The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Homily: Year A, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Note: Years ago, the deacons of our parish often preached at both daily and Sunday Masses, but like so many things in life, this changed, and we found ourselves preaching far less frequently. I accepted this change as I try to accept most of what happens in my life, especially that over which I have little or no control. But Fr. Kenny, our new pastor, has decided that we deacons should again preach at Sunday and Saturday Vigil Masses. And so now, on one weekend each month, the deacons will preach at all Masses. I applaud the pastor's decision because I believe deacons bring a unique perspective to our understanding of the readings from Sacred Scripture. Our working lives, our family lives, our struggles to balance the often-conflicting demands of faith, profession, and family mirror the same struggles faced by our parishioners. I hope we deacons all accept this challenge gratefully and, as always, call on the Holy Spirit to guide us during the preparation of our homilies.  

Anyway, here's my homily from yesterday, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time:


Readings: Is 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20: 1-16a

I was the younger of two sons. My brother, Jeff, was four years older, the smarter, better-looking son. Jeff got a lot of attention, far more than I. Now, believe me, I’m not complaining, for the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. Because they focused on dear Jeff so much, they kind of left me alone. In other words, constantly measured and examined, Jeff’s life was under the family microscope, while I, on the other hand, had remarkable freedom.

For me it was a good life. But one day, when I was 17, a high school senior, I totaled my father’s car. It was a nice car, a very nice car, a French car. Approaching an uncontrolled intersection, I had assumed the cross street had a stop sign. It didn’t; and I plowed into the side of a taxicab.

As you might imagine, when Dad got home from work, he was upset. His first words:

“Your brother would never have done that! You’re grounded for a month, and that’s just the start.”

I was tempted to reveal some of Jeff’s secrets, but instead appealed to my father’s higher instincts. You see, on Saturday mornings Dad, "the colonel," conducted a family “staff meeting” as he called it. It included reading and discussing the Sunday Gospel.

And so, I told him, “You never would have grounded Jeff. You told us to treat everyone alike, to be merciful like that, that vineyard guy in the Gospel.”

Well, that was a mistake. He just said, “Two months,” and left. Yes, Dad was justifiably upset.

Now don’t get me wrong. My folks loved us both and were wonderful parents. And I probably deserved a greater punishment than I was given. But that little episode also showed me a couple of things: first, Dad was not God; and second, that, indeed, our ways are not God’s ways.

We hear this first from Isaiah, who takes on the role of opening act for Jesus, the warm-up act 700 years in advance, sharing God’s message:

“…my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”

Jesus emphasizes this by spending an awful lot of time telling us how different God is from us. As we hope to enter His Kingdom, He urges us to look at the world through His eyes, not our own. That seems hard enough, but He not only wants us to see as He sees, but also to live as He lives. And in His Sermon on the Mount, He seems to demand the impossible: “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We know perfection is beyond us, at least in this life, but we struggle to be open to His Word and His gifts of grace, trying to see each other as God sees us.

Today’s Gospel parable shows us the difference between God and us about as clearly as any. It’s all about mercy; about striving for the holiness God wants for us; about entering a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus.

First, it’s a parable; it’s not a mini-seminar on labor-management relations. Today any employer who behaved like the landowner would probably go bankrupt because of his high labor costs. He’d also be accused of unfair labor practices and likely face a shutdown strike.

Of course, this just highlights the point that Jesus makes: God is different. God is so very different. Indeed, God is so different from us that if we actually acted as He acts, the people around us wouldn’t know what to make of us. That’s what saints do. They go against the grain of the world and upset a lot of people. Yes, they’re always scraping their fingernails on the world’s blackboard and driving people crazy.

Yes, saints and martyrs strive to act like God. It’s because they’re so different that they can make a difference. And because God continually raises them up from among us, we’ll never be at a loss for saints and martyrs, for these models He places in our midst.

Anyway, let’s get back to our parable.

For all of us who spent a lifetime working hard preparing for our retirement, it’s easy to get caught up with the literal, human side of the parable, sympathizing with the workers who had spent a long, hard day in the vineyard. Even though they were paid the wages they agreed to…well, it just doesn’t seem fair, does it? For the others, though, waiting all day to be hired, the landowner’s a savior, a most kind and generous man. It all depends on our point of view, doesn’t it?

But we can put all that aside because this parable isn’t about agriculture or farm workers. It’s about the Kingdom of Heaven. And it just gives us a tiny glimpse, a narrow window through which we can view that Kingdom. And what we see is Jesus. He's out there, everywhere...He's out there looking for us, calling to us, and He does it early and late and in-between.

We need only respond in faith: “Yes, I’ll be your disciple, tell me what to do.” Whether we're early or late, the reward, the wages, will be the same: salvation and eternal happiness.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? The early workers suggest the landowner is unjust, not because he’s broken their agreement, but because he’s gone beyond it and been overly generous to all who come to him. By saying “Yes” all the workers agreed to His terms, and by saying, “Yes” we do the same. And His terms are quite straightforward.

