Journal Archive 2019 CYCLE C

Receive an email
Would you like to receive an email notice of a Sunday Journal update? Click here

Second Sunday of Advent
LK 3:1-6
December 9, 2018

I was nursing my third cup of “morning joe,” getting a very slow start to what I knew would be a very busy day. Just as I was about to get up and get moving, I glanced over at the Township Times that had been sitting on my kitchen counter all week. Glad for yet another reason not to get up, I began to page through the little local newspaper. It didn’t take me long to find another “good reason” to delay the work of the day.

Across the middle of page 2, in big, blue letters, was the invitation: “LET’S CELEBRATE WORD SEARCH.” Below the bold print were 20 rows of letters, 20 letters deep. Underneath this alphabet maze were the instructions: Find the words hidden, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and backwards. Running down the right-hand side of the page was the list of 36 words that were camouflaged by the 400 letters, each word having to do with what is referred to as THE HOLIDAY SEASON. (That has become the politically correct way of referring to Advent and Christmas…”The Holiday Season”

Almost immediately, I spotted and circled the words: shopping, snow, friends, food, and gifts. I was hooked. I thought to myself: This is easy! I’ll just blow through this while I finish my coffee, and then I’ll get ready and get to work.

An hour later, now seriously late, there were just two words left on the list that I absolutely could not find. I was getting more and more frustrated, but I didn’t give up. And then, I looked over at the clock and realized that there was no time left. I had to get to work. So, I quickly flipped to the “solutions” section. But it still took me a few minutes to find where these two elusive words were concealed. When I finally located them, I turned back to the puzzle so that I could circle these last two words. Even though I knew exactly where to look, I still had trouble finding these two words: CELEBRATION and FAITH!

Advent is the shortest of the liturgical seasons, only four weeks long. While it is technically not like Lent, which is penitential in tone and purpose, no fasting or abstaining is required during Advent, nevertheless, it is a time to prepare. Moreover, all three Readings for this 2nd Sunday of Advent convey a sense of urgency. The Season flies by fast. There is no time to waste. And while the work is urgent and extremely important, our Readings also tell us to go about the preparations with a sense of joy!

Like the headline that caught my attention, we are preparing to CELEBRATE THE WORD. But no search is necessary. We have no need of clues. There is nothing concealed or hidden in a scramble of letters. John the Baptist brushed aside all obstacles in the way of God’s Eternal Word made Flesh. The message stands out…plain and simple and on its own for those who are wise enough to look. A SAVIOUR IS BORN, CHRIST OUR KING…WHO WILL RETURN AGAIN IN GLORY!

Our spiritual preparation to welcome Christ at Christmas, at the conclusion of our own lives, and at the end of the world, deserves our immediate attention. It should not be delayed or put off. So as we light the second of the four Advent candles, “LET’S CELEBRATE (THE) WORD….NO SEARCH REQUIRED!”

Third Sunday of Advent
LK 3:10-18
November 16, 2018

From the way he is described in the Gospels, one wouldn’t expect John the Baptist to be the grand marshal of the Christmas parade. He is not portrayed as particularly jolly. If you happened to find yourself in a one-on-one conversation with him at a Christmas party, you would most likely be looking frantically around for an excuse to free yourself. It doesn’t seem like he was the type to engage in a little light-hearted conversation. Yet, the Church has chosen to make him the spokesperson for this third Sunday of Advent. What’s that all about?

The first two Readings certainly set the right tone for Gaudete Sunday, which is meant to be an expression of the mounting sense of JOY as the arrival of our Savior draws closer. But JOY…is NOT the reaction one would typically expect to this harsh voice crying out from the banks of the Jordan River. Some might even consider The Baptist a “killjoy.” It makes you wonder why The Church decided to proclaim this particular passage from Luke’s Gospel, even as excitement builds and anticipation intensifies. This is not a penitential season. Our first two Readings are certainly in keeping with the spirit of Advent. So, why complete the Liturgy of the Word with John the Baptist on Gaudete Sunday?

To better understand this unusual pairing, it might help to go back to the beginning. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is in harmony with the Prophet Zephaniah, because each, in its own way, points out that when we place all of our trust in God’s mercy and love, we find that our lives are much more JOYFUL. Underlying that message is the observation that when our spirits are JOYFUL, we are inclined to share that JOY. Think about it for a second. Don’t you feel more generous when you are happy? And doesn’t that sense of satisfaction, contentment, peace, JOY intensify when you share the good things with which you are blessed?

Keeping that in mind, take another look at John the Baptist — certainly an unusual pick to lead the Christmas parade. But the fact is that is exactly who God chose to announce the arrival of the Messiah. The Baptist was the grand marshal, leading all humankind in the most JOYFUL of all celebrations…welcoming Jesus Christ as Savior.

While he might not be the kind of person you seek out for some light conversation at a party, our Gospel begins by telling us that he attracted a crowd. The passage concludes by explaining why: He preached good news to the people!

And what is this “good news” that enabled him to capture and hold the attention of his audience? Simply this: “Pay it forward!” When you place your trust in God’s mercy and love, you will find JOY. And when you are filled with JOY…”Pay it forward!

Fourth Sunday of Advent
LK 1:39-45
December 23, 2018

I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow evening…CHRISTMAS EVE! But, as I reflect on the Gospel proclaimed on this final Sunday of Advent 2018, I find myself looking back…not all that far, really. The powerful story of The Visitation, The Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, reported by Luke sends me back a mere two weeks to the Second Sunday of Advent.

As I prayerfully imagined the encounter between these two pregnant women, Mary and Elizabeth, I remembered the Psalm that was sung at Mass in my parish. When the cantor stepped up to the ambo and introduced the refrain, I sensed a current running through the church. The tune was especially upbeat…truly joyful…”catchy.” I could see folks “perk up.” And, although he did his usual excellent job singing the verses, it seemed like everyone was almost impatient to join in. I was, anyway. In fact, even though two weeks have passed, I still catch myself singing/praying…


I remember that when he finally lifted his arms, signaling the community to “join in”…join in we did! From the presider’s chair, looking out over the community, I could see just about everyone’s lips moving…and the church was filled with those words…


It was great.

While the message was powerful and the tune “catchy,” I don’t think that is what has me looking back to Psalm 126 and the Second Sunday of Advent, when just about everybody else in the world is most likely looking forward to Christmas Eve. There was something else about that Sunday celebration that has raised that memory in my mind and in my heart as we close this Advent Season.

As I was singing along with the community, enjoying a moment of full, active, and conscious participation in the Eucharist, which the Psalm ignited, I noticed a young woman in the front row. She was just a few feet away from me, so I had a good view of her. Like everyone else, she was singing. And, like everyone else, she had a look of happiness on her face, as we filled the church with that proclamation of faith:


But what made her particularly unique and caused her to stand out in the crowd was what might be thought of as her “prayer posture.” Obviously pregnant, the young woman had her hands placed on either side of her “baby bump.” It was if she was cradling her unborn child. That gesture seemed entirely fitting at that time and place, and gave special meaning to those words:


The memory of that young woman came to my mind as I began my reflection on today’s Gospel. I envision Elizabeth rushing out to greet Mary, their eyes meeting and exchanging knowing glances. I see them stopping for a moment, just before they hug…both cradling their unborn babies…just like the expectant young mother in the first row. The soundtrack that plays in my mind as I reflect on the scene surrounding the meeting of these two heroic women is:


God had definitely done “great things” for Mary and Elizabeth. God filled them both with the Holy Spirit. But then, God asked great things of them. Both were invited to play a full, active, and conscious role in salvation history. Both accepted God’s invitation. Because of their willingness to cooperate with God’s grace, tomorrow, voices will be raised all around the world, singing a new song:


As we take a final glimpse of the Advent wreath, it is good to remember that the Christmas Season is fleeting. In no time, Christmas 2018 will be a memory. The decorations will all disappear and the music will change. LOOKNG FORWARD, however, there is one song that those of us who have been Baptized in Christ Jesus should continue to sing…even if only in our minds and our hearts:


Like Mary and Elizabeth, we have been impregnated with the Holy Spirit. Each of us cradles Christ within our bodies. Each of us has been invited to take a full, active, and conscious part in the work of proclaiming the Reign of God. So, looking forward, give some serious thought to how you might go about “giving birth” to the Good News. And should you doubt how important you are to The Story of Salvation…remember the song:


Feast of the Holy Family
LK 2:41-52
December 30, 2018

Last fall, an old friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I asked if they were going to have a party. She explained that they decided to just get together with their children and grandchildren.

Now, I know this couple to be devout Catholics, and I am also aware of how proud they are that their children are passing on our faith to their grandchildren. The sacraments mean a great deal to this entire family. So, I offered to do a special anniversary Mass, and they were delighted. But, it was difficult to find a date where everyone was free. After a few tries, my friend called and very hesitantly asked: I know you will be exhausted from the Christmas Mass schedule, but is there any way we could do the Anniversary Mass on December 26? Everyone was going to be home for Christmas, but not for long. I was happy to oblige and so we began to plan the liturgy.

I suggested “the Readings of the day.” It’s my experience that God had some special message within the daily Scripture passages, fitting and appropriate and meant to be heard, regardless of the occasion. So, there was no need to look for anything “special.” She seemed fine with that.

However, as the date for the celebration drew near, she sent a text message: Have you read the Readings? (The Readings the Church assigns to 12/26…of course I had) Can find Readings on a happier note? In truth, the Readings for December 26, The Feast of St. Stephen, are not what you would call “cheerful.” St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles and describes his death. The Gospel (Matt. 10:17-22) is Jesus’s warning that to follow Him means sharing in His persecution and death. We agreed to look to the suggested Readings for Christian Marriage, and more “celebratory” passages were chosen.

I still felt, however, that “the Readings for the Feast” were appropriate to the occasion. Martyrdom is about giving up your life out of love! And, in reality, Christian Marriage is all about giving up your life out of love. Although it would be the rare occasion that marriage demands the sacrifice of St. Stephen, Christian Marriage involves dying to one’s self in order to commit fully to the marriage covenant; whereby there are no longer two, but one.

I would imagine that within the first few days of a marriage, the all too human inclination to put “self” first is tested. And, while it might take 50 or more years to get it right, Jesus assures us that whoever endures to the end will be saved! (Matt. 10:22…a pretty happy note on which to conclude a golden wedding anniversary!)

So what does St. Stephen’s martyrdom and a 50th anniversary have to do with The Feast of the Holy Family…or the Christmas Season for that matter? Easy! One simple word: RELATIONSHIP! It’s all about relationship.

The Christmas Season focuses on God’s relationship with humankind. The mystery of the Incarnation is all about our Creator-God’s radically Self-less act of taking on human form, in order to relate to us in the most personal of ways.

The Feast of The Holy Family highlights the roles of Joseph and Mary in the work of salvation. Imitating God, they put aside their own interests and concerns and selflessly responded to God’s invitation to help bring The Living Word made Flesh into the world. Like all good parents, Mary and Joseph committed their lives to the protecting, caring for, and nurturing The Christ-child.

Today’s Gospel shows Jesus, Himself, as a brilliant example of Divine Self-limiting. God made human “listened to and asked questions of” the teachers in the Temple, about God. Possibly the greatest example of how God, through Jesus, humbled the Divine Self is the fact that He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Creator submitting to the authority of creatures, in order to build a more loving and intimate relationship is certainly an idea that takes an entire season to wrap our minds around.

And so, the Feast of the Holy Family is appropriately placed within the Christmas Season, when we ponder the extreme lengths which God has taken in order to participate in a loving relationship with humanity.


Today, like this entire Christmas Season, is all about relationship…certainly the relationship between God and us, but more still. Today, we ponder our relationships within marriage, family, parish, county…and even world. And the lesson should be clear. We are called to be gentle, even humble with one another. We are called to imitate God by making ourselves less, so that our relationships can be more…stronger…lasting…eternal! Remember: who ever endures to the end will be saved!

The Epiphany of the Lord
MT 2:1-12
January 6, 2019

There really and truly was a King Herod. Historical documents as well as archeological ruins of the opulent palaces he built in and around his capital city of Jerusalem are solid and convincing evidence of Herod’s existence. We have a pretty reliable picture of the kind of ruler he was…and it isn’t pretty.

He was chosen by a foreign power to rule over his people, quite likely because the Roman Empire knew that he would do their bidding in exchange for his throne. He was brutal to the point of being bloodthirsty. Even his own family was not spared his treachery. He was extraordinarily self-indulgent. Over 2,000 years have passed, and what remains of his homes allow us to imagine a lifestyle that today’s billionaires would find impressive; this, in spite of the extreme poverty and suffering of the people he governed.

He was paranoid, conniving, and fast and loose with the truth. When he heard of something which he considered threatening or offensive, he became greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt. 2-1-12) While a good deal of information has survived about this despicable despot, there is nothing that supports the Gospel report of the slaying of the infant males of Bethlehem. Nevertheless, what we do know about him with historic certainty is consistent with that kind of crime against humanity.

Not a very good image to begin our reflection on this Feast of the Epiphany. Still, this is who the Three Magi encountered first, before finding The Christ-child. What is even more unnerving to the point of being frightening is the fact that Herod still lives! Clearly not the same person, governing the same impoverished country, but all over the world, there are heavy handed, authoritarian rulers who wield power with the same brutality, even to the point of murdering children.

By contrast, other than the Gospel, there is no solid and convincing historic evidence that there really and truly were Three Magi. It’s ironic that we keep good records of evil, but when it comes to goodness…heroic figures tend to be lost to the passage of time. Over the centuries, some details have been ascribed to these three mysterious figures, but the fact is, even though it is not in great detail, Matthew tells us all we need to know.

They must have been aware of God’s promise to send a Savior. They must have believed in God’s goodness and faithfulness, because they kept watch for the signs that the promise was fulfilled. They were definitely wise. First, they recognized the sign when they saw his star at its rising and came to do him homage. They were discerning in that they saw Herod for what he was. However, their lasting brilliance is that they recognized the Infant Jesus for Who and What He IS.

We have no idea of what happened to the gold they brought. But, this gift proves their understanding that they would be welcoming a King. The fact that the encounter we celebrate was not in a royal palace was of no consequence to them. Possibly they were aware at the outset of their journey that they were looking for a King who would put humanity first…a Servant King.

Although the encounter was in the most humble of circumstances…far removed from The Great Temple, the three seekers appreciated that they were in the presence of the Almighty. And so, they reverenced Him with frankincense.
And because they were aware of the fact that God had chosen to share fully in our human nature, in every way but sin, they came prepared with the gift of myrrh. They anticipated His death. Could they have known that His death was the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world? Hard to say, since there is so little detail left about them, other than the act of faith that motivated a dangerous journey. And then, of course, there is the fact that they still live! Clearly not the same three persons, but all over the world in the bodies of women, men, and children who seek Truth, Justice, and Love.

The three we honor today live within you who continue to follow the star. And your journey has carried you to Matt. 2:1-12…a story of faith, courage, wisdom, and generosity, rewarded with an encounter with The Eternal Word made Flesh.

COME! Let us adore Him….Christ the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord 
LK 3:15-16, 21-22
January 13, 2019

These days, in the USA, those two little words evoke some powerful and vivid images, not to mention emotions. “The Wall” are two little words that are politically charged and deal with the issue of border security.

For generations, in The Holy Land, those words, THE WALL, has, likewise, aroused powerful emotions. The image, however, was and continues to be more than a plan or proposal for a future structure. To the Jewish people, THE WALL brings instantly to mind what remains of The Temple of Jerusalem.

One of the wonders of the ancient world, The Temple, is equally as significant to Christians as to the Jewish people. It was the setting of many of the most dramatic events in the life of Jesus Christ.

Joseph and Mary, when the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22)

When He was 12 years old, The Holy Family traveled from Nazareth to The Temple to celebrate the Passover. Without telling anyone, Jesus remained behind, as the rest of His family set off on the journey home. His frantic parents returned, searching for Him, and expressed their concern to Him when He was finally found. His response should enhance our appreciation for The Temple and for what remains of it: THE WALL!How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Toward the end of His earthly life, Jesus repeated those words as He drove money changers from The Temple.”…stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:16)

The Temple was the site of much of Jesus’s teaching and preaching and the place where He performed many miracles. And so, THE WALL most certainly deserves the reverence and respect of Christians and Jews alike. On the other hand, Jewish people believe that The Spirit of God dwells within the stones of THE WALL. That might well be the case. But, as we bring this Christmas Season to a close with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we would do well to consider where else the Holy Spirit dwells. The events at the Jordan River direct our attention away from The Temple, first to Jesus, and then inward, to ourselves. Consider what Isaiah the prophet tells us in our First Reading: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end. In Baptism, our service begins!

Through our Baptisms, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in each and every one of us. Moreover, we are called to continue the mission and ministry of The Lord, Who was the cornerstone that the builders rejected. (Luke 20:17) On top of that foundation, The Lord placed Simon Peter, The Rock on whom our Church was built. And then came us!

Those two simple little words: THE WALL, conjure up different images for different people, evoking powerful emotions. For me, they offer a perfect image of discipleship, and a reminder of what it means to share in The Baptism of the Lord.

We are not the remains of something once built by human hands and then destroyed by human aggression. We are a LIVING WALL that continues to grow and stand firm because our foundation is Christ. Each of us is like a stone, thoughtfully placed by The Master Builder so that we can add to the strength and beauty of THE WALL. The purpose of this WALL is not border security, but rather, spiritual protection, preventing an invasion by “godless ways and worldly desires….and lawlessness.”

But at the same time, God does not intend that we be a barrier to prevent people from entering; rather, within our confines, there is an atmosphere of peace, justice, and love which we should be eager to share with those who are eager to be part of what we stand for. We are living Temples. We will continue to stand and grow until Christ returns in Glory, because within us, The Spirit of God lives!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 2:1-11
January 20, 2019

THE TODAY SHOW aired a little feature story about wine. Guests were invited to a fancy wine-tasting party. The room where the event was held was very upscale. There were linen-covered tables filled with shiny stemware. The people attending were all well dressed, so they at least gave the impression that they were the kind of folks you would expect to be acquainted with fine wines. It was a very elegant affair. And then the waiters began to serve…asking RED? or WHITE?…and pouring from bottles that had a very fancy label. The participants were under the impression that they were test marketing high-end wine imported from France.

After everyone had an opportunity to do some serious “tasting,” they were asked for their reactions to the various wines being served. The comments were all positive and made the guests sound like sophisticated and knowledgeable connoisseurs as they extolled the qualities of the fine wine they were drinking. It was then they were told that what they were sampling was “Black Box Wine” that had been poured into bottles and falsely labeled as a French wine from a vineyard.

God does not operate this way! In fact, quite the contrary. Through Baptism, God pours into the most ordinary of vessels The Holy Spirit.

