Saturday, July 29, 2017


Ask something of me, and I will give it to you. So says God to Solomon.

Imagine God saying that to you. What would you ask for?

Perhaps to find some great treasure…and God would say, I will give it to you.

Both God's invitation and God's response would fill us with great joy. Filling us with joy seems to be God's joy as well.

Like a parent who delights in their child discovering and opening a hidden present. God is like that, too.

Such is the message of Jesus' two parables today of the treasure and the pearl. They catch our imagination. We can picture a poor farmer working in the field, with a hoe or something like that, and by accident, just beneath the surface he hits something hard, clears the soil, and finds a wooden box with a great treasure.

The other parable involves not a poor man, but a well-to-do merchant who travels to far-away places. One day he sees a pile of so-so pearls and suddenly in among them is a pearl that looks like the rest, but his trained eye can see that it is a magnificent pearl worth a fortune.

Now, Jesus didn't tell these fascinating stories just to entertain his audience. He is telling us something about God, and teaching us how to find God...and joy.

Let's see, in both cases the valuable discovery was right there in front of everyone else. The treasure was just beneath the surface of a field that people passed by or walked through all the time. The pearl was in open sight, on a table with all the other pearls. It's just that nobody noticed.

Here's what I'd like you to do. Take just a few seconds now and look ahead to the things coming up in your life this week. It doesn't have to be something special - just the regular stuff of the week. Take a few seconds to think about your schedule. [Pause]

Okay. Now, the panorama of the week is in your mind ...just beneath the surface of everything in it, and mixed together with everything that's part of it, is a great treasure. It is God. Imagine. God mixed in with all that. God is in all this week's stuff, present, active, with us, asking us to take notice.

What a treasure! What joy! To have God here - especially in some of the things that aren't entirely pleasant, or are boring. What a great treasure to have God here!

Now, I, too, thought about my schedule: celebrating Mass, preparing a homily, visiting the sick, breaking bread with a friend, communing with God and nature on the beach or at the St. Johns River, reading a book while being serenaded by birds, or fighting construction traffic all around us, perhaps in a driving down-pour. This week I'm going to think about God being with me even when stuck in traffic, of all places. It may not be easy.

But that's the point. God is with us in everything, and it's especially difficult to notice God's presence in the not-so-good parts of our lives, or in the hum-drum, routine parts of our lives. But God is there, even though God's presence can go unnoticed - just like no one noticed the treasure in that field, or that priceless pearl mixed in with the others.

Now I know and you know that God is everywhere. But that can be just an abstract thought. It's different when we picture God in the day-to-day things of life. You see it's not God looking down on us from a distance. It's God in the midst of it all.

Remember, we're not pretending God is here. We are realizing and experiencing the up-close presence of God with us.

And...God isn't here as a spectator. God is part of it. This is God's world. We are God's daughters and sons. God is here in the thick of it to be with us.

Did you notice in both parables...the result was joy? The treasure of God's presence is always uplifting. It brings a certain peace, a certain sense of purpose, a joyful feeling.

I close with a thought that I hope will help you, and me, notice the presence of God all week long. One of the small parts of the Mass, but an important one, is what we do at the very end. As a matter of fact, it's how the Mass got its name. 

When the Mass was said in Latin, the priest said, Ite missa est, which literally means, Go, you are being sent, although often translated, Go, the Mass is ended. The Latin word missa is the word for sending. (In aeronautics we have the English word, missile, which means something sent into the air.) Missa is where the word Mass came from.

At the end of Mass, we don't just get up and leave. We are blessed and sent. In other words, we come here for an hour, to find the great treasure, so that we can live our faith with joy during the other 167 hours of the week.

We are blessed and sent with peace and joy. I pray that this ritual at the end of every Mass will help us carry God's presence into the week, to joyfully discover this great treasure even more.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


What's your picture of heaven? Today, in describing the kingdom of heaven, Jesus speaks of wheat and weeds. Let's see what these tell us about heaven.

To begin, what is a weed anyway? What makes a weed a weed?

Like everything else, when in doubt just Google it. I did. Here's what I learned. A weed is defined as any plant that is growing where it is not wanted. In other words, while you can point to a certain plant and say, That's a rose, there isn't any plant that is defined as a weed.

It's simply a plant that grows where it's not wanted. One person's weed might be another's wild flower. We call dandelions weeds even though they can dress up a field, can be used for food, and their roots are being studied for possible anti-cancer properties. 

Thus, in the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them. And from Mother Teresa, God can turn any weed into a flower.

