What is WRONG with you? (Lent 2020 and the Predominant Fault)

To spare you wasting your time I’ll disclaim right off the bat: this sermon is long and didactic and really only applies to people who have something really wrong with them. I mean character-wise. So if that’s not you, feel free to tune out.

But maybe don’t do that too fast. I heard a famous psychologist say from clinical experience that pretty much everybody has some character flaw that’s darn near fatal, something that would quickly wreck their lives if they let it. He wasn’t speaking in a religious context but I related what he said to what I’d been reading in the Catholic tradition, especially books about spiritual direction. It’s about trying to identify and work on your predominant fault.

That term “predominant fault” might sound fancy but it’s a very simple idea: that most of us really have one fault that’s our main problem, that would be really good to diagnose and focus on. Experience as a priest, I’d say, would tend to agree. Even people who are doing really well and have th…

Return to Your Temple: Presentation of the Lord

I'm going to try to tell a 600 year story so I hope you grabbed a bulletin to read. It's especially challenging because the context is the Babylonian Exile, and I don't presume many of us know much about that. I think most Catholics could do a decent job telling the story of Noah. I think most of us could probably tell the Exodus pretty well. Maybe we could sketch out the basics of the time of King David. But how many of us could say much at all about the Exile? For many Catholics, maybe the word is kind of familiar, they’re aware in a vague way that it was a thing, but maybe couldn’t really begin to say what exactly it was.

And yet, the Exile takes up more Biblical real estate than any of those events I described. It’s the main context of most of the Prophets. If you held between your finger and thumb the part of the Old Testament that’s centered around the Exile, you’d be holding pretty much the last third of the whole thing.

The tenth chapter of the Prophet Ezekiel is a…

Where the Light Gets In: 2nd Sunday OT

We just heard the same words twice, in the First Reading from Isaiah and repeated by Matthew in his Gospel. Isaiah promised that the Land of Zebulon and Naphtali would see a great light, and six hundred years later Matthew remembered that promise and claimed it had come true when Jesus walked that seaward road and settled in Capernaum. Matthew does a lot of this in his Gospel. As he’s telling the story of Jesus, he throws in these side notes about how Scriptural prophecies are being fulfilled all over the place.

Bishop Fulton Sheen noticed that there’s a beautiful conversion there for Matthew. When Jesus found Matthew, he found him at the tax collectors’ table, collaborating with the Romans and so labelled as a traitor to Israel. But after meeting Jesus, Matthew is the proudest son of Israel! More than any other Gospel, he focuses on, delights in, rejoices over, the way that God has kept His promises to Israel. Maybe because Matthew had been unfaithful to his people, he was especially…

Basics: Baptism of the Lord

On your way into Church today you probably dipped your hand into holy water and made the Sign of the Cross. I’d bet confidently that most of us did that automatically and without any thought at all, just a sheer act of habit. I don’t mean that as a scold or judgment, it’s just human nature. You do something like that so routinely, your brain tends to slip into autopilot. So if that gesture is typically done unthinkingly, I don’t think you should feel terrible about that. But I do think we should all push back against that tendency, try to keep it real and prayerful.

Because when you do that simple action, you are doing something intensely meaningful. Even the placement of the water is no accident. It’s at the door of the church because Baptism is the door into the Church. Coming into the church, especially for Mass, is a big deal of a thing to do. Jesus is Eucharistically present. We are here to share in a foretaste of Heaven, a little reflection and invasion of Heaven on Earth. That’…

Weirdest Baby Shower Ever: Epiphany 2020

Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 1857. John Henry Hopkins, Jr. was an Episcopal minister, a church rector, and a seminary music teacher. The seminary college was getting together a Christmas pageant and Hopkins the music teacher was working on a hymn. It was a brief but profound hymn — brief because it consisted only of three soloists representing the Magi with refrains, profound because it invoked the traditional meaning of their three strange gifts.
And they are strange, right? I’ve never been to a baby shower, they are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but I don’t think this is what goes on. Hopkins’ great hymn gets at what they’re all about. You can turn to it if you like, at #104.

We Three Kings, it begins. It’s often pointed out that the Gospel doesn’t specify that there were three of them, or that they were kings, but that doesn’t prove they weren’t. Whatever. We Three Kings of Orient Are. I got pretty far in life without a clue what those words in that order even mean…

Feast of the Holy Family, 2019

One of my favorite windows in here is this one facing forward that most of you can’t see from where you’re sitting. It’s an image of the Holy Family. Most Holy Family images are sort of like posed photos, Mary holding Jesus and Joseph behind them with his arms around them or something like that. I love those! But this one’s a little different, more like a candid moment; just the three of them caught at an ordinary moment at home in Nazareth.

They are each shown involved in their own activity. Joseph is at his workbench holding an ax or splitter, Mary has some kind of weaving, and Jesus is maybe ten or twelve years old. Some images show Jesus helping Joseph with his work, which I’m sure happened a lot and makes a beautiful scene, but in this window He’s studying a book. The book is itself anachronistic, but the artist’s point is to show Him studying and spending time with the Scriptures that He would be constantly quoting later in life.

So they’re occupied with their own things, but th…

His Sovereign Choice: Christmas 2019

Can I invite you on a little journey of imagination? You’re in a room all decorated — not very hard to imagine this time of year! — picture the twinkling lights and the decorated tree, hangings and glitter, streamers and shimmer. The room is packed full of people decorated just as brightly, and smiling even brighter still. Everyone’s holding a glass of warm spiced wine, eggnog or hot chocolate, and their laughter fills the space. The warmth from a glowing fire flushes your cheeks, and highlights the smell of evergreen and the spices of the abundant food always within reach. There are musicians in the corner, the happy good cheer of their songs just audible beneath the happy sounds of happy people. You feel welcome and a smile sits effortlessly and permanently on your face. There is a peace here, and a joy, and you feel like life is pretty great after all. And it is, a lot of the time, for a lot of the people. There are problems in the world and there are sorrows past and more to come…