Yearly Archives: 2018

Homily for February 11, 2018


Until just the last couple centuries, people didn’t understand how leprosy was contracted.  They just dreaded the thought of catching it, because it left its victims in a hideous, pitiful state until their miserable death.  Worst of all, lepers were quarantined and exiled to leper colonies, never to see family members and friends again.  This continued until relatively recent times.  Think, for example, of the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, where St. Damien worked as a missionary until his death in 1889.  He contracted the disease, and died of leprosy.  On the other hand, St. Marianne Cope and the Franciscan Sisters who served on Moloka’i with her did NOT contract the disease.  Why?  They had concluded that they had to keep the living conditions of the lepers CLEAN and sterile.  And so, in spite of repeated physical contact with those suffering from the illness, the Sisters dodged the bullet, as it were.  I learned from a priest in Hawaii (who was the first priest ever ordained on Moloka’i) that his personal sanctity of life did not protect St. Damien from the disease because he made no attempt at precautions or cleanliness.

I have thought often of what that young priest told me as I visited him in his rectory on Lana’i, a nearby island.  I think of it especially when I read of the leper crying out to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me CLEAN”!  And Jesus reaches out and TOUCHES him (the crowd must have GASPED!) and says, “I DO will it.  Be made CLEAN.”

I think of the spiritual leprosy of my sins, and of the frequent clumsiness of my physical and emotional and spiritual and mental responses to situations.  How do I TOUCH people?  Are they made clean, or at least a little clean-ER, by contact with me?  Or is the last state of that person worse than the first?  Does some of my human baggage swing around and knock them off their feet, even though I didn’t really intend it?  “It was an accident,” I so often assure myself after breaking a dish, a bottle, a promise, a heart.  But accident or not, the damage is done, and I have to try to figure out how to repair it.  Sometimes it’s beyond my power, because like a frightened animal, the victim of my unintended bull-in-a-china-shop manner will not come close again.

Doctors are told in their medical ethics classes, “First, do no harm.”  St. Paul treats us all to a similar instruction in the second reading today, when he tells the Corinthians and us:  “Do everything for the glory of God. . .  Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.”  What a lesson for each of us to ponder, thoroughly and often.  Don’t even offend your enemies!

I thought of it last week when I heard of some of the Eagles fans in the City of Brotherly Love celebrating their team’s victory by causing over $5 million in damage by their distinctly un-brotherly behavior.  It’s just the latest example of boorish, destructive actions that have sadly become an anticipated part of any major event, no matter how tragic or joyful.  It’s like a leprosy.

I think of it whenever I see the leprosy of graffiti disfiguring the urban landscape.  I think of it when I drive down the highway out in the country and see in the median a load of household trash and filthy mattresses and broken furniture and appliances that someone didn’t want to pay to have hauled away.  I think of it when I accompany officers on a police call and find people physically and emotionally destroying ONE ANOTHER in domestic violence.  It’s like a leprosy.  I think of it when a landlord tells me about how his tax-supported tenants have trashed his property beyond repair, leaving him with outrageous utility bills and disappearing without a trace.  It’s like a leprosy.

But I never have to think too far from home.  I’ve done harm and given offense and sought my own glory rather than God’s all too often to blame the world’s problems only on others.  It leads me to pray more and more often, “Lord, at the very least, let me do no harm.  At the very least, let me not make a mess that someone else will have to clean up.  At the very least, let me not do or say anything that will make trouble for anyone else.  At the very least, let me observe the common standards of decency and fairness and virtue and politeness, and be a beacon of your love in a world where the very thought of you often seems to be shrouded in obscurity or indifference.  At the very least, let the world be a better place by my allowing you to TOUCH it through me.  I know you will it, Lord.  Make my will like yours.  Make me clean.  Touch the world THROUGH me and heal its leprosies.  Make it clean.  Make it clean.”

Homily for February 4, 2018


We all know about Job, the righteous man who suddenly suffers untold loss and misery through absolutely no fault of his own.  The evil one wants to tempt him and turn him against God, and God says, “Go ahead and try, but he won’t weaken.”  Well, here in Chapter 7, Job comes close:  “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”  Kind of sounds like a wealthy congressman telling the rest of the country how miserable we are and shall remain (unless, of course, we vote for HIM).  Let’s face it, we’ve all had those days — and sometimes months and years.  But we’re also familiar with stories of heroes, like the wounded coming back from war with hideous injuries.  The energy some of these young men and women put into their own recovery, the things they learn to do with artificial EVERYTHING, remind all of us that we should NEVER lose hope.

The Gospel, too, reminds us that we should never lose hope.  As Jesus begins his public ministry, the whole town gathers at the door of Simon Peter’s house, having heard how Jesus healed the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law just by taking her by the hand and helping her up.  The next morning, Jesus is out trying to get a little quiet time with the Father when Peter and the others come to get him.  “Everyone is looking for you!” they exclaim.  And how true that statement remains!  Not everyone knows Jesus by name, but everyone is looking for salvation of SOME kind.  “If only I can get that job. . .  If only I could fall in love. . .  If only I can get accepted at Enormous State University. . .  If I could just hit the lottery. . .  If I could just take a sick day. . .  If I could just get well. . .”  And on and on.  All too often, we seek our salvation in the wrong places, when Jesus is the only one who can satisfy all our hopes and desires most deeply.