Just as there are different types of wines made from the grapes grown in the same vineyard, so too, as St. Paul explains in our Second Reading, there are different gifts, all coming from the same Spirit.

Some lives are filled with wisdom, which enables a person to look deep into Divine truths and to react to the challenges of life as God would want us do. Those “Ahhhh!” moments bubble up from wisdom.

Some lives are filled with knowledge of the facts and details on which our Catholic faith is grounded. We uncork this flow of information when we have a thirst for certainty…or when we need to explain to someone why we do what we do…or believe what we believe.

Different wines are said to pair nicely with different foods. The gift of faith pairs nicely with the challenges and hardships, enabling one to endure with confidence, certainty, trust, and assurance in the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Healing is thought to be like a rare vintage, available to only a few privileged people, when, in fact, a word, a smile, a short visit often brings comfort and even cure.

There are other gifts that are appropriate for only the odd occasion, but, when needed, they are within easy reach.

The point is this: through our Baptisms, each of us is filled with the Holy Spirit. We are like plain, ordinary black boxes filled with the most extraordinary of wines. Actually more! We are like living wine cellars, stocked with priceless wines of every kind, waiting to be paired with whatever occasion presents itself. We are not judged by how we look…or by our title…rather by what pours forth from us. Each of us has within us what God intends should flow generously for the enjoyment of all. Don’t save the best for last!

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 1:1-4; 4:14-21
January 27, 2019

The State of the Union Address scheduled for January 29 has been postponed to a future date yet to be determined. More than a speech, this is an opportunity for the leaders of our country to come together in our nation’s capital, and reaffirm our identity and dignity as Americans. It is a time when we are reminded of and recommitted to our purpose to live as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The uncertainty surrounding this national tradition, which even in the most challenging of times is uplifting, does not speak well about the “state of our Union.”

Each of our Readings this week is, in its own way, a “state of the union” between God and humanity. The First Reading offers insight into the emotional state of Israel as their leader gathered the nation in the ruins of The Holy City. Four centuries before, Jerusalem had been invaded and destroyed. The Jewish people were deported to a pagan country, where they lived as a captive nation. Finally released, they returned to the long abandoned scene of total destruction. The challenge they faced was overwhelming.

Ezra began the process of rebuilding the nation on the solid foundation of God’s Word. Proclaiming and preaching from “from daybreak till midday,” he reminded Israel of something extremely important that, during their years in exile, they seemed to have forgotten: they were The Chosen People!They listened. Their mood changed. They began to see that they were not simply faced with rebuilding a city, but also reclaiming their dignity, as well as the mission entrusted to them by God.

In our Gospel, Luke describes an ordinary Sabbath liturgy in the little village of Nazareth. As it turns out, it was anything but ordinary. The Holy Spirit had prepared something quite extraordinary. On that Sabbath, the people heard The Word of God from the very lips of God. Like a president laying out the vision for a bright future, Jesus used the message of Isaiah the Prophet to remind the community of our Creator’s vision for the future of all humankind.

Finally, speaking to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul is doing some serious community building. His message rings with the urgency that we hear in the First Reading and the Gospel. His vision for the Church is a perfect union in Christ, where the common good is primary. Paul’s “state of the union” affords no place for personal ambition, competition, or mistrust.

All three Readings are amazingly relevant for us today. Few of us are faced with lives in complete ruin, but many of us are threatened by those thoughts, feelings, uncertainties, ambitions, and desires that threaten the state of our union…with God, family, Church, and humankind.

Today we are each challenged to examine our lives to see if we are doing our very best to live as God’s Chosen people “from daybreak till midday,” and throughout the coming week, we should listen to the Word of God and recommit to the Covenant, working as God’s partners in building the Kingdom. We should examine the state of our union with our Creator, with other creatures, and with all of creation, using our own special gifts and talents to insure that God’s vision of one holy nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…becomes more than a vision. We should proclaim and then do our best to make this year…a year acceptable to the Lord!

It sounds challenging. But the power of the Holy Spirit is with us…and the Lord is our strength. We can do it!

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 4:21-30
February 3, 2019

Saturday morning, the “7-day weather forecast” looked pretty bleak. Lots of snow and very cold temperatures were being predicted. But we all know that, at least here in unpredictable Michigan, what is promised…rain or shine…doesn’t always happen. That is why we don’t have total trust in the weather report. I kept checking for updates in hopes of better news. It seemed like everyone I talked to over the weekend was doing the same thing: watching, doubting, hoping, checking again. The weather was a major topic of concern and conversation.

By Sunday evening, there was no change outside or in the reports. The same message was being broadcast. The meteorologists were pretty confident of what was coming our way. Then, on Sunday night, “the closings” began to flash across the TV screen. We were finally convinced. Monday morning, however, it appeared that the “school closings” were premature. They called it wrong AGAIN! It was definitely chilly, but nothing out of the ordinary, and there was no snow…until about 10:00 that is. And then we were believers!

People have always watched for signs of what is in store for the coming day, or week, or season, in terms of weather. And people have always talked about it because survival often depends on it. It seems that we approach salvation in the very same way.

Humankind has always watched for signs from God. And these “signs” of what the future holds have always been a topic of discussion and debate. People share their thoughts and feelings about what they observe and how they interpret what they see or hear. Some are convinced, while others doubt. That’s not a bad thing, either. Unquestioning trust can lead to irrational response to a false sign or a fake prophet.

It’s hard to believe that the people of Nazareth were a hate filled, murderous mob. After all, Jesus was raised among them. They were his family, neighbors, and close friends. On the Sabbath that Luke describes, they were gathered together in prayer. And, like all of Israel, they were watching for the Messiah and hoping that He would come soon. They were wise enough to doubt false signs and fake prophets; they had seen them before. Tragically, they misinterpreted the Sign that God sent in Jesus; they drove Him away.

Through Jesus, our future has been made certain. Salvation is no longer unpredictable. Through His death and resurrection we are…or should be…convinced. We can stop watching and doubting. There is no longer need to discuss or debate. All of our hopes are fulfilled in Christ. Now we can awake each day, certain that the season of peace, justice, and love has begun.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul tells us how to dress for this endless season. Simply put on Christ…your survival depends on it.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 5:1-11
February 10, 2019

On the surface, today’s Readings clearly speak to vocation…the call by God to serve. But, if you plunge deeper, there might be something more to learn.

Our First Reading describes an unimaginably severe penance. A burning coal to the lips is extreme to say the least. Still, the severity of the penalty causes us to give due consideration to the seriousness of the sin. The fact is a lot of damage and hurt is wrought by our gift of speech. The lips can be a lethal weapon. Most people bear scars from verbal attacks. Likewise, few people are completely innocent of that crime that has become even more destructive, thanks to social media.

But, just as speech can be hurtful, the right message can be “life-giving” and even “life-saving.” And so we turn to the Gospel, which is an invitation to serve, wrapped up in a miracle story. What Luke describes is the Lord recruiting, and, at the same time, preparing His followers to use their gift of speech to broadcast the Good News.

The drama begins with Jesus coming upon fishermen cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night’s work. The Lord chose this time and place to deliver a waterfront homily to a crowd of people. Then, focusing His attention as well as His miraculous powers on Peter, Jesus suggests: Let’s go out fishing! Fatigued and, quite likely, sleep-deprived, not to mention frustrated and disappointed from the “payless” payday of the night before, Peter’s reply is less than enthusiastic. One can’t help but wonder if Luke has sanitized the way Peter reacted to the suggestion that he go back to work. Maybe Peter responded like a “man of the sea” rather than an Apostle.

Then comes the miracle! The astounding catch of fish was like a burning coal, searing Peter’s mind and heart. His reaction is an act of perfect contrition: I AM A SINNER! But because of what transpired that day, he could also say: I AM A BELIEVER!

Still, perfect contrition does not necessarily mean perfect behavior from that point forward. The Gospels tell us of many subsequent occasions when Peter said something he deeply regretted. Right on up to Holy Thursday night, The Rock on which our Church was built continued to speak without thought to the consequences. Denying that he even knew Jesus, Peter felt like taking a “burning ember” to his lips…lips that, from that tragic night forward, were committed to the work described in our Second Reading: preaching so that others might believe.

So then, what we have here is an invitation to continue the miracle. But first, we must clean our nets, and cleanse our minds, and lips and hearts. We don’t need a burning coal to do that. We need only to acknowledge, as did Peter: I AM A SINNER! but I AM A BELIEVER! A believer in the forgiving and healing power of Jesus Christ; a believer that, through my Baptism, The Lord sends me out into the deep waters of the world to lower the nets; a believer that I can and must use my power of speech, as did Peter and Paul and generations of disciples, to proclaim the life-giving message of Jesus Christ; a believer that I can keep the miracle going until Christ returns in glory.


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 6:17, 20-26
February 17, 2019

Amazonia isn’t a country. It’s the region surrounding the Amazon River. If it were a country, it would be the ninth largest in the world, close in size to the Continental U.S., encompassing over two million square miles. It spans much of the northern part of the continent of South America, crossing several national borders. This region covers a major part of Brazil.

Usually referred to as the Amazon Rainforest, 20% of the world’s fresh water passes through the many rivers that flow through this area that is home to 50% of the world’s plant species. Because it is one of the largest rainforests remaining on the planet, it is vital to the exchange of gases between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Simply put, it enables Earth to breathe.

The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could leave the entire world in the condition described by the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s First Reading: A barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of seasons but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. But, this is a reflection on The Beatitudes, not a geography lesson or a lecture on ecology.

One of nine children born into a farming family from Dayton, Ohio, Dorothy Mae Stang entered the Sisters of Notre Dame right out of high school. She taught in Catholic schools in this country for a number of years. Her dream, however, had always been to serve as a Christian missionary. In 1966, her ambition was realized when her religious community sent her to work in Brazil.

She quickly became embroiled in social justice issues, a voice on behalf of the millions of indigenous peoples and peasants who live within the rainforest. The poor and the marginalized of society, as well as the rainforest itself, were then, and remain today, in desperate need of a strong voice to raise world awareness to the injuries being inflicted on both. Profiteers involved in illegal logging operations, land speculators, and cattle ranchers, in collusion with corrupt politicians were and continue to inflict irreparable harm on the rainforest.

Systematic deforestation not only hurts the human beings that call Amazonia their home, but actually threatens humankind worldwide. And so, Sr. Dorothy’s religious “habit” was an ordinary tee-shirt with a warning printed across the front: “The Death of the Forest is the End of Our Lives.” By 1990, her efforts secured her a place on a death list with a bounty placed on her head…not 30 pieces of silver…but $25,000.00. But, this is a reflection on The Beatitudes, not a biography. Still, the conclusion of her story is worth knowing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang was on her way to yet another gathering to promote the causes that were so dear to her heart. She was accosted by two thugs. They asked her if she was armed. She said yes, and pulled out her Bible that she always kept with her. She began to read the Beatitudes, whereupon they fired six shots, killing her.

There is no geography when it comes to suffering. The welfare of every human being should be a matter of grave concern to every person who considers themselves to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Moreover, every Christian should be well acquainted with the story of Sr. Dorothy Stang’s life, ministry, and martyrdom. It is a Christ story. It is a Gospel story.

Her life and death shine a brilliant light on The Beatitudes. She was the blessing that God sent to the poor, and oppressed, and victimized and suffering. She was Christ to the Amazonians. She was hope to her people and hope to our planet.

Sr. Dorothy Stang rightly believed that “The Death of the Forest is the End of Our Lives,” but the death of Sr. Dorothy Stang is not the end of hope, because Christ is The Source of all hope. Hope in Christ does not disappoint.

Clearly, God does not call everyone to missionary life, or to the death of a Christian martyr. Nevertheless, all who are baptized in Christ are called to bring hope to the hopeless, comfort to the grieving, and to give voice to the issues that threaten those things which are contrary to God’s will and God’s ways.

Disciples like Sr. Dorothy Stang not only inspire us, but also teach us how to embrace our duties as disciples. We begin by arming ourselves with The Gospel. Our most effective defense against injustice, oppression, greed, and tyranny are The Beatitudes.

Woe to those who go out into the world without this shield.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 6:27-38
February 24, 2019

I had a visit from the now adult child of one of my oldest friends. I hadn’t seen him since he was in middle school. When I opened the door to greet him, as illogical as it sounds, I was expecting to see a kid in his early teens rather than the fully grown man who stood there smiling at me. I honestly would not have known who he was had we bumped into each other on the street.

But when he came in and sat down and began to talk, I started to laugh. His voice, mannerisms, and gestures were identical to his father’s. If I had closed my eyes, I would have sworn that I was talking to my buddy. There were many other striking physical similarities as well. He is truly a “chip off the old block.”

At the same time, however, I recognized undeniable features of the young man’s mother. The image of both of his parents, so completely mingled, but clearly present in this now mature person made me feel as if I had two people sitting across from me. That experience helped me to appreciate the linkage of this Sunday’s Epistle with the Gospel.

St. Paul writes: Just as we bear the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

Like Adam and Eve, we come from the dust. Formed by our Creator’s design into flesh and blood men and women, we bear a striking resemblance to the first parents. We eat, we sleep, we feel joy and also experience pain, fear, and loneliness. We have appetites that demand to be satisfied, but we always seem to want something more. We fall in love and chose partners and bear children. We try to be good, but often disobey…and then we feel regret. We sin…we die.

At the same time, however, encased within these frail, flesh and blood earthly bodies is a “chip of the Divine.” Completely mingled with our human characteristics, but clearly present, are markings of our Divine origins. Although more easily identified in some people than in others, our ability to think good thoughts and our emotions that enable us to feel compassion, empathy, and sympathy are all characteristics of our good and loving God. The Eternal peeks through and shows itself even in our finite and short-lived flesh and blood bodies.

Moreover, it is God’s plan that the dominant characteristic that stands out in each of our voices, mannerisms, gestures…in the way we live…be less “earthy” and more “heavenly.” And so, God sent Jesus into this world. At the same time, fully human and fully Divine in every way, Jesus was unmistakably The Son of God. The Church offers us an explanation for this sacred mystery in one of the Prefaces prayed at Mass before the Consecration:

For You so loved the world, that in Your mercy you sent us The Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin, so that you might love in us what you loved in Your Son, by Whose obedience we have been restored to those gifts of Yours that, by sinning, we had lost in disobedience.

Simply put, God sent His Son into this world so that those who believe in Him would look less like Adam and Eve and more like Jesus. And, the Divine becomes our most prominent feature, when our voices, mannerisms, gestures…the way we live…is loving, forgiving, and filled with peace. When we live as The Lord teaches, we truly are “chips off the Eternal Block.”

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 6:39-45
March 3, 2019

After several follow-up visits to the optometrist, complaining that her new glasses had not improved her vision whatsoever, my mother was finally referred to a specialist. The diagnosis was swift and devastating. Mom was suffering from age-related macular degeneration.

From there, another referral to a firm that helps sufferers understand, manage, and live with this “sight-stealing” disease. I was invited into the examination room with her so that I would be able to better appreciate the growing limitations that she would be experiencing. I was also cautioned that this disease is hereditary, so by learning to help my mother cope, I could, at the same time, learn ways to help myself in the future.

The sessions opened with the therapist showing us a number of slides simulating how vision is distorted for sufferers. For some, the peripheral vision becomes blurred. In other cases, the very center of what a person is focused on is blacked out. In addition to these types of limitations, my mother is extremely light sensitive. She is basically imprisoned in a dimly lighted room. It is a very devastating disease.

Through today’s Gospel, we learn about a spiritual breakdown that not only distorts our vision and limits our ability to see reality, but in extreme cases, can actually be life-threatening…ETERNAL LIFE THREATENING…that is.

Degeneration of TRUTH is a hereditary condition that is traced back to the original sin. This condition distorts the way we see others, blocking out what is good, and bringing into focus those things that we are critical of. This obstructed vision of others causes us to be judgmental and impatient or dismissive of what we see…or at least what we think we see.

Even more devastating, however, the degeneration of TRUTH impacts our self-perception. When we look into a mirror, our own faults and flaws and shortcomings are clouded over and obscured. When truth breaks down, we are left with a self-image that is prideful and hypocritical at best. In extreme cases, degeneration of TRUTH deceives us into believing that we are safe…moving in the right direction…in control.

Just as there is no cure for age-related macular degeneration, there is no cure for degeneration of TRUTH. However, when we understand this predisposition to judge others and to misjudge ourselves, we are better able to manage and live with this “spirit-stealing” disease.

While in these earthly bodies, our vision will never be perfect. Sin has complicated our lives and confused our ability to know what is real…and good…and life-giving and everlasting. It is impossible for us to see the ultimate reality that God has ready for those who search for truth and try their best to live truth. However, truth is something we should never stop searching for because…Truth is Christ…and Christ is Truth.

And though we will never have perfect vision with earthly eyes, we can definitely improve our sight by moving out of the darkness of sin into the Light of Christ. The Gospel is like a lens that enables us to fill in those blank spots that block out the goodness in others, while, at the same time, preventing us from seeing our own flaws.

Lent is the perfect time to test our vision. It is an opportunity for enlightenment and purification. During these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we can develop skills that enable us to compensate for the ravages to our sight caused by the degeneration of Truth. If we are serious about using the therapies of the penitential season, then on Easter Morning, we will find that we can see things in a new Light…The Light of Christ!

First Sunday of Lent
Luke 4:1-13
March 10, 2019

I have a good friend who is faced with a serious, life-changing decision. The choice is between two very fine and worthy activities. For many months now, my friend has been struggling to accomplish both and has been doing an excellent job of it. However, both require a good deal of time and effort, and it has come to the point where my friend must let one of the tasks go. The matter has been taken to discernment.

For Christians, “discernment” is much more than making a choice based on what promises to be the most profitable or gratifying. Christian discernment involves a process of prayer and reflection. When disciples are faced with serious, life-changing decisions, they invoke the guidance and counsel of The Holy Spirit. Trying to set aside earthly concerns and self-interests, a faithful disciple leans in to hear what God is asking.

The Gospel for this First Sunday in Lent is usually referred to as “The temptation of the Lord in the desert.” Certainly, that is the story. But, when we consider that it was, in fact, The Holy Spirit Who led Jesus into the desert, we can better appreciate how the desert experience is the perfect model for Christian discernment.

For the majority of His earthly life, Jesus was involved in two very fine and worthy activities. The Lord went about the task of living as a fully human person, while, at the same time, being fully Divine. He did an excellent job of balancing His two natures. However, as Jesus emerged from His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan River, He heard “A Voice” from heaven. The words: This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased, were far more than an introduction. The Father was telling The Son that it is time to make a choice. And so, The Holy Spirit led Jesus off by Himself into the quiet of the desert, so that He could lean in and better hear what God was asking of Him.

God was asking Him to offer His human Self as the perfect sacrifice in reparation for the sins of the world.

