Monthly Archives: November 2017

Homily for November 19, 2017


God and his Church want us to be very clear about this:  Christ our King, our Lord and Savior, indeed came to redeem us.  He came to win us back to the Father.  He came to take our sins on himself so that we might be free.  He came to break the stranglehold of the evil one on a human nature that would never again only be fallen, but now, more importantly, be REDEEMED.  When in faith we accept the redemption Christ has mercifully won for us, we are saved.  But being saved means recognizing that Christ sets a pattern of behavior for us that we must strive to imitate.  It is not enough for us disciples to proclaim “I’m saved!” and then to continue to behave as if nothing had happened.  The proof of that acceptance on our part is the action of grace and of the Holy Spirit.  These lead us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord both in belief and in deed.  Belief that is not expressed in action is as false as good deeds performed without reference to Christ — although in that case, at least a person would be acting according to the lights of the NATURAL law within us.

To listen to some Christians, you’d think that the only code of behavior God has given us consists of the Ten Commandments.  Christ expands the meaning of each of the commandments, adding our interior dispositions and attitudes to our outward obedience to what God commands.  But he also adds the Beatitudes, and in today’s Gospel, the works of mercy.  In fact, the penalty for not being alert to the opportunities for the works of mercy is the harshest condemnation to be found in the teachings of Christ.  It is echoed, for instance, in Luke’s story of the rich man who literally and routinely walks over the poor man Lazarus at his doorstep.  The rich man dies and suffers the torments assigned to the unrighteous in today’s Gospel.

Jesus himself often compares God to a king, or to a powerful landowner.  The wonderful imagery he employs in his story of those who are like the sheep and the goats is so simple that even children can easily understand it.  The imagery leads us to understand the point.  Note that Jesus does not fault the sheep, the righteous, for not recognizing him.  Instead, he REVEALS himself to them:  “When you did this or that for someone else, THAT WAS ME!!”  They had simply done what they were commanded to do by God:  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Let’s be clear:  Love of God and love of neighbor are not the two Great OPTIONS.  They are COMMANDMENTS, from our Creator himself.  Everything else, including our eternal salvation, depends on those.  Obeying and fulfilling them means we’ve accepted God’s message, and the Messenger, Christ Jesus our King, reveals himself as The Message, God’s Eternal Word made flesh.

Then there are those who are represented by the goats.  “When did we see YOU?” they cry.  “If only we had known it was YOU, we would have acted differently!!”  Ah, but that’s no excuse.  The key was to respond to the needs of EVERYONE, without regard to who they are or whether they deserve it.  As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “Doesn’t God make his sun shine and his rain fall on the good AND the bad?  Therefore, be perfect AS your heavenly Father is perfect.”  If we spend more time tracking the lifestyles of the rich and famous than we do attending to the needs of the humble and unknown, we know we’ve got work to do!  Jesus tells us, “The poor will ALWAYS be with you.”  That’s right, the works of mercy are the work of a lifetime, so we’d better get started.

Homily for November 5, 2017


Remember hearing the screaming of a political fan of a candidate who backed out of the presidential race last year and pledged support for another candidate?  “THIS HAS TO BE A JOKE! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!  I’M LITERALLY ABOUT TO KILL MYSELF AND I’M NOT KIDDING!  YOU BETTER FIX THIS RIGHT NOW!  I’M LITERALLY GOING TO DIE, I NEED AN AMBULANCE!  I CAN’T BELIEVE…” she shouted before the video cut out.  And we’ve cut out all the expletives, which really manifested the profound nature of her ranting.

One year later, this past week, in fact, as reported by The West Village Patch in New York City, “A collective scream Wednesday marked a year since Donald Trump was elected leader of the U.S.  Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered for the anniversary, crowding into Washington Square Park Wednesday night and howling at the top of their lungs.”

