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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!

Homily for December 25, 2017




Got all your Christmas shopping done?  I kind of gave up on it long ago.  I just can’t keep up with what’s currently the rage with the young folks in the family.  The way it goes these days, anything that was in demand when you wrapped the gift is sure to be obsolete by the time the gift is unwrapped.  Oh, and then, people ask ME, “Father, what could you use?”  And my standard response is, “Go look in my office, it’s already in there somewhere!”  I used to give my family members gift certificates, but several of the stores and restaurants had gone out of business by the time we opened the cards on Christmas day.  WURZBURG’S is CLOSED??  Lanning’s is gone?  Who knew?

Now, you might be ready to tell me, look, Father, knock it off.  Christmas is not just about gift-giving.  You should be preaching about the true meaning of Christmas.  Okay, you’re right.  I’ll let you in on the true meaning of Christmas.  It’s all . . . about  . . .  GIFT-GIVING!  Hey, don’t blame me!  God started it!

Granted, all the furied and frenzied shopping and other activities of the Advent and Christmas season sometimes get our minds off just what we’re doing.  But we are imitating the activity of God himself.  He gave the world the most unexpected, amazing, undeserved gift of all:  his own Son, on his own initiative, without anyone thinking that God would actually go that far for a remarkably ungrateful human race.  Not only were we the cause of our own wretchedness, but we spurned God’s advances of love by — well, we don’t have to go into the whole rest of the story just now.  It IS Christmas, after all.  It’s time to celebrate the Gift.  There will be plenty of time during the remaining 48 weeks of the Church year to ponder what we did when that Gift was in our midst, and how God continues to pursue us with his love, never letting our sin be the last word unless we are completely unrepentant.

So don’t be shy about all the activity of gift-giving.  We do it in imitation of God.  Think of that when you are giving gifts, or writing thank-you notes, or sending belated cards, and PRAY FOR the people whom you are blessing with your kindness, and who have blessed you with theirs.  That will be the greatest kindness, the greatest blessing of all.  And take note of some of the letters we’ve received as a parish.  They’re up on the bulletin boards.  We strive to be generous as a parish with the funds you provide us in our Christian Service collections.  We used to have poor boxes at the church exits, but those didn’t get used very well.  Now we pool the money collected through the Clothing Center, the money sent to us for charity by friends around the community, and the funds provided by our parishioners in the second collection on the first weekend of each month.  Through these and other sources, we are able to send substantial gifts each year to Catholic Charities, to Mel Trotter, to the Oasis of Hope, to Habitat for Humanity, to Pine Rest, and to many other agencies who do the hands-on work for us in many diverse corners of our local community.

This is not bragging.  We are able to be generous with God’s people because of the great generosity you exercise through your parish.  And we do it with practically no overhead.  The government could (and probably SHOULD) take lessons from the Church about how to administer funds for people’s needs.  We’ve never spent $400 for a hammer!  And after you check out the letters on the bulletin boards, you can tell any naysayers among your relatives or friends or co-workers, who might complain about the Church being rich and picking people’s pockets, that we don’t do it to aggrandize ourselves.  We do it to serve and witness to Christ our Savior in the poor, the homeless, the afflicted, and all those with whom the Son of God shares a human nature — he who became poor and homeless and afflicted for US, so we could live forever in his eternal Kingdom.  What a Savior!  What a Gift!  Let’s keep on giving.  Pay it, no, pay HIM forward.  A blessed Christmas to you!

Homily for December 24, 2017


King David had a great idea, sitting in his royal palace.  He knew he was the king of God’s people, yet God was still dwelling in the Ark of the Covenant, in a tent.  The people of God had begun to build up the city of Jerusalem, yet a suitable house of worship, a temple, was missing from among the city’s structures.  Nathan, David’s house prophet, said yes, building a temple sounded like a good idea to him, too.  But that night Nathan had a dream.  Basically, God said, “Go tell David, ‘You take care of the people.  I’LL take care of the temple.’”  David got the message.  His son, Solomon, would build the temple.  David’s job was to build up the people.

All this happened a thousand years before Christ.  Yet when it came time for God to send his Anointed One, his m.o., his method of operation, was very similar:  God, who had promised to be Emmanuel, “God-with-us,” in the midst of his people, would arrange a unique dwelling place for a deity.  Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, has been prepared for her task and full of grace by her own Immaculate Conception.  She receives word from God that his Word is to become flesh in her.  She will bear God’s own Son in her chaste womb, becoming an image of the Temple.  In her litany, one of the titles we give her is “Ark of the Covenant,” because she shelters God-made-flesh within her own flesh.

But God isn’t done with his plan yet.  Mary is not only an image of the Ark, and then of the Temple of the Old Covenant.  She becomes an image of what the Church shall be.  Christ, the Lamb of God, comes to earth to select a Bride and bring her home to the Father’s eternal Wedding Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But this Bride is like no other.  In Christ, the words of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 62, verse 5, are fulfilled as God tells his people, “As a young man marries a virgin, so your Builder will marry YOU.”  So already 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was foretelling God’s action in choosing his PEOPLE to be his Bride.  It would take centuries of preparation, but when Christ arrives, the wedding announcement is made.  He offers his Body on the Cross for the salvation and eternal life of his Bride.  All who accept his invitation to follow him are called to the eternal Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.

