Sunday, February 21, 2021

The most important day of your life (Sunday homily)

 What do you think was the most important day of your life?


Was it the day you were born? 

Or maybe when you graduated from school? 


Or when you met your sweetheart? Or when you were married?

Or do you have four or five most important days: 

when each of your children were born?


Was mine when I was ordained as a priest?


No: as very special as all those are, 

none of those was the most important day of your life. 


The most important day of your life – and mine – 

was the day we were baptized;

because that is when you were given eternal life!

You and I were joined to the life of the Holy Trinity

And we became citizens of heaven.

That changes everything.


What does that have to do with the flood in the first reading?

The flood washes away everything that is hostile to the life of God; 

everything that separates and distracts us from God.


And that is what baptism does, too.


So how do we get from a flood to the desert?



When you wash away everything that commands our attention, 

that seems urgent but actually isn’t as important as we think; 

when all that is gone, what’s left? 


The confrontation between good and evil that we see in the Gospel.


But what’s important is that it is Jesus facing the devil. 

He’s squaring off in the battle each of us faces.

The point is, he’s facing our enemy – on our behalf.


When humanity faced the devil the first time, what happened?

We lost. Our hope was destroyed.

So, as St. John Henry Newman said, 

“A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.”


You and I still face our ancient foe, day by day;

but we need not do so alone. Jesus wades into battle on our behalf!


That’s what Good Friday and the Cross are about. 

Jesus had a choice; he said, let the cup pass, 

but if not, thy will be done! 


Once again, that is what baptism is about:

you and I being joined to Jesus: we take up his cross;

And he takes up the battle on our behalf.


That’s why we recall our own baptism today, 

and why we will do that in a solemn way in six weeks on Easter.



Someone once told me, always have an action item in a homily.

So here it is: you have six weeks of Lent 

to discover the power and reality of your own baptism – 

the most important day of your life.


Go to confession: return to the purity of your baptism.

Renew the vows made for you; make them for yourself.


On the day of your baptism, you were set on the path toward heaven. 

It’s always a good idea to recheck your heavenly GPS

And make sure you know where you are headed. 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

What is the leprosy God cares about -- and why? (Sunday homily)

 Let’s start this homily with the leprosy described in the readings.


Leprosy is a skin disease; it’s fairly uncommon today, 

and it is curable today. 

So for us in rural Ohio in 2021, leprosy is no threat to our community.


But in Moses’ time, there was no known cure; 

and when unchecked, leprosy would not only leave you disfigured, 

it could cost you fingers, toes, and finally, your life.

So it was obviously a big deal.


But the real leprosy God cares about – 

and wants you and me to care about – 

isn’t something that disfigures our bodies, but our souls. 

That, of course, is sin.


There is a huge mistake many people make about sin.

They – we – think of sin as mainly something you and I do.


It’s like breaking a traffic law: you went too fast, 

you rolled through a stop sign. 

Oops, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have done it. 

Let me pay my fine. 


So when this mindset is applied to the spiritual life, it’s like,

“Yep, I drank too much Friday night, let me go to confession.

Pay the fine. I’m clear, let’s move on.”


What’s missing entirely is the awareness that sin 

isn’t only something I do;

like leprosy, it is something that becomes part of me!

Not only will this spiritual leprosy will change me;

if I don’t confront it, it will ruin me.


Here’s where leprosy isn’t a strong enough image;

because where leprosy infects your skin and maybe other organs,

sin corrupts our hearts and minds and transforms our very selves.

Sin contaminates how you and I see things; what we care about.


Sin is a leprosy of the soul.


Here’s another thing: one of the reasons leprosy is bad 

is because you stop feeling. 

Your nerves don’t work so well:

so someone with leprosy might put her hand in fire and not realize it.


And that’s what sin does to us: 

you can put yourself into worse and worse peril and no longer care.


Now, I’ve reached the point in this sermon where I wish

I could take half of you listening over here, and say one thing;

and meanwhile, take half of you over here, and say something else.