Regardless of one’s politics or views, it seems to me that these examples of venting rage display the complete opposite of what St. Clement of Alexandria wisely tells us, commenting on Psalm 37 in the third century:  “‘Watch the wholehearted, and mark the upright, for there is a future for the one who seeks peace’; such will the one be who believes with the whole heart in a genuine way, and is tranquil in the whole soul.”  Compare those words of wisdom with the utterances we recalled at the beginning.  Now, much as I like to poke fun at political nonsense, it’s tragic to realize that for the vast mass of unbelievers, there is little one can do with frustration other than howl at the moon.  And how ironic, that after all that communal wailing, New York was hit with an Arctic blast like it hadn’t felt for years.  So much for any lasting effect of all that hot air.

Is it any wonder that there’s so much mental illness and suicide these days, especially among the young?  They are so often being taught by peers and by the culture around them that faith in God has no relevance.  As we said earlier, it’s no mistake that wisdom is always listed first among the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom is not prudence, and should not be confused with it.  As the first reading says, “Taking THOUGHT of wisdom is the PERFECTION of prudence.”  Prudence is a virtue, wisdom is a gift.  With God’s help, we can ACQUIRE prudence by being calm and PRACTICING it, as we do with the other virtues.  Prudence is in part the habit of being able to prioritize, and then act accordingly.  But prudence in its perfection leads us to THINK of wisdom, and to see how we might, as the passage says, make ourselves worthy of her.  Prudence means not being led by the latest fads, or by what’s trending online.  Prudence means that we know we will be more apt to find guiding principles for life in studying the writings of Popes and the Lives of the Saints, than in the latest murmurings of Kim and Kanye.  And if you even RECOGNIZED those names, I suggest you might begin your search for wisdom by spending just a little more time with the Popes and the Saints.  We have plenty of material over in the school that’s there for you to use anytime, free of charge.

The funny parable Jesus tells paints a wonderful contrast between the calm wisdom of those who get it and the unhinged cluelessness of those who don’t.  Ten ceremonial virgins or bridesmaids, according to Jewish wedding custom, gather to welcome the bridegroom to the bride’s home.  He’s late.  He’s at the bachelor party.  He’s out hunting.  Who knows?  But he’s late.  They all fall asleep.  No difference there.  The wise get just as tired as the unwise.  The difference, of course, is in the pre-planning.  Jesus often tells us that, if we’re going to be HIS followers, we have to be READY.  Not just ready for death, not just on edge because something bad is going to happen, but prepared for EVERY opportunity to be of service, to give him the glory, and to proclaim his Kingdom.  To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, who was speaking of the duties of citizenship in his Inaugural Address, as Christ’s disciples we will “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to” spread the knowledge and love of God through Christ our Savior.  And our love of Christ our Bridegroom will make us WANT to be ready, no matter when or how he arrives.

Love, prudence, more love, wisdom, more love — this is our pilgrim way with and to God and his Kingdom.  The kingdom of this world is clearly a downward spiral of violence, sex abuse, accusations, gossip, he-said-she-said, fake news, false testimony, empty promises, and hopeless screaming — the Scriptural “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  It leads nowhere.  We are IN that world to bring it the Good News of redemption and salvation; but we are not OF that world.  Often without realizing it, and certainly without thanking us, the world is dependent on us to remain FAITHFUL to Christ, who is its ONE TRUE LIGHT!  You and I reflect that light, and allow it to shine through us.  Faith, prudence, wisdom, love — all of these help us to be tranquil in a world that has run out of the oil of virtue and common sense.  Let us never fail to ask God for a greater share in these virtues and gifts that will help us to be faithful to our baptism and useful servants of those to whom he sends us.