Here on earth, while we are waiting for our call to the heavenly Wedding Feast, we are nourished with a taste of that Body and Blood of our innocent Passover Lamb, offered and poured out for us on the Cross.  Our Holy Communion forms and shapes us into God’s People, the Bride of the Lamb.  So, like Mary, although not in exactly the same physical way, we are all called to be a dwelling place for the Lord of glory.  In the Book of Revelation, St. John says in Chapter 21, verse 3, “Behold, God pitches his tent with the human race, his dwelling is with the human race.”  God chooses to live in and amongst us, his Church, his people.  We give our name to the building in which we worship, but WE are the dwelling place of God.  “And I saw no temple in the heavenly city,” St. John goes on in verse 22, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb” (21:22).  Our intimate union with God will be complete and eternal in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Here in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it lasts for a few moments of earthly time, but Christ comes to live in us and depends on us to bear him outside the walls of the church into the midst of the whole world — that is, into the midst of EVERYBODY ELSE.

And so we can continue to proclaim that this Incarnation miracle continues.  The poor politicians who fuss and caution us incorrectly that we can have freedom of worship IN HERE but not freedom of religion OUT THERE just don’t get it.  We don’t go out to bludgeon the rest of the world into belief, nor to beat them into submission.  It’s got to be a free act of acceptance.  But we have to try every day to live our faith in such a way that more and more will WANT to make that free act of acceptance, to declare as Mary did, “Behold, I am the handmaid, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to his Word!”  And the Incarnation goes on.  And on.  And on.  Blessed be God!!

Homily for December 17, 2017


On this Gaudete Sunday, Isaiah the prophet tells us that he rejoices heartily in the Lord, and in God is the joy of his soul.  Our patron St. Paul the Apostle bids us “Rejoice always.”  St. John the Baptist has a stern message, but that’s because there is a palpable sense of urgency in the air.  The long-awaited Anointed One is coming at last.  As Christians, we must be in a constant state of alert and anticipation, for the Lord will always have tasks of witness for us to perform, and we don’t want to miss the promptings of his Spirit.

With all that in mind, I want to share with you a few words of meditation from one of my very favorite authors, the English Catholic master of language and thought, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  He concludes his wonderful book Orthodoxy with what could be considered an ode to joy, and to its Divine Source:

“It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Christianity of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure sorrow and Christianity pure joy. . .  And the really interesting thing is this, that the pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens. . .  To the pagan the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter as the sea.  When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold. . .

“The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones.  Nevertheless . . . it is not native to man to be so.  Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. . .  Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic, it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world.  Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.  This is what I call being born upside down. . .  Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. . .  We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy:  because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce.  We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels.  So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. . .  The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.  His pathos was natural, almost casual.  The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears.  He never concealed his tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city.  Yet he concealed something.  Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger.  He never restrained His anger.  He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell.  Yet he restrained something.  I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.  There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.  There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.  There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

Homily for December 10, 2017


We all know that there are people who love to go around saying these are the end times, and predicting the imminent destruction of the universe.  In spite of the fact that Jesus himself said to pay no attention to them, PEOPLE DO.  Even people who claim to be Christians do.  The supermarket tabloids are always eager to run a headline saying the world is going to end on such-and-such a day.  Sells papers.  When some people spend their whole lives and a lot of other people’s money trying to figure out when it’s all going to happen, why does our Lord tell us not to listen to them?  Because it takes our focus off the REAL work of being Christian:  proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not just on some date in the future, but RIGHT NOW!

Our patron St. Peter tells us in his Second Letter, the second reading today, “What sort of persons you ought to be, . . . waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  When you start looking at the calendar, or listening to the prophets of doom, or watching the news and wondering “How long, O Lord?” let God gently answer you:  “As long as it takes.”  We’ve all had the experience of sitting and waiting in a doctor’s office.  Other people lope and lumber in, you’ve been sitting there since you were much younger, they are called in first, they come out and leave first, and you’re still waiting!  Well, I find that the older I get, the more time I spend waiting in doctors’ offices.  You know you’re reaching the golden years when the litany of the doctors and the litany of the prescriptions are longer than the litany of the saints.  But one thing I’ve discovered about waiting, whether it’s in the doctor’s office or in the airport:  You do it much better if you make it CONSTRUCTIVE!  And that’s what St. Peter is telling us:  “What sort of persons you ought to be!”

We ought to be those who never waste the precious time God gives us.  Waiting for a train to pass?  Keep a rosary handy in your car and pray a decade while the freight is rolling by.  Going to the doctor’s office?  Bring magazines with you to read there, and save time at home.  Don’t read the ones that are in the doctor’s office, people have been coughing and sneezing on them for a month!  Don’t just play video games at the airport or however you’re traveling.  Get some of that school reading list done, or improve your mind by enjoying a classic novel or biography.  When I was in canon law school, I spent my two hours on the bus and subway each day doing my homework.  We’ll find we won’t need to RELAX so much if we’ve accomplished things while we’re waiting for other things.

