a kid. 

Don’t we all try to read and learn more about our own health?

And at certain points, we go to the doctor for advice and check-ups. And if we don’t, you and I know that’s the wrong move.

Why be surprised that our spiritual health works in a similar way?

There are too many people who stopped learning about their faith after 8th grade. 

Would you do that with your car, or your checking account?

And there is no substitute for regularly examining our conscience. 

It’s going to be way more fruitful if we put in some real effort. 

There are many resources available online, 

just google, “Catholic examination of conscience.” 

They usually take you through the Ten Commandments. 

Do all ten, not just the ones you think you’re good at!

And that pairs with confession. 

Apologies to all dentists, but not many of us 

really enjoy getting that teeth cleaning. 

It’s not better when you put it off!

And as the spiritual dentist, I can assure you:

going to confession is way, way, less unpleasant

than the pokey-pokey in your teeth and gums! 

If we prepare well, it’s a breeze. 

If you and I keep coming, it will bear great fruit. 

The greatest of that fruit is knowing 

whether we’re staying close to Jesus, 

and learning how to stay quiet in order to hear God speak. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Notes on 2nd Sunday readings

People often wonder about how priests do what they do. When I'm not too absorbed actually doing it, I do like to write about these things on this blog. Last year I found a little more time to do so; God willing, I will find still more in 2024.

Here is a window.

Today -- Friday -- I finally got around to looking at the readings for Sunday. I'd have liked to have done so earlier in the week, but alas! 

One of my methods is to put fingers to keyboard, and type out thoughts about the readings. Thankfully, I can type reasonably fast (not as fast as a professional, but faster than many), so I can generate a lot of written thoughts in not too much time.

The next step is to reflect a bit on what I came up with, and out of it, draw some ideas or connections to develop further. The ultimate homily doesn't necessarily look a lot like the notes; it's a step toward the homily, which needs to be briefer, and in my judgment, more focused on what the hearer might conclude, or do, as a result of reflecting on God's Word. I have found a little exegesis goes a long way.

So here are the notes I generated this morning, over the course of about 75 minutes. Now I have to do the next step. You'll see the homily and you can draw your conclusions.

Notes on the readings

1. What does it mean to say, “Samuel was not familiar with the Lord…the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet”? This could be a commentary on Eli’s witness and example; yet I think it is saying something more. While we certainly do learn about God from other people, both those who are poor witnesses and those who are faithful ones, nevertheless, each of us must come to know God directly. You can’t be someone’s friend through a third party; you become a friend directly.

2. There’s something amusing about how both Samuel and Eli react to God’s prompting on Samuel’s heart. Notice Samuel springs to action, just like a teenager or young man might. Eli is slowing him down, just as an older man might. But also: Eli is an experienced priest of God – yet it takes him a while to figure out what’s going on! Again, is this a commentary on his spiritual life (which would fit with other details in the rest of the book)? We might hope that Samuel, by his zeal, helps awaken Eli to his identity, parallel to the opportunity that arose when Samuel’s mother met Eli.

3. Eli gave Samuel excellent advice: be still. There is a time for action, but also a time for inaction. If you and I know ourselves, we will realize which way we tend to go. If you are more of a sit-still-and-reflect sort of person, you may need to stir yourself to more action. Getting out of your head, and out of the house, could be the best thing for you. Go volunteer. Turn off the TV or the Internet and all the talkers who don’t know nearly as much as they want you to think they know. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked. However, some of us tend the opposite way: we are all action, not so much contemplation. Follow Eli’s advice and sit still and face the silence. God will speak, although he may make you wait.

4. Notice what the text concludes about Samuel: the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. What a strong statement! If you were a salesperson, wouldn’t you like every single pitch you make to bring a sale? How is it that Samuel’s word was so powerful? The answer does not lie in Samuel’s merit. While Samuel is an exemplary individual, he like everyone else is a beneficiary of God’s grace. You and I are always tempted to think, it is up to us to win God’s favor, to gain God’s help. Wrong! We start with God’s favor; God’s help precedes every possible move any of us make toward God. 

