Saturday, February 25, 2017


Do not worry about your life…Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles; it takes away today's peace. And peace is what we desire.

Today, Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount that we have been listening to these past five Sundays. They are words of encouragement and exhortation as we begin the more strenuous journey of Lent on Wednesday, to see what stuff our discipleship is made of.

Sometimes in our journey of faith we seem to focus so much on the trees that we fail to notice the forest. Let’s take a moment to broaden our focus on what this holy pilgrimage is all about. As people of faith, we believe:

1. This visible world of ours is part of a greater spiritual universe from which it draws its real meaning; 
2. Union or harmonious relation with God is our goal, and Jesus is the way;
3. Through prayer and good works we enter into communion with the Spirit of God, and this holy encounter fills us with zest; we experience fulfillment, joy, elimination of fear and a temper of peace, and a solidarity of loving affections.
There are many stumbling blocks on our journey that may deprive us of success – our union with God – or better said, our awareness of this holy union. In truth, God is already with us. The Holy Spirit of God is not merely making a visit. Jesus has come to make his abode in our hearts. It is not so much a habitation as a sort of fusion. As St. Paul said, I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.

The question is, Does our life make visible God-with-us?

Foolishly, in the quest to discover and manifest the Holy Presence, too many make this walk of faith, loaded down with two huge trunks: possessions and enemies. What we do with these reveals what we truly believe, and how successful our pilgrimage on earth will be.

A holy mystic said, Not by accumulating riches, but by giving away that which you have, shall you become the Christ you seek. Possessions not only slow us on our holy quest, they can become such a burden as to prevent our desired encounter. We can become slaves…possessed by our possessions. In short, living based on having is less free than lives based either on doing or being. 

Similarly, despite Jesus’ command, Love your enemies, we often fight fire with fire, shoot down whomever attacks us, lock up offenders, and freeze out undesirables. Force destroys enemies, and may protect what we have, but love turns enemies into friends.

The saints, with their great extravagant tenderness, proved themselves prophetic. That is, treating those whom they met, in spite of the past, in spite of all appearances, as worthy, they motivated them to BE worthy, miraculously transforming them by their radiant example and by the challenge of their expectations. Saints increased goodness.

Ultimately, faith is real if it is the driving force by which we live...overcomes our fears...and fills us with peace and joy.

Where does this leave us? Allow me to share two stories about a frog and a turtle.

The first involves an elderly man who was walking home with a shopping bag of groceries when he came across a frog. The frog yelled out to him, Help me!  He was startled and asked, What can I do for you?  The frog answered, I am really a beautiful princess, but I was turned into a frog by an evil witch.  However, if you kiss me I will turn back into a beautiful princess, and I will accompany you all your life. The man thought about it for a while, then he picked up the frog…and put it in his bag. The frog yelled out, What are you doing?  Why don’t you kiss me?  To which the man said, Frankly, at my age I would rather have a talking frog.

The second story has to do with a turtle, with a shell of about eight inches in diameter, which I “saved” twice one week some years ago while at Sacred Heart in Springfield, Missouri. Both times I found it in the middle of the street in front of our church. A parishioner finally found a home for it. Sr. Laureana, my pastoral associate, said, The turtle is my mascot. It cannot go forward without sticking its neck out.

And there it is my friends. God promises us a heaven on earth ~ a beautiful princess (or prince) if you will, but we have to get out of our comfort zone and stick our neck out - with our possessions and our enemies - otherwise life goes on unchanged. 

I might add a footnote. Years ago, while serving at St. Paul in Chicago, I visited our students, and in one class I was given a six-inch rubber frog, with a little sweater with the letters FROG imprinted on the sweater. When I asked what that meant, they shouted, FROG – FULL RELIANCE ON GOD!

Today, Jesus is saying, Don't worry. Trust me. I’ve got your back. But you have to do your part, too, to see if you really have faith in me.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. 

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 

Love your enemies.

