Monthly Archives: December 2015

Homily for December 27 2015


Several years ago, a pair or mourning doves built a nest in, of all places, the space behind the address sign on top of the front door of the rectory across the street.  I would be greeted by the cooing of papa and mama dove whenever I entered or left my house.  But then the day came when eggs were laid.  They became much more protective.  And finally, when I heard peeping up there above the door, I knew that a blessed event had taken place, and papa and mama had indeed made a good choice of a secure place to build their little home.  One day, I must have startled them when I came out of the house.  There was a great flutter, and I looked up to see only one adult dove in the nest with the baby birds.  As I started down the front steps, there I saw what the flutter had been.  Sensing danger, the mother dove had flown out to the sidewalk, right in plain sight.  There she staggered around in circles like a little inebriate.  One wing hung rather helplessly at her side, as if it were broken.  I instantly felt bad for her, but then realized what was going on.  I calmly walked past her, and when I got over to the church, I looked back.  She was flying back to the nest, obviously without a broken wing.

Different animals, birds, and even fish have vastly different ways they nurture, rear, and defend their young.  Some even consume their own offspring, for a variety of reasons.  We often make comparisons, noting with great interest the display of what we might call “human” qualities.  The mother dove puts herself at great risk for her young, pretending to be wounded, making herself vulnerable, as bait to lure away any predator that would threaten her little family.  She puts on a great act, but none of this is a matter of her exercising a free will.  It is an instinct, planted within her by her Creator, which governs her behavior for the survival of her own species without her having to think about it or choose.

How different are genuine human qualities!  We have reason and free will to assist us in making the proper choices.  Those gifts are, indeed, what differentiate us from the animals.  Ideally, they should help us in carrying out God’s plan as instinct does for animals.  But God gives us the capacity to choose to do the right thing; and, of course to do the wrong thing, or nothing at all.  Why did God make us so, if he could foresee that such reason and free will also enable us to do our very best to torpedo the family, abandon our spouses, and abort our young, if indeed we even choose to conceive any?  Because it is precisely that capacity which gives us the power to LOVE, not just to respond to instinct; and it is love that images the God who made us in his own likeness.  We must be FREE to love, even if it means we can freely choose to do the opposite.

The implications for family life are staggering.  The family is no accident.  We are structured in imitation of the divine Family which is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The very best nurturing behaviors of the animals cannot compare with the love and warmth and security of a loving human family.  But even our response to the conditions savored or endured in our own families is not a matter of instinct.  It really IS a choice.  There are very few who cannot at least describe what one might expect from a loving family.  Even those who ultimately reject family values or who seem constitutionally incapable of putting them into practice would likely be able to describe the qualities they would objectively expect to find in a good mother or a good father.  After all, we can all think of plenty of examples of BAD ones!  How hard can it be to do, or at least to describe the opposite?

That, however, is a minimalist approach.  We know we all ought to joyfully strive to be the very best family members we can be.  The family is the basic school of humanity, hence the reason for God surrounding it with commandments about how to properly enter it, how to sustain it, and how to continue it.  None of us is an island, and we have to put our free wills to work, either to enhance family life with our loving and joyful service, or to choose the self-absorption and secession from the family which we find rampant in the world around us.  For the believer, it is an abomination to simply imitate the ways of the world.  We are sent by Christ himself to invade and convert it with grace and love, and how is that transformation to take place if we do not act convincingly?  And if we cannot act convincingly within our own families, however shall we do it in the world at large?

We don’t have to spend a lot of money on counseling and therapy in order to arrive at some answers.  All we have to do first is choose to ask the right questions.  What kind of a spouse am I?  How would my spouse describe me?  Do I even consider her feelings, his feelings, when I am making family decisions or am engaged in my own pursuits?  Is he or she still No. 1 in my life, even before myself, as I promised on our wedding day?  Do I take my time to teach my children about the world around them and within them, or do I let them find out about life from friends, or TV, or the Internet?  What kind of image of marriage do we present to our children?  If their parents’ marriage is a school for their own marriage and family life, what kind of school are WE?

As my parents’ child, do I take seriously the teaching and direction they have provided me?  Do I write them off as hopelessly clueless?  Do I ever stop to consider their strengths and talents, or do I choose to see them only as ineffective?  Do I follow God’s command to honor them, whether they deserve it or not?  What kind of a family member am I?  Am I always seeking only my own advantage?  Do I try to drive wedges between other members of the family for my own benefit?  Am I thoughtful of the needs and feelings of other family members?  Do I respond to others’ needs without being asked?  Am I pro-active when it comes to helping out in the family, looking for opportunities to be of service without always having to be told or asked?

We could go on and on, but you get the picture.  Don’t examine the consciences of others.  Examining your own, and choosing to act upon what you find, will give you a life’s work — and will help you allow your own family to breathe the atmosphere of God’s love, mercy, and grace as involuntarily as they inhale oxygen.  And with even

better results!