But this isn’t just a lesson in the constructive use of time.  It’s about proclaiming the Kingdom of God in union with Christ.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus had “down” time:  he slept, he enjoyed the innocent company of children, he retreated into the mountains or into the desert, he enjoyed pointing out the wonders of nature to his disciples and teaching them things about God by having them look more deeply at creation.  And yet even in these moments that we might call a “breather,” he was proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  We are to imitate that behavior of the Word made flesh, giving comfort to God’s people, speaking tenderly to Jerusalem, proclaiming that her service is at an end, her guilt is absolved.  We must never fear to cry out to the cities of Judah and of all the world, “Here is your God!  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, and gathers the lambs in his arms.”  How people everywhere need to hear these words of divine consolation!  GOD REALLY LOVES THEM!  If we spend all our time and energy trying eagerly to get that message across in word and action, our waiting will never seem long at all.  We’ll be too busy about the Lord’s work to think about it.  And when the Lord comes, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”  And whether it’s sooner or later, we won’t even mind, because we’ll realize that that’s what life was supposed to be all about, anyway.


Homily for December 3, 2017


Our first reading today makes us wonder:  Is it Advent, or is it LENT?  The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God’s people, gives voice to lots of admission of guilt — not just individual guilt, but our COMMON guilt.  “Why let US wander from your ways, why let US harden OUR hearts so WE fear you?”  Note:  WE, US, OUR — it’s not just my own personal sins of which I’m guilty.

We hear a lot these days about sins that seem bigger than any one of us, things like “institutional racism,” or more recently, “systemic sexism.”  What do we mean by such terms?  How do we resolve them?  Or first, how do we come to PARTICIPATE in them?  How do we AVOID them?  Well, such terms help to teach us that, for instance, you don’t have to shun or ridicule people of a different race or language or religion or ability to let them know they’re DIFFERENT — just don’t INCLUDE them.  Then, when something really ugly or violent happens, you can say, “I didn’t do anything!!”  And you’d be right!  But that’s the PROBLEM!  You.  Didn’t.  Do.  Anything.

Same thing with all the current buzz about sexual advances in the workplace, whether in the movie capital of the world or the nation’s Capitol in Washington.  And we don’t have to go that far.  How many workplaces have I heard of right close to home where the chit-chat is all about who the assistant manager is making a move on THIS week?  If that doesn’t sound like any place YOU’VE ever worked, thank God for the favor.  You must have really meant it when you prayed, “Lead us not into temptation”!

But truthfully, we don’t even have to go outside our own HOMES for examples of moral laxity.  What about simple neglect of piety?  Ask yourself:  how often do your kids or grandkids see you pray, OTHER THAN at Mass or at meals?  And if you take them to a restaurant, do you stop to pray?  Do you lead them in the sign of the cross?  Or do you not want to call attention to yourselves and your faith?  In other words, have they gotten the message from you that religion and faith are PRIVATE matters, not to be displayed or shared in public?  Believe me, that’s the message that the world around us wants to drill into them, and it’s GLAD to have your cooperation!  That’s why we heard many politicians so often in the last decade talking about freedom of WORSHIP rather than freedom of RELIGION:  keep it in church, don’t let it affect your life out here.

How often do your kids and grandkids see you reading Scripture or praying the rosary?  How often do you ask them to join you in doing that?  I’ve had many parents over the years, in parishes all over, ask why their sons and daughters have quit going to church.  “We raised them Catholic,” they’ll say.  But all too often I’ve heard parents say they don’t bother with church when they’re on vacation, or they laugh about not having been to confession in years, or they talk openly with friends about what methods of artificial contraception they’re using.  And the kids can’t help but pick up such attitudes as basically WINKING at anything the Church has to offer.  How can we blame the kids for not taking their faith seriously when we’ve provided a garden of spiritual cement for it to grow on?

See how easily we can create a climate of indifference when we don’t regard our baptism and our discipleship of Christ as the CENTRAL purpose and mission of our lives?  We can’t afford to be a teacher or an engineer or a clerk who HAPPENS to be Catholic.  We have to be CATHOLICS who happen to be lawyers and teachers and doctors and community leaders!  The world around us is so opposed to the message of Christ that unless we are Catholic FIRST, we stand in danger of losing our faith altogether, or at least of not passing it on effectively to the next generation as something of eternal relevance.

The world thinks that divine revelation is a lot of hocus-pocus.  It will demand PROOF for what we claim is truth.  So remember:  Your LIFE might be the only Scripture many people will ever read.  When Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Watch!” he means WATCH!  BE ALERT! — for opportunities to witness to him, not just WATCH the world go by.  If you aren’t pro-active with your faith, the world will gladly steam-roll right over you.  And your deadliest sin will be that of omission.

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!