Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gloria in Excelsis: Feast of the Holy Family

Through the holy days beginning with Christmas I’m doing a bit of a series on the four original
Christmas carols from the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. At Christmas Masses I preached on the Canticle of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father who has given us an incredible song that has become the centerpiece of the Church’s morning prayer since the first centuries. The Solemnity of Mary will match the Canticle of Mary, and the Canticle of Simeon is a nice fit for Epiphany.

The other original Christmas carol was sung by angels around Bethlehem. Surely this was a cosmic event, with every spiritual being who may happen to populate the universe singing out among the stars! But that’s just speculation, because Luke only identifies one audience: the shepherds around Bethlehem.

The other three original Christmas carols are prayed daily in the Liturgy of the Hours, but this song of the angels is prayed at Mass on most solemnities and feasts. We call it the ‘Gloria’ and it amplifies and elaborates on the simple song Luke relates: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Compared to the three other texts, this is simple enough; two short phrases. The angels start the same place Zechariah did, the same place Mary will, with praise of God. The first reaction the Incarnation is praise, of course! Praise is the heart of worship, the acknowledgment that God is amazing. 

Why does that matter? Why praise God? Is He insecure? Does He get down on himself and need to be encouraged? Will He be nicer to us if we butter Him up?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Benedictus: Christmas 2013

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? Right now I’d say O Little Town of Bethlehem… not my favorite melody, but I just noticed this year that the text is fantastic. Have a look at all the verses sometime. If this sermon gets boring just pick up a hymnal, it’s in there… that’ll be a good sermon for you. Sometime I'll tell you about the missing verse.

On the less-explicitly-religious side I’m a big fan of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, with it’s combination of melancholy and hope. There’s so much happiness to be found even in our “muddling through somehow.”


But my very favorite Christmas carols are the very first Christmas carols. There were four of them, the originals, that very first Christmas. They weren’t piped into shopping centers and elevators; they were sung in quiet rooms by winter fires, in the Temple, under the stars, and in one case actually out amongst the stars. You can find them in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Three of them are known by their authors: The Canticle of Zechariah, The Canticle of Mary, The Canticle of Simeon. Priests and religious and those faithful who pray the Liturgy of the Hours pray these three texts every single day! The one sung by angels we call simply call “Gloria,” and you hear it at Mass through most of the year.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Wish Right Now: 4th Sunday Advent

Once time I briefly came into possession of one of those funny-shaped lamps that genies tend to inhabit. I don’t know much about genies except that they come from pre-Islamic Arabian legend, and for reasons that escape me they sometimes sit inside these lamps for ages until somebody comes along and rubs the lamp. And then they pop out and grant a wish, or maybe three wishes, or maybe if you’re in a 1960’s sitcom it’s a pretty girl genie who wants to get married and then you get lots of wishes.

Anyway I came across this lamp, and you can go right ahead and judge me if you want, but I gave that thing a good rub.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joy Is Not Far Away: 3rd Sunday of Advent



“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” That’s how Pope Francis begins his most significant publication to date. There are lots of reasons that so many people find so much to love about Pope Francis. I’ve noticed a lot of the reasons are wrong-headed, like when Time Magazine praised him for disregarding Church dogma. That's so misguided it's almost cute; to their credit they did correct it. But one of the many right and true reasons for our Holy Father’s charm is that he really does seem to be someone who is filled with joy, filled with the joy of the Gospel.

From this first sentence of Evangelium Gaudii, we know that he wouldn’t consider this unique. The joy of the Gospel comes from encountering Jesus, and it comes to everyone who encounters Jesus. We could flip this into a corollary statement: that if someone’s life isn’t filled with the joy of the Gospel, that person simply hasn’t encountered Jesus Christ. He or she may have read lots of Scripture, may know a lot about church teachings, may have gone to years and years of Catholic school, may have a doctorate in theology… but if the joy of the Gospel isn’t to be found filling this person’s life, he or she hasn’t really encountered Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2013

At Long Last, Something New: The Immaculate Conception

Probably everybody’s noticed that “NEW” is one of the biggest catchwords in advertising. Sometimes you can’t quite tell what’s actually new about it. “Looks the same… what’s new?” “See, the sticker! We put a sticker on it that says ‘NEW.’ That wasn’t there before!”