During His time in the desert, Jesus was definitely tempted…and the temptation was to choose the easy way out. In making this life-changing decision, The Lord rejected what held the promise of being the most profitable or gratifying. Jesus’s choice was the most Selfless decision ever made. He chose to die so that we might live forever. He released His human nature so that we might hope to share in His Divine nature.

Lent is a time of discernment. During these 40 days, we are challenged by The Voice from heaven encouraging us to lean in and listen to what God is asking of us. If we follow where the Holy Spirit leads us, we will emerge from these 40 days just a little less human, and a lot more Divine.

Second Sunday of Lent
LK 9:28B-36
March 17, 2019

Last week, it was the Spirit Who led Jesus into the desert. This week, Jesus is in the lead. He takes three of His most trusted and intimate friends with Him as He climbs to the top of a mountain. We know what happened there. The Lord was transfigured before them. What better way to prove to them that The Word…God’s Word made flesh…was near them?

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we are called to be “armchair mountain climbers.” The same Spirit that led Jesus into the desert guides us to a comfortable chair, good lighting, carrying only our Bible. The same Lord, Who picked three special friends to share a spectacular prayer experience with, invites us along as well.

Freeing ourselves from things that might distract or disturb us, we join Peter, James, and John as privileged witnesses to a preview of Easter glory. If we take full advantage of the opportunity, and truly enter the story, like Peter, we can enjoy a glimpse of the Glorified Lord. However, unlike Peter, what we see does not frighten us. We understand what Transfiguration means. We know what it means to be raised from the dead.

Watching Jesus communicate with Moses and Elijah, we come to understand that all that was promised by God in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. This dramatic event was an extraordinary way for the Creator to describe what awaits those who believe. Implicit in this mountaintop encounter is God’s assurance of forgiveness.

The Transfiguration is reminiscent of another mountaintop encounter. At Exodus 34, we hear about The Almighty communicating with Moses. What was spoken there is again communicated in today’s Gospel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

This passage reveals much to us about God as we consider the reaction of the three to what they observed. Through their fear and confusion, we are reminded about the fragile human condition. It isn’t always easy for us to understand, or to believe, or to follow. But The Word …God’s Word made flesh…is near usour strength and our hope.

And now it’s time to get up from our armchairs and make our way down from the mountaintop and back to our busy lives…eager to share what we have seen and heard.

Third Sunday of Lent
LK 13:1-9
March 24, 2019

Today and for the next two Sundays, we have a choice of Readings to proclaim during the Liturgy of the Word. This is a special time for those hoping to come into the Church at the Easter Vigil. During this final half of Lent, parishes blessed with candidates and catechumens hear three sets of Readings commonly referred to as “The Scrutinies.” These selections serve well in the final stages of the process of “purification and enlightenment,” which is what the Christian Initiation program is all about…”purification and enlightenment.” If a community has no one coming into the Church at the Vigil, then they may opt to hear the Readings from the Cycle of the year. So, there is a choice.

But then again…it really isn’t that BIG of a choice as far as the core message or teaching is concerned. All of Scripture, in some way, communicates God’s promise of salvation, pointing towards Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise. However, there is also a warning for those who choose to turn their backs on God.

This is, indeed, a special time, and not just for those who will pass through the Living Waters at the Easter Vigil. This is a special time for EVERYONE hoping to pass over death and enter into the Promised Land…The Eternal Kingdom. And there is a choice…a choice of infinite consequence. We can either choose to turn towards The Burning Bush…a symbol of God’s inexhaustible mercy and love…The Source of both purification and enlightenment…or we can turn away from the Light and continue to walk in darkness.

And here is where the warning is posted by St. Paul in our Second Reading, and in such a way that no interpretation is needed. Whoever thinks they are standing secure should take care not to fall. In other words: When we turn away from God and venture off into the desert on our own, we are in grave danger of being “struck down.”

Regardless of which Readings you hear proclaimed, take great comfort in God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness…and take very seriously the warnings of being “struck down.” And should you happen to feel totally comfortable with where you are standing at any given moment, think again. Everyone is in need of purification and enlightenment…at least until such time as we become part of the inexhaustible Burning Bush.

Fourth Sunday of Lent
LK 15:1-3, 11-32
March 31, 2019

There should probably be a footnote to this reflection identifying the source of the story I am about to tell. But in truth, I can’t recall when or where I first heard or read it. On the other hand, the story should ring true in the hearts of all loving parents, to the point that it is part of the “public domain” and so beyond copyright laws.

Here’s the story as I recall it:

There was an elderly mother of an exceptionally large family. Nearing her death, some fairly insensitive person asked: You had so many children…which have you loved the best?

I would have expected her to reply: What a silly question…I love my children equally!

But that’s not how the story goes. After thinking for a few minutes, the lady answered: The one who needed the most love.

What a pearl of wisdom. The child she loved the most was the one in most need of her love at any given moment.

And so, we turn to today’s Gospel…the parable of the Prodigal Son.

There was a powerful restlessness that was driving the younger son to escape the safety and protection…and comfort of home and family. Whatever it was that was drawing him away, his father must have understood that there was nothing he could do or say to help cure the young man of his restlessness. He loved his child so much that he set him free…free to go his own way.

At that moment of family crisis, he focused all of his parental love and attention on the child that was most in need of his love…even to the point of endangering the security of the rest of the family by dividing the family farm. With a father’s eye and a parent’s wisdom, he came to the conclusion that there was no better way to love this son who was in such need of love than to give in to the selfish, reckless behavior.

And then he waited.

He waited for this extravagant gesture of parental love to impact the thinking and settle the wayward spirit of his child. Possibly, the very act of waiting was the most intense and demanding demonstration of this father’s love.

And then the young man returned.

The reason he came home is arguably less significant than the loving welcome of the waiting father. But then his focus shifted. The older son who had remained behind became the child in most need of his love. And the father’s patient and kind explanation was the very most he could offer. He literally opened his mind and his heart in an effort to prove his unconditional love for the faithful son.

The message here is quite simple. God loves us the most when we are in most need of God’s love. No matter how far we have wandered, God is waiting for us to come home. No matter how angry, or resentful, or hurt we might feel, God will open His mind and heart to us to help us understand how important and how deeply loved each and every one of us is.

Fifth Sunday of Lent
JN 8:1-11
April 7, 2019

If you haven’t ever actually thrown a stone at someone…not to be mean, mind you…but because they deserved it, or at least you thought they deserved to be punished, well, then, you can probably stop reading this reflection. If you haven’t ever…in your entire life…not even for a moment, thought about picking up a stone to throw it at someone who has committed some offense that deserves punishment…then, just possibly, it would be okay for you to skip the Penitential Rite at the beginning of mass. If you never…not even once…judged someone else, or thought harshly of them, though I would definitely advise against it, but if you are that pure of heart…if you look at others with the forgiving eyes of Christ, then you might not even need Eucharist, because if you are that pure of heart, then you are already a perfect reflection of our God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Is there anyone who can truthfully say, okay, I can stop reading? I can stop confessing? I don’t need the healing and forgiveness that comes from Eucharist?

The thing is…we all do it. We are all…each and every one of us…just exactly like those self-righteous, bloodthirsty hypocrites who pushed a woman to the ground, preparing for her execution. How often have you been totally blind to your own bad acts, but had an eagle eye on the faults of others, and an overly eager hand to pick up a stone and punish? I know this much for sure: You don’t need a 5-pound rock to inflict great bodily harm. Words can be just as lethal. Looks, smirks, cold shoulders can also do great injury.

But don’t even begin to think that this Gospel passage is from a time long past so we don’t need to take it literally. Don’t think that civilization has moved way beyond stoning people to death. In fact, just this past week, there was an international uproar over an announcement by an oil-rich East Asian Islamic country that makes certain violations of Sharia law, Islamic law punishable by stoning to death. We aren’t talking about some primitive, isolated culture. This is happening right now in a British protectorate that has significant investments in this country. The international group called “Human Rights Watch” characterizes this as “barbaric to the core.”

But, according to this passage from John’s Gospel, it would be permitted if, and only if, there is a totally innocent executioner to carry it out. But then, a person of pure heart, a total innocent…a perfect Christian…would not step forward to pick up a stone, because, like Jesus, they would be loving and forgiving.

Here is the critical takeaway from today’s readings: GOD IS A GOD OF NEW BEGINNINGS AND FRESH STARTS. Our creator does not prevent sin by killing sinners, but rather, by offering the grace to change. It wasn’t just the sinful woman who was given a second chance. Those who were ready to kill her were also given the opportunity to change.


Or, did they simply pocket their stones and their grievances and walk away unrepentant…waiting for another opportunity to attack?


Some of them were there on Good Friday, yelling, “Crucify Him!” We don’t know how the woman used her second chance…her new beginning. However, what’s important is how we will use ours. Will we walk away from here today and sin no more?

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
LK 22:14—23:56
April 14, 2019

Even though it has the potential to impact global financial security, I haven’t learned much more about BREXIT other than what I’ve read in headline news.

After a rather spirited campaign, the people of Great Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union. The very next morning, there were widespread reports of what was being labeled “buyer’s remorse.” Energized by a spirit of nationalism and patriotism, BREXIT prevailed, the voters apparently not having given much thought to the consequences. The months that have followed seem to clearly demonstrate that not even their leaders, who rallied the forces in favor of BREXIT, had really worked out what was to come next. I don’t know much more about Brexit than that. But what I do know leaves me thinking that the British people acted very impulsively.

Psychologists identify five “behavioral stages” which characterize impulsivity. There is an impulse which leads people to consider a certain course of action. Thereafter comes what is called a “growing tension.” Should I or shouldn’t I? Then a sense of pleasure from actually doing whatever the impulse is leading you towards sets in. Next comes a feeling of relief from having made a decision and acted. Finally, for some people anyway, the process ends with a sense of guilt; in other words, impulsive behavior very often leads to “buyer’s remorse.”

It seems like this pattern of human behavior applies to the BREXIT crisis. Possibly, it might also explain how the people of Jerusalem could move so quickly from shouting “HOSANNAH!” on Sunday, only to drop their palms and raise their fists and voices on Friday…shouting out “CRUCIFY HIM!”

It was an evil impulse on the part of those most challenged by Jesus’s message of justice, peace, and love…an overpowering impulse to silence Him once and for all. They began a campaign to influence the people who were actually in most need of The Good News. There had to have been a great tension between what those poor, marginalized, and hungry folks had seen and heard as they followed The Lord, and what the dark forces were telling them. It is hard to imagine, but somehow the memory of the miracles, and the comfort and hope that they felt through His teaching and preaching were pushed to the back of their minds and hearts. Sin won the day, and what had been a welcoming crowd of followers changed quickly into a bloodthirsty mob.

They experienced a wave of pleasure as Pilate freed the mobster Barabbas and bound Jesus over to the soldiers to begin His death march through their city. Maybe they felt relief once He was out the city gates and fastened securely to The Cross up on the rocky hill…an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing. But, in truth, they couldn’t get Jesus totally out of their minds. He IS The Eternal Word of our Living God, and every human being is born into time with a whisper of His promise of Eternal life. It’s that whisper…that promise …that no human being can ever totally escape no matter how loud and convincing the dark voices become.

And after the heavens opened…and the earth quaked…and the dead roamed the city…and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. After all these signs…they felt guilt. At least some of them felt guilt…all because of the inability to control an impulse.

But here is the remarkable thing…THE IMPULSE that caused salvation history to move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday was not bad human behavior. It was the Divine impulse that all should be saved. God’s impulsive behavior, the Divine impulse to forgive, to heal, to re-create, to raise up…THAT’s what was at work in all of this. It was our Creator’s impulse that ensures that every Good Friday gives way to Easter Glory! And there is no buyer’s remorse.

Easter Sunday
JN 20:1-9
April 21, 2019

I’ve never had the experience of witnessing the birth of a child. But, as a Catholic priest, I have been privileged to join families at the deathbed of a loved one on a number of occasions, most recently, on Thursday, April 5. Only this time, I was not standing there as the parish priest, but as the first-born child.

Midmorning, Joan, the hospice caregiver who had become such an important part of my mother’s life and preparation for death, came rushing out of the room where she was tending to Mom. She told me that there was “a change,” and that I better hurry.

I went into the room and immediately saw “the change.” I took Mom’s hand and began to “coach her into Eternity.” I hadn’t prepared anything for the moment. But, of course, I used the words I’ve spoken before to parishioners…spiritual words…prayerful words…words of hope. But this was much different. This was my Mom who was dying. It was very personal to me.

As she struggled to breathe, I heard myself saying: “That’s right, Mom…get it all out!”

Breathe out the worries, cares, concerns.

Good Mom…Now another….you’re doing great!

Breathe out your grief at the loss of Dad…and Grampa and Grama…and Uncle Jerry! Breathe out the pain and suffering and humiliation that has come with old age. Breathe out doubts and fears.

Breathe out time, Mom…and breathe in Eternity…breathe out time and breathe in Christ!

She responded. I know she did. I could hear and see her trying to push her earthly life out…and give up her spirit to her Creator…to empty herself completely, so that she could be born into Eternity.

That was a good one Mom…now another!

I didn’t count the times she followed my command in her efforts to exhale the last of her earthly life. I have no idea of how long I stood, bent over her, holding her hand and coaching her. I do recall, however, in fact, vividly, that the last breath was deep, powerful, almost determined, the last breath of a Christian wife and mother, confident of The Lord’s promise of everlasting life for those who believe.

After that, there was no cry of a newborn, or sounding of a trumpet, or fragrant smell. But there was an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. Deep down, I felt that this wasn’t an ending…but just the start of something wonderful that will never end.

I turned to Joan, who was standing respectfully at a distance, like I try to do when I’m a minister and not a son. We didn’t speak to one another, but the look on her face reassured me that the room was filled with Easter joy. And then, like Joseph of Arimathea, Joan began the work of respectfully caring for Mom’s earthly body, confident that her friend was now recreated.

I’ve never been at the birth of a baby, but I was the “midwife” that coached my mother into her new life in The Kingdom. That honor has left me with a deeper sense of what we celebrate today. Resurrection!

Theologians struggle to define it in words. The faithful try their best to understand what it means to be raised from the dead. Philosophers and scientists argue against it. But we are here to celebrate it. We are here because we believe that at the hour of our own death…The Risen Christ will be there to coach us into The Glory of God.

And while we wait…breathe! Breathe in the grace that comes from our Sacraments, confident that by His death and Resurrection, Christ has set us free.

Second Sunday of Easter
JN 20:19-31
April 28, 2019

Doubt is a force to reckon with. It has the power of a speeding bullet. Rather than directed at the heart, it is aimed at the mind. When it strikes, the damage is far more devastating than the bombs that shattered the joy and peace of Easter morning in Sri Lanka.

The first victim of doubt is the doubter himself. Like Thomas, doubt prevents doubters from opening themselves up to something too wonderful for them to wrap their minds around. And so we speak of “suffering doubt.” And suffer Thomas certainly did. But then there is very often extensive collateral damage. Doubt sends shock waves that impact people with whom the doubter comes into contact.

In today’s Gospel, we find Thomas suffering from the horror, grief, and even humiliation of Good Friday. He was heavily invested in Jesus. Like the other Apostles, Thomas committed his entire life to The Lord, and the return on this enormous investment was a new sense of meaning and purpose in life. He placed all of his hope in The Good News which Jesus proclaimed. It seemed that all was lost with Jesus’s Passion and death.

Thomas was blinded to the truth he had invested in wisely, and the returns were infinite. Jesus’s Passion and death left him deaf to The Easter message: HE IS RISEN! It was simply too much for him to work through, and so he reinvested what was left of his mind and heart into doubt.

Thomas has gone through history known as “Doubting Thomas” when it would be far more appropriate to refer to him as “Suffering Thomas.” Thankfully, his suffering was short lived and his doubt overpowered and crushed; all because he returned to the Upper Room and the community of believers.

The Book of Revelation is very often misinterpreted, but in these early verses we hear today, we might be given a glimpse of why Thomas’s doubt had no power over the rest of the community. Thomas found them together in the Upper Room, where they had celebrated The Last Supper. Just as they had SHARED the Passover celebration, they were continuing to SHARE their DISTRESS. But, because they were together, they were able to reinforce the vision of THE KINGDOM that was at the core of all that Jesus taught them. And so, together, in community, they were able to ENDURE. Moreover, they were immune from the doubt that Thomas brought to the Upper Room.

Better still, they offered the perfect environment…Christian community…for Thomas to shake off the doubt from which he suffered. His personal experience of the Risen Christ healed Thomas, and the Upper Room, in the company of the Christian Community, was the perfect place for this cure to happen.

So, how will the Christians of Sri Lanka survive the violence they suffered on Easter Sunday? Or, for that matter, how will any Christian resist the virus of doubt that flourishes in the secular culture in which we live? By continuing to join the Christian community in the Upper Room, SHARING EUCHARIST…SHARING ALL THAT CAUSES US DISTRESS…SHARING OUR VISION OF AND COMMITMENT TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Through the Eucharist, we will ENDURE.

Third Sunday of Easter
JN 21:1-19
May 5, 2019

To me, “breakfast” is another word for three cups of strong, black coffee. Unless, of course, there happens to be a cinnamon roll sale at the parish. This week however, I started to rethink my approach to the first meal of the day, as I read about a study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

As I understand it, all other health issues taken into consideration, people who skip breakfast routinely, have an 87% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality compared with people who have breakfast every day. The article made me think about going out and buying a box of oatmeal. But of course I haven’t done that yet, and at the moment am enjoying my third cup of strong, black coffee as I prepare to begin the day.

This week’s Gospel is as complicated as it is lengthy. There is so much here to reflect on, learn from, and pray about that it is hard to know where to begin. An even greater challenge comes with the effort to harmonize the Gospel with the other two Readings. So just possibly, the best place to begin is with the first meal of the day.

The fact that this post- Easter encounter with the Risen Christ occurred at breakfast, Jesus Himself the “breakfast cook”, invites us to consider the connection between proper nourishment of the body as well as the spirit. In other words, even as our bodies must be properly and frequently fed if we are to thrive, so too our spirits. If skipping a bowl of oatmeal before rushing into a busy day results in an 87% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality; consider the consequences of missing Morning Prayer. Consider as well, the dire consequences of failing to participate in Eucharist “routinely.”

Tragically, this is what is happening.

The article about the importance of a healthy diet caused me some concern about my own eating habits. But I read another article this past week that made be very sad. The article reported on MLive, spoke to the worship habits of Catholics in Michigan. For example, in our Diocese of Saginaw, it is reported that since 2000 there has been a 64% decrease in Baptisms, as well as First Communions and celebrations of Christian Marriage. There were 77% fewer Confirmations. Even “church funerals” saw a decline over this period, down by 20%. There might well be a valid challenge to these numbers, but anyone who is committed to the Sacramental Life of our Church, by simply looking around on a Sunday morning, is aware of a dramatic downward trend.