God likes to keep things simple; we’re the ones who complicate everything, making our lives far more difficult than they need be. 

Not long after this, after Jesus entered Jerusalem, Matthew tells us how our Lord summed it all up, going back to the Old Testament, turning to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and repeating what God had revealed to Moses:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If we all did that, imagine what our world would be like. Yet the world's not like that, is it? Because we’re all sinners. But for a pack of sinners, we should be overjoyed that the rules of divine grace are not the same as human rules, that God’s justice is so far beyond our human justice. You see, God’s capacity for forgiveness exceeds, it just outdistances, any human potential.

We hear the early workers’ complaint: You have made them equal to us! And that, sisters and brothers, is Satan talking, Satan tries to convince us that God plays a zero-sum game, that it’s impossible for all to win, that God simply doesn’t have enough grace, enough love for everyone. As always, the father of lies is wrong. Jesus’ teaching on discipleship reflects the absolute equality within the Kingdom, and the freedom of its King to shed His grace as He sees fit. Of course, given our competitiveness and the calculating nature of our self-driven sense of justice, Jesus will always stir up resentment in the hearts of men and women.

God loves outrageously, asking us to do the same. And in doing so, He scandalizes the just, the good, the worthy. We see this in so many parables…in the merciful father when the repentant prodigal returns seeking forgiveness. Who is then scandalized? The elder son, the one who had done everything well but failed to understand both the mercy and joy of his father.

Yes, our God flaunts His love and mercy, and dares us to be as generous, as selfless, as merciful as He. Like the Good Shepherd who celebrates when he finds the lost sheep, Jesus turns our attention to the sheer delight that should accompany conversion.

God doesn’t forget the faithfulness of those who responded early -- like all of us cradle Catholics who, if we’ve been faithful, have also been out in the vineyard doing His work, bringing others to Him. That's what we've all been doing...right?

That’s right. You do know that we are all called to evangelize, that evangelization is the primary mission, the work of the Church. Where do we evangelize? In our families, our friendships, our neighborhoods, in our own little slice of God’s world sharing His unconditional love with the others He places in our lives. God never forgets the faithful. But He also rejoices and celebrates the arrival of those who were a little late in joining them.

For our God is the ultimate landowner. It’s good for us to remember that. You and I own nothing; all of creation belongs to God and our share is pure gift. It’s certainly nothing we earn. Once we let that really sink in and allow our lives to be motivated by thanksgiving for that generosity, we can get over our fussy little comparisons between ourselves and others. We can avoid the nasty and foolish rivalries that lead only to envious resentment and sin. And we can forgive fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters, and daughters and sons. Yes, we can forgive all, forgive as God forgives...for failing to do so is no way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

I've always thought St. John of the Cross said it best: 

“In the evening of life, we shall be judged by love.” 

Yes, indeed, judged both by a God who is love and by how much we have loved.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Progressing…to What?

I’ve often been accused of living in, or wanting to live in, the past, as if such thoughts were some kind of weird psychological aberration. After all, who would want to live in the past when the present is so very cool? And the future? Well, maybe we shouldn’t talk about that. Too many today expect to be overwhelmed by man-made climatic disasters. In truth, we face far worse man-made calamities resulting from our sinfulness. But that’s the subject of another time.

Anyway, I suppose this basic diagnosis of my mental state has some validity. The symptoms are there. For example, if you glance through my personal library, you’ll likely notice that many, perhaps most, of my books were written before I was born. As of this week, I’m now 79 years old, so that cut-off date was a while ago. Then there’s my rather eclectic tastes in music. I listen to everything classical from Bach and Vivaldi and their Baroque buddies to Vaughan Williams and everything in between. And jazz? I’m locked into those remarkable early artists like the MJQ, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Byrd, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, and so many others. I’m also a fan of the big band music of the 30s and 40s, the doo-wop era of early rock ‘n’ roll, and even the folk music — Bud and Travis style — of the same period. I’m known as well for waxing eloquently about life back in the fifties and early sixties, when I came of age. 

All of this leads others to accuse me of being some sort of Luddite. Doesn’t technological progress translate to a better life? Is life with cable, satellite, and streaming TV, with the Internet, smart phones, email, Amazon, electric vehicles, and all the rest better than life without them? I think not. And this conclusion comes from someone with a couple of degrees in technological fields, who taught computer science at the U.S. Naval Academy, and piloted hi-tech military aircraft. Am I conflicted? Not at all. It all depends on how you define goodness. Is technology in itself a good or is it neutral, inherently amoral? Does its goodness depend on application? Do the technologists even care about how their creatures are used? How did Robert Oppenheimer put it when reflecting on the development of nuclear weapons? “It was therefore possible to argue also that you did not want it even if you could have it. The program in 1951 was technically so sweet that you could not argue about that.” Yes, indeed, from the researcher’s perspective, the technological challenge is so “sweet” it must be pursued, even if it might blow up the world.