Quoheleth, writing the Book of Ecclesiastes, disagrees. He sighs that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and we’ve been repeating that bleak sentiment ever since. The more novelty you see, the more you start to agree with him. The whole story of the Bible, the whole story of humanity, seem to back this up. Everyone thought it an extraordinarily big deal when we started killing each other with iron instead of bronze, but in hindsight, what changed except the names of the tyrants? Now we think we’re so different because we kill with drone strikes. But really, so what? We have more sophisticated forms of slavery. We have more technological forms of despair. But humans are humans.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

No Humbugs Please: 1st Sunday of Advent

I spent five years in seminary in the Chicago area. I hope you’ll believe that I mean nothing against the city when I say it isn’t for me. No surprise there from a small-town boy from the Shawnee. But…there was one time each year that I adored the city. This time. I’d catch a train down to the Loop and walk up and down the big avenues: Michigan, State, all that. The famous lights on all the trees along Michigan, the crowds packing every block… and every single person in a fantastic mood. Everyone thinking about people they love. This is the one month of the year that I really do find that mile to be “magnificent!” You’ve got a pretty good chance that snowflakes will be falling down on the whole scene, and it’s just… well, it’s totally magical.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Big Enough

There’s a popular Thanksgiving exercise where you sort of mentally list all the things you’re thankful for. Some people have made this a public exercise on Facebook. Some people do it as a sort of countdown, focusing on one thing each day leading up to Thanksgiving. We even have a saying about “counting your blessings.” It’s a good thing to be grateful, not just in a vague overall way, but specifically, counting, listing things that are blessings in our lives. And of course no one’s ever finished the list. None of us, once we started, could ever finish listing every blessing in our lives. We can say “count your blessings,” and it’s a good project, but it’s also one that can’t be done. It would be easier, literally, to count the hairs on your head.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kennedy, Lewis, and Kingship: The Feast of Christ the King

The Church’s liturgical year ends this week, and a new one begins with the First Sunday of Advent. This last Sunday of the liturgical year is the Feast of Christ the King.

This is also a notable week in the secular order. Two hugely influential men died on November 22nd, 1963, and Friday we observed the 50th anniversaries of those deaths. The more noted was President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but considerable attention was also paid to C.S. Lewis.













Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Moment of Searing Perspective: 33rd Sunday OT

The Prophet Malachi stands as the last in his line: the last of the Prophets to write before the coming of the promised Messiah. In fact our first reading was almost the final words of the Old Testament, down to the last few verses. The Old Testament finishes like the New Testament does: with a reminder of judgment and finality, an apocalyptic message because what we see and know will someday end. You don’t have to live in the ‘end times’ for this to be relevant to you, because we will each experience our own end.

These writings are not meant to terrify or panic, unless your life has gone so far off the path that you need terrifying. For most of us they are meant to refocus us on the eternal things, the things that last. Jesus introduces this apocalyptic subject kind of out of the blue as people are looking up at the magnificent Temple. Maybe they’re tourists, or pilgrims, gawking like tourists and pilgrims do. They’re admiring the Temple when Jesus says out of the blue, “All of it will be totally destroyed; there will come a time when not one stone will be left upon another.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Religious Extremism?: 32nd Sunday OT

You can have too much of a good thing. Everybody knows that. Ice cream is good, but if you eat a pint every day you make the good thing bad. That’s extreme. Likewise, concern for safety is good, but if you let it cripple you and never leave your house, you’ve made it bad by taking it to the extreme. Basic principle, right? Extremism is bad.

Well, we can also talk about religious extremism, and religion as one of those things that are good in proportion but bad when taken overboard. We can talk about how for billions of people in history and today, religion has brought many good things into the world and inspired many noble movements. But when we see people of different religions persecuting each other and spilling rivers of blood over religion, then we can start to talk about too much of a good thing. A good thing taken to an unhealthy extreme. So, religion good; religious extremism bad.

We could talk that way. In fact you can hear this view being said by someone on any given day. But it’s dead wrong.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Seeing the Good: 31st Sunday OT

I have a problem this time of year. There is a war in my soul.

Fall is probably my favorite season. I don’t have to explain why. That first day I can put on a hoodie and sip a hot drink, or wear a flannel shirt at a campfire, or go out of my way to step on crunchy leaves. Those October skies and sunsets. The Indian Summer that isn’t a guarantee in the Shawnee, but is so glorious when it happens. There’s just nothing better.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pride and Humility: 30th Sunday OT

Of all the deadly sins, which is the principal? Of all the virtues, which is the queen? They are Pride and Humility. Pride is the first deadly sin, and the chief among them. Humility is called the queen of the virtues.