We live in a time when many people are spiritually malnourished. They are either “skipping” the sacraments altogether, or are “routinely” absent; almost casual about their relationship with Christ, in the Church. Forgoing Eucharist, many are choosing to feed on things that offer temporary satisfaction through empty spiritual calories. Just as there are isles full of unhealthy options in the grocery store, today’s culture offers countless ways satisfying spiritual hunger that do not support true spiritual health. The spiritual mortality rate is alarming.

All of this makes Jesus’s breakfast meeting with the Apostles all that much more relevant, even critical to our times. There is nothing complicated about The Lord’s directive to Peter. IF YOU LOVE ME THEN FEED MY LAMBS. IF YOU REALLY LOVE ME…. FEED MY SHEEP. IF YOU LOVE ME THEN GO OUT AND NOURISH MY PEOPLE.

How do we reverse the trends that threatens the spiritual lives of so many? Invite them to breakfast…AFTER MASS! Host a dinner party…FOLLOWING EUCHARIST. And begin small. Make it a “family affair” because there aren’t many families who can boast that they haven’t made a substantial contribution to the downward trends.

Today’s Gospel is a call to evangelize. Moreover, Jesus wasn’t speaking just to Peter…or to the Apostles…or to priests and nuns and DREs and Youth Ministers. The Lord was speaking to ALL of the Baptized, in every generation. The message is crystal clear. IF YOU LOVE THE LORD THEN FEED HIS FLOCK.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
JN 10:27-30
May 12 2019

We believe that, through our Baptisms, we are called to share in The Lord’s mission and ministry of priest, prophet, and king.

We accept these responsibilities according to our gifts and talents and as befitting our station in life. Obviously, Pope Francis lives discipleship in a far different way than a Catholic high school student. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who, at our Baptism, comes to dwell within each of us in a special way, we are entrusted with the responsibility of helping to sanctify the world which has been tarnished by sin (PRIEST). Each of us, in our own way, is expected to proclaim The Word of the Lord (PROPHET). And, finally, we become part of “THE” Royal family. Baptism entitles us to live as the adopted children of God, destined to reside in the Eternal Kingdom. We are gifted with Royal powers that give us the strength to resist anything that would rob us of our free will. We enjoy a royal lifestyle, subject only to Christ our King (KING).

This is all very lofty. But today’s brief Gospel adds to our Catholic identity as well as to our job description in a much more down to earth and much less glamorous way. Included in our inherited duties is the call to shepherd God’s people.

James Rebanks, a real life, working shepherd from England, wrote a book entitled: The Shepherd’s Life;. In a newspaper interview, he offered a glimpse of the challenges that come with that job.

You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best, they still die, and you will need to keep going.

It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

You will also need to be emotionally tough, because part of shepherding is that things don’t just die; they are killed. Lambs are bred and sold for meat. Nature kills as well.

You’ll need the patience of a saint, too, because sheep test you to the limit, with a million innovative ways to escape, ail, or die.

The apprenticeship period for a shepherd is as about 40 years. You are just a “boy” or a “lass” until you are about 60. It takes that long to really know a mountain, the vagaries of its weather and grazing, to know the different sheep, marks, shepherds, bloodlines, and to earn the respect of other shepherds.The Shepherd’s Life’ is published by Allen Lane.

In offering the image of Himself as shepherd, The Lord was fully aware of what would be demanded of Him in return for His work of gathering us together, nourishing us and protecting us, and finding and retrieving us when we stray. Jesus gave His life for His flock. Authentic discipleship requires the same self-sacrifice.

If there are any shepherds among us here in mid-Michigan, they are certainly few in number. But there are tens of thousands of parents. The work of parenting is every bit as demanding, especially when it comes to the spiritual well-being of our children. We live in a day and age when there are countless things that capture the attention of the younger generation, causing them to wander away from the safety and nourishment of the Christian Community. Separated from God’s people, their spiritual well-being is in grave danger.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, it is especially appropriate to consider the efforts of Christian mothers, who most often take the lead in forming our children into the next generation of disciples…teaching them to be PRIESTS…PROPHETS…AND KINGS.

Very often, moms have to be “as tough as old boots” in order to defend the spiritual lives of their kids. The vocation of Christian mother requires a great deal of endurance. In going about the work of passing on our faith, they have to dig in and hold on with the patience of a saint. And tragically, even after they have done all they can do…it often appears that they have failed. At those times, they have to draw on the reserves of emotional and spiritual strength that come from understanding that they are not alone in this work. Christ the Good Shepherd is right beside them, and at the right time, He will call out their child’s name…and all will be well.

And so…on this Mother’s Day, we give God thanks for the women who give us life and then continue to protect and nourish that life…at great personal sacrifice. We pray that God will reward them abundantly.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
JN 13:31-33A, 34-35
May 19, 2019

This past Wednesday evening, the Diocese of Saginaw celebrated the jubilees of four women religious who live and serve among us. Our own Sr. Laurene Burns marked 70 years in religious life. The occasion took me back to another event a number of years ago.

It was the 60th Jubilee of Sr. Marianita, who had spent the majority of her life passing on our faith to over three generations of Catholic school students. The faculty of the parish school where she concluded her teaching career but continued to minister through her presence and prayer wanted to celebrate with a surprise party. It was agreed that since it was her 60th Jubilee, a “’60s theme” was in order. The gym was decorated with balloons as well as Peter Max posters, peace signs, and the like. The DJ was given instructions about the playlist, and the potluck dinner was all arranged. Everyone understood, however, that for this holy little woman, no celebration would be acceptable unless the focal point was Eucharist. Appropriate thought was given to preparing the liturgy.

On the big night, people were encouraged to arrive for Mass just before the opening hymn so that the jubilarian would already be in her usual seat in the front of church, deep in prayer. We did not want her to notice the tie-dyed t-shirts, bell bottom jeans, head scarves, vests, and “love beads” that were the recommended attire. (Later, Sister did remark that as she noticed people going up for Communion, she thought they were definitely not in “church clothes.”)

In spite of the casual attire, the liturgy was celebrated with great dignity. However, after the final blessing, but before departing the worship space, there were a few brief words of tribute to Sr. Marianita. And then, by way of explaining how a young girl could leave home and family and entrust her future to the leadership of a religious order, the guests broke into a very enthusiastic chorus of the Beatles song: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!

Clearly secular, the song was nevertheless most fitting to the occasion. Those words ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE tell the entire story. Because of her love for Christ and His Church, Sr. Marianita, like the women our Diocese honored Wednesday evening, was able to embrace a life of service. Their own dreams and ambitions were subject to their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. How could they make such a great sacrifice? ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED!

On May 31, the Church of Saginaw will again have occasion to gather in our Cathedral. Three young men will be ordained to the priesthood for service in our Diocese. In an age of rampant materialism and greed, it must confound most people to think of how much these men are foregoing. How can they make such a great sacrifice? ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE! LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED! Love for Christ and His Church…the kind of love that surpasses love for the fleeting things of this world…the kind of love that is greater than love of self.

Really, this is not remarkable; at least it shouldn’t be. It is simply one way…certainly a very special way, of following the new commandment that Jesus left us as He was about to express His unparalleled love for creation by suffering and dying.

Clearly, not everyone is called to religious life or Holy Orders. In fact, it seems that at least in recent years, the Holy Spirit is inviting fewer and fewer to this vocation. However, ALL who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ must make every effort to distinguish themselves by responding to life’s choices and challenges in a selfless and loving way.

St. Thomas Aquinas summed it up in a few poignant words: The things we love tell us what we are! So then, no matter what your vocation might be, or your station in life, if you want to be an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ…IT’S EASY…ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED…LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.


Sixth Sunday of Easter
JN 14:23-29
May 26, 2019

I recently invited myself to stay with my aunt, who I haven’t seen for way too many years, because she lives on the other side of the country. She seemed delighted when I called and suggested the visit. The moment I saw her face greeting me at the airport, I was confident that she was genuinely excited about hosting me. I must admit, however, that when I invited myself, I was aware of the fact that my stay might be a burden to her, and I tried to be alert to ways to be a helpful and gracious guest.

She has always been an extremely fastidious housekeeper. You can literally “eat off her floors.” Her house is guest-ready 24/7. Still, when I invited myself, I am absolutely certain that she not only gave the house a thorough inspection, but that she also prepared in many other ways; organizing, planning, shopping, and cooking.

Even though I had never been in this house before, I felt very much at home from the moment I set foot through her door. Certainly, because of her warm and loving welcome, but also because I was surrounded by so many familiar things. In every room, there was something to remind me that I was staying with family. I definitely did not feel like I had invited myself. I was made to feel like I belonged.

Today’s Gospel is part of what is commonly referred to as Jesus’s “Farewell Discourse.” But, it is much more than a “good-bye.” It is also His self-invitation to abide within us as The Holy Spirit. The invitation, however, involves far more than a brief visit. It is a self-invitation for a prolonged stay.

When first extended, this Divine Self-invitation triggered numerous anxious questions from the Apostles and disciples. Moreover, as we see in our First Reading, the anxiety persisted even after Jesus’s Resurrection. The uneasiness that the Divine Self-invitation evoked back then persists even today, in those eager to prepare properly for the Visitor from the other side of reality. How can we ever possibly do enough to ready ourselves to receive God as our houseguest?

Obviously, we can never be worthy for God to enter under our roof…but Jesus has left us some very reassuring and calming words. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. There is also great comfort to be found in The Acts of the Apostles, where we hear: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities.

What we hear on this sixth Sunday of the Easter Season are instructions from The Guest as to what “necessities” will make for an enjoyable and fruitful visit.

First of all, it seems essential to accept the Divine Self-invitation with authentic and genuine delight. The Guest will know that the greeting is genuine and sincere if extended with “The Word.” A welcoming host has The Word of God in their mind, on their lips, and in their heart. Spoken and lived, the Gospel is the best way to welcome The Holy Spirit into our lives.

The Holy Spirit does not want the visit to be spoiled by an unrealistic concern that we be fully prepared. Even a life that is “houseguest ready 24/7” can never be truly worthy to be a tabernacle. The Spirit is a gracious guest, alert to ways to assist us making the stay joyful and fruitful without causing undue burden to the host. Where our preparations fall short, The Guest steps in to make things better.

Our Sacraments, a special gift Jesus left to us, are the familiar things that make The Holy Spirit feel truly at home…not merely a passing visitor, but a much loved and welcomed family member.

The absolute necessity, however, is an atmosphere of love. We sing the hymn Where there is love, there is God! A life devoid of love is not simply inhospitable, it is uninhabitable for The Spirit of Life and Love.

The most reassuring and hope-filled lesson to be had as we near the conclusion of this Easter Season and prepare to welcome the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday is that, at the end of the stay, The Guest becomes the host, guiding us out of our earthly bodies and welcoming us to The Kingdom, where Christ, with pure love, will greet those who have tried their best to host the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension of the Lord
LK 24:46-53
June 2, 2019

You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of a book by American author Thomas Wolfe. It was published in 1940, after his death. In this novel, which has become a literary classic, Wolfe ponders the enormous social change in American society during the tumultuous 1920s and ‘30s. The title speaks to one of the major themes of the book. Simply put: You can’t truly go back to a place you once lived because so much will have changed since you left that it is not the same place anymore.

It’s been suggested that the title was inspired by a friend of Wolfe’s, who used that very expression in a conversation with him: You Can’t Go Home Again. Accordingly, he asked her permission to make that thought the title for his book. Asking permission was a nice gesture, but I would argue that it wasn’t a legal necessity. The experience of returning after a long period of time to a place where we once lived and called “home” is universal. We go back home with expectations of what awaits us, only to find overwhelming change.

Beginning with a shout out to Thomas Wolfe, a self-proclaimed “vagabond” published a short magazine article entitled: The Place I Once Called Home. As should be expected, he described the complete transformation of the small east Texas town which was his place of origin. He ended his “going home experience” with this thought:

Yes, newcomers need places to live, eat and be entertained. People have to be accommodated, infrastructure must be maintained and facilities have to be modernized. But, the place I once called home exists only on maps and in my memory. (Jonathan Look, Forbes Magazine, Sept. 22, 2017)

This Sunday, as we bring the Easter Season to a close, we celebrate the Ascension of The Lord into Heaven. Although Luke reports the events leading up to The Lord’s return to His place of origin, we can only ponder…speculate at best…what His “going home experience” was like. But we are able to do that. We can imagine Jesus’s “going home experience” because He told us: I am going to the Father. (John 16:16).

Jesus’s “place of origin” is Almighty God…Holy Origin…Sacred Mystery…infinite future…Creator of heaven and earth; God, Who always was, always will be, and always remains the same.

These are all concepts too big for us to wrap our minds around.

But, we know this much to be true: Jesus Christ, as was foretold by the prophets, was conceived by The Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; and He ascended into heaven.

That is what we celebrate today. Jesus DID return home…to His Holy Origin…where nothing was changed. Unlike the fleeting things of this world, The Kingdom of God is Eternal…a place of unending peace, joy, and love. And having arrived home, Christ took His seat at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from where He judges the living and the dead…with mercy and forgiveness.

That is exactly why His followers who accompanied The Lord to the mountaintop on Ascension Day felt such great joy, even as He vanished from their sight. They relied on His promise that when we return to “our place of origin,” we will see Him again, in all of His glory, and He will judge us with mercy and love and welcome us home.

But it is important to remember The Lord’s final instructions to the Apostles and disciples: Stay where you are and be my witnesses. This is a very important part of what we celebrate today. These instructions continue to apply to us. It is as urgent today as it was back then that we heed Jesus’s instructions to stay where we are and give witness to the Gospel because there will be newcomers, future generations of Christians who will need a spiritual home while they wait to return to the Holy Origin. They will need spiritual food to eat…The Eucharist. They will need a community of believers not simply to entertain them, but to give them instruction and hope. People have to be accommodated, just as we were accommodated by our ancestors who have passed on our Creed…our faith…to us.

Like the ‘20s and ‘30s that inspired Thomas Wolfe to say: You Can’t Go Home Again, we live in tumultuous times. But Christ has assured us that WE CAN GO HOME AGAIN. He has given us a detailed map, showing us the way to our Holy Origin…the Gospel. He has left us with a memory of our Holy Origin…The Eucharist. And He has even sent us a completely trustworthy guide…The Holy Spirit…Whose presence among us we celebrate next week on Pentecost Sunday. And if we use all that Christ has given us, we will return to our Holy Origin and experience The Glory of God The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be, world without end….AMEN!

Pentecost Sunday
JN 20:19-23
June 9, 2019

Pentecost is the “birthday of our church.” And, as is the custom with birthdays, Pentecost comes with gifts. When Jesus returned to heaven, He did not forget us…or our birthday! He sent the Holy Spirit with seven wonderful presents… gifts that are constantly being renewed. And what’s most amazing is that these priceless gifts are entrusted to specific individuals, those folks who are most likely to put them to full use for the benefit of everyone.

Think about the leadership in your own parish family. Those women and men that deal with community affairs: parish council members, those involved in the finance committee, bookkeepers and groundskeepers, parish secretaries…everyone who helps the parish interface with the world…these folks are all given the gift of RIGHT JUDGMENT. This is the gift that reminds them as they go about their work that our Church might well be a human institution, but we are not just another corporation…we are the Body of Christ. God is present within us. There is no room for politics or ego. And all decisions and actions will be according to God’s will and God’s way…when this gift of RIGHT JUDGMENT is unwrapped and put to full use.

Our sisters and brothers who are involved in the many areas of pastoral care and ministry are given the beautiful gift of REVERENCE. Empowered with this gift, they are able to see Christ in others, especially those in greatest need. And, in turn, they make Christ present to those to whom they are ministering. When taking the Eucharist to the sick or homebound, extending sympathy and support to someone who has lost a loved one, extending Christian charity to those unfortunate souls who have hit on hard times…whatever the pastoral care might be…when it is done with REVERENCE, Christ is present. And that is exactly what we are all about…making Christ present in the world.

One of the most important responsibilities entrusted to every generation of disciples is the work of passing on our faith in the risen Christ. Parents have the primary responsibility for this extremely important obligation. However, they are assisted by folks like our catechists, youth ministers, and the RCIA team. Regardless of the role or title, the Gift of KNOWLEDGE is there for the taking. It is often said that “KNOWLEDGE is power.” If that is true, then there is nothing more powerful than KNOWLEDGE about Christ. The more we know about Christ, the more powerful we become.

We live in very challenging times. Just 50 days ago, on Easter Sunday morning, three Catholic churches in Sri Lanka were the targets of terrorist attacks. It is reported that 250 people lost their lives and there were countless serious injuries. One of the parish priests who was celebrating mass as bombs exploded was recently interviewed and said: These bombs have enkindled in (our) hearts a desire for Jesus Christ.

It takes COURAGE to return to church after that kind of experience, the kind of COURAGE that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This Gift enabled the Apostles and disciples to leave the safety and security of the Upper Room and go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel. The gift of COURAGE was evident among the early Christians, who accepted a martyr’s death during the first bloody persecutions. That special kind of COURAGEis still being given and used by Christians around the world as violent persecutions continue.

But you know, it also takes COURAGE to stand up in front of the community to serve as a lector. It takes COURAGE to be an usher or greeter, especially during these times when we can’t be certain who or what might be coming through the doors of our church. It takes COURAGE, too, for little kids in school, or big kids in high school or college to acknowledge that they are Catholic Christians. It takes COURAGE to remain faithful to our Church…not just in times of bloody persecution but also in times of scandal and shame. That COURAGE is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

One gift that I am personally concerned is being under-used and under-valued is the gift of UNDERSTANDING. An important tool that enables us to deepen our love for the Sacraments, UNDERSTANDING is most visible…or should be… in the eyes of the Eucharistic ministers who serve the Body and Blood of Christ. If we receive the Eucharist with that same gift of UNDERSTANDING that we become what we eat…or should…nothing, not even a terrorist threat or scandal and shame would keep us from the Communion Table.

Allow me to suggest that the gift of WISDOM can be found at work within the music ministry of our parishes. St. Augustine said: When we sing, we pray twice. It takes WISDOM to choose hymns that compliment and highlight the WISDOM of the Readings. Our musicians, cantors, and choirs use this gift well in order to help the community truly experience the Divine Presence among us when we gather for liturgy.

The final gift of the Holy Spirit is WONDER AND AWE. It is the sense that runs through us when we come together as the People of God…The Body of Christ. It is the gift that arouses within our hearts a spirit of joy that we carry out from the Church and into the world, confident that we will be able to face the challenges of the coming week with hope.

Today is our birthday, and if you just look around, you will see the gifts that we have been given are truly at work. And so long as we accept and share these gifts, there is no power on earth that can do us harm.