5. So why does God give Samuel this strong endorsement? I suggest two answers. First, because Samuel stayed close to God. Think of our Lady. She is utterly trustworthy as an example and guide solely and precisely because she is so intimately united to her Son, and thereby, to the Holy Trinity. Maybe the reason Samuel’s words were always effective is because he only repeated what God himself said. Look at our Savior in his temptation: note he merely quotes Scripture. Jesus is the Word Incarnate: anything he says, even, “good morning” is the Word of God! Yet in humility and as an example to us, and as a way to deny the enemy any information he is not entitled to, Jesus simply quotes the written word. If the Incarnate Son would take that approach, then you and I would do well to take note. 

6. The second possible reason for Samuel’s word to be always efficacious is the need of God’s People. This reminds us of how God operates with the Church and her sacraments. The pope, and the pope with the bishops, have the charism of teaching infallibly. The sacraments are intrinsically powerful and efficacious. This is for the benefit of the faithful. God does not need the Church to be infallible – we do.

7. Psalm 40 and its refrain are an obvious match to the first reading. But we might note something in the text about sacrifice and oblation: “Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, ‘Behold I come.’” People point to this and other passages in order to argue sacrifice has no place, and sometimes they argue there’s a contradiction at work in Scripture. But St. Paul, who called us to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice,” and our Lord, who can be seen both relativizing sacrifice, and yet offering himself as the supreme sacrifice, surely knew these Scriptures better than those who make these arguments against sacrifice! So let’s resolve it.

8. The right answer is this: God indeed commanded sacrifice -- for our benefit. God doesn’t need sacrifice; but human beings need to offer it. Further, the sacrifices instituted in the Old Testament were a preparation for the sacrifice of the Cross, which is made present for all humanity, in all time, through the Holy Mass. 

9. And yet, the sacrifice itself – whether of lambs or the Lamb of God – is not an end in itself. Jesus offered himself on the Cross not because some “law” forced him. God could forgive and reconcile humanity any way he chose. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that because of the infinite worth of the Son, any suffering of his, however slight, would have been sufficient to atone for all sins. So, a scraped knee! All sacrifice, including THE Sacrifice, are in service of the great goal of healing the breach between God and Creation. In God’s judgment, it was the best way.

10. Subordinate to that: our offering of sacrifices, our penances and self-denial, likewise are not ends in themselves. They are worthwhile only to the extent they are truly united to Christ in his supreme obedience. So we might recall the words of Samuel, later in this same book: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the LORD’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams.”

11. Saint Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians point to many realities. First, we can make an easy and obvious connection: the best way you and I can “glorify” God in our bodies is precisely to “offer” ourselves as a living sacrifice. God understands that our penances help us, but above all, he asks obedience. 

12. Saint Paul is emphasizing here that our bodies are just as much a part of our response as our souls and our wills. There has always been a temptation to treat our bodies as merely “shells” and that how we use our bodies isn’t all that important. So we might misuse our bodies, not such a big deal; it’s the “spiritual” sins or virtues that matter more. But you and I are kidding ourselves if we think we can be physically lax yet be spiritually sharp. God created us as a union of spirit and body; both are “us.” In the end, we get our bodies back, new and improved. That’s the Resurrection. Note that we don’t escape our bodies to live eternally as disembodied souls. That will be our existence for a while, but the goal is the complete restoration and glorification of Creation, including us, as body-spirits.

13. Yes, it is likely Paul is referring particularly to sexual immorality; still, Paul would shake his head if anyone thought his points pertained solely to that. It is all of a piece. If we do not obey God when it comes to our sexual capacity, how does that help us obey God when it comes to any other capacity of ours? Chastity teaches us to put others first, to be generous, and to know how to set our own desires, even the strongest ones, aside for true love: which is seeking the best for others. Some people want to say, oh I’m fine with all “the Church’s” teachings about morality in general, but on sex it’s just all so outdated and not relevant! It’s all of a piece, and it all originates from the Creator, not the Church; and the Creator never gets outdated or irrelevant!

14. The truly startling thing that Paul says is so frequently missed: he tells us that your body, my body, is Christ’s Body! We are all one body. Again, we want to marginalize this as merely a metaphor but Paul couldn’t be more insistent, and rightly understood, more LITERAL. Recall again the great project: to restore Creation; and now let’s note the difference the Incarnation makes: God (while still being uniquely God) has become – in the Son – part of Creation! “One Body.” Every time you and I choose either vice or virtue, Jesus is included!

15. Now we come to the Gospel, and how many interesting connections we can make! John the Baptist has the briefest cameo, fitting because he is the Voice who proclaims the Word, and then recedes, the servant having fulfilled his mission faithfully and to the full. He is another Samuel: was any word of John’s without effect? Samuel had the unhappy mission of instituting a flawed, doomed kingdom, with Saul. John has the happy mission of ushering in the true King! 