What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that being prideful is worse than murder? Does it mean that being humble is better than being a martyr? No. It means that at the root of every murder you’ll find pride. In the heart of every martyr you’ll find the seed of humility.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy 1st Birthday, Parish! 29OT

This is the Baptismal record of the Parish of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks. It is only one and a half pages long, for we are an infant parish in a way. In another way, of course, we are much older than that. But it’s been a good year for Baptisms, a good year for new life, a good year for beginnings.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Being the Grateful One: 28th Sunday OT

I remember when Carlos Beltran played for other teams and did this to us. I had to look up the details, but I remember the moments. The Astros in ’04, the Mets in ’06... the guy’s postseason performance, by the numbers, is just a shade better than Babe Ruth’s. Last night he bore the weight of a baseball-obsessed city on his shoulders like it was the most natural thing in the world, and wore a happy but easy smile in the post-game interview. He responded to the first question by thanking God for letting him be able to play baseball. He responded to the second question by saying he gave the glory to God.

This is not the sort of thing interviewers are after, and it divides fans into those who nod in appreciation and those who find this sort of thing really, really annoying. I tend to react in two ways. The first is theological: do we really believe in a God who takes sides in the pennant race, or who rewards those who believe in Him with a better swing? The second in from an evangelistic point of view - call it the public relations aspect. Does this sort of thing turn people off? Does it make Christians sound like annoying simpletons?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Rich Man and Lazarus: 26th Sunday OT

Point 1.  The rich man’s great sin is that he doesn’t even take notice.  In this parable, the most shocking sin is that he doesn't even notice him... he walks right past, every day, secure in his own little world, not letting the suffering of others disturb his peace.

And this is a major temptation for everyone, whatever your bank account is... to shut out suffering, to make yourself a comfortable little world where everything's fine and other people's pain doesn't really bother you.  That is, not to put too fine a point on it, the road to hell.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Seeing It Through: 23rd Sunday OT

The words of Jesus here in the fourteenth chapter of Luke are a literary kick in the stomach. We’re going to try to make sense of them, to receive this Word with the proper mind of the Church rather than some personal interpretation. To do that, we’re going to start in the rather confusing middle, then look at the end of the passage, then finally see what we can make of the shocking beginning.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why You Should Be Kind To Jerks: 22OT

I remember hanging out with a group of friends, seems like it was probably freshman year of college, people I was just getting to know. It was one of those kind of random groups; it’s not like anyone was invited, just whoever happened to be there. Anyway there was one guy who was just really annoying the heck out of me, and I knew I wasn’t the only one. And I was kind of thinking, “how are we going to get rid of this guy?” But everyone else seemed to just accept it. Naturally and automatically. After a ridiculously long time, it finally dawned on me that they just didn’t want to exclude him, that they cared more about being welcoming than they did about the purity and coolness of the group.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you suddenly realize that there are lots of people in the world who are just much, much better human beings than you?

In hindsight I can look back and understand why I desperately wanted to be part of a group that only accepted cool people. Because that's how you know you're a cool person, right? So my jerkness came from insecurity. Which means that I was very lucky to find a group so accepting. I needed it as much, or probably more than, that other guy.

Can't you see that "Friday" was a call for help?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Raise your weary arms, steady your trembling knees: 21st Sunday OT

I mentioned Vince Lombardi last week, and I’m afraid I’m going to do it again. If he can win back-to-back Superbowls, he can be in back-to-back sermons. In case you don’t know, he was the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, winner of the first two Superbowls, the guy the Superbowl trophy is named for, at or near the top of anybody’s list of greatest coaches of all time in any sport, and a Catholic daily Mass-goer. Early one morning after he’d moved to Washington, a priest answered his doorbell and there was Lombardi, requesting that the 7:30am Mass be changed to 7:00am to fit his schedule better. Anyway, Lombardi once said “I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline.”

