Showing posts from 2018

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 …

Stay or Go. 21st Sunday OT

Here are links to the letters of Bishop Braxton and Pope Francis, which Bishop Braxton asked to be read at all Masses, printed in bulletins, and posted on websites. We didn't get them in the bulletin but I'll have paper copies available next weekend.

In this fourth and final consecutive passage from the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, we get to see the fallout from this teaching of Jesus. He’s been shocking and even disturbing them. You tell me, how would you react to a man who was telling you you’d live forever if you drank his blood? But the more they press Him, the more he just doubles down: Yes, I’m really saying that. You have to eat my Body and drink my Blood.

Many Christians react the same way today, and again, it’s no wonder. Surely Jesus means something symbolic or poetic here. But there’s a very good reason that belief can’t work. And it’s what we’re going to focus on this week. The first focus was the Eucharist as receiving Jesus, and the second was the Eucharist…

Bread of Life, Body of Christ: 20th Sunday OT

It's the third of four consecutive Sundays that we hear from John 6, from what’s called the Bread of Life discourse. It offers a chance to look at the Eucharist from a few different perspectives. So two weeks ago, the focus on receiving Jesus. Last week, the focus on offering Jesus. This week we'll take a more personal angle.

My summer Mass schedule has just changed a lot with the end of the Sunday night camp Masses, shuttling between Gallatin County and Camp Ondessonk. It’s a big shift to make in the space of an hour’s drive. I love them both, but they’re really different! The most obvious difference at Camp is that we’re outside, under the overhanging Grotto, looking out over Lake St. Isaac and up at God’s universe and the swallows flying around the bluff. It can also be swelteringly hot in vestments, but the spirit and energy of those liturgies is amazing. My preaching there is very different as well. The sermons here wouldn’t work there, and the sermons there definitely wou…

On the Pennsylvania abuse report: a letter from a pastor

The following is being distributed in our bulletin this weekend. It reflects my weak attempt to offer something at least better than silence. It had to be composed hastily and it certainly doesn't feel adequate, but I don't think anything would. I think it's important for parents to know that the number of abuse cases since 2002 seems very few. I almost hate to say that, out of fear that it sounds like minimizing or downplaying what should never be downplayed. But parents need to know the current situation as well as the past. What we've done since 2002 seems to have had a huge impact. In whatever remains to be done, I am anxious to work with anyone who has ideas.

Dear Friends in Christ,

“Grand jurors are just regular people who are randomly selected for service. We don’t get paid much, the hours are bad, and the work can be heartbreaking. What makes it worthwhile is knowing we can do some kind of justice. We spent 24 months dredging up the most depraved behavior, only…

Given Up: 19th Sunday OT

Sometimes, standing in the back of the church aisle, about to give the go-ahead for the processional hymn, I’ll ask the servers: “Ready to go save the world?” That's putting it in a kind of lighthearted way, but it’s absolutely not a joke. I’m reminding them, and even more reminding myself, of exactly what it is we are about to do. Because it’s a simple truth that the Mass saves the world.

“Wait!,” someone shouts, “The Cross of Jesus Christ saves the world!” That’s absolutely right, but what do you think the Mass is? It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, extended through time and space. Think of Good Friday as a point on the timeline of history. What Jesus did that day on Calvary offers salvation to every human being who ever lived before Him, and every human being who will ever live after Him. It’s like that Cross comes down from Heaven and plants itself right there in 33 A.D. outside Jerusalem, and ripples out through all time and space. Those ripples are the Holy Sa…

Transfigured - a coauthored article for CCLI

Guest blogging is getting to be a fun side hustle! This one's a collaboration with Forest Hempen of the Couple-to-Couple League International.

St. Jean Vianney & NFP: guest blog for CCLI

I've been doing a little moonlighting over at Couple-to-Couple League International:

The brief was to tie the feast of the patron Saint of parish priests, St. Jean (John) Vianney, into a short article on Natural Family Planning... kind of the priest's point of view I guess.

Here for Him: 18th Sunday OT

This is the second of five weeks of readings from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Last week was the set-up, the story of the feeding of five thousand from a few loaves and fishes. It’s a great miracle; like I said, one of my favorites! But that miracle was only a foretaste, only a shadow of what is coming next.

Because what’s coming next, as the sixth chapter of John continues, is that Jesus begins teaching about the Bread of Life.

Since that miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus and the Apostles have travelled back to Capernaum, but the people follow them there. You may have noticed this is kind of a pattern. Why? This great crowd that is following Jesus around everywhere, what are they seeking? That's where He begins the conversation today. He challenges their reasons for following Him around. What are they looking for?

We could ask the same question of ourselves, right here, right now. We’ve got a crowd here, come to gather around Jesus. A full church, a beautiful sight! …

All we've got: 17th Sunday OT

This miracle gives us a glimpse of what can happen when we stop telling Jesus what we need and start giving Him what we have. Like us, the Apostles’ starting point is what they don’t have, what they’re missing, our own true and obvious inadequacy. Look at all these hungry people! There’s no way we can manage this. Sorry, Jesus, but this seems pretty hopeless. Nothing we can do. We don’t have enough.