So with everyone listening at the same time,

Please realize some of what I’m going to say doesn’t apply to you, 

but to someone else here, OK? That’s really important.

Because when it comes to sin and repentance and change,

some people are like, “I’m on cruise control, I’ve got this,” 

and they aren’t really taking things seriously enough.

They aren’t examining themselves…enough.


These folks could use to step up their spiritual life.


If this is you, you’re that guy who is driving,

and someone in the car is saying, “hmm…there’s a stop sign up ahead…”

Then, a little louder, “dude, you DO see that stop sign, right?”

Finally your friend is all in your face and you’re screeching to a stop, 

and you’re saying, “Hey, why didn’t you tell me?”


So I’m telling you. The Lord is telling you: wake up. 

Time to step it up!


But that’s only some folks.


Meanwhile, there are folks – and you know who you are! –

And what I just said is the absolute LAST thing you need to hear!

Because you’re at the other end of the spectrum.


Some folks don’t come to confession enough.

Other folks have turned confession into a torture chamber.

God love you, and he does! And I love you too! 

And I’m telling you, I’m begging you: 

stop tormenting yourself, in the name of Jesus, stop!


Some folks come to confession and treat God as a tax auditor.

God’s going to catch me not getting that right, and then I’m toast!   

So I’ll go ahead and declare that’s a mortal sin, just to cover my bases.


The point of confession is not to pay enough spiritual taxes 

to keep the heavenly IRS off your back!


God’s great purpose is not to catch you and me doing something wrong; 

rather, it is to help you and me to become the beautiful, 

heaven-ready saint that he longs for us to be.


Let me say that again:

God’s purpose is not to catch you doing wrong!

But to give you and me the grace we need to be saints forever!


So where some folks need to get moving;

Other folks, you need to relax a little.


Lent starts Wednesday. 

Now is the time to ask yourself two questions:

Do I really believe God is rooting for me, 

working hard on my behalf, to make it to heaven?

And second, what change is God calling me to make 

to help me along the way? 


Sunday, February 07, 2021

Combating sloth on our journey to heaven (Sunday homily)

 We’ve all heard of the seven deadly sins, I hope?


Just to remind you, they are: 

pride, envy, wrath, greed, gluttony, lust, 

and there’s one more we don’t talk about much: sloth. What is that?


Sloth is more than merely being lazy, although that’s part of it.


This is the sin of indifference and lack of interest; of not caring.

It can poison our zeal for doing the things we need to do:

Praying, going regularly to confession, being faithful to our obligations,

and caring about the needs of others.


Saint Augustine talked once about how this life is a journey.

Sometimes, as for Job in the first reading,  

it is a “drudgery,” and a lack of hope.

When Job speaks of “months of misery,

and troubled nights,” 

I think that’s how a lot of people feel right now!


That discouragement can be lead us to one kind of spiritual sloth:

That “why bother” sort of attitude, 

where we just feel like we have no reason to keep going.


But you and I are on a journey through this world. 

If you are driving home, maybe it’s a beautiful day 

and you love seeing the scenery along the way.


Or maybe it’s sleet and snow, you can’t see,

And you’re white-knuckling it 

as you and other drivers slip-and-slide along I-75.

Either way, remember: 

the point of the drive home isn’t the drive, but home itself!’


Funny thing is, this is where a rough ride through storms 

is actually less bad than a beautiful drive. Why?


Because one of the spiritual dangers each of us face –

On our “drive home” to heaven –

Is that we fall too much in love with things along the way, 

and forget where we are headed.


That, too, is a kind of spiritual sloth:

gradually falling in love with this world and all it offers,

can make us gradually forget our first love, who is Jesus Christ.


Either way, sloth is simply not caring; 

either from being too sad; or from being too content.


One way we can identify sloth in our lives:

If we so content with where we are, 

that we’re not actively thinking about where we’re going to be next.


So there’s the problem. What do we do about it?


Well, these readings give us some remedies.


Notice Jesus is busy taking care of other people.