"Man who can catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything." - Mr. Miyagi

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Halftime Speech of the New Testament: 20th Sunday OT

Pope Gregory the Great wrote about one of the difficulties in preaching: you’ve got people with very different situations and challenges and you have to address all of them as best you can. Maybe somebody on the left side has become what we call “scrupulous,” obsessing over everything, living in fear that he hasn’t earned God’s mercy. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I thought about doing a slow roll through a stop sign. I didn’t do it but I thought about it and now I’ve lost all hope of salvation.” This person needs a sermon about God’s mercy, about relaxing a little and trusting God to make up for your weakness. If you throw fire and brimstone at this guy, you’re going to aggravate his problem. 

Trouble is, someone across the aisle has the opposite problem. He’s been getting really lax about Christian life. This guy won’t be seen anywhere near a confessional, but if he was, he’d be saying “Bless me Father, for I have... well, ‘sinned’ is such a negative word... but anyway I’m having an affair but I have really good reasons and I’m actually a really fantastically wonderful person.” This guy needs a little fire, a little spiritual kick in the pants. Preach to him about relaxing and trusting God’s mercy, and you’re probably making his problem worse.

So what’s a preacher to do? Even Gregory the Great didn’t really know. Try your best and try to kind of balance things out.
Yeah, that's rough... good luck bro.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Leap of Faith: 19th Sunday OT

Some of the most important words are hardest to define. Do you know what ‘beauty’ means? Sure you do. Okay, then define it. Whatever you say, you’ll probably end by scratching your head and saying, “no, that didn’t quite capture it.” Or take my personal favorite, “love.” Define “love.” You can talk and talk, but at the end you’ll still feel that your definition leaves something out.

“Faith” is one of those words. If I ask you to define it, you might stumble around a little. Go around asking other people to define “faith” and you’ll get lots of different answers. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Better Part. 16th Sunday OT.

I wanted to write a homily about Martha and Mary this week, but I’m afraid I just didn’t have time. Too busy.

Just kidding.  Seriously, though, I mentioned the Gospel text to someone earlier this week, and they said “well that’s what’s going on in the world today.”  Busy busy busy.  Worried and anxious about many things. I’m afraid some people could have that engraved on their tombstone: “worried and anxious about many things.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Atheists Can Be Saved! Breaking News From 33AD! 15th Sunday OT.

Back in May, the Holy Father Pope Francis was giving a sermon. He has daily Mass in a chapel where he lives. They aren’t recorded or broadcast, and he generally doesn’t preach from a prepared text. It’s more informal, much like our weekday Masses here. But it seems people often take notes to quote the Pope’s sermons in the Vatican newspaper or something, and that's how it came to pass that a pretty informal, ordinary sermon from May caught the world’s attention. Maybe you saw the headlines: “Pope declares that atheists can go to Heaven!”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

14th Sunday in OT: Instructions for Evangelists

A good friend from a different Christian background, the kind I like to have midnight religious discussions with, once asked me “Does the Catholic Church care at all about evangelization?” I know where this guy went to college, but I don’t know whether he took any history classes. If he did he should ask for his money back. But he was asking sincerely. He had, apparently, advanced a few decades into life without seeing any proof that Catholics, at least today, care about evangelization.

I know a lot of Catholics who are passionate about sharing the Gospel. Probably most of you care pretty deeply about it. But I also think we can be hesitant or even cowardly about it sometimes. There are lots of reasons for that, and that’s a different sermon. Just one of the reasons, I think, is that we’ve seen evangelization done badly so often that we’re wary of associating ourselves with that sort of thing. Basically, we aren’t always sure how to go about it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

12th Sunday in OT: Who do you say that I am?

Peter has his ups and downs in the Gospel, like all disciples, but this is his defining moment. “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

It’s been pointed out many times that Jesus’ question here is the very center of Christian religion. “Who do you say that I am?” Everything follows from your answer. If you answer that question like Peter, you’re a Christian.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

10th Sunday in OT: Memento Mori


Sometimes I’ve heard it said that everybody prays, and I think that’s probably true. Believer or atheist or agnostic or indifferent, there are moments in life when your soul cries out for help from some higher power. It just does. You don’t think it through, it isn’t a decision you make, it’s almost like a laugh or a scream - something that comes out of you unbidden. Take the world’s staunchest atheist, put him in the right situation, and whether he likes it or not a prayer will arise in his soul. It can be a moment of terror, of desire, or I think also a moment of gratitude. In a moment of great beauty, our soul can’t help but say, “Thank You.” And that only makes sense as a prayer. You can appreciate the laws of physics, but you can’t be grateful to them. You can only be grateful if you acknowledge Someone behind them. So whether they like it or not, I think it’s probably true that everybody prays.