Homily for November 5, 2017


The 1985 movie “Spies Like Us,” with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, featured the famous scene in which the two lead characters, pretending to be physicians, are introduced to a whole assembly of doctors in a big surgical tent.  They all begin exchanging greetings, going around the circle, “Doctor…Doctor…Doctor…Doctor,” to the point of being a complete mock of professional courtesy.  THAT’S what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel:  the religious “professionals” who were far more impressed with their own titles, robes, and privileges than they were with the solemn duties on behalf of God’s people which had been entrusted to them by God.  One can picture a gathering of these self-important men, bowing and scraping and toadying up to one another, burdening God’s people with rules and regs and fees and quite forgetting about God’s demands on THEM.

Of course, I’VE never done that.  (Pause.)

The heck I haven’t.  Maybe not in the same way, maybe not in the same fashion as some others who have earned MY scorn, but just as guilty of using my position, blowing my own horn, showing off my imagined abilities, pretending to be more than I could ever be, all the while convincing myself that I’m a really great, great guy.  All for the glory of God, of course.  (Pause.)

Right.  Rather, all for MY greater glory.  Wow, as I’m listening to that first reading from Malachi this morning, I’m getting some prickly heat around and under my collar.  I’m getting a little uncomfortable hearing God’s stern warning to lazy priests, corrupt priests, self-aggrandizing priests–and no matter how much I try to compare myself to others and say, “Yeah, but I’m not like THAT,” I realize that there are other priests doing the same thing and thinking that, whew, at least they’re not like ME!

St. Paul takes the heat off momentarily in the second reading when he reminds the Thessalonians of his selfless service among them.  But oh, how can I measure up to his virtuous ministry?  “We were gentle among you, we had great affection for you, we wanted to share our very selves with you, we worked night and day in toil and drudgery in order not to burden any of you.”  Wow!  When I think of all the benefits that I receive from being your pastor, I’m embarrassed when I place them alongside the little bit that I seem to do for YOU!  It seems like nothing!  I think often of my long-ago predecessor in this Grand River Valley, the Venerable Father (later Bishop) Frederic Baraga, and all his hardships and journeys on foot and by canoe, and his lousy diet of boiled potatoes for every meal, and the harsh weather and bitter cold he endured — dear Lord, what must HE think if he’s overheard me complaining about my garage door opener not working?

I have plenty to answer for, my friends.  But we would be very mistaken if we thought that today’s readings are only about our ordained priests.  Now, I’m not saying this to deflect attention away from my own misdeeds and inadequacies and lack of virtue.  My job is not only to examine my OWN conscience, but to help you examine YOURS.  The fact is, we are, ALL of us, called to be Christ’s priestly people through baptism.  Through our baptism, you AND I are the religious professionals of the world!  We are the members of the Catholic, the Universal Church.  To us belongs the fullness of belief and practice, Scripture and Tradition, worship and sacraments, that Christ intended for ALL his disciples.  Most of our other Christian churches can claim greater or lesser PARTS of that belief and practice, but the FULLNESS of what Christ intended when he said to our patron, St. Peter, “On this rock I will build my CHURCH” is the Church that Peter and Peter’s successors have continued to shepherd right to this very day.

Are you equipped to be the baptized religious professional, the disciple of Jesus Christ that he RELIES on you to be?  Do you take seriously that “AMEN!” you say when you are presented with “The Body of Christ” in Holy Communion?  Are you fluent in your faith?  Can you defend it, explain it, correct mistaken notions of it?  Can you hold your own in discussing Scripture and doctrine with a neighbor, a co-worker, a fallen-away child or grandchild or relative?  As your pastor, I have to continue my formation CONSTANTLY, reading, studying, going to classes and conferences, engaging in theological conversations, especially with my YOUNGER confreres whose seminary studies are much more recent than my own.  I challenge you to read over today’s Scriptures again in a new and more personal light.  Let the Lord speak to YOU as his religious professional, and then decide if you need to do something more to measure up.  I know I do.  And I’m here to help you if you do, too.  Rabbi.  Father.  Teacher.  Doctor.  Catholic.  Those are just titles.  Together, let’s put some CONTENT behind them.  God bless you!