Saturday, January 28, 2017


A friend said to me, I like how you give us a simple thing to do to live the gospel. Then, lest I get a big head, just this week, a new parishioner said, Father, you are so demanding!

Our parish family is very much like your own. You may have children or grandchildren who are beginning school or little league, and others who are preparing, both in academics and sports, for college, if not already there. You want to provide encouragement and inspiration for their growth…at their respective levels. And so do I.

So, sometimes the message is simple; sometimes more demanding. I hope there is enough nourishment for all from week-to-week, regardless of where you may be in your spiritual journey. Having said that, let’s see what we do with today’s gospel.

We're all familiar with the story of St. Paul's conversion - which we celebrated this week - when he was struck down by a blinding light and the Lord asked him, Why are you persecuting me?

There is a little detail in the story that intrigues me. The very last thing Jesus tells Paul is interesting. He says, Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. Paul does that and the Risen Lord had also appeared to a Christian there named Ananias and the Lord told him to go and visit Paul and baptize him.

So here is the Lord giving instructions to Paul on what he is to do. And the Lord also gives instructions to Ananias on what he is to do. I've thought to myself, Wouldn't it be nice to have clear instructions from the Lord. I'm sure that if the Lord told any of us what to do, we'd do it.

Well, as I thought about it in the light of today's gospel - the Beatitudes - I realized: He did tell us what to do. This is the "inaugural address" of Jesus, the beginning of the great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which we will be hearing the next four Sundays. 

Unlike the Ten Commandments, which are black-and-white, do’s and don’ts, the Beatitudes challenge us to a deeper penetration of what it means to put on the mind of Christ.  Let’s see if we can unravel them in a simple way. 

In this sermon, and throughout the gospel, Jesus tells us what to do. In a way, the Beatitudes sum it all up. If we look at them, we know what to do, what kind of a person we're meant to be. 

It's interesting, because it's all about being happy. In Greek, there are two words that are translated "blessed." One refers to what we usually mean by "blessed" - receiving some special gift from God. The other Greek word means being "happy." That is the word used in each of the Beatitudes, and you'll see some Bibles translate it that way: "happy" - which is really more accurate. 

So, if you want to be a fulfilled, happy person, then this is how you live. There's no mystery to it. Live the Beatitudes. By living the Beatitudes, Pope Francis tells us, we discover the peace and happiness that comes from being more over having more.

Instead of going through them one by one, I came up with an idea. Stop and think of how you would want to be characterized in just a few words...on your tombstone. Or, instead of making it that personal, stop and think of words that might be put on the tombstone of someone you love - words that you think would be wonderful to describe them.

I've asked this at some retreats/missions I have given. Here are some responses:

v  a friend to all
v  kindness personified
v  loved much
v  a heart of gold
v  forgiving, merciful
v  lived a simple life
v  had a deep, inner happiness
v  radiated joy
v  a peacemaker

The nice thing about the Beatitudes is that they describe the kind of person we're meant to be, which is to say, we're made that way

Like the deer is meant to run in the woods, we're meant to be happy. Now you could tie a deer up, but the deer wouldn't be happy. And we can live differently from these Beatitudes, but we won't be happy. Because these Beatitudes describe what we're made to be, and that is the key to happiness.

I have a suggestion. At the beginning of the day, think about how you would like to be characterized after you die - just a couple of words - but words that express the kind of person you would truly like to be. Then, live the day that way. 

Think about it...a couple of words you'd want on your tombstone. Then live a day that way. Live every day that way.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand!

What is this "kingdom of God"? It is the ultimate victory over evil...a heaven on earth.

It begins with the command to repent, that is, to have a new see the world as God sees it. 

It's that simple. And it's that colossal.  

Today, as we celebrate Respect Life Sunday, our gospel challenges us to assess our priorities and to stand with give life and not to take it. When we take life, we kill ourselves.  

When we take life at any stage of its being, from conception to natural death, we not only abort life, we abort Jesus’ mission and kill God’s plan for a heaven on earth. 

