Monthly Archives: September 2015

Homily for September 27, 2015


Perhaps very few of us here this morning were in this church on Monday,    March 27, 1972, when three bishops, 70 priests, and a large congregation gathered for the funeral of Monsignor Joseph A. Lipkus.  “Papa Lipki,” as he was somewhat affectionately known by some of our ancestors in the faith, had served as pastor here for 36 years, still a record mocking the present incumbent’s paltry 22 years.  Those were the days of the giants, when the very sight of the pastor could make grown men tremble, women weep, and children of all ages wish they were still wearing training pants.

I remember the sermon delivered on that occasion, by Bishop Charles A. Salatka, then of Marquette, a protégé of Monsignor Lipkus.  He preached about prophets and prophecy, not unlike the readings we have heard this morning.  He noted that God raises up the people he needs to lead and serve the Church at each age of its life.  Monsignor Lipkus served a congregation that was made up heavily of Lithuanian immigrants and their children.  Nearby pastors of Polish and German parishes, and the dominies (pron. DAH-mih-neez) or pastors of the local Dutch Protestant churches, all had similar tasks.  They ruled the roost, because their parishioners were quite busy enough learning the ways of life of their new homeland at work, at school, at the market, and in the neighborhood, to have much time to concern themselves with parish governance.

No pastor today, Bishop Salatka said, even ‘way back then in 1972, could manage a parish in the same fashion that Monsignor Lipkus had done for years before that.  Indeed, I might add, no pastor today would DARE, for fear of inviting lawsuits!  But God raises up the people he needs to lead and serve the Church at each age of its life.

Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp, it was reported to Moses in the first reading.  Stop them!

Moses replies, “Would that EVERYBODY did the same!”

Some guy was driving out demons in your name, the Apostles report to Christ in the Gospel, and we tried to stop him.

“Noooo,” Jesus says, “whoever is not against us is for us!”  God is not threatened when people do good things in his name, no matter who they are.  But in the second reading, we heard James reading the prophetic riot act to those Christians who abuse their wealth and their earthly possessions by hoarding them when others are in need.  THAT sounds a whole lot like what Pope Francis had to say to us this past week.  See?  God raises up the people he needs to lead and serve the Church at each age of its life.

So that brings us to today, THIS day, the day of our parish Fall Festival, the day when we are celebrating  a 40th anniversary which actually occurred back on August 24th.  God raises up the people he needs to lead and serve the Church at each age of its life.  Now that might be an unsatisfactory answer to those who, over the last 22 years, have had occasion to ask, “What did we do to deserve THIS?”  Hanging over there near Father Den is the banner that was made for him at the time of his ordination.  Someone had a prophetic insight, or perhaps a premonition.  What’s going on in that banner?  The occasion depicted is on the first Palm Sunday.  On either side are the disciples who were sent by Jesus to get a donkey — well, no, a JACKASS — to carry him into Jerusalem.  And just in case the symbolism is lost upon you, yes, that’s Father Den there in between them.  No dashing stallion or mighty steed for the Lord Jesus, for THIS Messiah!  No, a jackass will do, a beast of burden, stubborn, mulish, temperamental, funny and flawed in many ways from head to hoof, but that’s all right — THE LORD HAS NEED OF HIM!

Now, lest you think this is just about the pastor, listen to the prophetic message in today’s readings.  It’s all about US, too, you and me, ALL of us, pastor and people, shepherd and sheep.  You might have asked, from time to time, looking in the mirror at the morning damage report, “You need ME, Lord?  You need ME??!!”  And God gently responds, as he has every day for over 40 years to our pastor,

“Isaiah said his lips were unclean,

Jeremiah said he was too young,

Amos was perfectly happy being a tree trimmer.

I called THEM, too.  I raise up the people I need to lead and serve the Church at each age of its life.


Homily for September 20, 2015


“Oh no, not more readings about suffering!  What a pain!  How long do we have to put up with lessons about the Cross?  It’s not even Lent!!”

If your thoughts were drifting anywhere in that direction this morning, one reason is that suffering seems to be rather chronic in the human family, homily or no homily.  And one of the purposes of the Incarnation is to teach us that suffering, the elephant in the room, the thing that no one wants to talk about or discuss but that everybody fears, is something that can be an integral part of our own salvation, IF WE ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.  The suffering will be there, one way or the other, sooner or later.  We have to learn to put it to good use for others, as Christ did for us.