I'm reminded of a story of a perfectionist who kept his lawn immaculately manicured. Never was a blade out of place. His lawn was the pride of the neighborhood. Then one day a weed began to grow. Hard as he tried, he could not get rid of it. He tried pulling it out by its roots. He tried every kind of herbicide. Nothing worked. 

Then on a drive in the country he spotted a Farmer's Co-op that specialized in seeds and plant chemicals. He stopped in and asked the old proprietor if he'd ever seen a weed like the one he had from his lawn. The old man said he had. So he asked, What's the best way to deal with it? The proprietor said, Love it. Just love it.

Well, of course he thought the old man was crazy. But after he got home, he thought, Oh, what he heck, and began to love the weeds. It wasn't long before his lawn was overrun with them. One day a neighbor walked by and saw him sitting on his porch admiring his front yard. He yelled to him, Hey, you've lost your perfect lawn. He smiled and yelled back, Yeah, but I just love my flower garden.

While we may see others, or ourselves, as weeds, God's loving eyes see us a flowers in God's flower garden.  Now that’s an image of heaven we may not often picture. 

Last week, I recommended opening the gospels at random daily to see what God wants to say personally to us. Often, even when we do this, we can make the mistake of looking for a "should". We read a passage and then we want to apply it to our life. That's where the "should" comes in. We say, Therefore, I should stop doing this or that...Therefore, we should tend to our lives as we tend to our plants...And so on.

The problem with this is that we miss the fact that many scripture passages are not trying to teach us how to behave. They teach us something about God, for us to simply understand and appreciate. 

Instead of focusing on our behavior, let's just think about what God is like. The more we understand God, the more we understand ourselves, because we're made in the image and likeness of God. Then let that be the guide for our actions and our entrance into heaven.

Once I went to console a friend, grieving because her granddaughter had committed suicide. She was in torment because she felt that her granddaughter would never enter heaven. Knowing of her goodness, I said that no doubt she herself would not be denied entry. And if upon entering, God were to say to her, Will you do me a favor and watch the gate while I attend to some other matters? St. Peter will be here shortly. Of course she would not refuse God. Then I asked, Suppose that while you were guarding the gate, your granddaughter were to show up. Would you let her in? In a heartbeat, she said. I loved her so much. I asked, Would God love her any less?

Last Sunday, I visited a friend at Flagler Hospital, who had said I had been too easy on her when she came to confession. As I was leaving, her daughter asked, Were you tougher on her this time? I said, I was as tough on her as she is with her grandchildren...(whom she had told me she adores). 

That's the image of God we have in today's readings. Our gospel parable tells us that God isn't angrily looking forward to punish us when we fail. God is more like a loving grandparent who is patient and caring with the grandchildren. 

To those who say, But Jesus said the weeds will be burned at the end, my response is, Yes, but will there be "weeds" at the end, or only flowers? What is a weed? Can't be any of us, because God wants each of us so much in God's garden.

Listen again to what the Book of Wisdom says of God, You judge with much clemency...and lenience. Our Psalm adds, God is good and forgiving...merciful and gracious.

And Jesus tells us that God is like a gentle farmer. The servants wanted to go and pull up the weeds, and the farmer says, Well, let's not be too hasty, too quick to judge. Let's give it some time. We might pull out some wheat thinking it's a weed. 

That's God speaking. It's a picture of God that Jesus himself gives us. And it's the way God treats us, because God loves us very, very much.

It's wonderful to have a God like that. It's wonderful to have a heaven like that.

That's it. No "shoulds". Let's simply enjoy God. When we do that, love and gratitude and heaven come naturally.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


A woman is driving on a two-lane country road. Another car approaches from the opposite direction. When the two cars cross, the man in the other car yells at her, FAT COW! She immediately yells back, PIG! Now, she is feeling so good about being able to respond so quickly, she pats herself on the back. As she makes a turn on the road - POW! - She collides into a fat cow sitting in the middle of the road. The moral of the story: Women never seem to understand what men are trying to say.

And perhaps at times we fail to understand our Lord. Today, Jesus quotes Isaiah, 750 years earlier, saying to us, You shall hear but not understand. Maybe it's part of our human DNA.

What is it that we do not understand about today’s parable of the seed and the soil? What do these two words say to you?

Of course the seed represents the Word of God, and the different kinds of soil represent us who receive the Word of GodLet's delve into both. 

A seed is something that has life in it. By using this analogy, Jesus reveals that the Word of God is alive. It isn't simply information. It isn't simply instruction. It is God speaking to us "live". This has always been a Catholic emphasis.

We believe that when we listen to the Word of God, or read it thoughtfully, we are hearing God speak to us live. We aren't listening to or reading something God once said. God is speaking to us now. 