16. And of course, don’t miss John’s effective word: “the Lamb of God.” He could have called him king or prophet or priest; yet he summarized who Jesus is as “Lamb of God.”

17. His followers get the point; they immediately follow Jesus, which John wanted to have happen.

18. Their response to Jesus asking, “what are you looking for,” is comical: “Where are you staying?” I wonder if they were just perplexed and didn’t know what to say, and this is what comes out. And yet they lurched unwittingly into a profound insight: their question is actually the best one of all!

19. Consider what they might have asked: “What is your teaching?” Or, “Who are you?” Or, “What will it cost to follow you?” But in fact, their question really is the best. If you and I seek where Jesus is – we stay with him – we will learn all we need. We will discover who he is. We will recognize not only the cost, but what we are prepared to give; and either depart as some do, or see it through to the end, as Peter and all (but one) Apostle did. How did Samuel always have effective words to give; perhaps because he stayed where the Lord was, and absorbed his words. How happy would you and I be if, at the end of our lives, people said of us: all Martin – or Susan or Tom – was about was the Lord!

Sunday, January 07, 2024

See the Light, be the light (Epiphany homily)

 This is going to sound hokey, but: 

the title of my homily is: “See the light – be the light.”

We start with the Magi, these Wise Men, 

these seekers, in the Gospel. 

They saw the light. 

A star caught their attention, and they followed it.

God has a lot of ways to get our attention. 

It may not have happened to you, but it has happened to a lot of us. 

A lot of folks here can remember a time when God set them straight, 

turned them around, answered a prayer. 


When I was 19, I was in my first year of college, 

and I was at a point in my life 

when I was starting really to ask questions about God, 

about being a Christian. And I was going to a Bible study. 

And out of the blue, I heard Christ speak in my heart. 

I can’t really put it into words, but it was clear: 

he was calling me to follow him, 

just like he did with Peter and Andrew, James and John and others.

That was my experience; other people have different experiences.

One way or the other, God gets your attention.

For these Seekers in the Gospel, it was a star. 

They saw the light, and they followed it.

And that light brought you here, whether you realize it or not.

But notice what the other readings talked about. 

Isaiah told us that the Light would shine first on his people, Israel. 

But then, the light would shine to the world. 

How does the Light reach the whole world? That’s your part, and mine.

The Magi did their part; later the Apostles, 

and those who knew them; 

and generation by generation, the light has been passed to you.

I am speaking right now to our kids – you have to listen now!

Kids, teens: do you realize what happened when you were baptized? 

The priest or deacon handed a light – a lit candle – to your godparent. 

And that godparent’s job, with your parents and family, 

is to get that light of faith into your hands, 

so it’s not theirs, but yours.

That candle stands for the light you and I receive in baptism, 

and no matter what any other people may do – or not do –

nothing can extinguish that flame. Only you and I can do that.

When we’re kids, or in our teens, we might say:

Oh, mom and dad didn’t tell me, they didn’t push me.

And you know what? 

There is always something more mom or dad could have done. 

That’s one of the heartaches of a parent: “I could have done more.”

But if you are hearing my words, even very young, 

then the candle, the flame of faith, is already in your hands.

And you can make things happen if you really want to.

That goes for everyone here.

One of the great gifts God gives us, is to rekindle that flame

when we go to confession. God wants us filled with light. 

The fuel of that flame is the Holy Spirit.

You know what a saint really is? 

An ordinary person like you, 

who invites and allows the Holy Spirit to make that flame explode! 

Be that light. Let it happen in you.

You and I will not know, until eternity, 

how even the smallest words or actions of ours 

can set great things in motion. 

When you are out and about, eating a meal, 

don’t be afraid to make the sign of the cross and say grace. 

It’s a small thing, but powerful.

Each of us has been at the store and 

seen someone who was grouchy and difficult. 

Maybe we were that grouch!

It can make a hard-working person’s just to add some kindness.

A day’s worth, a week’s worth, of faithfulness and grace 

can become a life’s worth of witness, 

and it adds up to a blazing sign of God’s grace.

You and I are here: we have followed the light, 

whether we knew it or not, leading us here – in Jesus’ presence. 

Ask him, invite him, to make you a light.