We pray for lots of different kinds of things: safety, healing, guidance, strength, wisdom, etc. In our passages from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Luke, we have two men in a moment of prayer. Elijah and Jesus, with the same prayer, and it is a special one. Because of all the prayers that have ever been uttered, there is none in all the world like the prayer for a child in danger.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Feast of the Holy Trinity


One of the things that fascinates me about the history of science and physics is the way we keep pulling back layers of our universe. There was a time when a rock was just a rock. What’s that rock made of? It’s made of rock. You could smash up the rock, and you’d just have smaller rocks. Then we figured out that rocks are made up of smaller minerals and elements. Modern chemistry was born when we discovered that everything’s made up of a number of elements. It was like peeling back a layer of existence: where we once saw rocks and wood and water and air, now we detected nitrogen and oxygen and carbon and hydrogen. It seemed we’d found the constituent bits of the universe, out of which everything is made.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost 2013


A few months ago I was contacted by a concerned mother. I say ‘concerned’ but a better word might be ‘desperate.’ Her son, we’ll call him Ryan, was enrolled in their parish’s confirmation class but had announced that he didn’t want to be confirmed. It was becoming a big fight in the house. She was concerned not only for him, but for his younger siblings who look up to him. His grandparents were beside themselves.

She asked if I would please talk with him, if he was willing. I said sure, and we met halfway between here and their parish. Ryan is intelligent, articulate, charming, and has no intention of making Catholicism any part of his life after he moves out. I saw evidence that he doesn’t understand Catholicism quite as well as he thinks he does, but neither does he seem show the slightest bit of curiosity about it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Why isn't this the saddest moment in history? -- Ascension 2013


I have this hypothesis that the most transformative part of getting older is the accumulation of goodbyes. They add up, and it changes you. Part of it is learning appreciation and gratitude. You stop taking things for granted when you find out they’re fragile and might go away. It can also make us more focused on eternal things, as our experiences prove so incredibly fulfilling and yet awaken in us a yearning for something this world cannot give. Something beyond all the goodbyes. Some kind of oneness that doesn’t break apart and drift away.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What happens after you die? Many (most?) Catholics get it wrong. 6th Sunday of Easter 2013.


I spoke last week about what you might call keeping an eternal perspective. We can get pretty short-sighted sometimes, and there’s a fun and effective way to help people think that through. I call it the “what next?” game. Say you ask someone about to graduate, “what do you want to do when you’re finished with school? What’s after that?” They may reply “I hope to get a good job” or “I want to travel” or “I’m going to join the circus.” Don’t laugh, one of my college roommates and best friends did it and it’s worked out great for him. I’ve watched him juggle fire while riding a bicycle on a tight-wire. There’s got to be a sermon there somewhere, but I can’t find it right now.

Anyway, there’s some plan or idea about what happens after graduation. We only hope that, at some point, it may include gainful employment... great! What next? And you can see where this is going. Maybe there’s family in there, career, service, you keep asking “what’s after that?” until eventually you get to retirement, and eventually, if you keep asking long enough, “what’s after that?”, eventually you’ll get a hesitant admission that, “well, I suppose after that I will die.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sacramentality, Lavish Worship, and the Transforming Power of Beauty


When John the Revelator looked into Heaven, he saw liturgy.

He saw white-robed priests and worshipers ministering in the sanctuary. He saw candles and incense. He heard voices lifted in hymns of praise. A scroll was unrolled to read God’s Word. And the whole thing climaxed with the appearance on the altar of the Lamb, slain but living still, and the wedding feast celebrating the joining of heaven and earth. If that doesn’t sound familiar, you must never have been to Mass before.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Night Fishing and Breakfast on the Beach: 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2013


John’s Gospel is dense with symbolism and layers of meaning. There are certain things that are always meaningful. Numbers - especially things that happen in threes and sevens. Light - and darkness, time of day, sunrise, noon and sunset. Repetition - the recurrence of seemingly minor details that link things together. Meals - especially as related to the Eucharist. A constant reference to Genesis and Creation - John’s first words, after all are “In the Beginning.” All of this and more is brought into focus in this passage. It’s my favorite chapter in the Bible. I wish I could preach on this passage for the next three weeks, or more.