If it seems like you’re carrying the weight of the world,

if you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself,

one of the best remedies is to check in with people who need help.

In a few weeks we’ll have another casserole crusade to send good, 

home-cooked food to feed people who lives can be pretty rough.


If you go to the Bethany Center in Piqua, or the soup kitchen in Sidney, 

you’ll see all kinds of folks, young and old, 

including parents bringing children.

I’ll wager most of us have never been in that situation.

Do you want to help those kids get a good meal? Of course you do!

Well, then, sign up when the time comes to make casseroles!


Another remedy for sloth is how Paul just keeps to his task.

He says, I’ve got a job to do. Maybe I feel like it, maybe I don’t – 

but I get down to work all the same.

Paul remembers why he’s doing it: he’s thinking of home; of heaven.


A third remedy: when you’re discouraged and tempted to slack off, 

it’s time to double-down. 


If you don’t want to get out of bed to go to the gym,

what does your workout buddy do? Gets on your case, right?


You don’t feel like praying? That’s when you pray more.

Someone will say, “but I don’t feel like praying!”…

as if feelings are all that important? They aren’t!


Kids, I’ve got a secret to tell you, ready?

A lot of times, your dad and your mom 

don’t feel like getting up at 5 or 6 am to go to work. 

They don’t feel like making supper.


They don’t feel like helping you with your homework

Or even leading the family Rosary.


But they do it anyway. It’s not about feeling. It’s about love.

Love is a choice, not a feeling; we choose to love God,

We choose to love people in our lives,

Whether we feel it…or not.


So, sure, it’s nice if when our spiritual lives include good feels;

But a lot of times, that doesn’t happen.

Just keep going. We’ve got a journey ahead of us.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Church is our Prophet and more powerful than we know (Sunday homily)

 The readings give us an opportunity to talk about what a prophet is.

But it’s also about who we are.


In the first reading, when Moses says a “prophet” 

would come after him, this doesn’t refer only to one person, but many. 


Of course, there were many prophets that came after Moses.

Many were great figures, like Isaiah, others tragic, like Samson.


Notice also, the Gospel shows us something 

you never saw anywhere before in Scripture. 

None of the Old Testament prophets 

ever exercised authority over demons. 


Only Jesus Christ does this. 

It’s a powerful sign that he is, of course, 

more than just a prophet, but God himself, become man.


A third point: after Jesus comes, there are no more prophets.

Instead, the Lord calls the Apostles; 

and they are the foundation of the Church.


They go out in his name and they, too have authority over demons.

To this day, this is an attribute of the Church.

Let me highlight that again: 

none of the prophets had this power over evil – but the Church does.


So that makes clear who has the authority in the world today,

Not only of a prophet, but of an Apostle, and really, of Jesus himself:

And it is his Body, the Church.




Now, I realize that as soon as I say that, 

people think of the weaknesses of so many bishops, 

so many disappointments, and it’s hard to believe what I’m saying. 


But I want to draw out a few things here.

First, don’t fail to see how much of Christ’s power is at work, right now,

through the Church.


Every time a baby is baptized, evil is cast out.

Every confession does the same.

Meanwhile, every day the Mass is offered 

and the Word of God is shared, 

both at Mass and in so many other ways.

And there is nothing more powerful 

than the Mass and the Word of God.


When you pray, you are as powerful as you will ever be.

That’s true because of the Holy Spirit you received in baptism!


It’s funny, in a way, because when people underestimate 

the reality of the spiritual power at work in the Church, 

they are doing exactly what people did to Jesus himself! 


People will complain about the bishops not being tough enough, 

and I’m not arguing with you. 

But it strikes me as odd to say, “because the bishops are weak, 

I’m turning away from what is really strong about the Church” – 

and that is the sacraments.


Here’s another point. If the Church is weak in many ways,

blame the bishops or the priests, sure; 

but the Church is 99% laypeople. 

You are where the bishops and priests come from. 

I’m not excusing leaders for not leading;

but so many people say, “oh father, 

if you just say something, people will do what you tell them.”