Homily for December 13, 2015


Well, judging from the first two Scriptures we just heard proclaimed, there’s no doubt about the message Christ and his Church want to get across to us today.  This third Sunday of Advent has for centuries been called “Gaudete Sunday.”  In Latin, the ancient liturgical language, the word “Gaudete” is a command:  “Shout for joy, sing joyfully!” as the prophet Zephaniah bids us.  “Be glad and exult!”  And why?  Why, on this gloomy, dreary December day when we’ve heard thunder instead of sleigh bells?  Because “the Lord has removed your judgment, turned away your enemies, and he is in your midst.”  In spite of the global warming emanating from the speeches at the Paris climate change conference, “You have nothing to fear.”  At least from God.

St. Paul has the same theme in writing to the Philippians:  “Rejoice!  Have no anxiety!  The Lord is near!”  With encouragement like that, why is the world so wrapped up in its fears?  We’re afraid of terrorism, of a market collapse, of illness and disease, of higher gas prices, of not being politically correct, of public opinion, of losing people or things near and dear to us.  Local emergency personnel respond to an ever-increasing number of calls of suicide or attempted self-harm, and the numbers of mentally ill and anxiety-ridden people seem to be rising.  Why all these fears and terrors, this hopelessness and despair?  The words of the Scripture must ring hollow in the hearts and minds of many people, if they’ve ever even heard them at all.  I submit it’s because they have missed the point of WHY we are encouraged by God himself to be joyful.  It’s because he’s in our midst, and many of the people around us either have never heard that or have seen no proof to substantiate it.  And THAT part just might be our fault.

The message of Christ is not just for a chosen few.  He chooses the few in order to spread the word to the many.  Each of us received that call and privilege from Christ when we were chosen in baptism.  How convincingly do you live your discipleship of Christ?  “Well, that’s not my responsibility,” you might say.  “After all, I’m not the Pope, or a bishop, or a priest, or a Sister.”  Ah, we need to hear the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel today.  There’s no getting away from it — there’s something for EVERYBODY to do in preparing the way for the Savior.

Notice how deftly John the Baptist answers the question from three very distinct classes or groups of people.  They really represent all of humanity.  First, the CROWDS ask what they should do.  The crowds:  that’s everybody, good and bad, eager and indifferent, rich and poor.  John’s answer is that they need to start looking out for each other and not just for Good Old Number One.  Get the concentration off self.  Whatever you’ve got, a lot or a little, give part of it away to those who don’t.

Then the tax collectors speak up.  What should THEY do?  Remember who these guys were.  They were Jews who were employed by the Roman Empire, the conquering power, to extract from the Jewish nation their assigned share of taxes to support the occupying government that they hated.  That would have been unpopular enough, but the tax collectors made THEIR living by imposing a surcharge.  To put it in current terms, if the job of the tax collector in an assigned area was to collect and turn in $50,000 from his neighborhood, it didn’t matter to the Romans how he did it.  If he could squeeze $75,000 out of his neighbors, the Romans didn’t care as long as they got their 50.  So, most of the tax collectors were scorned on two counts:  they were traitors to the nation AND they were rip-off artists, pocketing as much as they could squeeze out of their hapless countrymen.  That’s no doubt why Luke says, “EVEN tax collectors came to be baptized.”  You can imagine the murmurs in the crowd:  “THAT crook??!!  He’s got a lot of gall showing up and pretending to repent!!”  And John’s answer can’t be an easy one for a truly repentant tax collector to swallow:  “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”  Jeez!  How’s a guy supposed to make a dishonest living following a command like that??  But there again, John nails it.  What do you have to do that might radically change your patterns of living if you’re going to be faithful to Christ’s call?

John’s response to the soldiers is just as radical.  Here were PAGANS, the tough guys, the occupying army, asking this wild-looking Jewish preacher from the desert what THEY had to do!  Were they sincere, or were they just kind of poking fun, seeing how John would handle it if they put him on the spot?  It didn’t matter, he answered their question with a real challenge:  no extortion, no false accusations, and no grumbling about wages and hours.  Hey, can’t a soldier have any FUN?  “Sure,” John (and Jesus) might each reply, “just not at someone else’s expense.”

See, whether we’re among the crowd, the tax collectors, or the soldiers, we ALL have SOME changes to make in our lives to announce the Kingdom of God in a more convincing way.  Start living in that new way, Jesus’ way, and you’ll find those old fears and anxieties dropping off like winter clothes when we’re heading into summer again.  Choose the freedom of life with Christ and you will find the joy that the world finds so elusive.  People in the world know by human instinct that they should and shouldn’t do certain things.  Our task as witnesses to Christ is to show them that they already have the recipe for eternal happiness.  They might just be too stubborn to go into the kitchen of the Kingdom and put it all together.  Show them some of God’s mercy in word and deed, and welcome them to the way of life of Christ’s Kingdom.  We’re all sinners, and we’ve each got our own story about how we’ve gotten this far–over and over again!  Did you fail at it last week?  Well, that’s why the Lord in his mercy gives you — THIS WEEK!  So slap a smile on your face and on your heart, and have a great week as an instrument of the Gospel.