In successive readings today, we hear from God, Paul, and Jesus about our calling – BE HOLY! – and how to do so: love our enemies.

We have heard these words nearly all our life. They are inspiring. They are demanding.

What can we do to live them more faithfully? Perhaps it begins with the awareness that to be a person of faith means we believe that we have a dual nature: we are human and divine. The human part is easy. The divine not so easy. 

The beast that undermines our belief is FEAR - fear of dying, fear of not having enough, fear of reaching out, fear of giving too much, and on and on.

We overcome our fear to the degree that we come into a conscious realization of our divine nature as children of God...and open ourselves to the divine indwelling. What a difference that makes! It is this awareness that makes a holy life morally discrete from the life of others. 

That's a mouthful. Allow me to repeat it. We overcome our fear to the degree that...

In other words, if we could remember (especially when tempted) that God is here - with us, we could never sin.

For a true believer, there is a feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world’s selfish little interests...and a deep conviction, not merely intellectual or out of religious tradition, of the existence of God. And that God is here... with us.

There's a little song that says it well:

          Tell my people I love them

          Tell my people I care
          If they feel far away from me
          Tell my people I'm there

God is here. With us. Of course we believe it. That's why we're here. But often, while our words say, yes, our actions say no. Our goal is to not only profess our faith, but to live it. 

We used to say in business, You're more likely to hit the target you aim at. It may help us to see how saints hit the target of holiness. Imagine a target with five rings, each circle with one of the following virtues:

v Detachment from worldly values
v Dedicated to loving, harmonious relations
v A spirit of purity and kindness
v No falsehoods, but a life of sincerity
v No fears or anxieties. Come heaven, come hell, it makes no difference.

And at the center, the bull’s eye, love your enemies.

The holy ones loved friends and enemies alike. They treated loathsome persons as sisters and brothers, with a desire and commitment to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Mind you, not simply those who were friends or who happened not to be friends, but to ENEMIES, positive and active enemies.

These are not merely laudable, but seemingly impossible, goals. These are the qualities that we want to define us as well. They are not easy. They challenge us. They inspire us. And, yes, like everything we love dearly, they demand total, uncompromising dedication and commitment. 

There's a story, with a bit of hyperbole, of one saint's total commitment: The saint seeing a hungry beggar, turned himself into a rabbit and jumped into the fire to cook himself for a meal for the beggar – having previously shaken himself three times, so that none of the insects in his fur should perhaps perish with him. Well, maybe that's a bit much.

Our holy longing may not be so extreme. But we do want to be holy…for our sake…and God’s. And Jesus tells us how, Love your enemies.

Pope Francis has said, Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. 

Equally important, if not more so, we are called to love others not because they merit our love, but because of who we are: beloved children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ. 

It is not easy to BE HOLY. It helps us immensely to remember and believe that the source of our holiness is that God is with us. Be still and know...

And let us also remember the sacred words we heard today:

Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Love your enemies. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017


If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.

At my first parish, Corpus Christi, in Stone Mountain, Georgia, with machete in hand, I asked for volunteers. Didn't get one.

Later, I remember sharing this with some inner-city gang members in Chicago's Back of the Yards area. One of them shot back, Whoever said that must have been crazy. Perhaps that thought has crossed your mind as well. Well, let's probe deeper.

Years earlier, while serving at Our Lady of Fatima in Perth Amboy, NJ, I would trek up to Bear Mountain, NY (near West Point) or to Delaware Water Gap on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, particularly in the Fall. The rainbow of colors was glorious and breath-taking!

At the latter place, I would hike the wooded trails, one of which led to a scenic, serene mountain-top lake. There was just one little problem - the trail was not well marked. Arrows were painted on wooden posts every mile or so marking the path. In between, about every quarter mile, stacked rocks pointed one in the right direction. Miss those rocks and one could easily be lost.

Today, Sirach and Psalm 119 speak of laws and commandments to guide us as we journey on what St. Paul calls a previously mysterious and hidden path.