Why?  Because he KNOWS us most deeply.  He knows that the gluttony we battle is at its root a misdirected hunger and thirst for the good things of the Kingdom, which can never be completely ours except in eternity.  He knows that our lusts objectify the very people we imagine could satisfy our longing for companionship, and that selfish lust destroys life-giving love.  He has not come simply to condemn the world, but to bring it salvation.  Jesus is the one to whom we introduce our two little children who are being baptized this morning.  Whether they will continue following Jesus throughout their lives is something they will have to decide.  OUR faith directs us to share it with them by beginning with baptism the sacraments of initiation.  Their parents, godparents, relatives, and the whole Church fervently pray that what God promises and GIVES them here this morning will bloom and grow into a rich, mature faith that constantly thirsts for growth in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It would be wrong to see the world as only a battlefield between the forces of evil and the supreme power of God.  It would also be wrong to ignore the constant assaults on our faith for which we must always be better and better prepared.  We can never know and learn too much about our faith.  THAT will not make us religious fanatics.  In fact, fanatics are without exception people who know too LITTLE about their faith because they know too little about JESUS.  “Everyone is looking for you!” the Apostles told Jesus.  Well, as a matter of fact, some were just looking for good luck.  Some were anxious to get well so they could just continue in the same old patterns of life.  The Gospels make it clear that many turned away from Jesus when his teaching got too challenging, too difficult.  They weren’t ready to CHANGE.

This morning, God gives our children who are being baptized a priceless gift.  They haven’t earned it, they don’t have to pay for it.  It comes to them through their parents like spiritual DNA, but this is DNA is a gift that they can lose if they don’t cultivate it.  That’s where the rest of us come in.  The Church’s task is to constantly tell and remind the world of God’s goodness and care and gracious will to save.  And that means that we should never lose hope.  We crawl off the battlefield with hideous sins and spiritual wounds at times; but like recovering soldiers, we put ourselves at the Lord’s service.  He will always give us what we need to accomplish amazing things, but we have to realize that baptism makes JESUS, not us, the Star of our life story.  So forget the selfies.  And don’t just badger people with STORIES about Jesus.  Get busy SHOWING them who Jesus is by speaking and behaving as HE does.  You will find the meaning of your life by directing people to him.  After all, EVERYONE is looking for him!  Many of them just haven’t figured out the way, let alone the destination.

Homily for January 21, 2018


The Scriptures this morning have a chant recurring like a drumbeat:  “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed. . .  This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel. . .  I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. . .  For the world in its present form is passing away”  Whether from Jonah, Jesus, or Paul, these are prophetic words.  They are words spoken by God through the prophetic voices of an Old Testament prophet, of God’s own Son and Anointed One, and of the Apostle to the Gentiles.  They are words spoken from eternity to every age and time.  We are tempted to look at 2,000 years of Christian history and say, “Oh, there’s no hurry, the Lord is clearly taking his time.”

That’s NOT what the Lord Jesus says, nor the attitude he conveys.  Throughout his public ministry, and particularly as recorded by Mark and Matthew, there is a stark urgency about the gospel.  Jesus is on the move, preaching, healing, instructing, bringing the established religious order to its fulfillment in a New and Eternal Covenant.  He doesn’t just call a small band of followers away by themselves so he can instruct them quietly and tell them the secrets of eternal life.  He passes on his mission to THEM!  “Fishermen, eh?” he says, in effect.  “Come, follow me.  I’ll have you fishing FOR PEOPLE!  We don’t have much time.”

How sad that we don’t take Jesus at his word, or catch the urgency in his voice and manner.  In many ages of the Church’s history, people DID sense the urgency, and readily volunteered their services — no, their LIVES — to bring the message and love of Christ to people everywhere.  Think of the great St. Francis Xavier, whose right arm remains enshrined in Rome because of the countless thousands he baptized and absolved with it in India in a few short years of missionary work.  Think of the Venerable Father Frederic Baraga, the first priest to reside here in our river valley, just a couple miles south of us, patiently learning the difficult Ottawa and Chippewa languages so he could fish for people whose descendants carry on the faith today.  Think of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, cradling the dying poor in her arms to bring them the consolation of Christ Jesus as she introduced them to him and commended their souls to his care.

If the work were not urgent, I submit that the lives of Francis Xavier, Frederic Baraga, and Mother Teresa would have been spent foolishly.  What’s the rush, after all?  Jesus loves everybody!  What’s there to worry about?