Homily for December 6, 2015


Back when John Logie was mayor . . .  Back in Queen Victoria’s day . . .  Remember when Sparky Anderson was the Tigers’ skipper?  You and I are quite used to referring to moments in time by using the names of those who were in charge.  I can remember that Joe Russo was the manager of our grade school baseball team, even though I can’t quite remember the exact summers I played for him–did I start in ’58 or ’59?  Well, I know it was in the 1900’s, and I DID play baseball, that’s the main thing.

But you get my point.  So don’t roll your eyes when you hear this list in today’s Gospel of the political leaders of the Empire and the eastern Mediterranean area.  This is not only a way of reckoning history.  The important thing is that the evangelist is locating things IN TIME.  These events were not just made up.  John the Baptist was not a literary device in a great novel about someone who claimed to be the Savior of the world.  God had been preparing that world and its fallen human nature for salvation, and he gave every indication and guide so that his people would know when it was coming about.  Much information was readily at hand — but you had to care enough, you had to have FAITH enough, to read it, study it, ponder it, meditate on it.  Like Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the one . . . who meditates on God’s law day and night.”  You can’t expect to know God’s revelation if you aren’t meditating.  Maybe that’s why, in all our frenzied activity, in all our hustle and bustle, we ask questions like, “Where is God in all this?”

The New York Daily News headlines screamed at us the other day after the California massacre, “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS,” which was not as much a statement blaming God as it was mocking their least favorite politicians for asking for and offering prayers for the victims and their families.  “They should forget about prayer and get busy and end violence by passing laws,” the Daily News apparently thinks — which would be about as effective as passing gas.  I’ve made the point earlier this week, that the people who carry out these atrocities have not been putting in an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every week.  They pay no attention to the beatitudes.  They clearly do not heed Christ’s words, “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice,” and “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Now, THOSE are CONQUERING words, even if living them out might well mean that we will appear, in the eyes of the world, to be defeated.  We might lose skirmishes, at least in the world’s way of thinking; but Christ has already won the battle.  All we have to do is attend to his wonderful, life-changing, earth-shattering message and act accordingly.  That’s not a popular message when at the moment it seems a lot easier to settle accounts with weapons and war.  But what have those things ever really settled?

Most of our trouble in living out Christ’s message will come from within, not from without.  I don’t need any terrorists sneaking around my house to distract me from my duties as a Christian and as a pastor.  If I lack courage in living the gospel, it’ll manifest itself in all the little decisions of my daily life–my laziness, my thoughtlessness, my snarkiness, my cynicism, my lack of forgiveness, my refusal to pass on the very mercy that God has so abundantly shown to me.

The same thing had happened to God’s people at that moment in history.  They needed the forerunner, the precursor, John the Baptist, to stir up their hearts, to shock them out of their spiritual lethargy.  He WAS a rather shocking figure, not at all like the well-groomed and finely-robed elders and Pharisees.  But his preaching rang so true that even a pompous potentate like Herod could be fascinated by his words, even the ones that condemned him for his sins!  John pulled no punches, but his message gave people reason to rejoice.  As his cousin, Jesus, would later say, “The TRUTH will set you free!”  Anyone who has finally come to terms with their sins and made a good confession will know THAT feeling.  Like the Old Testament prophets, John’s was a clarion call for confidence in God and joy in what was coming about:  “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery!  Up, Jerusalem, stand upon the heights and rejoice that your children are remembered by God.”

Yes, the children who have been slaughtered in the streets of Chicago, they are remembered by God.  The children who have been crucified by radical forces in Syria, they are remembered by God.  The children who have been aborted in clinics across the United States, they are remembered by God.  Not so that he can take vengeance on their killers, but because he is merciful, and wants no one to perish, and wants so divinely for all to come home to salvation.  As Psalm 34, verse 18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and the crushed in spirit he saves.”  This is all GOOD NEWS!  What world leader can sincerely make THAT claim for himself?

We are called by John the Baptist to look beyond the trials and tribulations of this world, real though they are.  We are not to assume a Pollyanna attitude and pretend to live in a world that does not exist.  We are situated in history, like John the Baptist was, when Barack Obama is our president, when Rick Snyder is our governor, when George Heartwell is our mayor–and whether that delights us or appalls us, we look reality square in the eye and say, “The REALLY Good News is on the way, and is already here, and it’s the Lord Jesus, our Savior and our Good Shepherd, and WE ARE HIS PEOPLE!”  We are rejoicing in his coming in history, we are rejoicing in his presence with us, and we are rejoicing that he is to come in glory.  Don’t be afraid, world!  While you’re fussing and fuming and wringing your hands about why people act the way they do, we are proclaiming a jubilee of mercy.  God IS fixing it, and all you have to do to understand that is get on board.  Clearly, whatever YOU’RE doing . . . isn’t working.