Offered: Feast of the Holy Family 2018

One day years ago in Lincoln, Nebraska, a man came into the university Newman Center, definitely not a student but had found his way there somehow. There wasn’t anyone else around and we began to talk. I thought I maybe smelled some alcohol but he seemed pretty with it and he urgently asked me if I would please pray with him.

Now this is the sort of thing a campus missionary lives for, right? So it was with a full and grateful heart that I followed him into the chapel, all the way up the aisle, right to the threshold of the altar and tabernacle, where he knelt on the stone steps. I knelt next to him as he began praying aloud. Immediately he was sobbing… “Jesus… Jesus… help me… help my family…” I don’t remember all his words but they were a real cry from the heart, from someone who seemed to have been lost and was being found right next to me kneeling on those steps.

I was just silently praying along, and also thanking God for the incredible grace, the privilege to share a moment like …

Distance. Christmas 2018

Born in 1979, I grew up with the image of Planet Earth from space. I was grown up before it was pointed out to me that that image is something pretty new. Of all the humans who’ve lived and died, no one ever saw an image of the planet Earth until fifty years ago — exactly fifty years ago, December 24th, 1968.

Of course everybody’s seen parts of it. You can climb a mountain to see more of it. You can follow the International Space Station on Instagram and see big expanses of it from orbit... but it’s still a piece you’re seeing. To really see the Earth, you have to go a whole lot farther away. There’s something a little funny about it, really. Apollo 8 went to get a closer look at the moon, but maybe its greatest contribution was to give us a farther look at the Earth.

And that’s what many people talk about when they talk about the image sent home from Apollo 8 fifty years ago tonight. It awakened a new sense of smallness, of oneness. Like: that’s us, that’s all of us. That’s the whole…

Trust all the way through: 4th Sunday Advent

Elizabeth says to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women!" And blessed she is. And why? She was born without sin, but it's not like she can take any credit for that.  She gave birth to a child, and that’s totally incredible, but it does happen every day. Why is Mary so highly praised? Elizabeth tells her. "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

Mary trusted God; she believed God's word with a trust so deep, so broad, so pure... it went right through her. Mary was trust all the way through — that’s another way of saying ‘full of grace,’ isn’t it? She must have had some premonition that God was asking much of her. Her life was turned completely upside down that day, and it stayed that way. She must have had an idea how hard it would be. Never make the Mother of Jesus out to be a syrupy plastic-statue cliche. Her life was too hard for that. But from the start and until the end, she trusted God. "Be it done u…

Joy. 3rd Sunday of Advent

Let’s set things up by noticing two things in these readings that are, if not totally off the wall, at least a little attention-getting. The first is the imperative to rejoice in Zephaniah’s first reading and Paul’s second reading. They both contain this instruction, this command, to rejoice. What’s attention-getting about that is that they’re considering joy to be somehow a choice you can make. We might tend to think to be joyful is to feel a certain way, but if that’s what they meant they couldn’t command it. You can’t tell somebody to start having an emotion; they don’t work like that. You can’t tell somebody “I command you to feel happy!” So whatever they mean by rejoicing, it’s something you can make a decision to do.

The second attention-getting thing is related and it’s in Luke’s Gospel about John the Baptist. Luke says he’s proclaiming good news. But all John’s words that come before that are about judgment and repentance, and you might not associate repentance with joy.

When …

Immaculate Conception 2018

There’s no straightforward, simple argument I can give to those who find this doctrine either improbable or simply uninteresting.  I don’t know of one big flashing sign that points to our Lady being conceived without sin.  Rather, it’s the presence of a thousand small signs that all point the same direction.  The more you study the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, the more you find over and over that it’s fitting, it’s beautiful, it’s just... really cool that God did it this way.  So in the space of a single sermon, perhaps I could talk about Mary as the new Eve, and why her immaculate conception fits that perfectly.  Or instead I could speak for several minutes about Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, and why her immaculate conception fits that so beautifully.  Or Mary as the woman of Revelation 11, or Mary as the mother of the Church, or Mary as a type and symbol of the Church, they’re all true and they’re all beautiful.  Like so many of the mysteries of our faith, the Immaculate Co…

The Lord Alone. 31st Sunday OT

The first thing that struck me about this story, this particular week, is how Jewish it is. It’s such a Jewish scene from top to bottom. Approaching Jesus is a scribe, someone whose life is dedicated to studying the Torah and other Hebrew Scriptures. And he approaches Jesus as a Rabbi, as a teacher and interpreter of the Law of Moses. Jesus, in turn, answers in a most Rabbinic way, by directly quoting the Torah word for word. Hearing our Lord in this very Jewish role reciting Deuteronomy 6:4-6, I can’t help but think of the worst anti-Semitic violence in the history of our nation, last Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Please join me through this Mass in prayer for God’s blessing and protection on our elder brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham. Our kinship couldn’t be clearer as Jesus quotes Moses to answer this very fundamental question:  “What’s the first of all the commandments?”

I think there’s a holy impulse behind this question, a beautiful insight. It comes from a…

Holiness Isn't Optional: 22nd Sunday OT


The loud and clear and incredibly beautiful reaction I keep seeing from faithful Catholics who are so hurt and appalled by clerical scandals boils down to one thing: “We’ve got to be holy. I’ve got to be holy.” Who would have thought that rage and disgust could be such a great motivator to holiness? But I feel it too and, I hope, so do you. We’re needed, now more than ever. And it does have a certain logic to it. We feel down to our core that the Church is supposed to be holy. We’re not seeing the holiness we know should be there. So what’s the response?

Maybe there’s sometimes a temptation to leave the holiness to others, to feel like we can be sort of average — we wouldn’t use the words lukewarm or mediocre, but that’s what …