If we try to look for reasons, causes, answers about suffering, we will become frustrated, perhaps even tempted to turn away from God because we have let ourselves come to think that he is a cruel taskmaster, delighting in seeing us hurt for arbitrary reasons known only to himself.  If we do that, we lose the chance to use our suffering to beat the evil one at his own game, which is first of all one of promoting doubt and discouragement.

And so Jesus concludes his message about his own passion and death with a message about service.  The two are linked.  The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven will be the one who serves the rest.  Service inevitably leads to a kind of suffering.  Sometimes it will be the short-term inconvenience of schedule conflicts, sometimes the long-term commitment of care in a duty from which we cannot escape.  Sometimes it will be the physical exhaustion of accompanying a relative or friend to the doctor or hospital, sometimes the mental anxiety of NOT being able to be with a loved one during a critical illness.  The possibilities and opportunities are endless, and THEY WILL BE THERE.

What we have to remember in all this is that our service likely will not involve solving or resolving all the difficulties going on in others’ lives.  Often it will be a simple ministry of presence.  See how the Lord himself provides the pattern for this in the Eucharist.  Any of you who participate regularly in Eucharistic adoration — and we all should — you know that you don’t come to Jesus expecting, much less demanding, a miracle.  The miracle is his presence with us in this Most Blessed Sacrament.  You will often have the experience of leaving your time of adoration with a whole new perspective on a pressing issue — and a whole new eagerness to take on that issue with an attitude of service.  See what lessons the Lord shares with us through his APPARENT silence in the Eucharist?  See what so many people miss when they chase their tails through life without taking a moment to reflect with God?

The Apostles all but missed Jesus’ prediction of his own passion and death.  No matter what he said, they still weren’t ready for THAT.  They were still operating at that all-too-human level of “Who is the greatest?” and bickering among themselves over such petty nonsense — the very things that the Letter of James warns us about in the second reading today.  Good grief!  Does it sound familiar?  Wars and conflicts.  Covet, kill, envy, fight, wage war, it all sounds like SOME protest marches, SOME union meetings, SOME corporate board rooms, SOME family holiday dinners.  It is so, so common.  No wonder there is so much unhappiness and tension in the world.

We can avoid the danger of missing out on Christ’s message if we are resolved to follow his example and directives of service.  Getting our attention off ourselves and our problems and our prerogatives is most easily addressed by attending to the needs of others.  And when we do that, we are waiting on Christ himself.  Don’t worry that you won’t have any time left for yourself.  Christ has an eternity waiting for you that you wouldn’t believe.  Don’t cheat yourself out of it by trying to capture a fleeting thing like time.  You can see how fast it goes.  Spend it wisely, on others, and you’ll have all you need to accomplish what the Lord has in mind for you.

Homily for September 13, 2015


The first paragraph of today’s Gospel, where Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying that he is, is a little shorter than a similar passage in Matthew, chapter 16.  There, for reasons that have to do with the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel, he recalls Jesus going into considerably more detail with Peter, who speaks up for the rest of the Apostles when Christ asks what THEY think about him.  Here in Mark, that’s not an issue.  But the subsequent dialogue with Peter certainly is.

Peter does in fact speak for the rest when he calls Jesus aside and privately advises him to give up talking about rejection, suffering, and death.  “Bad P.R. move, boss.  The crowds already have enough suffering, being crushed by the Romans, to say nothing of all their own personal problems and tragedies.  Nosiree, you’re gonna start dropping in the polls if you keep talking like this.  They want to hear about VICTORY, SUCCESS, INDEPENDENCE.  Give ‘em an upbeat message.”

The trouble is, that’s what politicians all do when they want to be elected.  Speak in generalities and platitudes, promise them the world, and keep one wet finger up in the air to tell which way the wind is blowing.  Then follow it.  Well, Jesus doesn’t want to be elected.  He’s not running for office.  He’s not running for anything.  Not even for his life.  He’s already been SE-lected, by God the Father, for us.  As the Son of God, the Spitting Image of the Father (only in the flesh), he comes to be God-with-Us, Emmanuel, so we can know that precisely in all of our trials and tribulations, God has not abandoned us.  Quite the contrary, he is very near, especially at times like that.  He speaks only the truth, and it’s bound to make us uncomfortable, because we are sinners.