The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
JN 16:12-15
June 16, 2019

A number of folks have recently asked me what I think about Pope Francis’s decision to “change the Lord’s Prayer.” That was the way the secular headlines announced what I would report as a clarification of a single element in the English translation, as opposed to the kind of radical alteration that the media suggests. Scripture scholars on both sides of the clarification have certainly been quick to offer their “expert opinions” as to why this is or is not appropriate. Moreover, true to form, Roman Catholic faithful, from what I hear anyway, are divided by the issue according to how they identify themselves: conservative/orthodox/traditional/liberal.

Had a quotation attributed to Pope Benedict XVI, back some 40 years ago when he was still known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made the secular headlines, it would most definitely have caused the same kind of debate and division that is unfolding over The Lord’s Prayer. Maybe it did, but we lived past it, and it is forgotten. Ratzinger was apparently concerned that Catholics were in need of clarification in our Profession of Faith. He felt that beginning The Creed with the words…WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD…was “subversive.” That word “subversive” is pretty harsh, don’t you think? Talk about the need for clarification!

His point, as I understand it, was simply this: When we stress the “Oneness of God” we affirm monotheism, clearly defined at Deuteronomy 6:4…GOD IS ONE! At the same time, however, at least for many of the faithful, that image of ONE God undermines (subverts) what we Catholics know to be true and celebrate this Sunday: THE BLESSED TRINITY. And so, starting on the First Sunday of Advent 2011, we began our profession with the words…I BELIEVE IN GOD…continuing as always, by identifying and reverencing each Divine Person of the Trinity. The clarification was accomplished by simply dropping one word, and then moving forward by affirming the presence, power, and loving relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis’s forthcoming clarification to a single element of the Lord’s Prayer is more complicated and involves more than dropping a single word. This is not the time to discuss the implications or reasons behind the forthcoming change. However, because, at its core, this clarification invites reflection on the role of each Divine Person of The Blessed Trinity, it deserves mentioning today. As you learn more about this clarification, you will hopefully come to appreciate that it helps us better comprehend the role of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church’s mixed reaction is also appropriate to consider on this feast.

The Gospels do not specifically use the title “Blessed Trinity.” In fact, while the early Christians became slowly aware of the truth that Jesus Christ was, indeed, fully human and fully Divine, it took many more generations after that before arriving at universal understanding and appreciation for The Three-ness of our One God. Only after much painful debate and division was the Doctrine defined. This was the case, in spite of the fact the Gospels offer frequent and convincing evidence, throughout Jesus’s earthly mission, of the loving, working relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The debate ended, and the division that the Sacred Mystery of how one God can be Three Divine Persons has healed and is forgotten by everyone but Church historians. But what all Christians have always agreed on is that it is hard to understand. How can Three possibly be One? Maybe it would help if we were to drop some words from our vocabulary. Words such as conservative…orthodox…traditional…progressive…and liberal are divisive and subvert our ability to appreciate the nature of God. In revealing the Divine Self to humankind, there is only perfect peace and infinite love between the Three Persons. The idea of ego or self-promotion does not exist within the eternal relationship of The Trinity. There is only beautiful, unbroken harmony. In Godspeak, there are no words like “mine,” but only “ours.”

We were created to know, love, and serve God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were also created to be an image of our One true and living God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The arrogance of heated debate over any issue of faith or morals is not only divisive but is also subversive. Ego and pride undermine our ability to show the face of God to the world…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is only when we stand shoulder to shoulder as humble seekers of spiritual wisdom that we will better understand the true nature of our One true and living God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…and then no further clarification will be required. In the meantime, when we sign ourselves, it might help to remember that we are not declaring ourselves to be conservative…orthodox…traditional…progressive…or liberal, but rather, adopted and much loved children of the One God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen!

Eternal rest for Sr. Elizabeth Picken, a theologian who explored the mystery of God as a humble seeker of spiritual wisdom. On Pentecost Sunday, all of her questions were answered and no further clarification is necessary.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
LK 9:11B-17
June 23, 2019

A young nun living in Belgium during the early 1200s had a vision. She saw a brilliant, bright, full moon that had a dark streak running through it. Reflecting on the mystical experience, she came to understand that the moon represented The Church, and that the dark spot signaled that there was something missing.

Subsequently, and over the course of a number of years, she was favored with further visions. Jesus Christ expressed His desire to her that a special feast be instituted and celebrated in honor of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Aggressively pursuing this commission, she was eventually successful in convincing local Church leadership to move forward with the Lord’s wishes. Eventually, the concept of paying tribute to The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist became a universal practice. The Feast of Corpus Christi was initiated and began to grow and flourish. Because of her unique role in communicating The Lord’s wishes, St. Juliana is typically depicted in religious art holding a monstrance.

This Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ has always been regarded as an opportunity to revisit The Lord’s Supper. Our Holy Thursday liturgy concludes just as quickly as the final Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with His followers. There is little time to savor what was served up before rushing out to the Garden of Olives to begin The Passion.

Through this Feast, we are given the chance to do what we do in our own homes with our loved ones after a particularly good meal: linger at “The Table.” Today, we are invited to return to The Upper Room and take the place reserved for each of us. There is no need to rush out and meet a betrayer leading an angry mob. We can simply relax and share our appreciation for what has been placed before us: The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Through the Eucharist, in a spiritual way, we become part of that night before He was handed over. The fact is, when we follow His command and “DO THIS”…we are not simply remembering or reliving…we are actually participating! We are there! And so, we can join in the after dinner table talk with the Apostles and disciples. At least we can listen in to what they have to say.

At some point, the discussion turns to the beginning of that final meal. In the moment, everyone felt very uncomfortable as The Lord insisted on washing feet. Even Peter resisted. But Jesus insisted. The Lord understood that we would not understand what that was all about…but He insisted. So our after dinner table talk raises the possibility that when Jesus said: “DO THIS”…He meant for us to “DO MORE” than break The Bread and share The Cup. Maybe it was also His intention that we should wash feet. Could it be that “DO THIS” included the command to serve?

Looking back even further in time, folks begin to talk about that beautiful day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. People hung on every word He said as He described the Kingdom of God to them. They were starved for Good News. They couldn’t get enough. That day, The Lord nourished their hungry spirits and they had their fill. When He finished, it was late, but they weren’t going anywhere. They did what we all do after we’ve been well fed. They sat around savoring the spiritual meal. But now, it was their stomachs that were empty. So The Lord provided food for a crowd and enlisted US to do the serving!

Could “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME” also include serving the poor?

The Feast of The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is a celebration of the truth that Jesus Christ continues to be present to us in the Eucharist. But, He is also present to the world through the Church…through us. And He is present to us through the poor…the homeless…the marginalized. They make Christ present to us, and we, in turn, are called to be Christ to them through our acts of charity and service.

We honored the Lord’s request to set aside a day to rejoice in The Real Presence. But, after praying before the monstrance, aren’t we expected to DO MORE? At the end of this Feast Day, will there still be a dark streak running through the brilliant, bright, full moon?

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 9:51-62
June 30, 2019

Most people have heard of Attention Deficit Disorder. Unfortunately, it’s a condition that is almost epidemic. “Impact ADHD” is an organization with the stated purpose of “helping families help kids” live around the challenges of Attention Deficit. In an article published on its website, the skill of prioritizing is discussed as a way to bring order to a life which might otherwise become chaotic and disordered.

Parent and author Diane Dempster suggests that it is possible to help kids with ADHD develop the ability to “think through things sequentially.” Dempster explains: In my house, I share my to-do list on the weekends. “I’m going to the store first because it takes the longest and I want to get it out of the way. Then I’m going to garden because I enjoy it more – and I can work up an appetite before lunch. I have to balance my checkbook but I’ll do that this afternoon when I’m tired and want to sit down.”

It seems to make good sense. When we prioritize, we are less overwhelmed and frustrated and ultimately more productive. Prioritizing is an important life skill that helps to keep disorder and chaos at bay.

In today’s Gospel, and in an almost shocking way, Jesus encourages us to “think through things sequentially.” The lesson is simple: every “to-do list” should begin with God. Nothing should come before God, because nothing is more important than God.

Most people of faith make the connection between salvation and a healthy relationship with God. But in our Second Reading, St. Paul seems to be telling us that ordering our lives according to God’s plan makes our earthly lives more livable…more enjoyable…more productive…much less chaotic….and filled with Christ’s Peace.

So how does this work?

Maybe something like this: I’m going to say a little prayer…AND THEN go to the store. Shopping takes the longest and I want to get it out of the way…so I will ask God to help me use my time well.

Then I’m going to garden because I enjoy it – and the first thing that I will do is say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the fun I have working with the flowers and plants.

I have to balance my checkbook but I’ll do that this afternoon when I’m tired and want to sit down…and I will start by praying for the energy to concentrate on being a good steward.

The world has changed beyond imagination since the three people approached Jesus hoping to become disciples. In this high speed, hi-tech age, there are countless things that distract us from what God is asking of us. It is more important than ever that we get our priorities right and plan our lives sequentially. If we hope to end our lives in Christ, God must always come first and above all else. That is the proper sequence: God first, God last, God in all things.

To push back against chaos that threatens our spirits and our peace, God must be given top priority every day and in every way. To order our lives according to God’s plan, God must be constantly on our mind and on our lips and in our hearts.

What has not changed since Jesus was approached by the three is the cost of discipleship. The Lord does not sugarcoat it. It involves commitment, discipline, and even persecution. But when we remain focused, the benefit of being always attentive to God is a new kind of freedom that we will enjoy fully in The Kingdom.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:1-12, 17-20
July 7, 2019

(Fr. Kelly is presenting a mission appeal for Haiti, where his good friend worked for several years. The Saginaw diocese has two parishes with priest from the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. Donations can be giving at:

To explain why I am here at your parish doing a mission appeal, I need to tell the story about a friend of mine…a friend who many of you might well have known. I first met Fr. Tom Moore 29 years ago, when Bishop Untener sent him to discuss the possibility of me doing what we hear about in this Sunday’s Gospel: Becoming a laborer in The Lord’s vineyard.

At the time, Tom, along with other Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, were working in Saginaw parishes. In addition to his sacramental ministry in different parishes around our diocese, Tom Moore served as our Director of Priest Formation. He helped Bishop Untener recruit, evaluate, educate, and develop the spirituality of men who, like me, felt a call to priesthood.

So, during the years I was preparing for ordination, I was in close contact with Tom, and through him, became very well acquainted with most of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales. After ordination, Tom continued to advise and guide me, especially through the early years of my pastoral ministry.

Eventually, Tom left his diocesan responsibilities and became one of the Chaplains at St. Mary’s Hospital. He may well have brought the sacraments to you if you were hospitalized during his service there. At the same time, he continued to do weekend masses all around our diocese.

After a few years in hospital work, he was sitting next to me at the fall priest convocation. The speaker told the story about a successful professional lay couple, who decided to spend their retirement years working “in the Lord’s vineyard.” They liquidated all of their assets…and, like lambs among wolves, moved to a dangerous part of the world to share their treasure and talent with those in greatest need.

When the talk concluded, Tom turned to me and made the very emotional declaration: “I have to do that!”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Move to the missions.”

I pointed out to him that he had no assets to liquidate and take with him. As a religious order priest, Tom took a vow of poverty…and he lived it faithfully, also pointed out the obvious. At the time, he was no spring chicken. To be honest, that day, I did not take him seriously. But he was.

Immediately following the convocation, Tom contacted the Superior General for the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales and explained that, again, like the 72 in today’s Gospel, he felt that the Lord was sending him out into the world, beyond Saginaw, to bring hope to the hopeless. The Superior General invited Tom to join the Oblate mission efforts in Haiti where he would be able to use his background in formation by living with and guiding seminarians from Haiti and South America studying in Port-au-Prince. At the same time, he could be involved in general missionary outreach. Within months, he was gone.

He shared his rich experiences through a blog that he posted regularly…making his followers feel like they were actually there…in Haiti. But, it was during one of his few visits home that his work really came alive for us…living here in the safety and comfort that we so often take for granted. We could see the emotion in his eyes when he described the hardships of the Haitian people. At the same time, we could see the excitement and love in his eyes as he described the strength of their faith…and their spirit.

As far as his own living conditions…He told about frequent blackouts when power failed…and the definite shortage of safe drinking water. Hot showers were unheard of, and cold showers infrequent because the source was rainwater collected in rooftop cisterns. Meat was scarce, and dinner was often something as simple as an unappetizing dish of plain spaghetti noodles with ketchup poured over it. But he never failed to add how blessed he was compared to most of the Haitian people. Many wealthy people vacation on the beach resorts of Haiti, but Tom’s description of the area of Port-au-Prince where he lived and ministered was less than inviting. He described lots of dust and very little vegetation. His mantra became: There is nothing beautiful in Haiti but the people.

After a year or so, severe back pain made it necessary for him to return to Saginaw for surgery. He absolutely insisted on returning to Haiti…having barely recovered. On the few occasions that he had to make a trip back to the U.S., he would always book the least expensive airfare, which not only made for a very uncomfortable flight, but also required an overnight delay in Miami. I would send him off with pocket money and encourage him to get a hotel room. He never did. Instead, he would sleep in the airport and take the little money I had given him back to the poor.

Needless to say, back in 2009, everyone who knew him was frantic about his safety with the news of the devastating earthquake. After about two days, he was able to send an email and we were relieved to hear he was unharmed. The reports that he eventually sent back to the United States confirmed what we were seeing on television. There was no fake news in describing the horrific damage, as well as the disappointing performance of many of the relief teams. One of the young seminarians that he lived with died, although, Thank God, the others were spared serious injury. But they were surrounded by unthinkable human suffering.

Tom did not think for a moment about abandoning Haiti, in spite of the fact that the danger from aftershocks made it necessary for him to sleep outdoors on the ground. And the lack of sanitation created a high risk of disease. The already difficult living conditions were intensified by the natural disaster. Tom reported, however, that “we have it good compared to most of the country.“

The first weekend after the earthquake, I told my people at St. Thomas Aquinas about Tom. I explained that I was not going to wait for any relief organization, but was going to send my check directly to him. I invited anyone who wanted to reach out in Christian Charity and make an immediate contribution, to get their donation to me as soon as possible. By the end of the week, I was able to send a substantial sum, through the Oblate headquarters, directly to Tom. The money went DIRECTLY from our hands to the hands of the poor. He, together with a local parish priest, saw to it that the money was spent in the best possible way, to bring relief to as many people as possible.

Eventually, a letter appeared in my mail at St. Thomas Aquinas. It wasn’t on fancy letterhead and it was obviously typed on an old fashioned typewriter. It was a beautiful expression of gratitude by the parish priest who was working with Tom. It did not offer a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, but I was confident that it was put to immediate and proper use. I don’t want to give the impression that I think organized charities are bad…because I certainly do not. But I do know that very often, because of their corporate structure, our donations do not reach the poor…penny for penny.

Just this past week…a so-called “charity watchdog” operating out of Great Britain completed an 18-month-long investigation of the relief efforts of one of the major international relief organizations that responded to the earthquake in Haiti 10 years ago. The report, which took all these years to issue, describes the charity as fostering a “culture of bad behavior.”

I am confident that the Oblate mission outreach is a “Culture of Christ.”

You know…The motto of the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales is LIVE JESUS! For many years, Fr. Tom Moore did that. He certainly LIVED JESUS here in Saginaw. But he encountered the suffering Christ in Haiti.

There are many other men like him, who heard the Lord’s call to go out among the wolves to bring relief to the lambs…not only in Haiti, but in parts of South America and Mexico, Africa and India…where Oblates LIVE JESUS and encounter Christ in the poor. So today, I ask you to join me in supporting their work of bringing hope to the hopeless, confident that your donation will reach the right hands and be spent in the best possible way…doing the most possible good.

I really need to tell you the rest of Tom Moore’s story. While helping to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, he became ill. The doctors there diagnosed hepatitis, which was logical considering the conditions in which he lived. He reluctantly agreed to return to the U.S. for treatment. The doctors here felt that it was something more serious, and, within days of his return, he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died within the year. One of his great regrets during his final illness was that he could not continue his work in Haiti. But, he found comfort in the fact that other Oblates are doing just that.

Please help their efforts through a donation….and in that way, LIVE JESUS!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:25-37
July 14, 2019

July 30, I will be celebrating 25 years of ordained ministry. For me, this is an occasion to look back over the past quarter century, reflecting on how I put this time to use. A little booklet that was published by Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Ubly, Michigan, provided me with a lot of food for thought. This was my first assignment as a pastor.

The book that triggered many memories, was a brief history of the parish from its foundation in 1887 until 2013. This is what was recorded about me:

In the winter of 1996, Fr. Randy Kelly replaced Fr. John Mullet. Due to the shortage of priests, Fr. Randy’s vision for the parish included parishioners accepting more responsibility for leadership roles in the church. He began training individuals for various leadership roles needed in the parish and set up for Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest.

It pleased me to be remembered for encouraging parishioners to live out their calling as disciples, according to the gifts and talents God has blessed them with. And while it’s an honor to be given credit for having “the vision” to recruit and encourage disciples, the truth is I can’t accept that credit. Anticipating “the priest shortage” was not about prophecy, it was simply a matter of arithmetic…doing the math! However, priest shortage or not…all of the baptized should always be encouraged to share the gifts and talents with which they have been blessed in order to build up the Body of Christ…our Church.

There is one detail about my work at St. John the Evangelist that I feel warrants a clarification. When I arrived, there was already sound, competent and very dedicated “leadership” in place. The parish council and finance committee were terrific. What I felt was needed was for more people to become involved in pastoral ministry.

In my mind, there is a distinction. Leadership often involves authority and control. Pastoral ministry, on the other hand, involves sacrifice and service. So I set out recruiting, training, and coaching people to put themselves at the service of others. In other words, I was looking for Good Samaratins, who were willing to respond to the needs of their neighbors, whether or not there was an emergency situation…and whether or not there was a priest available.

It wasn’t just a matter of recruiting bodies, either. Clearly, there is a skill set for the various ministries that make a parish work and work well. Not everyone can lead a vigil service. Many people are uncomfortable standing up and speaking in front of a room full of people…or should be anyway! Teachers have a special gift and catechesis is all about education.

But no matter what the ministry, or how talented a person might be, there is one quality that is absolutely critical to success…LOVE! Love of God, Church, and neighbor is a requisite to ministry.

A lot has changed at St. John the Evangelist since 1996. Three parishes have now been merged into one. This is the story all over our Diocese. But, what hasn’t changed in Ubly, or Vasser, or Palms, or Linwood, or Alma, or Oakely, or Ryan…or in any of the small communities that are part of The Body of Christ, is that good neighbors live there. So long as there are good neighbors…loving disciples, who are vigilant to the needs of the folks around them…even when there is no life and death emergency…even if there is no priest available…The Body of Christ will remain healthy.