It’s not a worry, but what’s to be CONCERNED about is the fact that billions of people, and an increasing number of people in our own country, even in our own families, have never EFFECTIVELY heard of that love of Christ for them, nor of what Christ demands.  Or, having heard of Christ, have given him up and cast him aside in favor of the here and now of earthly pursuits.  It’s why we have to convince people that the message of Christ is FOR here and now.  It’s not just other-worldly, pie-in-the-sky.  But first, WE have to be convinced!  We must hear Christ’s call to repentance ALL THE TIME, because we are apt to be SINNERS all the time.  With St. Paul, we have to learn to say, “I discipline my body and make it my servant, lest having preached to others, I myself be lost” (I Corinthians 9:27).  The Apostle to the Gentiles did not fear an arbitrary judgment on God’s part; he feared an arbitrary decision on his OWN part to throw away the gift of faith which he cherished as a gift from God.

Those who are prone to think that nothing matters, that God will forgive everything and everyone, that Divine Mercy translates into universal salvation, simply do not follow the teaching of Christ.  If sin does not put our salvation in jeopardy IN SPITE OF the Cross of Christ, why did Christ and his Apostles bother teaching anything, especially instructing people in the moral life?  “Life is worth living,” as Bishop Sheen used to say, because it MEANS something!  Our choices, virtuous or sinful, help to determine our eternal destiny.  You and I are designated by Christ through baptism to be cooperators in our own salvation and that of others.  It’s a great mission and a life’s adventure.  Oh, and it’s urgent.  It can never wait till tomorrow.  Too many souls are dependent on your daily response.  Go FISH!

Homily for January 7, 2018


“Epiphany” means “manifestation,” or in common language, “going public.”  Divine intervention brought the star-gazing Wise Men from the East to find the newborn King of the Jews in a humble home, from which he would soon be evicted by Herod’s jealous cruelty.  The One whom the Jews had been awaiting as God’s Anointed, their Messiah, was made known to foreigners early on.  God’s chosen people were beloved by God, and were critically important for providing the worship, the literature, and the society into which the Savior would be born.  But the One of whom the Jews often thought as their private preserve, their own national hero, the One who would kick the behinds of the Romans and anyone else who subjugated them — for that ONE, God had far more generous plans.  It took a great change in their way of thinking to realize that the Messiah was coming for EVERYBODY:  Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, Chaldeans, Persians, Arabs, Romans, you name it.  And many couldn’t make that change.  Many couldn’t expand the boundaries of their idea of the Messiah to imagine that he also would come for OTHER people.  Many still can’t.

Through the Infant King whom the Magi came from afar to honor, Israel’s boundaries would not collapse.  They would GROW, to potentially include all the peoples of the earth.  EVERYONE could become part of the New Israel.  This dawned upon the Apostles especially on and after Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit falling afresh upon them.  St. Paul makes much of it in his writings.  The Book of Revelation speaks in Chapter 15 of how “All the nations will come and worship before you, Lord God almighty!”  Chapter 18 of that great book tells of the fall of Babylon, which represents the spirit of the world in ANY nation.  The old ways of fallen human nature and narrow and perverse human thinking will have met defeat in the victory of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Lamb of God.  At the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Epiphany is complete!  As we shall hear just before Holy Communion, truly blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb!

Being part of God’s People, being part of the Church, being part of Christ’s Mystical Body means that Epiphany has a great meaning for all of us, the baptized.  There are those who are very comfortable with Christ as an infant in the crib.  But they want to keep him there.  Don’t let him grow up.  Restrict him so he can be no threat, so he can do no harm, so he can’t upset the established order.  That’s the spirit of Herod, isn’t it?  And that’s our spirit, too, when we shy away from the conversion to which we are called by Christ on a daily basis.  Every day means turning my life over to Jesus Christ, again and again.  Every time I fail, he’s there, patiently waiting for me, ready to get me fit for duty and to take on the world again for the spread of his Kingdom.

As far as the Magi are concerned, the word is out.  Herod has told them to come back and report the details to him, so he too can go and “worship.”  But after seeing Jesus and offering him their gifts, a dream tells them why Herod has wanted things to be just “between them.”  Keep it small, and you can control it.  Once you lose control, you don’t know what will happen.  Precisely.  And that’s why the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion folks are so often so rabid even today about any public display of the faith.  “That belongs in church,” they shout.  “Do what you want within the walls of your building, but don’t you dare bring it into the public square.”  They speak on behalf of the old, defeated spirit of the world.  They’re not just worried about who’s going to pay for the security.  They just don’t want the Gospel mentioned, nor any trace of it seen.  Keep the Infant in the crib.  Make him a museum piece.  Treat the Church like a quaint curiosity.  Mock.  Ridicule.  Ignore.  And in spite of all their best efforts for over 2,000 years now, the Church is still here, manifesting Jesus in as many different ways as there are believers, making his presence known and felt to the farthest reaches of the world.  Our work is never complete.  Nations which were converted long ago are in need of the “New Evangelization,” to speak the Gospel to people in THIS day and THIS age and THIS place.  And the Incarnation, and the Epiphany, go on.  And on.  And on.  And we’re a part of it!  Blessed be God!