Jesus came to reveal this spiritual path. He said, I am the way.

At the beginning of Christianity, followers were said to be on The Way.  Even today a popular spiritual movement is the Cursillo, which in Spanish means the little way.

Our gospel today continues with the Sermon on the Mount, with Matthew revealing Jesus as the new Moses – the new and true liberator, (with his version of the Ten Commandments – the Beatitudes).   

Jesus said, I did not come to change the law but to fulfill it!

Fulfillment (for him and for us) demands more than just following the rules. I can certainly relate to that both from my corporate experience and in raising a son. In the corporate world, working 50, 60 or more hours per week was (and may still be) the rule. But it took more than simply putting in 50-60 hours a week to move up the corporate ladder. Likewise, as a father I set certain rules for my son. But it took more than these do’s and don’ts to help shape his character. 

So, too, we see with Jesus. More than following rules, he came to model God's law. He said, I am the way, the truth and the life. In essence telling us, If you want life with me...if you want to be like me...there's only one a person of truth…be a character of integrity.

Integrity: if you have it nothing else matters; if you don't have it, nothing else matters.

In other words, let your YES mean YES! 

This is the heart of today’s gospel: Jesus was not "crazy"; not some irrational radical when he said, It’s not enough to not kill, to not commit adultery, to not lie…even your thoughts must be pure…

Let’s take some real life examples: What would you do if you went shopping and the cashier mistakenly gave you a $20 bill instead of a $10? Would you return the ten? Would you hesitate?

Tax season has begun. Are we tempted to claim a medical tax deduction for veterinary fees? (After all many say that our pets are part of the family.)

Temptations abound to lead us astray. The commandments to not kill, to not commit adultery, to not lie are like the wooden arrows pointing the way to the tranquil lake.

Our thoughts are like the small stacks of rocks…any digression, and we could easily get lost in our quest for deep peace.

My sisters and brothers, the journey of life is not up some mountain trail to find a beautiful vista and peaceful lake, but within…to discover true inner peace and the amazing presence of Christ.

The only way to do so is to be attentive to the small stacks of rocks…our thoughts...our conscience. Following these guideposts will lead us to our prized destination: Christ.

And step by step we will also shape our character!

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Silence, captures the faith of converts and their Jesuit guides in seventeenth-century Japan. Perhaps to convey the violent challenges of faith (for both those who seek to live their faith and those who feel threatened by these convictions), much of the film is shot in driving rain and stark landscapes. 

In my prior life as a lawyer, I was blessed to experience a different Land of the Rising Sun - the beauty of the land and the goodness of the people, the countless gold-trimmed temples in Nikko and Kyoto, the many serene mountain rice-paddies and tranquil gardens, the majestic Mount Fuji. There was harmony all around.

But my most cherished and impactful memory is that of a meeting with a CEO as we began to negotiate a possible joint venture. At our introduction we greeted each other in the oriental tradition with a respectful bow. We also shook hands.

I was startled to see that he had some Japanese characters written on the palm of his hand. When I inquired, he said, Each day I write one word - a virtue - on my palm to remind me of the person I want to be.

I am reminded of that encounter as I reflect on our gospel, with Jesus telling us to be Salt (of the earth) and Light (of the world). It seems Jesus used the same technique as my new-found friend, to help us, his disciples, focus each day on being the person we want to be.

To be salt means enriching our relationships and our world by being the spices and seasoning, flavor and zest needed to bring out the best in each other.

To be light, as in the words of Isaiah today, by sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked, then your light shall break forth like the dawn.

Not to be confused with salt-lite, the concern of giving too much for fear that it might be dangerous to one's financial health and personal comfort.

Last week I invited you to think of an image of yourself by which to live and be remembered. Today, I extend the invitation to enter into a daily spiritual exercise. Perhaps as you reflect on both Jesus’ words and the person you want to be, there might be some other word (or words) that you would like to help guide you each day.

Why not write that word some place to remind you each day…perhaps on the palm of your hand?