Jesus’ rebuke to Peter is not an angry reprimand to an upstart disciple, someone who’s way out of line and has gone too far criticizing the boss’s way of doing things.  Like all his corrective words to his apostles, to the Pharisees, to the chief priests and scribes, and to all who had ears to hear, he was speaking the truth FOR THEIR OWN GOOD, not just to get something off his chest.  He even calls Peter SATAN — quite a turn of events for someone who has just told Jesus that they think he is the Christ, the Anointed One of God.  A Satan is not only the devil, but a tempter, an adversary who comes to deter us from the path we must follow, the one who offers us the chocolate bar we crave when our sugar levels are out of control.  Satan is satisfied to go after us one by one, because if one of us loses our way to the Kingdom of God, others will surely follow.  It’s usually quite contagious.

Then, once again, as in John 6, Jesus presses ahead with the TRUE message of life.  But whereas in John 6 Jesus’ words are most applicable to Holy Thursday and to the Eucharist, here in Mark 8 the words are foreshadowing Good Friday and the Cross.  In John 6, many in the crowd walk away, to follow Jesus no more, on hearing what they think is nonsense, him feeding them with his own flesh and blood.  Peter and the Apostles remain steadfast, even if they don’t completely understand.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter asks Jesus.  “You have the words of eternal life.”

That’s the way it is with many of us.  We can accept the Eucharist.  We are accustomed to believing in it.  Oh, the polls might tell us that such-and-such a percentage of Catholics don’t believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, but, come on, whom did they ask?  So-called Catholics who have joined another church?  Those who haven’t seen the inside of a church since their baby’s baptism, when they promised (apparently with their fingers crossed) to bring their child up in the faith?

The point is, for believers, for disciples, believing that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is the EASY part.  What’s challenging is to see Christ in the faces of those in need, as he tells us we must do in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and thirsty and homeless, and you gave me food and drink and shelter,” and so on.  And what’s really challenging is to make the connection between Holy Thursday and Good Friday IN OUR OWN LIVES.  It’s relatively easy to believe in the Eucharist.  The hard part, like it was for Peter and the Apostles, is BELIEVING IN THE POWER OF THE CROSS, especially the part of the Cross in our own lives!  How often do we read in the obituaries, “So-and-so LOST their courageous battle with cancer,” instead of “through cancer, So-and-so shared in Christ’s VICTORY over death”?  Like the Apostles, when we start getting near the Cross, when we fear the doctor’s report, when we or a loved one are suffering from chronic pain or weakness or heartbreak or anxiety or depression, we are quick to say, “Come on, Lord, don’t talk like that!”  And like most of the Apostles, including Peter, most of us instinctively run away.  For us, as for Peter and the Apostles, the Cross means death and defeat.  But those words of Christ have to echo in our hearts and minds, “Whoever wishes to SAVE his life will lose it, but whoever LOSES his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”  Let’s this morning, right now, repeat together in prayer those favorite words of St. Alphonsus, which many of us learned when we learned to pray the Stations of the Cross.  Please join me, and repeat after me together:












All right, and what do we KNOW is God’s WILL for us?  That we all come to salvation, to eternal LIFE!  That’s what we humbly pray for.  AMEN, AMEN!


Homily for September 6, 2015


SUPERSTITION NO. 1:  “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back!”  Silly as it might seem, this little ditty, among others, “governed” our walks to and from school back in the 1950’s.  Oh, we didn’t believe it in a literal sense, but it made up part of the ritual of school days, for our entertainment more than for anything else.

SUPERSTITION NO. 2:  “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio always used to step on second base when running in to the dugout from the outfield at the end of an inning.   What did he think would happen if he didn’t?

SUPERSTITION NO. 3:  We so often hear, after a plane crash, a big fire, a death in the parish, or an accident, “They always come in threes.”  Even though we know they don’t.  Sure, if you keep moving the boundaries back and forth, there’s always three of just about anything.  But it’s just a saying we have, isn’t it, to try to get some kind of a handle on things?  Just don’t bet on it.  Especially if you’ve already lost two bets recently.  Everybody knows, they always come in threes!