It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed. What’s even more incredible is how things have changed in our world over this past quarter century. But, the vision remains the same. And it isn’t my vision. It is The Lords! LOVE AND SERVE ONE ANOTHER!

On to the next 25!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 10:38-42
July 21, 2019

If this Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t trigger at least one childhood memory, chances are pretty good that you are an only child. However, if you have one or more siblings, the little drama between Martha and Mary probably sounds very familiar. Who hasn’t, at least on one occasion…in a whiny tone of voice shouted out…TELL HIM TO HELP ME! Or if you are a parent, odds are good that you have had to come up with an answer to the questions: WHY ME? WHY CAN’T SHE DO IT?

This is typical background noise common in most family homes. Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a surprise to hear this kind of domestic squabble reported in the Gospel. It sure gets our attention. The familiarity of it makes it fairly easy to enter the story. But, rest assured, there is a lot more here than the matter of conflict resolution.

In a way, Jesus was both Guest as well as Host. He played guest to Martha, who was rushing around frantically trying to get a meal on the table. But, at the same time, The Lord was actually hosting Mary, as He nourished her spirit with the Good News. What Jesus provided was food that would sustain her throughout her earthly life and carry her into eternity. No matter how much effort Martha put into the meal she would be serving, her guests would be hungry again. Mary was feasting on truth and truth is eternal…and would never be taken from her.

That being said, at some point during His visit, even Jesus heard His stomach growl. At that point, Martha’s service was certainly appreciated. We have to feed the body as well as the spirit.

It occurs to me that the same sort of dynamic happens when we gather for Eucharist. We invite Christ into our midst. He arrives as our guest. As the hosts, we prepare a simple meal of bread and wine. But before we set the Communion Table, we do just what Mary did. We sit at Jesus’s feet and listen. Our attention is focused on the Table of the Word as The Guest becomes The Host, serving up Good News…Truth…the words of everlasting life. And like the first course at a fancy banquet, it stimulates our appetite for more. So we move to the Communion Table where The Bread of Life and The Cup of our Salvation is placed before us. At these two Tables, we become what we eat. And what we have been served can’t be taken from us. It nourishes us in this life, and enables us to pass peacefully into the next.

But then we leave.

As we walk through the doors of our church, the “Martha” within each of us is called into action. Strengthened by the Word and The Eucharist, it’s our time to serve!

It’s a bit of a surprise to hear this kind of familiar domestic squabble reported in the Gospel, but it is definitely a story that draws us in and warrants reflection. And what we learn is that it is important to get our priorities straight. There are times when we are expected to just sit and listen to what God has to, say to us, and other times when God expects us to serve.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 11:1-13
July 28, 2019

So called “autonomous vehicle technology”…driverless cars…make me very nervous. The very thought of giving complete control of a moving vehicle over to a computer frightens me. I was relieved to learn that automakers were overly ambitious in projecting that thousands of self-driving taxis would take to the highways during 2019. Now stalled in the experimental and testing phase, maybe I will never have to shop for a car, not to drive, but that will drive me.

On the other hand, I very much appreciate the new technology that is now standard on most vehicles that still require a human operator. The camera that projects what’s behind the car on a little TV screen when the vehicle is in reverse is like having “eyes in the back of my head.” The little blinking light that appears in the side view mirror accompanied by a warning signal makes expressway driving a lot less threatening. When someone is sneaking up on my “blind spot,” I am instantly aware of it, even before I see the danger. Not to mention GPS, which makes it next to impossible to get lost.

This technology was thousands of years into the future when Jesus was asked to teach His followers to pray. But if folks had been using “driverless cars” rather than donkeys and chariots as a means of transportation, it would’ve been a good image for Jesus to use in addressing the issue of prayer.

In his reply, the Lord offers us the content. He gave us the words, but prayer involves more than words. The attitude and expectations we bring to prayer are also very important. Just possibly, that was what his disciples were looking for when they asked the Lord: “Teach us to pray.” Having observed Him at prayer, they were eager for the same depth of communion with The Almighty.

Actually, in all that He said and did, The Lord has given us the ultimate example of perfect prayer. At all times, and in every way, Jesus gave total and complete control over to The Father. He came to prayer with an attitude of unwavering acceptance of God’s will and with the expectation that God always answers our prayers in the most loving of ways.

That’s challenging. To relinquish complete control over our lives to God is a bit like getting into a driverless car and telling it where to go, trusting the vehicle to take us there. Except it is much more. When we enter into perfect prayer, as Jesus did, we tell God: Take me to the place You want me to be.

But after He prayed, we see Jesus spring into action. Having accepted The Father’s will, The Son did not just sit back comfortably to enjoy the ride. He accepted the responsibility of moving God’s plan forward. He took the wheel!

Acceptance is key to Christian spirituality. When we enter into prayer, like Jesus, we should try our best to embrace an attitude of complete acceptance of God’s will. When we enter into prayer, we should do so with the expectation that our prayers are received with perfect love and answered with perfect love.

Then, when our prayer is over, we need to take back the wheel with renewed confidence that we are headed where God wants us to be and have been given the ability to get there safely. Through prayer, we can look behind us…identifying past mistakes that threaten to take us off course. Our prayer provides us with warnings that signal dangers hidden in our blind spots. Prayer is a spiritual GPS that monitors our progress, reroutes us when necessary, and keeps us moving toward our final destination…The Kingdom of God.

He has indeed given us the words and demonstrated the right attitude and proper expectations…so that only one thing remains…LET US PRAY!

18 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 12:13-21
August 4, 2019

For almost half a century, people speculated about the identity of the person whose over-the-top vanity was described in a song. Finally, in an autobiography, the singer-songwriter acknowledged who the individual is. I wonder how many people below the age of 50 have ever heard the song. I wonder as well how many younger people even recognize the name of the long anonymous celebrity. Even those old enough to remember (and still have the ability to remember) would probably be shocked by a current picture of this once paragon of vanity.

Exceptionally good looks might lead to wealth and fame, but age is not kind to our bodies. And while wealth might survive a full head of hair and pearly white teeth, there comes a point where there are fewer and fewer things (other than health care) that money can buy which bring true pleasure.

The funny thing is this: vanity has a very long shelf life. Could it be that when the person who, according to the song, was always seen at the “right places, with the right people, and at the right time, wearing the right fashion” hears the song, arrogance overpowers arthritis? After all of these years, is the person still vain?

But vanity is not limited to the rich and famous. In truth, “the song” describes all of us to one degree or another. And the more we fall victim to vanity, the less lasting and authentic peace we enjoy.

During his general audience on June 4, 2014, Pope Francis spoke about walking with true piety. He stressed that this Gift of the Holy Spirit…PIETY…is not to be confused with “pietism,” which can actually be fueled by vanity.

Rather, according to the Holy Father: The gift of piety means to be truly capable of rejoicing with those who rejoice, of weeping with those who weep, of being close to those who are lonely or in anguish, of correcting those in error, of consoling the afflicted, of welcoming and helping those in need. The gift of piety is closely tied to gentleness. The gift of piety, which the Holy Spirit gives, makes us gentle, makes us calm, patient, at peace with God, at the service of others with gentleness. It is a relationship lived with the heart…not the mirror, or the portfolio. The focus of the authentically pious is on God and others, not on self and self-worth and wealth. It would seem then that the cure to vanity is piety.

So if you happen to know the song, sing along…You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you…don’t you…don’t you?

Actually…it is! The song and the Scripture passages ARE ABOUT YOU…and me…and serve as a stark reminder to all of us to strive to be less vain and more pious…so that we can live in peace.

19 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 12:32-48
August 11, 2019

Last Sunday afternoon, ordinary people were strolling through the Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, preparing for various things. Some were preparing for that evening’s meal. Others were preparing for an upcoming vacation, or the birth of a baby. There were young families in that store last Sunday, looking ahead to the fall and buying school supplies in preparation for a new school year. There were as many different occasions to prepare for as there were “Wal-Mart Shoppers.” Each, in their own way, was looking to the future and preparing for something that was important or special to them.

But no one in the store that day could possibly have been prepared for the powerful blast of evil that broke through the doors and into the lives of these ordinary people. In truth, we should always be prepared to face off against evil. That is the lesson of this Sunday’s readings.

The discussion about the cause of this most recent instance of “domestic terrorism,” while heated, simply continues the debate that began with the first in a now long series of mass murders. Whatever the trigger, at the root is evil. Since the first bad choice (the original sin), evil has had a clear path into our world. Evil has been humanity’s constant stalker.

Moreover, evil does not always take on the form of a shooter in body armor and a ski mask. Evil very often looks to nature to inflict suffering upon us.

I wonder if evil takes as much delight from our pain and grief as from the fallout injury, injury to our faith. When all of these things are reported to us in real time and shocking detail, many who are not in the cross hairs of evil suffer the most devastating of injuries: DOUBT! How can a good and loving and merciful…ALL-POWERFUL GOD EXIST…with all of this evil lurking about, just waiting to strike?

So, we are reminded this week of the faith of Abraham. The faith of the Patriarch was so strong is that it steeled him against every challenge he faced and every test he underwent. This powerful weapon, this strength of faith in our loving God, was passed onto Israel through the generations, enabling the enslaved nation to defy the evil Pharaoh and to prepare as God commanded, to pass over to freedom in the Promised Land.

The sobering truth is that every single human being must prepare for death. Although inevitable, it typically takes us by surprise. To enable us to better prepare for this final challenge, our all-powerful and all loving God broke into human history with an unparalleled force, and in the most unusual way. Through Jesus, God was born into time in order to steel our faith as we face off against anything and everything that threatens our security. Jesus arms us with the weapons of love, forgiveness, and service. Through Christ, we are fully prepared to defeat evil.

Tragically, however, we live in a moment in history when evil shouts out: DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND PUT UP YOUR HANDS! Many people are obeying and are left defenseless. We are reminded today that we are very powerful so long as we remain in faith.

Stay prepared!

20 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 12:49-53
August 18, 2019

Last week, I was a guest of my oldest and dearest friends at their summer home on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a wonderful few days…actually a reunion…because over the past years, our lives have been so busy that we haven’t been able to spend very much time together.

One evening, they invited their favorite neighbors over. We sat outdoors in a circle on lawn chairs under soaring pine and spruce and birch trees, listening to the waves break on the shore and watching the sun set. There was no actual campfire burning, but we were having that kind of experience. It was a “campfire evening.” It was perfect!

Except…the next day, I felt a pang of regret.

You see, as I was getting acquainted with the other guests, who are wonderful people, the fact that I am a Catholic priest came up. After a little while, and totally out of context, because we certainly were not talking about spiritual matters, the neighbor lady looked across the imaginary campfire directly at me and said: “You know, I was raised Catholic.” It came out of the blue, those words: “I was raised Catholic.”

It seemed to me that she placed a special kind of emphasis on that word “was.” I heard a tone in her voice as she spoke that single word, “was.” But, as I said, we were not talking about spiritual matters, and I had just met this delightful couple. I wasn’t quite certain as to why she highlighted the word “was,” so I simply replied: “Oh? Is that right?” But her “was” stuck with me. It hung with me like the smell of a campfire clings to your clothes.

So, the pleasant “campfire” conversation continued, and after quite a bit of time, the lady again looked over at me, and once more, totally out of context, said: “I had all of the Sacraments.” She continued, almost as if to prove her point by naming them: “Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation…and my brothers did, too. My parents saw to it.”

Because of the circumstances, I felt uncertain as to how to reply and simply said: “It’s good to give kids a faith life.” Pretty lame, if I do say so myself. My bad!

Finally, just as we were about to get up and move into the house because it was getting chilly — as I said, there was no campfire — she looked right into my eyes and said: “Those were good times. Happy times. Things were better then.” She went on with a few more thoughts that I can only paraphrase. Basically, I understood her to say that she missed the certainty and security that she once felt when she “was” Catholic.

I bumbled through something that I intended to be ecumenical, non-judgmental, even pastoral, without sounding too preachy. But, when I woke up the next morning, I felt the sense of regret one feels after a missed opportunity. I had fallen short. And that feeling was only intensified when I sat down to reflect on and pray with today’s Gospel.

One of the most unsettling feelings we humans experience is: I should have said. I should have taken the opportunity to say to this good woman, With Christ, there is no such thing as “was.”

At the very beginning of the Baptism ritual, the priest signs us with the cross and says: I claim you for Christ! And although some people think of their relationship with Christ and the Church in the past tense, with the Lord, there is only “The present” which leads to a future without end. Once Christ claims us, he never rejects us.

No matter how much time might pass between us because our lives have become too busy, or because our feelings have been hurt and we leave the circle, or because we feel that we have “outgrown” the friendship, no matter how much we highlight the word “was,” Christ always claims us as His own.

So I wonder, if when Jesus tells us that he has come to “light a fire,” I wonder if maybe he is talking about a warm and inviting campfire, a fire far more brilliant than anything that can be lit with a match. I wonder if the Lord is talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit — the kind of fire that people can gather around, sitting shoulder to shoulder under a canopy of trees, looking at the sunset and listening to the music of the lake, while sharing thoughts and feelings about “happier times.” Times when we felt totally secure and certain about God’s unconditional love, and the unfailing friendship of Jesus Christ, reassuring one another that there is no “was” with God…only “is” and “will be.”

I should have told that woman all of this…but I missed the opportunity. But now, I am telling you. When Jesus speaks about lighting a fire, I wonder if what he had in mind was a warm and inviting campfire?

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 13:22-30
August 25, 2019

If you complete a form online, pay a fee (rather substantial), make an appointment for a personal interview (not always easily arranged), and present the proper identification at that time, then you might be TSA pre-approved. Simply put, this means that when you arrive at an airport to catch a flight, you qualify to pass through a special check point (the narrow gate).

Besides the fact that the process is less intrusive (you don’t have to remove your shoes or belt), at any given time, the majority of passengers who enjoy this privilege wait less than five minutes to be cleared for travel by the Transportation Safety Administration. I am not one of the 7 million Americans who have gone through the process. First of all, because I so rarely fly, it isn’t worth the expense, but mostly because the advantage of “pre-approval” status is vastly diminished once you pass through the “narrow gate.”

Regardless of how long it took to get through security, all passengers still have to make their way to the boarding area, wait for the boarding call, endure the inevitable delay occasioned by some warning light that necessitates an inspection and follow-up paperwork. Whether or not you are a pre-approved or a first-class passenger, or you are crammed into the middle seat in the last row of the aircraft…everyone has to sit and wait while the plane taxis out to the runway where it sits (oftentimes as long as 45 minutes) until the flight is cleared for take-off. Everyone (eventually) arrives at the destination at the same time.

Some read Jesus’s words reported in today’s Gospel as a fairly sobering suggestion that access to the Kingdom of God is extremely limited…granted to very few, and only after a severe screening process. And while it is certainly true that The Lord is encouraging us to make an effort to be pre-approved for admission, the reality is that the discipline required for entry through the special, narrow gate is rigorous to the point that it is beyond most people’s capabilities.

For example, martyrs step out of the line and are waved forward without any further screening or waiting. But martyrdom is not something you apply for. Moreover, giving your life up for love of God is something that is beyond the strength of many otherwise good and faithful Christians. One’s very life is a substantial cost that Jesus willingly paid. Few other human beings, however, are that totally and completely selfless.

The fact that a person is not called to be a martyr or has led such a blameless life that The Church calls them “saint” does not mean that they will be denied entry. Our Second Reading tells us not to be discouraged. And while Jesus certainly points out that once the door is closed, it will not be reopened, the whole of The Gospel entitles us to hope that no well-intentioned person will experience the disappointment of a traveler who sees the plane still at the gate, but is denied entry because the craft has been secured for take-off.

We are a pilgrim people…travelers…refugees. Our time in this world is little more than a layover as we wait for the call, inviting us home. Our Readings leave no doubt that there is a screening process prior to departure. Although few will be pre-approved, a disciplined life, involving commitment to the Gospel and guided and supported by our Church and Sacraments enables us to wait our turn with the hope that we will not be left behind.

Travelers are asked to empty their pockets, open carry-on baggage, and abandon excluded items at security. Just so with our lives, as we leave time in route to eternal joy. But, no one will be allowed to travel with things such as hatred, greed, envy, bigotry…the list of prohibited items is exhaustive. We need to be purged of everything contrary to Christ’s message of peace, justice, and love before we are waved through the gate.

The good news is this: Once we abandon those things…a warm welcome awaits us. So, try not to prolong the process. Empty your lives of everything contrary to Christ prior to approaching security. And know that the first to cheer your arrival will be those who were pre-approved. How can I say that with certainty?

I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:1, 7-14
September 1, 2019

There was a time, not so long ago, when a person who had undergone cataract surgery, to remove a cloudy lens that distorted or totally obstructed vision, was easily identified. Following the fairly serious and invasive surgery, the recovering patient had to wear, what was commonly referred to as: “coke bottle glasses.” These “spectacles” magnified the person’s eyes in an uncomplimentary way. The weight of the thick glass lens was also burdensome. Thankfully today, there is a much less invasive, out -patient procedure, with a 98% success rate. Following the removal of the cloudy lens, a tiny, plastic “inter ocular lens” is implanted. There’s no longer a need for “coke bottle glasses.” In fact, many patients, post -op, recover 20/20 eye sight. If you meet someone over the age of 74 without bifocals, they either have exceptional genes, or they’ve had cataract surgery.

Just as the lenses in our eyes can fail due to age or injury, our spiritual vision can be obstructed or blurred as well. In fact, if you read the whole of Luke 14, from which today’s Gospel was lifted, you might well be left with the impression that Jesus’s dinner companions were all suffering from poor spiritual vision.

The fact is, all humankind, inherited compromised spiritual vision from the First Parents. Adam and Eve tragically made a deliberate choice not to see things “God’s way.” The result was an injury that infected the genetic code. It being God’s will that we all see reality with clarity, God gave Israel The Law and The Prophets as a means to spiritual correction.

Through “The Law” many people began to see and live God’s will and God’s ways. Others found this remedy too weighty or burdensome and rejected it. All of the guests invited to dine with Jesus, it would seem, looked at life through the lens of The Law; they were probably all Pharisees or Temple authorities. But for some reason, reality was still blurred or distorted for them. Maybe they had the wrong prescription, or need to clean “their glasses” of arrogance and pride. Whatever, the reason, they could not see Jesus for Who He is and appreciate what He brought.

The Father, desiring that humankind recover perfect spiritual vision, sent The Son to introduce a radically simple remedy, which when followed has a 100% success rate. Through Baptism, that which clouds our vision is removed without pain. Implanted in the place of human frailty, is the HUMILITY OF JESUS CHRIST. But, this “spiritual implant” which restores our vision needs to be maintained and supported. So with it, Christ introduced the other Sacraments, intended to be celebrated within the family of The Church.