What do you have?

Not enough! That’s what we have. Not even close. Not enough to make a dent, to even make a little difference. The gap between what we need and what we have, it’s almost funny if it weren’t such a desperate situation.

What do you HAVE?

Please listen to me, I’m telling you we need more. We have practically nothing.

What do you have?

We have parishes closing all over the diocese. We have only a minority of the people baptized in this parish who practice their faith. Nationally we have six people leaving the Church for every one who joins. We have ten priests under the age of 50…

Restoration: 16th Sunday OT 2018

Last week Jesus sent out his twelve Apostles on mission, and in today’s Gospel they’ve just come back. They report to Jesus “everything they had done and taught.” I saw one comment that this shows a very human failing: focusing on ourselves and what we do, instead of on God and what He’s doing. So at the end of something, we’re likely to think of it as ours, as something we did, our work, our achievement. When really it is God from whom anything truly good comes, and it’s grace that gives any success to what we do. Surely this isn’t a condemnation of the Apostles… but as they grow spiritually, they will have less to say about their work and more to say about what God has done.

Human self-centeredness notwithstanding, the Gospel is catching fire, and people are starting to come. The Apostles had gone out to spread the word among the towns, and now people from all over are coming to see Jesus. You can imagine a few people coming the first day, then more… then getting to be a crowd, and …

Ite Missa Est: 15th Sunday OT 2018

Three simple questions for today: What’s your mission? What do you take? What do you leave behind?

What if I pointed at you right now and asked you to stand up and tell everyone what your mission from Jesus Christ in the world is? Would you have an answer? I think you should. Maybe you could say something right away. It might not be polished and eloquent but you could stand up and say right away ‘this is the mission Jesus has given me in the world.’ Or maybe you’ve got a vague kind of idea but wouldn’t know how to put it into words. I’d encourage you to give that some thought… figure out those words. Clear is better than vague with something as important as this. On the other hand, maybe that question would really throw you for a loop. My mission from Jesus Christ? Ummm… are you sure you’re asking the right person?

But even if you’ve never thought about it that way, I’m sure you’ll agree that God didn’t make anybody here with no purpose, no reason, no mission. And it’s nobody’s missio…

Six Words You'll Need Someday: 14th Sunday OT 2018

I want you to remember this verse from 2 Corinthians and tattoo it on your brain, because someday you’re going to need it, and I hope it’ll come back to you when you do. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God tells St. Paul: “My grace is enough for you.”

It’s a verse that’s popular in music, printed in greeting cards, and embroidered on pillows, because it sounds so nice and reassuring and comfortable… and good, great! It’s always a good time to remember that His grace is enough.

But I said this verse will come back to you someday when you need it. Maybe it’s today, maybe it’ll be a long time from now. But I can tell you some things about that day. The day you need this verse you won’t be swinging in a hammock between two coconut trees sipping a Mai Tai. The day you need this verse you won’t be celebrating a big win that’s got everybody telling you how great you are. That day you probably won’t be surrounded by supportive friends who make you feel loved and wanted.

No, I don’t guess that anyone w…

Is this darkness in you too? (13th Sun OT 2018)

I try not to overdo movie quotes, really I do, but this is from The Thin Red Line, spoken by a soldier in war.
(I first heard the quote in this astonishing music and you should seriously skip my homily and spend all day listening to Explosions in the Sky)
“This great evil--where's it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, aid the grass to grow and the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you too? Have you passed through this night?”
I thought of the soldier’s question because it's answered to some degree in all of these readings. The Book of Wisdom says it bluntly: “Death was not God’s doing.” So a clever person might jump on that and ask “Well if God didn’t make it how did it get here? I thought He made everything. And why doesn’t he stop it? I thought He was all-powerful.”

He Had One Job: Nativity of John the Baptist

Today we celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist. It’s always June 24. This year it happens to hit Saturday and Sunday, and John is so crucial a figure in our Faith that it’s one of the few Saint’s feasts that preempts the regular Sunday Mass.

John is shocking and astonishing in a lot of ways, but ultimately he’s not complicated. He does one thing. He points to Jesus.

Everything else about him is just backing up that one thing. His shocking lifestyle and appearance, his attention-getting gestures, his powerful words of repentance and hope, even his geographic location just across the Jordan, outside the Promised Land, it’s all just backing up the defining moment when he points into that Promised Land and says “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Sic Parvis Magna: 11th Sunday OT

I love that this Gospel reading comes right in the middle of our growing season. ““This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day, and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”

Four Basic Relationships: 10th Sunday OT

Bryant Myers writes about four basic relationships that we have, and his way of describing them has found a lot of traction among fellow Christians. He talks about our relationship with God, with ourselves, with other people, and with the world. It’s not a totally original idea so much as a way of describing these relationships that seems really helpful and illuminating.