Oh, I wish I had that power! But I don’t!


It’s so much easier to say, it’s the bishops, it’s the priests, 

it’s the media, it’s big business, it’s the government…


But I think G.K. Chesterton got it right.

When asked, “What’s wrong with the Church?” He said, “I am.”


None of us has any hope of fixing what’s wrong in other people.

What you and I can do – and what we hate to do, 

that’s why we’d rather point elsewhere – is to change ourselves!


So if you want the Church to be a more powerful prophet in the world,

you need look no further than the mirror.

You and I both.


If you want to be spiritually powerful, if you want to combat evil,

Go to confession. 

Make your morning offering every day.

Your battle for daily holiness – and mine – 

is the front lines, it’s not somewhere else.


Of course, this is often tedious and feels pointless.

The soldier in the trenches can easily say, 

“It doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere, 

none of this makes any sense” – 

right up until the day the war is finally won.


There is a Prophet in our world. It’s Us! It’s you.


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Being generous is not foolish (Sunday homily)

 The first reading is from the Book of Jonah. 

If you have never read the whole book of Jonah, you can easily do it; 

it’s very short and it’s very funny.


When God first calls Jonah to go to Nineveh 

and call them to repentance, the prophet runs away. 

Why? You can find out in the last part of the book: 

Jonah knew God would end up forgiving the people – if they repented – 

and Jonah felt foolish having gone through all that.


Which raises a point: sometimes doing the right thing 

can make you and me feel foolish.


So, for example, someone comes to you and gives an apology, 

and you accept it. 

People around you say, “oh don’t be so foolish, that person’s fake! 

She’ll turn on you again.” 

And sure enough, that’s what happens. Was it foolish to forgive?


Which raises the question: is God foolish? 

To be good to those who ignore him? 

To forgive and forgive and forgive? 

God has forgiven me in confession more times than I can count – 

how about you? Should God stop being so generous?


To choose to be generous – with our time, 

with our talents and our money and other resources – 

is, purely and simply, the right thing to do. 

In doing so, you and I are imitating God. 


If you give food to a street person in Dayton, 

maybe he will throw it away, or trade it for drugs. You don’t know. 

But God knows exactly what everyone of us will do 

with the gifts he gives us – and yet God gives abundantly:

Above all, giving himself to us on the Cross!


It is not that we don’t want to be prudent; but in the end, 

it is simply a good idea to be generous; 

and I mean that in the broadest sense, not only with stuff, 

but above all, ourselves.


Today throughout the 19 counties of the Archdiocese, 

we are kicking off the annual Catholic Ministries Appeal. 

Archbishop Schnurr sends out a recorded message,

 which some parishes will play instead of the homily. 

I don’t do that; instead, I try to give my own homily, 

drawing on the Archbishop’s message.


Let me remind you of the good works you make happen with this fund:


- Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services 

- Hospital, campus, and prison ministries;  

- Stronger evangelization efforts; 

- St. Rita School for the Deaf; 

- The seminary and vocation programs; 

- and our retired archdiocesan priests. 


To quote the Archbishop, 

“ Despite … tremendous obstacles and setbacks 

that many donors themselves encountered last year, 

the 2020 CMA campaign exceeded its fund-raising goal of $5 million…


“Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services 

provide emergency food assistance, including drive-through options, 

to meet the increasing needs of families. 

  

“Hospital chaplains remain a vital, physical presence 

for those they serve, especially when 

family members were not permitted to visit.

  

“And our retired Archdiocesan priests, 

while a part of the high-risk population for COVID-19, 

continued to serve as they are able, helping with Masses, 

the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and more.”


Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll get a letter 

inviting you to take part. 

Also we’ll have some envelopes in the pews in a couple of weeks. 

Every year Saint Remy parishioners are generous – thank you! – 

and we exceed our goal. 

You should know that when we go above the goal, 

some of that comes back to our parish 

and helps pay for our programs for our kids.


The past 10 months have been pretty bumpy and stressful.

But one thing has stayed constant: you’ve been generous in helping people in need. 