The Lord has died and has Risen, and has already appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection. But those are exceptional moments. Most of the time he isn’t there, at least not in physical appearance. So what happens next? 

Always one to leap into action, Peter stands up and announces he’s going fishing, and the others follow him. Remember this is not a hobby for Peter, but his trade. Some have said that Peter is being stupid, that he’s missed the point of the Resurrection and is going back to his old life as though nothing had happened. That’s one theory. If you want my opinion, it’s a lousy theory. Another interpretation is that Peter is setting up a symbolic action: Jesus called them to be “fishers of men,” and the act of fishing is a sign of their mission after his Resurrection. That may be. I’ll let the professors argue about this as theologians; I prefer to relate to it as a fisherman. I imagine what Peter had been through, what they’d all been through, and if ever there were a time to spend some hours on the water, this was it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013


It’s not that we didn’t know about God’s mercy until the 20th century, but that’s when the devotion as we know it really took off. It followed what I think must easily be the worst 50 or 60 year period in the history of the world. The warring kings of the ancient world, at their most bloodthirsty, were amateurs by the standards of the last hundred years. Europe, who had thought of herself as the light of reason and civilization in the world, provided the opening act in a barrage of artillery and mustard gas and trench warfare. They didn’t call it “World War I.” One of the things they called it was “the war to end all wars,” partly because it was so awful that it couldn’t possibly be allowed to happen again. But it did happen again, incredibly quickly and incredibly worse. In the same half-century span, half the world fell under the shadow of Communism, which wasn’t any good at bringing prosperity or equality, but which boasts unrivaled supremacy in the production of mass graves. And even in my own childhood, as for most of the last half of the century, it seemed quite possible that the last thing we’d all see was two suns in the sunset, the hot wind and the mushroom cloud.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter 2013


There are tales of people who have been near death, even who’ve been what we may call “clinically dead,” who can relate their experiences. The latest that caught lots of attention was the story told by a 4-year old boy named Colton, the son of a pastor in Nebraska. They put a book out called “Heaven is for real” which I haven’t read, but a lot of people apparently have. The story goes that after a life-threatening operation, Colton talked about having been in Heaven. He spoke of meeting his sister who had died in miscarriage and whom no one had ever told him about. He knew details from meeting his grandfather, dead 30 years, that he couldn’t have known in any explainable way. He also talked about a horse that only Jesus could ride and God’s really, really big chair.

It’s a neat story. These stories are actually pretty common. My Dad is a doctor and once in awhile he would ask a patient if it was okay if our family prayed for them. We prayed for one lady for a long time. I came to feel a special spiritual bond to this woman I’d never met. One day Dad was sitting with Mom on the patio behind the house enjoying the Shawnee Forest. What happened next was something pre-cognitive; Dad sensed a particular presence at some instinctual level. It was so powerful and so immediate that before he’d even thought it through he spoke her name: “Emma?” A few hours later he got the message that she was dead. She’d said goodbye on her way. It was a gift.

Holy Thursday 2013


Holy Thursday is a particularly special day for priests because it’s the day Christ instituted our vocation. When he said “do this in memory of me,” that was the ordained priesthood. This wasn’t a task he gave to the whole community of disciples, but as a calling within the Church. I want you to know that priesthood lived with fidelity and zeal is a life of great joy and great sacrifice. Like any other life, the depth of joy is directly caused by the depth of sacrifice. 

Priests, like everyone, become unhappy and bitter when they haven’t given enough. I’m at a stage in life where my sister and many of my friends are raising young children. I look at the complete self-gift involved in that and I think, “that’s the standard.” To put others ahead of yourself in that absolute way. To allow yourself to be spent, used up, poured out, that’s the calling of every Christian, priest or lay, married or unmarried, every one of us. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Justice or Mercy: Why Guinevere has to die. 5th Sunday Lent, 2013



It’s a trap. It’s a game. But it’s a game of lethal seriousness, as opposing forces close in around Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Of Saltwater, Samaritans, and Satisfaction. 3rd Sunday in Lent, 2013

From Gustav Dore's Illustrations of Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most famous poem - well, maybe next to Kubla Khan - is The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. It’s one of those things where you’ve heard a lot of phrases from it even if you don’t know that’s where they came from. In one part, Coleridge describes an old sailing ship completely becalmed. No wind, no wave, no motion for days. The provisions have given out, and the sailors are slowly dying of thirst. Here are a few verses:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Transfiguration: 2nd Sunday in Lent

