Sunday, October 30, 2016


It’s almost the end of the presidential campaign. Lots of folks are angry. Many hate the opposition and their supporters. How sad! How tragic! How do we bridge this growing divide? Let’s see if we might learn something from Jesus.  

In today's gospel, Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. The latter wanted to know him.  Jesus wanted to love him.

 Let's engage in a bit of fantasy to help us understand Jesus' actions. The setting is late that same evening after Jesus had gone to dinner at the house of Zacchaeus. Jesus' public relations director is waiting for him, and he says something like this:

Now Jesus, I've had it up to here. We've got a mess out there, and I don't know if I can put the right spin on this one. Everyone is livid - rich people, poor people, middle-class people ...they're all mad.

 I've told you a hundred times how to work the crowd when you come to a town. You kiss the babies. You shake hands with the local politicians. You smile at the religious leaders. You cure a couple of sick people. You go to some poor person's home and try to get your picture taken there.

I laid all this out for you before you got here to Jericho. I even had a list of names for you. I get all these people to turn out and what do you do? You pick out that little shyster up a tree! Of all the doggone people to single out...

Everybody's ticked off. It's going to take some doing to get you out of this one. We're still not out of that ruckus you caused when you went to the fancy banquet and let that floozy dry your feet with her hair. You lost a lot of points for that one...a lot of points!

And while I'm at it, it's getting harder and harder to maintain your image because of that group of losers you've got for disciples. They're always squabbling among themselves; they don't make you look like the smartest person on earth.

I don't know what to do. I don't understand. For the life of me, I don't understand.

What would Jesus say? I think he'd say, I liked Zacchaeus. Did you see how he went out on a limb for me?

That's what he'd say. He would. He'd say the same about the sinful woman at the banquet. He'd say the same about the Samaritan woman at the well.

It wasn't as though Jesus would be apologetic and say something like, Well, we have to try to be kind to everyone. No. He liked Zacchaeus. He loved him. He truly loves each of us. Loves us.

Imagine if Jesus were to come to town and visit one home...your home...perhaps like a surprise visit by a presidential candidate, knocking on your door. But Jesus wouldn't do that for show, or to get votes. He'd do it because he loves you.

And if anyone complained about his choice, he'd defend you. He'd say, She's my sister...he's my brother. I love them.

The love of Jesus for us is not a generic love. It's personal, individualWe're the ones he came for. Each of us. All of us. That's why God took on our campaign for our love.

When we catch that message and that love, really catch it, then everything is different. We feel different about ourselves. We feel different about one another...even those who don't agree with us.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Will this finally be the year the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, last won in 1908, or the year of the Cleveland Indians, who last won it in 1948?
 A lifetime ago in 1968, when I still lived in Detroit, my Tigers won the pennant and then the World Series. At the end of the regular season, the Tigers had clinched the pennant and they were playing their last home game against their nemesis, the New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle was at the plate in the late innings, and the Tigers were leading 5 to 1.
Mantle had announced that he was retiring from baseball, and everyone knew that this was his last at-bat in Tiger stadium. Denny McClain was pitching.
When Mickey stepped into the batter’s box he smiled at McClain and motioned with his bat to a spot right down the middle of the plate, belt high. He was kidding, saying, Serve up a pitch right there for me to hit.
The first pitch was right down the middle, belt high, and Mickey was so surprised he didn’t even swing at it. McClain got ready for the next pitch, and he nodded his head saying, I’m going to do it – put it right there where you want it. He did, and Mickey Mantle hit it into the right field bleachers. The crowd went wild and gave Mantle a standing ovation as he trotted around the bases. As he rounded second he turned toward McClain and tipped his hat, saying Thank you. It was one of those great moments in sports.
Now if Mickey Mantle had bragged about this – saying how he hit a home run off Denny McClain when he was at the peak of his pitching career – it would have been the wrong thing to do. The pitch was served up to him right down the middle. In a sense it was an unearned run. But Mickey didn’t brag about it. He thanked Denny as he rounded second base.
In today's gospel, the Pharisee brags about earning God’s love by fasting, tithing, and leading a good life. He didn’t realize that God's grace and love were unearned, served up to him by God right down the middle.
The tax collector on the other hand knew he didn’t earn anything on his own. He simply turned to God and asked for mercy. He knew that the love God had for him was unearned.
We have to open ourselves to God’s grace and respond to it. When Mickey Mantle got that first pitch he didn’t swing at it. But he did on the second one. Goodness doesn’t happen automatically. We have to do something. But the initial source of any good thing we do is really God. We receive God’s unearned love, God’s unearned grace, and God serves it up to us right down the middle.
It can help to understand this and come to know God better if we think about the unearned love we have receive from other people, our parents, grandparents, and so many others.
When we realize that God's love and our talents are unearned, we act differently; we start giving unearned love to others – not just to our children or grandchildren, but to people who aren’t easy to love and who certainly don’t "earn" our love.