As with all good theology, it starts by considering God himself, who is essentially relational, a community of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Remember Trinity Sunday two weeks ago?

And we are made in His image and likeness, which means that relationships are not something sort of added on to us, but are essential to our identity. I’ve heard it put this way: you don’t have a relationship with God, you are a relationship with God. To be with God forever is your deepest purpose; it’s what you are for.

Eyes, Heart, Commitment, Joy: Corpus Christi

Four very brief thoughts about Eucharistic eyes, and Eucharistic hearts, and Eucharistic commitment, and about Eucharistic joy:

Eucharistic eyes are trained to see holiness where it isn’t expected. They are accustomed to encountering the presence of God in the unimpressive, unimposing, ordinary things. Eucharistic eyes know not to look for glory according to what is most pompous or dazzling, but in what is humble and unassuming. They discern the presence and activity of a God Who does not assert himself with force and compulsion, but Who chooses to meet us in the most humble and gentle way. Eyes that have learned to recognize the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in a little round host have learned to recognize Him where He wants to meet us elsewhere out in the world: in the people He’s given us to love and serve. In the people who are easy to overlook. In the moments that are utterly ordinary. In the tasks that fail to impress.

Greatest Thing Ever: Holy Trinity Sunday


That sounds like something you’d hear from an excited little kid, doesn’t it? I’d easily believe that was a direct quote from one of my nieces.

But… it’s actually quite the opposite. These are the words of a dying old man. Moses speaks them in the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is his last testament and teaching before he dies on very threshold of the Promised Land, toward which he’s led Israel these forty years, and into which he now knows he will never set foot. And Moses says: just think how amazing God’s self-disclosure is. Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?

It’s a rhetorical question. The answer, obviously, is: it’s bonkers. It’s unheard of. It’s amazing and unprecedented.

Fail Better Tomorrow: 6th Sunday Easter

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

On one hand, that sounds so simple, so reassuringly simple. It’s simple enough to have the ring of truth. Here’s a religion that boils down to one great simple thing, and it’s a thing that our hearts immediately recognize as what they want… what they really want, what they’ve always wanted and always will. Just to love and be loved. Whatever lists of rules and commandments may follow, whatever philosophical principles and rules of life, all of it boils down to this very simple and very beautiful core. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

On the other hand, the more you think about that beautiful, reassuringly simple commandment, the more you realize it is by far the most strict and rigorous and unachievable goal that humanity has ever tried and failed to live out. No list of rules and commandments could ever be as demanding as this. What if Jesus had said He demanded that all of His disciples climb Mt. Everest? Well, maybe I’m deluded but I t…

Reconciling Paul: 5th Sunday Easter

You remember the great world-changing story of the conversion of St. Paul. On the road to Damascus, he saw a light and heard the Lord Jesus call him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He did one of the most impressive and difficult things a person can do: he admitted he was wrong. Not excusably or understandably wrong, not just a little off track, but wrong in a profound and terrible way.  But he encountered the Lord of mercy and knew that the strength of Jesus would shine all the brighter in the weakness of Paul. Best of all, he knew that the Lord’s death and Resurrection had won for him mercy and redemption.

So Paul is now a converted Christian, with a relationship with Jesus Christ and a calling in the Church. But here at the end of Acts 9, we run into the proverbial rest of the story. What about Paul’s relationships with the Church? These will include people he has personally hurt, people who have lived in fear of him and others like him, people who have had their families di…

Things you can't not know: 3rd Sunday Easter

It’s real. That’s certainly one of the lessons of this Gospel story. Jesus really rose from the dead. It would be easy enough, and a lot more comfortable, really, if we sort of made a spiritual symbol out of it. And that could easily happen. It’s common enough to “see” someone you’ve lost, especially after a sudden and tragic death, especially in those first days after the loss. You keep glimpsing them in the crowd. They’re there in the corner of your vision, and you whip around to look before remembering it’s impossible. You ‘see them everywhere.’

Scars: 2nd Sunday Easter 2018

The week I moved into Illinois State University as a nervous and excited seventeen-year-old freshman, our RA (kind of an upper-classman floor leader) started an icebreaker for the guys living on the seventh floor of Atkin Hall. He called it “scar wars.” We went around the circle and when it was your turn you had to show a scar and tell its story. He was a mountain bike racer so he won - no wonder he liked the game. Some of us had a bunch of big scars with big stories, some had none really worth mentioning. I suppose I was in between somewhere.
The guys with big scars - would you expect that they felt embarrassed and ashamed? Like “wow, I really should’ve been more careful so I wouldn’t have these unsightly blemishes on my skin.” On the other hand, were the scar-less young men boasting of their unblemished exterior, and proud to have successfully avoided those injuries? 
Of course not! Exactly the opposite. Those with the biggest scars were most eager to show them. Those who had no sc…