When we gather for the Sacred Meal of the Eucharist with purity of heart, unlike the guests at the dinner party described in this Gospel, we enjoy a clarity of vision that enables us to see Christ…in one another and in ourselves as well. When we leave the Eucharist, we are nourished by what we have been served, enlightened by God’s Word, and strengthened by one another’s companionship. Then, we leave the Church and move back into the world and the week ahead of us. By virtue of the vision we enjoy through God’s grace, we are better able to see how things are, how things could and should be….AND…what we can do to make the world a better for everyone. Then, in all humility, we undertake the work of discipleship.

Because of all this, we are easily identified. Not by “coke bottle glasses” or the absence of bifocals in our elder years. People know who and what we are through lived humility…the HUMILITY OF JESUS CHRIST. Amen!

23 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:25-33
September 8, 2019

Our Gospel this Sunday begins in a very shocking way. Jesus appears to be encouraging us to hate! Clearly, that isn’t the case, although the opening lines of this passage are intended to shock us and get our attention. It would seem that The Lord wants to stimulate our imagination so that we can enjoy a glimpse of things we can’t actually see…at least not with our eyes. And what we enjoy a brief glimpse of is the Kingdom of God. What Jesus wants us to see with our hearts is such total and complete peace and joy that no person, no relationship, no earthly thing is more important.

The passage continues with two examples of the absolute need to “count the cost” of admission. Moreover, we are told that what is at risk is so important that we have to be in a constant state of preparation.

Think of it this way:

Once again, “hurricane season” is upon us. Together with loss of life, countless injuries, and devastating property damage comes what some experts refer to as “hurricane fatigue.” A life-threatening symptom of “hurricane fatigue” is denial. Worn out by season after season of emergency preparations, and even evacuations, only to have a storm exhaust itself at sea, some people underestimate the threat that looms over them. They convince themselves that this is just another false alarm, and ignore the authority’s advice to get out of harm’s way. Others talk themselves into believing that they are far enough from the sea, or live in a totally secure home, and that no further preparations are needed. They fail to take any precautions beyond stocking up on groceries. Suffering from denial, many have then suffered dire consequences by riding out a storm. Those that survive often declare: NEVER AGAIN!

Evil is like a hurricane. Evil is a swirling, dark force that hovers over every season of our lives, regardless of where we live. Sometimes we experience the outer rings of the storm with garden variety temptations…little more than heavy rain or high wind. Even when we fall victim, there doesn’t appear to be lasting damage, and so we let our guard down. Other times, however, we get trapped in the eye of the hurricane and are literally sucked into mortal danger through mortal sin.

Evil is like that; it is powerful enough to change the course of our lives and drive us so far from the Kingdom that, sometimes, it becomes impossible to find the way back. Most of the time, however, evil just looms off in the distance like a hurricane brewing far out in the ocean. We get tired of preparing. We get so accustomed to the warnings that we begin to ignore them. We underestimate the power of evil that threatens our lives. It’s as if we suffer from “sin fatigue.” We fall into a state of denial that evil will make landfall where we live, and we do little or nothing to prepare to face off against this powerful force. Many have suffered from “sin fatigue” and try to ride out the storms of life without preparing spiritually…and as a result…they have suffered dire consequences.

Today’s Gospel begins in a shocking way. It is intended to alarm us and to hold our attention. The Lord is offering us a vision of what we might lose if we aren’t prepared to defend it. Storm warnings must be taken seriously. Spiritual storm warnings demand immediate action….eternal life is at risk.

24 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 15:1-32
September 15, 2019

This Sunday, The Church gives us a particularly long Gospel. In fact, and most likely because of our really short attention spans, preachers are given the option of proclaiming only the first third of the chapter (Luke 15:1-10), omitting the very relatable drama of what some might consider to be a highly dysfunctional family. For me, that is like being served a bread basket, followed by small dinner salad, and then told the meal is over…no main course…no entree. I, for one, would leave the table unsatisfied…still hungry.

While both of the shorter parables stand on their own, delivering a lesson about the joy of recovering something thought to be irretrievably lost, it seems that Jesus intended them to be “appetizers” but not the full meal. So, I think if we are to walk away from The Table of The Word on this 24th Sunday completely satisfied, in spite of our really short attention spans, it’s important to be served up all three parables…and then dessert might be something really light…a very short homily.

The problem is, our host has done the shopping, set the table, laid out all the ingredients next to the pots and pans and cooking utensils, and has even opened the cookbook to the recipe…but has left us to prepare the meal. Think about it, there is no ending to the family drama. The Lord has left us everything we need to finish the story…according to our own taste…or preference…or experiences. But, it’s up to us to do the work.

I find the most helpful cookbooks to be those that have a large, colorful picture of the completed dish next to the recipe. That picture gives the amateur chef something to aim for. Very often, when one places their best effort next to the picture, it leaves something to be desired. But the next time they prepare the dish, it gets better. Encouraged, they keep returning to that recipe until it becomes their “signature dish.”

The key ingredients that the Lord has laid out for us this Sunday are patience, forgiveness, mercy, and, of course…LOVE. So what would a picture of this meal that we are invited to share today look like?

The “lost son,” having returned home out of desperation, would be overwhelmed with gratitude for the homecoming. Less out of guilt than from a newfound sense of duty and obligation, he would focus all of his energies towards restoring what he has squandered.

The father, now content that the “lost son” is home and back on track, would turn towards the “faithful son” in order to help him heal from the experience so as to restore harmony to the family. Still, fully understanding how short the human attention span truly is, the wise, patient, forgiving, merciful, and all-loving father would never stop worrying about his children.

While at first angry and resentful, the “faithful son” would slowly respond to the special attention of the patient and all-loving father, and encouraged by the efforts of his brother, would eventually imitate the father’s example of acceptance. Even the long suffering son would come to appreciate the joy in recovering something thought to be irretrievably lost.

That is the picture in the book. How does it compare with what you bring to the table?

Even people who betray you are part of the plan.

25 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:1-13
September 21, 2019

It was recently reported that the New York Attorney General’s office is conducting an investigation into the financial holdings of a family which owns a pharmaceutical company that manufactures what has proven to be a highly addictive “painkiller.” Evidence of the transfer of AT LEAST $1 billion in wire transfers to Swiss banks aroused suspicion of efforts to conceal assets in anticipation of an avalanche of litigation arising out of the opioid crisis.

Although our justice system promotes a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, it certainly would be a surprise if these unimaginably wealthy people, realizing that they were vulnerable, had not taken steps to ensure they did not lose all that they had gained under the guise of controlling people’s pain.

This is just one example of the addictive power of wealth. The news as well as the court system is full of other examples.

Much like “opioids,” money helps control pain. Money enables us to relieve hunger and protect ourselves from the elements with good clothes and sturdy shelter. Like “painkillers,” money dulls our worries and concerns about our future and serves to enhance our moods. But, for many, the benefits of wealth are quickly outweighed by the risks.

Wealth tends to be addictive. It takes control over our senses and values and stimulates the appetite to acquire more…and more…and more…until the servant become the master…or the monster. And “the monster” is particularly ferocious when threatened. People take remarkable measures to protect their wealth…be it transferring funds to offshore accounts or Swiss banks, or, like the unfaithful steward in the Gospel, by “cooking the books.”

The Old Testament speaks frequently to the issue, with Amos, the Prophet of social justice (refer to today’s First Reading) being the most forceful voice, warning against the all too human tendency toward greed.

But the good news is there is a cure. And there is no need to check into an expensive rehab facility to become healthy. A dose of Christian charity can help to tame “the monster” to be repeated whenever the symptoms return.

26 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 16:19-31
September 29, 2019

This is the second Sunday in a row that the Old Testament Reading was taken from the writings of the Prophet Amos. Amos, of course, is the voice of social justice. As exciting and moving as his writings might well be, when we read them, or even hear them proclaimed during the liturgy, we simply do not “feel the heat” that must have radiated from him as he spoke live to his ancient audiences. This past Monday, a meeting held at the United Nations offered an opportunity of experiencing what it might have been like to hear Amos in person.

Repeatedly punctuating her brief but blistering remarks with the question: How dare you! A teenager from Sweden spoke passionately about environmental concerns.

People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil, and that, I refuse to believe.

Although her “issue” is global warming and climate change, hardly a matter of concern to Amos, the link between the young woman’s speech and this Sunday’s Readings is the proper and righteous response to human suffering…especially by the most privileged.

Certainly her “issue” is a matter of debate that has become highly politicized. The young woman’s motives, emotional state, and even sanity have been questioned. It is quite likely that the same held true so many centuries ago when Amos called the wealthy and privileged to task. Jesus is the very best example of the way prophets are treated…especially by those who feel targeted or challenged.

The excerpts from the UN address seem to echo Amos’s indictment of those who ignore opportunities to relieve human suffering. Although the remarks are prophetic in tone, it would not be fitting to place the young woman on the same level as Amos. But it would likewise be very ill advised to completely dismiss her…or ignore her…or ridicule her. There is no authentic challenge to her point that: People are suffering. People are dying. And is there truth to her point that there are others who have the power and resources to, at a minimum, ease that suffering. There is very credible evidence that the gap between the so called 1% and the rest of humanity is widening dramatically. But, it can be bridged with the mere stroke of a pen. Charity is all that is required.

However, in the Kingdom of God, there is no way to bridge the “great chasm” that separates those who have suffered in this life and those who appear to be oblivious to the misfortune of others. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be setting an even higher standard. If you really are so self- absorbed and self-indulgent that you are totally oblivious to the distress of your sisters and brothers…HOW DARE YOU! You will be treated like you were evil.

27 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:5-10
October 6, 2019

In his little book entitled: Letter to a Suffering Church, (Click on Bishop Robert Barron points out that: In His inaugural address in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, simply enough, “metanoite,” which is usually rendered as “repent,” but the word literally means “go beyond the mind you have.”

This clarification seems to be a good starting point with which to approach today’s Gospel. Ambitious for greater faith, the apostles ask The Lord for some tips. Drawing from the images of nature, as He often did, Jesus uses the tiniest of seeds, as well as the sprawling mulberry tree, to explain the limitless power of faith.

What He might just as well have said is: “metanoite”…“go beyond the mind you have.” Don’t settle for the seed of faith that was implanted within you when The Creator called you into life. Summon into fullness all of the potential with which you were born. Awaken the tiny seed that rests dormant in your hearts and feed it, nurture it, protect and prune it, so that it grows into a majestic tree that stands tall and proud within the forest of humanity. And then, at the proper time, you will have the strength and power to “transplant” what you have grown…into The Kingdom.

In our Second Reading, St. Paul uses a different image to teach the same lesson. Don’t be content with a dying fire…stir into flame the gift of God...and enjoy the power that is awakened by simply tending to embers that otherwise would die out…leaving cold, dark ash.

But here is the twist.

Once the power is awakened…”stirred into flame”…its potential realized…it is then, and only then, that we can go beyond the mind we have and follow the example of Jesus, enslaving ourselves to the will and the ways of Almighty God. The notion of indenturing oneself to another, especially when we feel powerful and in control, runs contrary to human nature. But, by word and example, Jesus teaches us that our power and strength must be unconditionally committed to God.

This is a leap of faith that uproots the mind from the forest of human nature to be replanted in the infinite ocean of love that is God.

Say that again! How can we increase our faith?

Metanoite…repent the lack of trust in, and commitment to, the will of God, and then >“go beyond the mind you have,” enslaving yourself to God’s ways.

28 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 17:11-19
October 13, 2019

Today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel is particularly appropriate for our sisters and brothers gathering for Eucharist “north of the border.” Monday, October 14, 2019, Canadians celebrate “Thanksgiving Day.” The brief encounter between Jesus and 10 lepers not only reminds us of the need to be grateful for all of our blessings, but also draws a clear connection between faith, gratitude, and salvation; a very fine way for Canada to begin the holiday weekend. And it isn’t too early for disciples “south of the border” to be reminded of the lessons drawn from this healing miracle.

A good starting point in our reflection is the word Eucharist…which means THANKSGIVING. When we Christians gather around the healing Word of The Lord and then feast on The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are doing exactly what the faith-filled 10th leper did. We are expressing our gratitude for the cosmic healing from which all humanity has benefited (although not acknowledged and appreciated by the majority) through the suffering and death of our Savior. But, it would seem that the #10…the foreigner…played some role in his own cure. Moreover, Jesus seems to be telling this man that his encounter with God’s Word made flesh has left him with something even more miraculous than cleared skin.

Stand up and go forth, YOUR FAITH has SAVED YOU! The Lord acknowledged the leper’s gratitude with assurances of salvation. Therein lies the connection between faith, gratitude, and salvation. People of faith live in gratitude for their blessings, and somehow, through this lifestyle of gratitude…salvation is to be found.

It’s interesting to consider that a lifestyle of gratitude offers benefits here and now as well. A few years back, in acknowledgement of “U. S. Thanksgiving,” Forbes Magazine (not what one would normally consider a spiritual journal) published an article entitled: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round. Psychotherapist Amy Morin claims that there is research to substantiate that: gratitude opens the door to more relationships, improves physical and psychological health, enhances empathy, reduces aggression, enables people to sleep better, improves self-esteem, and increases mental strength.

All of the underlying research is unnecessary for us who live a lifestyle of gratitude through the Eucharist. Each week, we experience what clinical research is trying to prove!

Think about the song we so often sing: We come to share our story. We come to break The Bread. We come to know our rising from the dead.

We come with grateful hearts to Eucharist, to build and strengthen our relationship with Christ and with one another. And when we come together united by our faith, we extend healing hands to one another.

Remember how the hymn continues: We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor, we are called to feed the hungry at our door. All of these acts of Christian discipleship are evidence of our ability to empathize with the suffering that is pervasive in our world. And it is that very ability to feel the pain of others that makes us more Christ-like.

The final verse of the song is perhaps the most powerful: May we live in love and peace our whole life long. Christian charity and love promote peace in our world. Materialism and greed enrage those who live on the margin and bring about resentment that boils over into violence.

If science has proven that gratitude leads to a better night’s sleep, waking not only refreshed but confident, think of what the grace that flows to us through the Eucharist does. It enables us to embrace death…assured that those who have embraced a lifestyle of gratitude through the Eucharist will not only find healing, here and now, but will be saved…resurrected.

Social research might validate the benefit of saying “thank you” through the Eucharist…We come to know our rising from the dead!

(Thank you to David Haas for his beautiful hymn Song to the Body of Christ)

29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:1-8
October 20, 2019

True story!

Last week, I noticed a questionable charge on my credit card statement. I immediately called “the bank” and was greeted by a very pleasant, mechanical voice, advising that “due to an unusually high volume of callers, please expect a long delay, but if you prefer, simply leave your number and a representative will contact you within 24 hours.” I chose to wait…and wait I did.


Finally, the mechanical voice came back on the line to explain that it would expedite my call if I were to key in my account number using the keypad on my mobile device. For some reason, that took three attempts, at which point, the same mechanical voice asked me to state in a few words the reason for my call. I was offered several examples of what to say. Supposedly, this would make it easier for the representative to serve me.

I told the computer that there was an “improper charge on my September statement.” I felt that was fairly straightforward. But the computer didn’t understand and replied: I’m sorry…I did not get that. So that our representative is better able to assist you, please state in a few words the reason for your call…for example…

I repeated…SLOWER and LOUDER…”improper charge on my September statement.” And two more times, the mechanical voice apologized: I’m sorry…I did not get that…

At that point…and I do confess I might have been shouting…I told the mechanical voice: I WANT TO SPEAK TO A REPRESENTATIVE! That registered and earned the pleasant response: One moment please. A representative will be with you shortly.


FINALLY! Good morning, my name is Jane…may I ask who I am speaking with?

Regaining my composure, I told her my name and she replied: Thank you…And what is your account number? What are the first three digits of your Social Security number? What was the name of your first pet? Having replied to all of this screening, she finally said: Now, how may I help you?

I detailed my complaint, at which point, I heard Jane clicking away on her computer. And after several more minutes, she said: I’m sorry I can’t help you with that. I will have to transfer you to another department. One moment, please! And then…before I could get a word out of my mouth…


WHEN FINALLY! Good morning, my name is John…may I ask who I am speaking with? And then, for reasons that are far beyond my understanding…I was put through the identical screening process before I was able to speak those few, simple words: “Improper charge on my September statement.”

In a reassuring voice, John said that he needed a few moments to track the charge and he would put me on hold….Music…music…music…

When he returned, he explained that the best way to handle this issue would be to make a call to the offending company and have a three-way conversation. He asked if that would be satisfactory to me. And, eager to get the matter resolved, I agreed. John dialed the number of the firm.

So how did that go?

Well, we were greeted by a very pleasant, mechanical voice, advising that “due to an unusually high volume of callers, please expect a long delay.” It got worse. Before we connected with a human being…WE WERE DISCONNECTED!

You know this is a completely true, unexaggerated story, because almost everyone has had this very same kind of experience. We live in a day and age where we have to be persistent if we are going to know justice. If we are not aggressive in pressing our rights, we lose them. We can all empathize with the poor widow, because we frequently find ourselves in the same position. In a way, things are even more challenging for us than they were for her, because computers have no conscience. They aren’t worn down by begging.

However, we can also very easily identify with the judge. How often have moms heard the word PPPPLLLLLLEEEEAAAASSSEE…repeated over and over again….until they finally cave?

Our human experiences enable us to get up close and personal with this parable. And, as a result, we tend to hear in this little story as encouragement to pray harder, more frequently, until we wear God down. In fact, that is exactly how Jesus introduces the lesson. But I sense that would be a great mistake to stop there.

God knows every single thing there is to know about us, and He recognizes us instantly without further proof. There is no need to suffer through a screening process. God knows our needs and how and when they are best served…even before we ask. There is no reason to “storm heaven” in hopes of wearing God down. God will address our needs at a time and in a way that is most beneficial to us. God would not disconnect us. God should not be placed in the role of the bad judge.

So what is the take-away here?

Let’s change the facts a bit. Think of how much easier life would have been for the poor widow if she had someone of power, influence, authority, or skill to speak on her behalf. What if she knew the judge’s sister…or was a friend of his major campaign donor? Again, drawing on our own life experience, we can be fairly confident that she would have known justice without having to ask twice.
Or…consider how the story would have ended if she were homebound…too sick to make her way to the judge’s office to plead her case. If there was no one else to speak on her behalf, her cause would be lost.

The unborn have no voice and are unable to plead for their lives. Refugees and the countless people left homeless by natural disasters very often flee their homes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs…no cell phones or electronic devices to make their claim for human dignity…no proof of identity. Take a walk through an assisted living facility or nursing home. You will quite likely hear someone begging…with persistence…for help. But they are ignored.

There are countless examples of people who are incapable of doing what the poor widow was able to do…overcome injustice with persistence. And that is where Christian discipleship enters this little parable. Those who have the ability and the resources are called to speak up on behalf of those incapable of representing themselves.