Now let's be clear, there are many ways to take life: certainly we kill with scalpels but also with words...every day, every hour on talk-radio and in gossip circles. We kill with bombs and semi-automatic weapons in troubled spots around the world and in our streets...even in our schools.

We kill with prejudice and hate, discrimination and injustice, inattentiveness and lack of compassion.  That's the evil Jesus came to conquer.

We kill each time we are blind and numb to the cry of the pooreach time we are deaf and blind to the lies of our politicians...each time we are deaf to the voice of the voiceless in the womb of God. 

We seem to have become very sensitive to the sins of others and lament their sinfulness, but better to look at ourselves and wonder why we do it. Perhaps out of fearPerhaps we judge and kill others (their character if not their body) out of insecurity, some lack of self-esteem, trying to make ourselves seem superior. 

At the dawn of the 20th century, William James wrote, The desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are the worst moral disease from which our society suffers. Are we too insulated; focused on our own comfort and afraid of losing it? Do we delude ourselves in thinking that by protecting our life-style and self-interest we will be safe and happy?  

The key to happiness and to a holy life is to first overcome our fears...because God is with us and we are part of God's great enterprise of building God's kingdom. It is noteworthy that the most used phrase in the Bible is, Be not afraid! It is repeated 365 times!  

The disappearance of fear in our life gives us a wonderful feeling of inner security and peace...a fullness of life...which opens us to give life – perhaps with just a smile – ideally with other good people. 

There are many ways to take life...and to give life.

If we bring to each day some goodness, we are part of this colossal good work that is God's good work. We are manifesting that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the worldI have seen and testify that he is the Son of God.

Clearly, these words refer to Jesus. Might they also in some way refer to us?

Are we not called to see and testify that we too are children of GodAre we not called to be like Jesus…to forgive each other’s sins?

I hope we believe it. I do. That’s why Christ invites us to this meal…to see, to testify, to becomewhat we receivethe Body of be his presence and do what he did. 

That's what this Eucharist is all about..

This week we have the Presidential transition and we celebrate Christian Unity Week. If we're going to have unity it begins with the affirmation that we are all God's children - one family. Let us not be one who accuses and divides but forgives and invites reconciliation and unity

It is noteworthy that ‘Satan’ means accuser; ‘devil’ means divider. Sometimes the path of this world tempts us to judge and separate ourselves into 'us' and 'them' as we seek our own self-interest, comfort, and well-being. 

But Jesus invites us on another path…to be forgive and to be inclusive...not just for our sake, but for his. In God, there is no 'us' and 'them'. All are loved equally.

As we wrestle with our human weakness to judge others, may we hold firm to his words, Let the one without sin cast the first stone.

Let us also listen again to the words of Isaiah, who reminds us today, The Lord formed me ~ formed us ~ from the womb.

We became God’s children in the wombthe womb of our mothersthe womb of God. Even now, like twins or triplets in a mother's womb, we are all still in the womb of God! Even now we continue to be formed by Godwe continue to be as one with God as we were with our mothers in their womb.

What a wonderful image that is.

Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. It’s worth rehearing part of his speech in the Washington Mall…

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Pope Francis echoed this dream, saying, I dream that being a migrant is not a crime. And…Anyone who only talks of building walls and not bridges is not a Christian.

These holy men speak of God’s dreamthe dream Jesus expressed on the eve of his death sentence, Father, I pray that they may be one as you and I are one.

God has entrusted this dream to us, forgiving us time and again, and inviting us to do the sameto be one...with being one with each other.

We want to. But occasionally our foolish pride gets the best of us. In the words of Roger Miller: Angry words spoken in haste, such a waste of two lives. It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause in the decline of [relationships].

St. Paul tells us today, We are called to be holy in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all; called to unity not division...called to make Jesus' last prayer a reality. That's how we become one body...Christ's Body. That is how we reveal his presence in us, and become holy. 