Instead of trying to put them down – trying to "strike them out" – we serve up unearned love...right down the middle.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Pray always. Those are the words not of a priest, a loving parent, or a wise sage, but of Jesus himself.

What is prayer? We often think of prayer as talking to God. And it is. Though, more importantly, it is also listening to what God has to say to us.

What is the best prayer? It is said that St. Michael asked, God, who is your favorite creature. God responds, Michael, you know I love all my creatures equally. But the angel persisted; he wanted to hear his name. After much persistence, God answered him, Well, if you must know, it’s Farmer Brown.

Michael flies down to Earth to check out Farmer Brown. He finds nothing unusual, no great miracles, so he returns to heaven and says to God, You were pulling my leg, weren’t you. But God says, No, didn’t you notice how he begins his day with me in mind, giving me thanks, and ends it the same way.

The best prayer: saying Thank You to God.

And what is most important in prayer? AWARENESS!

We know the perfect prayer. It is the Lord’s Prayer taught to us by Our Lord himself. But even more important than these precious words is knowing that we are in the presence of God.

There is another story by Leo Tolstoy: A bishop is traveling on the Baltic Sea and spots an island in the distance he does not recognize. He asks the captain if he knows it. The captain replies, Bishop, that is a small island where it is said three holy hermits live.

Three holy hermits in my diocese? I need to meet them. They lower a boat and row him ashore, where the three run to greet him. He asks, Are you the three holy hermits I’m told about? They respond, Oh no, we’re just three simple, old men.

The bishop asks if they believe in God and pray. And they say yes. So he asks how they pray. They say, O Holy Trinity, you are three, we are three, have mercy on us. The bishop says, That’s all? And he begins to teach them the Our Father. Time and again they forget a word or two. But when they finally have it memorized, the bishop, feeling good about himself, returns to his ship.

Some time later as they are sailing away, they see a white cloud over the sea approaching fast. When it nears, they see that it is the three old men running over the waves. As they get close, they yell out, O Bishop, we forgot the words. Teach us again. Humbled, he responds, Go back and pray as you were doing. God is with you.

GOD IS WITH US! When we become aware, no words are necessary.

Lastly, what is the best reason to pray? Of course, we have many needs, and many reasons to give thanks. But perhaps the best reason of all is to be more fully aware of our gifts and blessings and to use them to give glory to God.

In the movie, Chariots of Fire, the protagonist, a missionary in China explains to his sister why he has left the mission field temporarily, seeking to make the British Olympic Team in 1924, Because God made me fast. I run to bring pleasure to God. It doesn't take much imagination to see God cheering him on.

Prayer is a time to reflect upon: What gifts has God given me? How am I using them to give pleasure to God? Is God cheering me on?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


What is the greatest commandment? Or perhaps another way to ask the same question is, What will lead to my greatest joy?

We know Jesus’ response, Love God…love neighbor.

Karl Rahner, the preeminent Catholic Theologian of the 20th century said that the two are indivisible. To love neighbor is to love God. In essence the ultimate test to obtain the greatest joy is love of neighbor.

I just returned from a mission to Mexico with Cross Catholic Outreach, who seeks to serve the poorest at home and in some 50 countries, and for whom I preach from time-to-time. We visited several mission sites ministering principally to children and youth in the inner city of Mexico City, or in smaller communities and country-side, a la Boys' Town, in Colón and Chiapas.

In each case what stood out was alegría - the joy of the children and youth, and in those who serve them. Indeed one ministry site boldly announced on its walls, NADA SIN ALEGRIA! Nothing without joy!

While the respective programs had their unique features, all sought to bring joy into otherwise bleak lives and future, by means of love and affirmation, a strong study curriculum, and enhancement of self-discovery, self-esteem and core values. Another essential element in all programs is faith formation.