Last week in the Gospel, we heard Christ telling us that it’s not the lack of performing human rituals that brings evil upon us.  Most kids at one time or another have heard, or THOUGHT they heard, someone say, “You’d better go to church, or something bad will happen to you!”  Then they go off to college and miss church the third or fourth Sunday, and — whoa!  Nothing “bad” happens!  In fact, they passed a test, nailed a presentation, had a great weekend, and never saw a cop the time they forgot their license when they drove a carload to a concert.  Instead of thinking, “To be a whole person, I need to worship my God and Creator with the community of believers ,” they’re thinking, “I was wrong all along, I skipped church and nothing bad happened!!”  And so they might not have heard the Gospel last Sunday, when Christ told us that it’s what comes from WITHIN that defiles us, not simply what happens on the OUTside.

In something of a twist, the Lord shows us in the Gospel THIS weekend that if we recognize God as the source of our liberty and freedom, we cannot be shackled by things that happen to us.  Just as wickedness comes from within, from the depths of the heart, so true FREEDOM comes from within, as well.  No, wickedness and freedom don’t co-exist there.  It’s a matter of our free will.  Choose wickedness, and it’s your choice that defiles your life and surrounds you with an atmosphere of evil.  Choose true freedom, which is a gift of God’s grace, and nothing that happens to you can scare you, beat you down, conquer you.  That’s why God, speaking through Isaiah, can start out today’s first reading, “Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God.”

In the Gospel, when Jesus touches the life of the deaf-mute, he does so in a really nitty-gritty way.  Fingers, ears, spit, tongue, he gets inside him and frees him from those things that were binding him up.  Was he imprisoned by his multiple handicaps?  Jesus reaches inside and gives him the grace of INTERNAL freedom, healing the EXTERNAL cause as well.  You and I often pray for miracles, for deliverance from external causes.  The Lord shows us that if we are free INTERNALLY because of our focus on God and our trust in God, even external threats cannot intimidate us.

So we should see a miracle when we see a person with a physical handicap sporting a big smile.  It’s a testimony to the freeing power of God’s grace!  We should see a miracle when we hear of Christian Syrian refugees praying for those who are pursuing and killing them.  It’s a testimony to the freeing power of God’s grace!  We should see a miracle when we encounter people we know who are in difficult circumstances, and they refuse to be crushed by their situation.  It’s a testimony to the freeing power of God’s grace!  We should see a miracle when a police officer puts on a uniform or a priest puts on a collar in spite of all kinds of bad publicity about police officers and priests, and they just go out to do their job of serving the community and the Church.  In some cases, it might be pure stubbornness (LOOK OVER AT FATHER DEN HERE), but it can still be a testimony to the freeing power of God’s grace!

We live in an age when everybody’s a victim.  None of us want to take responsibility for our own actions.  Every form the police have to fill out when they make an arrest should have another line on it:  “Person or persons responsible for the mess I’m in,” because everyone has someone else to blame.  I’m the way I am because my parents beat me, because the government overtaxed me, because THOSE people treated me badly, because my rotten boss passed me over for a promotion, because my co-worker cheated me, because my stupid brother-in-law falsely accused me, because my customers are mean and nasty to me, because GOD did it to me and gave me this disease, this condition, this misfortune.  As long as we’re thinking this way, we’re allowing the poison to fester within us and NOT allowing God to reach inside us with a wonderful freedom.

No matter what other people do to me, no matter what kind of hand I’ve been dealt, no matter how the chips have fallen, Jesus Christ has conquered, and God makes me FREE, from the inside out.  “EPH-PHA-THA !!” Jesus calls out to my mind and heart, not just to my ears and tongue, “BE OPENED !!”  And if I allow him to reach inside me, I’ll find out that “the enemy,” whether it’s my handicap, my anxiety, my job, the government, this political party or that, Planned Parenthood, ISIS, the neighbors, whatever or whoever it is, THEY can’t defeat me!  I can only be imprisoned from within!  Christ, the Truth, has set me free, has loosed my bonds, and has given me the power to SERVE the world around me rather than SWERVE in fear to avoid that world and the responsibilities Christ has given me in its midst.  It’s an open-and-shut case:  You can either   SERVE   or   SWERVE.  The choice is up to you.