Showing posts from 2020

A Wish and a Promise: Christmas 2020

 Merry Christmas! I hope it really is, for you. “Merry” is kind of a single-use word; we basically never say it except in front of the word “Christmas.” What are we wishing each other? It’s not the same as ‘happy’, like the English or Spanish say, or ‘joyful,’ like the French say. ‘Merry’ is more of a mood; it’s that light-hearted, uplifted, all-is-well kind of feeling. It’s maybe shallower than happiness in a way, and much shallower than joy, but it’s so nice when you have it. Maybe this year we need merriment more than usual. That means conquering the gloom. Gloom can be heavy; but for most people nothing has more upward lifting power, against that heaviness, than Christmas. I’ve heard different conversations about people’s favorite Christmas songs, and Christmas movies, and opinions vary but there’s a little common ground. Every reasonable person agrees that The Muppet Christmas Carol is fantastic, and that Little Saint Nick is horrid. And you won’t find many people who don’t like

Our Religion In 19 Words: 30th Sunday OT

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Invited and Pursued: 28th Sunday OT

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A Cliffhanger Parable: 27th Sunday OT

 Did you notice anything about the Gospels of the last three Sundays? In case you didn’t catch it, that makes three consecutive Sundays of Jesus telling parables about vineyards. Two weeks ago it was the owner who hired people throughout the day, and paid the latecomers the full wage just like the early risers. Last week it was the two sons he asked to work in his vineyard, the first of whom said “no” but changed his mind and went, and the second who said “yes” but didn’t follow through. And now this, making it a trilogy of vineyard parables, all from Matthew 20 and 21. It’s a sort of climax of the three, this bracing story about the tenants of the vineyard who are not just wicked, but bizarrely, inexplicably so. This, the parable makes clear, is the story of the endlessly broken Covenant by God’s people. In the next chapter of Matthew Jesus will say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill prophets and stone those who are sent to you!” Finally, the owner of the vineyard sends his son, wit

Today: 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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It's Mercy or It's Hell. 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

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The Army at the Gates: 21st Sunday OT

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Love that Cares: 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

The Bible says a lot about how much God hates sin. I don’t think you can miss it. I think most every Catholic knows that God really hates sin. I’m not so sure that everyone understands why. I think sometimes people imagine God hating sin because He’s so incredibly angry at the thought of someone breaking His rules. Like “ I’m in charge and what I say goes and how dare you defy Me ?” But I don’t think that’s the best way to understand God’s hatred of sin. For a better understanding - and this is a bracing example, but that's why I chose it - imagine the father of a young man who has become addicted to heroin. He raised this boy with big dreams, and now he’s watching them all fade to black. He would’ve died to protect this child, but he can’t keep him from knocking on the dealer’s door. He worked and worried to provide for this boy, to raise him healthy and strong, and now he’s watching that healthy body wither, ravaged and sickly. How much does that father loathe heroin? What white-

Sunday, July 26th Homily

(click "read more" to watch video) Since the homilies these days are often recorded and broadcast, I thought I'd try linking them to this blog. I'm sorry I haven't been posting for a few months as technological efforts have been focused elsewhere. Let me know if you find this valuable, please; if so I'll keep doing it. Sunday, July 26th: What do you want above everything else?

5th Sunday of Lent, 3-29-20


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

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 peopl

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 hav

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 i

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 especiall

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