We're all Parselmouths: 1st Sunday of Lent

In the old cartoons, when a character came to some moment of temptation, a sort of moral crossroads, remember how they’d always show that? You’d have a little angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, each whispering into the ears. It’s one of the great classic tropes, from Mickey Mouse to Homer Simpson to modern Disney and Pirates of the Caribbean. So common, because it just works. We can relate.

The Bible points to more than a little truth behind that whimsical image; we’ve just heard two conversations with the Devil. Notice they take place in two extreme and opposite settings: Eve in the lush Garden of Paradise, and Jesus in the barren desert wilderness. I’m sure there’s an awesome sermon there somewhere but for now, it at least shows: the devil can bug you anywhere.

Just as they have opposite settings, they also have opposite endings. Eve’s story, of course, is the one that goes wrong. A foolish person might take this story as an explanation of who to blame. A wise person…

Open the Tabernacle: 7th Sunday OT

Fr. Bill Peckman was pastor a few years back of St. Clement Church in Bowling Green, Missouri. He was also chaplain at a summer camp (sounds like a great guy). Well this one particular July weekend he was away at camp, so it was a visiting priest who opened St. Clement for the 9am Sunday Mass. He immediately saw, and even more immediately smelled, that the church had been vandalized. Fr. Bill made the three hour trip back; I’ll let him describe it:

“My Church sits dormant.  It is lifeless.  No sacraments can be celebrated in her right now.  Late Saturday night, she was desecrated.  Her confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider’s chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces.  The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet.  Her books used for Mass destroyed.  Her vestments soiled with wine.  Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated…”

Think what an outrage that is. What a direct and targeted offense, not just to other people, b…

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’…