Just as in the Eucharist the Lord uses bread and wine to be present to us, so, too, in scripture God uses words as a vehicle to be present to us, to speak to us, to act upon us - like the gentle rain falling upon the ground in today's first reading, and like the seed that is sown in today's gospel.

The Second Vatican Council document entitled The Constitution of Divine Revelation says, The Church has always venerated the divine scriptures just as she venerates the Body and Blood of the Lord. That is a remarkable statement that might come as a surprise to many Catholics.

This means that we listen to scripture differently than we listen to any other words. We receive it as we receive the Body of Christ. We are not receiving information. We are receiving the Lord who speaks to us "live". We cleanse our minds of all other thoughts, and we tune in to the Lord speaking to us. 

When we do that, thoughts come to us that might have been the farthest thing from our minds, and thoughts that sometimes seem to have little connection with the actual words of the text. It may be a word of comfort, or a nudge, or a flash of insight. It is God who is speaking to us personally. 

Remember the gospel passage about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? The Risen Lord was walking with them (although they didn't realize it) and the Lord was opening up the scriptures to them. That is exactly what happens when we prayerfully listen or read the scriptures. The seed in today's parable is the Word of God.

Now let's look at the soil. The gospel speaks of the different kinds of soil on which the seed fell - the footpath, rocky ground, thorny ground, fertile ground. We usually think of that as representing different kinds of people. Well, perhaps it also represents different parts of our lives - our private life, our family life, our work life, our social life, and so on.

Part of our life may be rich soil where we receive the Word of God very openly and it takes deep root. But it may not occur to us to let the Word of God affect other parts of our life. To use a stereotypical example, the movies sometimes portray a Mafia Don who goes to church, is dedicated to his family - and routinely kills people, or orders their killing. The Word of God never enters that "other part" of his life.

We don't go around killing people, but we might have parts of our life where we don't let the Word of God enter.

May we all receive this parable of the seed and the soil into all parts of our lives. 

Many of us call our parents every day to hear their voice. It would be good for us to do the same with God, not just to "check-in" on Sunday at Mass. It's easy to connect with God daily. It can change a day. It can change a life.

Make that your goal this week. Open the bible, at random if you wish - preferably the gospels - take a few lines of scripture each day, and let the Lord speak to you through those words. See what the Lord wants to say to you.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Sometimes, the simplest truths are the deepest truths. The trouble is, because they're so simple, so basic, we don't spend much time thinking about them. They're just there.

We have one of those truths in today's passage from Matthew's Gospel. Jesus says, No one knows the Father except the Son...and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. Then, the very next thing Jesus says is, Come to me all you who are weary and are burdened.

Let's step back and look at that.

We call ourselves daughters and sons of God. Perhaps we think of this as a metaphor. We know our human frailties. Can we really be God's daughter or son? How can we be divine? Especially when we feel so burdened?

But God is so good and magnanimous that God calls us God's very children. Indeed Jesus said, I go to my Father and your Father.

This speaks volumes of how God sees us. How uplifting is that!

I see it every week as I visit those who are terminally ill or need a life-saving organ transplant. Their faith in God, knowing God is with them, that they are God's very own, gives them strength, and hope, and comfort.

This simple but profound truth makes a world of difference. Jesus came from the Father so that we could join ourselves to him. Jesus became one of us so that he could bring us into the same relationship with the Father. There's an old saying in our faith tradition, The divine became human, so that humans could become divine.

This is real, not "let's pretend". Jesus said, I came so that you may have life and have it to the full. I came to share with you the same Spirit that is in me. You will have God's own life within you, and you will come with me to God, and you will share in my own relationship with the Father. We will stand before God and I will say, 'This is my sister, my brother. These are your sons and daughters.' WHAT PEACE! WHAT JOY!

This is God's pure gift. And it is real. We are joined to Jesus Christ. We're not half-brothers, half-sisters. We receive the gift of his own Spirit. We have God's life within us. And Jesus takes us where we thought only he could go - to the heart of the God. Jesus says to us, You are what I am.

That's why we said two weeks ago, Have no fear!

All this becomes clearer when we think about Baptism. The traditional form of baptism is to be totally immersed in the water. The water represents Christ, and by entering the water we are joined with Christ, "grafted" into him, as it were. Moreover, we are vested in white, and by doing so we put on Christ, affirming our oneness with him.

Then there is Confirmation. We are anointed with the Chrism (the same word from which we get the word Christ), and the Spirit comes upon us, and stays with us. We receive the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary when she conceived Jesus, the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the River Jordan. We have new life within us, God's life. We become sons and daughters of God.