Do you live under the tyranny of the Episodes? No?
You're welcome.
When I was five I had a spaceship. I flew it to stars still undetected by any telescope. I battled enemies who threatened all we hold dear, vanquishing them just in time for supper, my parents and sister blissfully unaware of how much danger they’d all been in. Such an important mission required a great deal of stealth and so, to protect it from detection, my spaceship was perfectly disguised as a cardboard refrigerator box. Here’s the thing: at the time, I really wouldn’t have been enjoying myself more if it had been real. I really mean it - a boy with a real spaceship fighting a real extraterrestrial menace would not have had more fun than I did.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Temptations of Christ: 1st Sunday in Lent

There's a certain shock involved in realizing that Satan has taken the words right out of our mouths. These three temptations, these traps he lays before the Messiah - they are not chosen carelessly. He is laying before Jesus our charges, not asking Him to stop being God, but rather demanding that He be the kind of god we want. All the anger and frustration men and women have ever directed at God, all the disappointment and accusation, it’s all summed up in the three temptations laid before Jesus in the desert.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Duc in Altum: 5th Sunday OT


Patrick McManus, who used to write a great back page for Outdoor Life Magazine, once described how fishermen have a language that is all their own, a sort of code. On a pleasant early morning on the water, a fisherman may turn to his buddy and say "well, it sure is peaceful." This is code. It means "we aren't catching any fish."After a few minutes his buddy might reply "you know, I enjoy just being out here." That means, "We aren't catching any fish." Now later on maybe they do catch a fish, and he says: "my, that's a nice looking fish right there." That means, "we caught a small fish."

C.O.U.S.'s? I don't believe they exist.
The fishing hole near home used to be a clay pit for the Kaolin Pottery. It only covers a few acres, but the old-timers swear that the Kaolin pit is over a hundred feet deep. Way down at the bottom, they say the machinery is still there, like ghostly steel leviathans in the dark deep. They also say that among these ghosts lurk C.O.U.S’s. That’s catfish of unusual size, monsters, old and crafty.

Of the great depths, the ghostly machines, and the C.O.U.S.’s, I have seen precisely the same amount of evidence. Which is... well, none.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why I Can't Stand Romeo.


I’ve been on a Shakespeare kick lately. It happens. All these centuries later, there’s just more of humanity and the human experience to be found in those plays than anywhere else I know. It’s one of those things where every one is my favorite. As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Henry V, they’re all my favorite. 

Except for Romeo and Juliet. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Homily: 3rd Sunday OT, Jan 27 2013


It’s hard to imagine the drama behind our first reading. The children of Israel have returned from a long exile. The Babylonians had conquered them utterly, and forcibly relocated them to various parts of the empire. It was about assimilation: a way to preserve the services and productivity of the conquered people, while at the same time destroying their culture and heritage.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Homily: 2nd Sunday OT, 40th ann. of Roe vs. Wade

This is going to sound like a strange question, but can you think of a place on Earth where you could go where you would lose your dignity as a human being? Like a place where, just by being there, you would no longer have any special worth as a human being? 

I told you it was going to be a strange question. But I’m just getting started.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Homily: Baptism of the Lord, Jan 2013

I was reading a book by a favorite Catholic author, Frank Sheed, from the 1960's. Sheed mentioned in passing that he didn’t understand why the Rosary skipped from the Finding of the Lord at the Temple - when he was twelve - to the Agony in the Garden, the day before he died. Sheed felt it might be unfortunate to just skip our Lord’s whole adult life and public ministry. He even wondered, if another set of mysteries were added, what they might be called. Well, we’ve got his answer. Pope John Paul II established the Luminous Mysteries a few years back, and the first of them is the Baptism of the Lord.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homily: Epiphany, January 6, 2013


On the Solemnity of Mary, New Year’s Day, I preached about a suggested project for the year, maybe even what you’d call a resolution. Spiritual life is just like everything else in our lives, we have to work on it. You are never standing still in your relationship with God. You’re moving one way or the other, for better or worse. Well, the resolution or project I suggested for the year was to focus on our experience of the Mass. You come every week, it’s the center of our spiritual lives as Catholics. Vatican II called it the “source and summit” of Christian life. Just being here is a big win for your relationship with God.