Then, we, too, with actions more than words, looking at each other and at ourselves, can say, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; I have seen and testify that he is here in each of us. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017


The great mystery of our faith is that God overcame the difference between God and human beings. God became one with us. 
It seems impossible. The difference is too great. After all, God isn't just more powerful and greater than we are. God is in a totally different category. God is beyond all categories. God is not just "larger" than we are. God is unlimited. How can the limitless God become a human being? But God did.
At Christmas, we celebrated this great and wonderful truth.
But it doesn't stop with overcoming that difference. Once one with us, the God-made-flesh overcame all the barriers within the human race. For example, for the Jewish people, every other person in the world was an outsider. No matter what part of the world you came from, near or far, you were a "Gentile," and all Gentiles were outsiders.
So what do we see happen after Jesus is born? Gentiles from the distant east come and do him homage, and give him gifts. God is crossing the gaps between human beings. 
In the Letter to the Ephesians, today, it is stated as clearly as could be: The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus. And at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Christ says to his disciples, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.
In Jesus, God broke the barriers between human beings and the Divine, and within the human race. Perhaps, we are most like God when we break down the walls that separate us, into "us' and "them", whether in our minds, our religions, our politics, or at the border.

That is what we celebrate on this feast of Epiphany.
Let’s see graphically how Christ continues to cross the boundaries between human beings.
Today we celebrate the Festival of Nations, with delicious food from all the nations represented in our parish. Picture, if you will, individuals from all over the world standing in a great circle around our altar, receiving Holy Communion - the Body of Christ. Picture someone who is...Chinese, Mexican, German, Estonian, Iranian, English, Turkish, Brazilian, Russian, Nigerian, Japanese, French, Filipino, Irish, Colombian, Italian, Korean, Polish... 
We could go on and on. And we could add age differences too, from the very old to the very young. But it takes no stretch of the imagination to think of all of them receiving Communion together. There they are, the Body of Christ - for Christ has crossed all the boundaries between human beings. Our God is everyone's God. Our Lord is brother to everyone. 
That is what we celebrate on this feast of Epiphany.
When we picture all those different kinds of people standing around the altar receiving Communion, and taking place right here in our own parish church, it warms our hearts. It's really what, down deep, we want.
We've become a smaller world, and, in that respect, a better world. Travel and communications have brought us closer together. Despite what some may say, the days of isolationism are gone. This is one world, and we want it to be a loving family - God's family. 
What we want is a family that overcomes the barriers that have been there for thousands of years.
That is what we celebrate on this feast of Epiphany.
Keep in mind that we've been called to be disciples of this man, Jesus, who not only bridged the gap between God and human beings, but who bridged the gap between human beings themselves. We've been called - as Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary his Mother were called - to be part of what Christ is doing to make this happen.
How do we do that? I have a suggestion. It involves two steps.
The first step may be a little painful. Let’s think about who the "outsiders" are in our life. There's no need to define "outsider". It's simply anyone we don't feel connected to...and don't want to be connected to. We may not want to accept the fact that there's a gap between us, and for sure we don't want to bridge that gap.
Who are those people, or kinds of people, in our life? We've all got them. They're part of, acquaintances, neighborhood, workplace, parish, country, world. (By the way, if you don't have any, then you don't have to take the second step. But in my life, I have never met anyone, including myself, who didn't have some.)
The second step is simply this. Pick out some of those people, or kinds of people, and say a prayer for them. Just a little prayer, asking God to care for them and help them, and bless them - just as we would pray for someone we love and who is perhaps in some kind of trouble.
It's not hard. As a matter of fact, it's quite easy, and it even makes us feel better. 
You might say, Is that all? Yes. That's all. But...I guarantee you, it will have effects - good effects - on you and on those people. Things will happen. I guarantee you, things will happen.
Do it every day this week - and get in that habit of doing it for anyone who ever comes to mind that you've categorized as an "outsider."
When we do that, God, who is watching, says: I knew it. I knew that if I crossed the great, impassable gap between myself and human beings...and if my Son crossed the gap between all human beings of every time and place...I knew they'd catch on.
That is what we celebrate on this feast of Epiphany.