As St. Paul reminds us today, The Spirit of God dwells in you. 

Then there is the Eucharist. When the bread and wine are brought forward and placed on the altar, they represent us. We then join with Jesus as he gives himself entirely into the hands of the Father. We join with him in giving ourselves entirely to God

That's why we said last week, Give our all to him and for him!

And when we come forward to receive the bread and cup, it isn't simply a private audience with Jesus. The body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus become part of our own body and soul. We become what we receive. No wonder Jesus says to us, Come to me, and I will give you comfort. I will give you rest.

That's the simple truth of it. Jesus came so that we could become one with him and so that he could bring us into his own relationship with God. It's not complicated. But it is profound. And it's the key to everything else we believe. It's the key of life!

If we let ourselves think about this truth, let ourselves truly believe it, then life is different. Every day looks different. All our burdens, fears, and tribulations are relieved. And death looks different too.

This week, think about it, and believe it. And ask yourself, What will I do to accept Jesus' invitation to go to him...and to see myself as he God's daughter...God's son?

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Last Sunday, Jesus said to us, Be not afraid. Perhaps as a prelude to today's challenge.

Imagine Jesus knocking on your door. After the initial shock, of course you invite him in. He enters and sits down, and says to you, You have been following me for a long, long time. Why? What do you want?

What would you say? [Pause]

Perhaps you say, I want to be with you. I want to do your will. I want to be your disciple.

What if he said, If you want, just do as I do. Give your all.

Actually, in today's gospel, he says, You want to be my disciple? You want to be like me? If you want to be my disciple, renounce all your possessions…even your father, mother, husband, wife, children.

What do you do now?  Perhaps, at first blush, you might think:
1.    I've heard this before.  
2.    Can he really be serious?

He was not only serious. That's exactly what he did! We must remember that Jesus never forgot that God was with him. Makes a big difference. That's the key for us as well.

No doubt we believe it, but our memory is short. So radical discipleship seems hard; it is COSTLY! But it cannot be a partial commitment. Many of his first disciples walked away…literally. Some stayed, perhaps because it felt good to be around him, but may have walked away mentally. Yet not all walked away. Where are you?

Of course you're here, because you want to follow him wholeheartedly, and be evermore sure that God is also with you. But maybe there are some doubts or even concerns about being all-in. Not only about sacrificing your family, but also your possessions.

Though upon deeper reflection, this all-out commitment may not seem so crazy.

When a couple marries, or when one enters a religious vocation, do they not leave father and mother to begin anew…to make a full, not partial, commitment to each other or to the new spiritual life?

Yes, it’s a sacrifice in many ways, but one they want to make. Better yet, it’s an investment of a lifetime. Something to think about at any stage of life, especially as we get older.

Sometimes, it seems our commitment and investment is momentary and minimal. It’s like a message I saw on the sand at Sandy Hook in New Jersey, just a few feet from the tide of the ocean, Looking for work, here’s my phone number.

Creative, perhaps, but a little short-sighted and not much "sacrifice".

Perhaps, we can learn about this total love and commitment from the example of couples and from the wisdom of some holy mystics.

From couples - at what moment do lovers come into a most complete oneness…if not when they give their all for their beloved. Would you marry someone if they were not willing to give their all? Isn't that why we follow Jesus? 

And from the mystics - one holy monk was asked to sum up his life at his golden jubilee. He said, All we have will pass awaybe not attached to possessions.

Another mystic pondered:

To give him my clay to shape is one thing,
For this excites me;
But when my jewels and silk are at risk
Surely it is a time to seriously ask
Is all this God stuff – real?

Which begs the question, How real is God for us? That's the $64,000 question.

It may be helpful to remember that the renunciation that Jesus calls for is not simply about giving away what we have, but a call to transformation…a shared oneness with him. And true happiness.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky said it well in his classic, Crime and Punishment, He who can leave his door unlocked finds happiness.

And as St. Paul wrote to the faithful in Rome, Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death[a death to the values of this world]…so that we too might live a newness of life with him. That was our commitment at baptism.

Just as death has no power over him and us, neither should the values of this world.

Now that’s discipleship…being one with him! Same awareness, same mind-set, same values, same actions.

So if Jesus were sitting in your living room, asking, What do you want? Would you still say, I want to be your disciple? I want to be like you? Would you be willing to make a total commitment?

Baptists, I’m told, have a tradition of calling people down to the front of the assembly to make a commitment of faith…to be re-born in Christ.

If I invited you to come down to renew your total commitment, would you?

Something to think about today…this week.