Also, parental involvement is required in all of the above aspects, and, based on testimony we heard from moms, greatly appreciated by them, for it also helped to improve their lives.

Most of these children come from single-parent families, at best, and from severe poverty and much domestic abuse. Shockingly, some have experienced being sold for sex-trafficking. Not only are the children embraced with the love and dignity that all deserve, and are being prepared for college or a trade, but their joy and laughter was life-giving to them and to us.

No doubt we've all experienced the joy of giving and service. Closer to home, there are also opportunities to serve, with our GIVE-A-HAND MINISTRY, and thus experience the joy for which we all yearn.

From Gabriel House, where gracious hospitality is offered to organ-transpant recipients and cancer patients, and their care-givers, there is a request for folks that would be interested in just befriending some of our guests who don't have a car and are isolated here.  Like a young man, whose dad is in the hospital, and he's been here by himself for months, with no car and little money.  It would be such a help for someone to befriend him, maybe take him to a movie, or down to the beach or even to church.   He's lonely and it would fill a big need here.

Similarly, at Mission House, which provides meals for the homeless, as well as transition housing for some, there is a need for mentors to companion with those who qualify for transition housing, as well as a dire need for more housing and jobs.

And BAPTIST MD Anderson, a joint endeavor to treat cancer patients, is seeking volunteers to support effective social and spiritual care by visiting patients, providing hope and encouragement, relieving caregivers to run errands or receive private time, assist patient and family members with transportation, etc.

Often we would like to reach out, but don't know how to help another. These are a few suggestions to help others and bring out the best in pass the ultimate test and obtain the greatest joy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


We all love good news...such as hurricane Matthew not doing as much harm in Florida as we feared. And we give thanks. There are many other occasions when we get good news, for which we give thanks. Of course, that's what Mass is all about. We celebrate good news. That's what the word "gospel" means - "Good News."

Today's gospel is all about good news: 10 lepers came to Jesus…and they begged to be healed.

And Jesus healed them! Just like that.

Imagine how they felt – to finally be able to return to their villages, go home to their families.

When Jesus healed those lepers he was teaching us how he "heals us" of our sins. Just as they were cleansed, we are cleansed. Jesus was teaching that he forgives our sins, washes us clean, just like that. You want to be clean? Well, you are. You're forgiven, just like that.

Just as those lepers cried out to Jesus, Master, have pity on us. Well, that’s what we say at beginning of Mass, Lord, have mercy on us.

Day-in and day-out, we fail. We sin. We do some things, say some things we wish we hadn't done or said. We come to the Eucharist to be cleansed. And we are. Just like that. What good news! What a wonderful feeling. What a good reason to come to Eucharist. We feel lighter, not more burdened, when we leave.

This is part of our faith, and it's part of the prayers at Mass. At the beginning, after we say three times, Lord, have mercy on us, the priest says, May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Just like that.

After the gospel, when the priest kisses the book he says, May the words of the gospel wipe away our sins.

At the words of institution over the cup, the priest repeats the words of Jesus: This is the chalice of my blood...which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Just like that.

Just before communion, the priest holds up the bread and the cup and says: Behold the Lamb of God…who takes away the sins of the world.

One of the great benefits of drinking from the cup at communion is to experience the feeling of our whole self, inside and outside, being washed clean by the real presence of the Lord himself.

Now that is good news. Perhaps we need to teach that more clearly. But there’s more. One of the ten returned. Why?

Were not the others grateful? I cannot believe they were not. So why did only one come back?

Because he knew that there was something greater here than a cleansing. The other nine were also grateful for the miracle of their healing, but failed to see the holy presence of the Great Miracle Worker in their midst.

No doubt we are grateful that Matthew did not do more damage, and for other blessings as well. But is there more we'd like to see?

What about a holy encounter…Jesus appearing to us…expressing his love…face-to-face?

Well at every Mass we are invited to a holy encounter with Christ, Our Lord…in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in each other.

We have a choice. We can become aware and rejoice like the one did…or remain blind like the nine and go on merrily as we leave church.

It’s no coincidence that we have this healing and this encounter in the celebration of the Eucharist, which means to give thanks, so that we can be most fully aware of this holy encounter and give thanks that transforms us.

Now that is really good news!