It is certainly a good thing to pray constantly. But it is Christ-like to speak out with persistence on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. IT IS RIGHT AND JUST!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:9-14
October 27, 2019

Another parable this week. But, it does not appear that this is just “another in a string” of little stories that Jesus happened to be sharing with friends, sitting around a campfire…or while relaxing at the table after a good dinner. This lesson had a target audience. Jesus was speaking directly to people who considered themselves to be “holier than Thou.”

When His words hit the mark, it hurt…or at least it should have. His message continues to strike a nerve today…or at least it should. This is not just “another in a string” of little stories.

What we have here is a lesson, which, in my estimation, is on par with The Lord’s reply to the disciples when they said: Lord, teach us to pray! (Luke 1:11) Although there, His wisdom was sought and appreciated. Furthermore, He responded by giving them words that disciples continue to use over 2,000 years later.

In this encounter, we have what amounts to a critique, which was most unlikely unsolicited, and quite probably resented. Imagine how these self-righteous, sanctimonious, and judgmental people must have felt when they heard the “punchline:”

Whoever exults himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Now, 2,000 years later, this lesson in humility remains relevant and still packs a punch…or at least it should! Basically, Jesus is telling us how to pray. Not in the sense of giving us words, but rather, pointing out the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer. We are to stand humbly before the Lord our God.

I clearly don’t know this to be fact, but I suspect that this Gospel is very close to the heart of Pope Francis. I suggest this because of the long string of comments he has made publicly. Words to the effect of: Who am I to judge?I am a sinner and I confess every two weeks…etc., etc. Ironically, when The Holy Father makes these types of self-effacing comments, he seems to irritate some folks, even within the Church hierarchy.

An attitude of self-righteousness, like the Pharisee brought to prayer in Jesus’s parable, tends to blind us to the weaker aspects of human nature. Even worse, the feeling of superiority that comes hand in glove with a “pharisaic spirituality” can cause people to be judgmental and intolerant of those who appear not to measure up to the high standard they believe they have achieved. As a result, then, it is hard for some people to accept Francis’s message of tolerance for human frailty and weakness. Some bristle when the Pope extends a welcome to those who the “self-righteous” feel should be excluded.

It really should be no surprise to anyone that the Holy Father’s teachings tend to echo the prayer of the tax collector: O God, be merciful to me, a SINNER! His spiritual formation was in the Jesuit tradition, and St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that the foundation of a sound spiritual life is an honest and daily examination of conscience. Beginning and/or ending the day by humbly acknowledging our total and complete dependence on God is key to a healthy relationship with our Creator; just so, a humble and candid listing of our shortcomings, coupled with a plea for the grace to improve promotes conversion…justification.

So then, if, through this little story, Jesus is teaching the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer, the Jesuit tradition has provided us with the words to humble ourselves so that we can hope to be exalted. Here is one Jesuit’s efforts:

Praying the Jesuit Examination of Conscience

Lord, I realize that all, even myself, is a gift from you.
– Today, for what things am I most grateful?

Lord, open my eyes and ears to be more honest with myself.
– Today, what do I really want for myself?

Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me this day.
– Today, in what ways have I experienced your love?

Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.
– Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?

Lord, let me look with longing toward the future.
– Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?

31 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 19:1-10
November 3, 2019

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom, a collection of little sayings intended to enlighten our minds, enflame our hearts, and inspire us to change our lives so that we live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.

As this liturgical year is nearing its end, it’s interesting to consider that the passage we hear directs our attention beyond ourselves…and even beyond this world. We are encouraged to imagine the whole universe. That is easy to do while looking up into a clear, night sky.

When folks gaze…that’s a good word to use…when we stargaze, pondering all that is out there so far above and beyond us, it stirs strong feelings and emotions within us.

In our second reading, St. Paul uses the expression “shaken out of our minds.”

That’s a good expression to use to describe the rush we get when we take just a brief moment to stand quietly, looking out into the vastness of the whole universe. When we allow ourselves that opportunity, we can actually shake off all cares and worries and concerns and frustrations that weigh heavily on our minds, if only for that moment.

Even a few seconds of awareness (another good word)…even a few seconds of awareness of and appreciation for the whole universe enlightens our minds and inspires us to think the deepest of thoughts; thoughts about how this all came to be, how insignificant we are in the scheme of things…but at the same time, how totally valued we are by the Creator, Who entrusted this universe to our care. Just a few seconds of stargazing causes us to think big thoughts and ask big questions.

What power, what force could have brought this “wonder” we call the universe into being…and then keep it all in existence? A clear night sky…for those who are wise enough to be aware of it…has the power to enflame the heart. We actually feel something in our chest when we stargaze. I’m not sure of the right word…or expression…to give that feeling.

Maybe wonder and awe? Possibly desire…or longing? Could it be restlessness? Or maybe when we are wise enough to stargaze at the whole universe, aware that this all came about through the loving gesture of our all-powerful Creator…what we feel is love. And when we are in touch with that powerful force we call love…we want to change our lives so that we can live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.

All of this happened to a funny little man in broad daylight, and in the middle of a large crowd of people, many of whom disliked and disrespected him because of what he did for a living. He was a tax collector. Zacchaeus was the man’s name. And that name, Zacchaeus, usually was spoken with ridicule and scorn by his neighbors, passed from the lips of the Son of God and continues to be spoken through the Gospel after all these centuries. When Jesus looked up into that sycamore tree and called out “Zacchaeus!” You can almost see the smile on the Lord’s face…and hear the amusement and the love in Jesus’s voice.

Zacchaeus! Come down quickly, for today, I must stay at your house!

So just exactly what was there about this man that attracted Jesus’s attention and earned Zacchaeus the honor of hosting the Son of God? Well, according to the story…this sinner…this tax collector (you have to say that with disgust in your voice) allowed himself a brief moment to gaze…that’s a good word to use…

Zacchaeus took the opportunity to stargaze…not into the night sky…but in the brilliant light of day. He allowed himself to catch the briefest glimpse…not of the universe…but of the Creator’s eternal word, who pre-existed the universe. Somehow, this person, thought to be a sinner, was aware…that’s a good word to use…

Zacchaeus was somehow aware of the fact that the person whom he was gazing at was not just a flesh and blood human being, but also God. Somehow, Zacchaeus’s mind was enlighten to the truth that he was gazing upon the Second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity, who played a part in calling the universe into existence….and somehow, some way, is involved in holding the universe in existence.

And he was shaken out of his mind!

His mind began to think deep thoughts…and his heart was inflamed. And he felt something powerful….in his chest. Maybe it was wonder and awe, or desire…longing…

Just this glimpse of Jesus made him feel restless and wanting more. What caused him to climb the tree to get a better view? All of that…and more. He was attracted to Jesus by the most powerful force in the whole of the universe…love! And love stirred in him a desire to be an even better person.

A few minutes gazing into a star-filled night sky can do wonders for our minds. But if, like this little tax collector from centuries past, we take the opportunity to gaze with full awareness of who we are privileged to catch a glimpse of…well, that does wonders for our souls.

We have that opportunity to look beyond the universe and into the Kingdom each and every time we gather for Eucharist. We don’t even have to climb a tree. All we need do is gaze at the Table of the Word from which the Lord Jesus is speaking directly to us…calling our names, inviting us to approach the Communion Table so that we might host His divine presence within us. The Eucharist places us in direct contact with God’s infinite mercy, love, and forgiveness. When we celebrate with the awareness of what we are about, we leave with our minds enlightened to the truth that God loves even the most despicable sinner…even tax collectors.

When we come together to break the bread and share the cup, our hearts are enflamed by the love and the peace that comes from hosting the Living Word within us. And when we leave, it is with the sincere conviction that we can and will change our lives so that we can and will live in Christ’s peace as we make our way out of this world…out of this universe…home to the Kingdom of God.

Does all of this leave you shaken out of your minds?

It should!

32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 20:27-38
November 10, 2019

“Reality TV” is as old as I am. The first televised program identified as “reality TV” is said to have been “Candid Camera” that debuted the same year that I did…1948. Since then, a number of programs have been introduced in a variety of settings. Apparently, viewers enjoy watching supposedly unscripted, ordinary people navigate various situations. Still, and in spite of its popularity, “reality TV” is suspect. Are the viewers actually watching “reality,” or are these situations structured by the producers?

One of the most popular, and at the same time suspect, “reality TV” shows involves so-called mediums delivering messages from beyond the grave to grieving loved ones. People want very much to believe in the authenticity of these programs. Certainly, there is comfort to be had from the assurances that a loved one who has passed on is “ok.” But viewers might also be inclined to place their hope and trust in these kinds of entertainers for selfish reasons.

Death is a thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain that defies those curious to know what is on the other side. Many people are actually terrified by the inevitability of death. What they find most unnerving is the “unknowing.” And so they eagerly place their hope in…of all things…”reality TV.”

While the Holy Spirit definitely acts in mysterious ways, offering a variety of gifts to bring comfort, wisdom, and peace to us earth dwellers, I can’t help but wonder if this vast array of gifts includes a communications network of this sort, to “the other side.” I do know that many bereaved families report special, comforting experiences they have had after a loved one has died. I never doubt the authenticity of these graced moments. After all, God is all loving and merciful. Divine compassion is a very reasonable explanation for whatever it is that brings some relief from the overwhelming sense of loss that comes with death. But, the suggestion that those who have died send messages via a third party…well, I’m not so sure about.

It certainly seems that if anyone would have been entrusted with these kinds of instagrams delivered from the other side of the dark and impenetrable curtain, it would have been Jesus. Yet, today’s Gospel is pretty much the extent of what Jesus had to say on the matter. The Lord’s focus was on teaching us how to live in this world, as if there was nothing separating “here from there” so that when we are called to pass through that thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, it will be with a sense of eager joy and not terror. As far as what awaits us upon our arrival…well, He left it to us to read between the lines of the Gospel.

Last Sunday, shortly after being hospitalized due to a fall in his home, 95-year-old former President Jimmy Carter reported for duty as a catechist at his church. The lesson he delivered was certainly a brilliant description of how Christians should approach the inevitable reality of death. When he was already in his 90s, Carter’s doctor delivered a very serious diagnosis. Mr. Carter told his Sunday school class that upon hearing the news: “I obviously prayed about it. I didn’t ask God to let me live, but I asked God to give me a proper attitude toward death. And I found that I was absolutely and completely at ease with death.”

Actually, all Christians should be “absolutely and completely at ease with death.” Although the earthly Jesus did not have a great deal to say about what awaits us, the Risen Christ showed us what it will be like…what we will be like. After three days in His own grave, The Lord passed back through the thick, dark, and impenetrable curtain, and there was nothing staged or structured about His Easter visits. The Easter experience was entirely convincing to the Apostles and disciples. Any doubts they might have had at first as to the reality of what they were experiencing quickly disappeared. They recognized Him. But at the same time, they saw that He was totally changed. He was GLORIFIED!

Our language cannot even begin to capture what that means. But, the reality of those totally graced moments of Easter are undeniable. His followers were convinced. All fear of death was dispelled, evidenced by the courage and conviction with which they shared the Good News. The pure reality of The Risen Christ left them with a “proper attitude toward death.” They discovered that they were “absolutely and completely at ease with death” to the point that many became martyrs for the sake of the Gospel.

The reality is that God is not God of the dead, but of the living…for God, all are alive! Just exactly what that means is a wonderful surprise that awaits those who do their best to live here and now as Jesus has taught us. Live the Gospel and place your hope in the power of the resurrection. Soon, you will find that you are “absolutely and completely at ease with death,” and no further assurances will be necessary.

Nevertheless, it never hurts to ask for a little extra help. St. Joseph is the Patron saint of the dying. So…let us pray:

Saint Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary. When the seal of death closes my earthly life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me. Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen.

33 Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 21:5-19
November 17, 2019

A friend passed me a book that left me a total couch potato for three full days. A real page-turner. I could not put it down. It was fiction, but the characters and the plot were so well developed that it seemed like a true story. Basically, it described the age-old struggle between good and evil. As the story unfolded, it was hard to predict which would prevail. With only about 10 pages left, it was still anybody’s guess whether the bad guys would crash and burn, or continue on a path of greed, corruption, and violence. Then, all of a sudden, the story ended.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise; after all, I had almost reached the back cover when the author started to wrap things up. Still, the way the book ended was definitely surprising…even shocking, and bitterly disappointing.

After close to 400 pages of nail-biting action, the author simply killed off the bad guys in a few totally unrealistic paragraphs. The good guys were sent off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The book ended in such a way that no sequel is likely (not that I would ever read another book by this author). The conclusion to a story that held my attention for three solid days left me feeling that I had completely wasted valuable time that I can never get back. Bad endings are like that. A disappointing conclusion can totally ruin a great book, play, or movie, or even an exciting football game, i.e., Michigan State last Saturday.

Our story…the story of salvation…the history of humankind is the ultimate “thriller” for those serious enough to commit to it. But, it’s not a matter of committing to simply reading “The Good Book.” We are called to live it. Christians are expected to participate in the great battle. Armed by Christ with our Sacraments and emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are sent out to engage the enemy.

During certain chapters in salvation history, this has involved actual combat, but the war is also one of ideas. In our Second Reading, Paul explains that discipleship requires stern resistance to any ideas that disrupt or undermine the order of the Gospel. When peace, justice, and charity are threatened by “disorderly” laws or policies, Christians are called to arms. Moreover, the early Christians were sternly warned that failure to live according to God’s battle plan is a lost opportunity to overpower the enemy…a waste of valuable time that can never be recovered. That warning holds true throughout the history of humankind…and is especially relevant during this 21st century.

There is no doubt that the story of salvation involves a constant struggle between good and evil. And, as in all confrontations, suffering and persecution are to be expected. However, we do know the ending. It is neither surprising and certainly will not be disappointing for those who have placed their hopes in God. Throughout Scripture, we are assured that God has not lost control, but is guiding human history according to an eternal plan. And He has invited people of faith to share in the fruits of victory by joining in the battle. The final outcome has been described in different ways, in both the Old and the New Testaments. But, in the end, good wins!

We are not given the details of just exactly how and when The Author of Life…God…will write those words: THE END!

However, we can be certain of this: The day of the Lord is coming. And those who have helped to bring Gospel order to the chaos caused by sin will go out to welcome Christ with joyful hearts!

The Feast Christ the King
LK 23:35-43
November 24, 2019

A friend gave me a gift. It is intended to hang on a wall as a decoration. It is a miniature deer mount. It is shiny chrome. I like it. But, it is a mere image of a real deer head, preserved and hanging as a trophy from a successful hunt. That’s a really beautiful thing…although the living animal in the wild is what is most beautiful. My gift is eye-catching, it fills a space, and it is a reminder of something much more authentic and real…but that is all it is…a reminder…a space-filler…a decoration. It is the mere suggestion of majestic, wild game roaming free in the woods, and the thrill that hunters know when they bring home their prize.

I remember asking my friend what made her think to give me such a gift. She answered: “Oh, they are very popular in home decor catalogues right now…you see all kinds of these. They are the rage.” In fact, I now have a small collection of these faux trophies. Something possessed me to buy one as a companion to the first. Another friend saw and admired the pair, and when Christmas came along, I was the proud owner of a third. Eventually, I acquired a little “trophy room.” But, in truth, there is no pride or admiration to be had in this room. There is evidence of shopping skills and generosity, but not marksmanship.

For many generations after being settled in the Promised Land, The Chosen People were ruled by leaders known as “Judges.” They were not elected, and this was not a hereditary title passed on through a family. Judges were appointed by God. When Israel would rebel against God’s will and God’s way, they would encounter disasters. When they repented, God would send a Judge to deliver them from whatever oppressed them, quite often a neighboring pagan nation.

With time and exposure to pagan ways, Israel became infatuated with the idea of being governed by a king. Like my shiny deer mount, hereditary monarchs and the glitz and glamour and even intrigue of court life appealed to them. Royalty was…and for many centuries remained…”the rage.” And so, Israel begged to be like other nations. They wanted a king. Samuel, the last in the line of Judges, was distraught. But God told him: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject. They are rejecting me as their king. But at the same time, warn them.” I Sam 8:6

Samuel did describe what life under a monarch would be like. But the people ignored the warning and persisted in their demand for a king. This is a classic example of the old adage: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. They got their king.

The story of the brief monarchy is checkered at best. Even David and Solomon had their shortcomings. Solomon, for example, was still humble enough when he took the throne to acknowledge his faults and recognize the dangers of power. He prayed that God would give him wisdom so that he could be a wise and just king. God listened to his prayer and gave Solomon what he needed to be a good shepherd. But Solomon did not rely exclusively on God’s counsel. He allowed himself to be influenced by others, including pagans. He gave in to his own appetites and greed. He even fell into the grave sin of public idolatry.

In the history of Israel…the first part of the story of salvation…the Kings were certainly decorative and they filled space while the people waited for the Messiah. We remember the good things they accomplished, and most often, overlook their shortcomings. In fact, when all was said and done, they fell short of the authentic and real leadership of the patriarchs called by God to protect, teach, and guide the Chosen People. What pride or admiration was to be had from the decisions made in their throne rooms was blemished by human weakness. Possibly the most destructive result of the longed-for monarchy was that it gave the people a false and unreal image of what a king should be. And so when God the Father sent The Son into the world to initiate a new reign…The Kingdom of God…THE PEOPLE DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM FOR WHO HE WAS!

From His humble birth to His humiliating death, Jesus was the exact opposite of the image of a civil leader. There was no pomp and circumstance, only a gentle and loving Shepherd who “smelled like His sheep.” (Pope Francis) There were no military drills or buildup of armaments; rather a call for unity and peace. There was no royal court or cabinet. Jesus was surrounded by a rag tag band of fishermen, tax collectors, and public sinners. Jesus was in no way, shape, or form what the people expected from a king. The people rejected Jesus. His crown was thorns, and His throne The Cross.

What Christ’s Kingship does have in common with worldly monarchs is the right of succession. Through our Baptisms, we are called to share in what we celebrate today…Christ’s dominion and the Reign of God. When confirmed, we are anointed like queens and kings, only we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and become part of a royal priesthood ordained to serve all, especially those in greatest need. Like the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets and judges, we have been chosen by God to show the rest of humankind how to live in harmony and peace. To insure that we are up to that enormous task, we are invited to a banquet unimaginably more important than any state dinner. We are guests at the Eucharist, where we first hear God’s Eternal Word that defines our mission. And then we are nourished by the Bread from Heaven and The Cup of our Salvation so that we have the strength to carry out our ministry…telling the whole world that Soon, very soon, we are going to see the King! Then our ending will be like our beginning…Christ!

Monarchs, dictators, prime ministers, and presidents come and go…but Christ is the Eternal King!

Sunday Journal Archive