And that’s an encouraging thing.


Let’s stay steady on that path. It’s not a foolish thing to do.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

How would Saint Remy have handled Joe Biden?

 Today we celebrate our parish patron, Saint Remy. 

His day actually falls on January 13, 

but we’re allowed to shift the celebration to a nearby Sunday, 

and that’s what we do every year.


Saint Remy – or Remigius as he would have called himself, 

and that name, by the way, appears outside

on the stone up in the front wall of our church; 

if you’ve never noticed, go look at it after Mass! – 

lived at a time of great social and political upheaval. 


So while I am not saying our situation is exactly the same, 

I think he would have understood the anxieties 

lots of people face right now. He is a good saint for our times.


What Remigius had to deal with was, as I say,

really worse than our situation. His world was falling apart. 

And yes, I know some think that’s what you and I are facing now. 

I don’t agree, but there’s no point in arguing.

If that’s what you think – or if you know people who feel that way – 

then that’s where St. Remy can teach us some things.


In Bishop Remigius’ time, his homeland of Gaul – present day France – 

passed from being Roman to being part of the new Frankish Kingdom. 

Imagine driving through town one day, 

and where the U.S. flag was flying 

at the post office and the school yesterday, 

a new, foreign flag has taken it’s place. 

That gives you a sense of what the folks went through then, 

along with war and chaos along the way.


Now here’s the point, here’s what matters: How did Bishop Remy react? 


He kept his focus on his mission, 

which was basically the same no matter the situation: 

stay close to Jesus Christ, and be a witness to Jesus Christ!


So let’s just talk about what has so many people on edge right now. 

After a long and weird battle in the courts and on Twitter, 

leading to shameful events at the U.S. Capitol a couple of weeks ago, 

the question of who will be our next president is settled: 

it will be Joseph Biden. 


It’s no secret he didn’t get many votes around here, 

and the reasons are obvious: 

he takes terrible positions on so many issues. 

He is completely in favor of abortion on demand 

and he supports the redefinition of marriage.  

These positions, of course, are entirely contrary to the Catholic Faith, 

in which Mr. Biden was baptized and which he still professes.


Now, I am very tempted to make some observations 

about the political situation, but that will swallow up my homily, 

and that’s not why I’m here. 


Mr. Biden certainly wants to do some bad things, 

such as providing a lot more tax money for abortion, 

and that would be very bad; 

but you and I won’t be silent when he tries 

and I think he will have a tough fight if he goes down that road. 

There’s no reason to be fatalistic and just get panicky.


Meanwhile, other people are worked up; angry; losing sleep; frightened; paralyzed.


But this is not how Remigius reacted!


Saint Remy reached out to the new arrivals, the Franks. 

He befriended their leader, Clovis. 

And the result is on display in this window, right by Saint Joseph: 

Through the influence of his wife, St. Clotilde, and Remy, 

King Clovis was baptized. That changed everything that came after.


No matter what happens, your mission and mine 

fundamentally doesn’t change. We bear witness. 


I don’t blame anyone for feeling badly 

about the outcome of the election, but maybe it’s time to move on? 

Given the challenges ahead, does it do any good to lose sleep 

and get into angry conversations? How does this help? 

Especially the anger? How does that help?


Here’s an idea I have. Let’s notice something: 

Mr. Biden is – despite his terrible positions on several issues –

 a baptized, confirmed Catholic. And he goes regularly to Mass. 


He should not be receiving Holy Communion 

until he repents of his stance against these teachings of the Faith, 

but I am in favor of him going to Mass as often as possible; aren’t you?

Here’s something else. Notice who his patron saint is: Saint Joseph. 

And what did Pope Francis do a few weeks ago? 

Declare this a special Year of St. Joseph! Coincidence?


So here’s my idea. How about, starting today, 

you and I beg the intercession of St. Joseph, 

for our incoming president, also named Joseph?


Let’s pray for the conversion of his heart, 

and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in him.


Doesn’t that sound like something St. Remy would do?