I won’t even try to predict how long it will take, but the next “sweet” challenge, one that’s progressing with remarkable speed, is artificial intelligence. Where it will lead nobody knows, but many of its developers believe we’ve already passed the point of no-return. Now, I’m not all that knowledgeable about the state of AI today, although I did play around with it 50 years ago. When I was teaching computer science at Annapolis I used to drop in on the ArpaNet (a Department of Defense network that evolved into the Internet). I was intrigued by a program called Parry, developed by someone, as I recall, at Stanford Research Institute. Parry simulated someone suffering from paranoia and responded appropriately to questions asked by the online user. I enjoyed playing with it so much that I decided to write a poem-generating program. When the first version went public on the Academy’s network, it became our most popular program. The midshipmen would run it, generate a poem, and send it to their girlfriends. My first attempt was free verse, but the second used an iambic pentameter rhyming scheme and was even more popular. One English professor actually examined some of its images in class. I assumed it was all tongue in cheek because the words were generated randomly, and any resulting “images” were strictly accidental. I was amazed by it all, but quickly realized there was a real future programming human activity and thought.

Today AI has progressed far beyond my stupid little poems, and some of its developers strive for a consciousness that replicates and surpasses that of the human mind. The debate, of course, will ultimately turn to consciousness with or without a conscience. Personally, I don’t believe true human-like consciousness will be achieved before God steps in an ends it all. This view contradicts those espoused by folks like Ray Kurzweil — agnostic, futurist, and computer scientist — who believes we humans will soon live forever. He also looks forward to a transhuman future when nonbiological intelligence will prevail and surpass human intelligence. He believes this Singularity, as he calls it, will arrive soon because technological change is “so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.” My-oh-my, please spare us from such a future. Let’s make that our prayer.

Maybe in my next post I’ll turn to the past in search of intelligence far greater than anything encountered today.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Homily: The Queenship of Mary - August 22

Readings: Is 9:1-6; • Ps 112 • Lk 1:26-38


Today’s feast, this Memorial of the Queenship of Mary, is really fairly recent…at least in terms of the long life of the Church. It was established by Pope Pius XII back in August of 1954, and coincidentally my folks happened to be in Rome that very day.

I was just a lad of 10, but I remember how excited my mom was when she told me all about it after they returned home. She also said they should have taken me on their trip, and apologized for leaving me and my brother behind. Uh-huh, right, Mom.

But in truth they parked us with relatives, and I won the lottery because I got to stay with Uncle Billy and Aunt Lilly, two former Vaudeville entertainers. Billy played the piano and Lilly sang, and they were just about the coolest people I’d ever known. But I digress…

Mom also gave me a miraculous medal blessed by Pope Pius that day, a medal I still wear. And the readings the Church gives us today are the perfect readings for Mary, the Galilean teenaged girl who would become the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven and Earth.

We get a first taste in the reading from Isaiah, when he reveals that God will “make glorious…Galilee of the nations.”  Really? Who would ever think of backward, rural Galilee in those terms? Nobody but a God who loves to surprise us by turning the less than ordinary to the extraordinary, the spectacular. And what exactly will happen?

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Yes, this messianic prophecy gives the Jews of Isaiah’s day a first taste of the Savior who will set them free…set them free not from the slavery of Egyptians, or Assyrians, or Babylonians, or Persians, or Greeks, or Romans… No, this Savior will free them and all of humanity from the slavery of sin. He will open the very gates of heaven for us all.

But how does will this happen? How does the Savor come to us? Once again, God turns what the world sees as the ordinary into the extraordinary, and Luke tells us the story.

It’s the story of a young woman named Mary, a virgin in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee. And on this remarkable day she is visited by one of God’s mighty messengers, the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel doesn’t waste words and he delivers his message to Mary.

Fear not…God is with you…has filled you with His grace…and you will bear a Son named Jesus, the Son of the Most High, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

When young Mary hears this, she responds, more than a bit perplexed: “I’m a virgin. How can I bear a child?” A reasonable question, don’t you think? But Gabriel has an answer:

”The Holy Spirit will come upon you…and the child will be holy, the Son of God.”

And with that, this “handmade of the Lord”, this servant, says “let it be done” and in an instant she becomes the Mother of God.

It only took the Church about 400 years to confirm this. Back in the year 431, at the Council of Ephesus, the Church gave Mary the title “Theotokos” – the God Bearer, the Mother of God. Of course, the faithful had long believed and expressed this, but it still had to be affirmed at Ephesus since the Arians were going around at the time saying stupid things.

And then, just a mere 15 centuries later, in 1954, Pope Pius XII, speaking for the Church declared that Mary, the Mother of God, also deserved the title of Queen. This, too, was nothing new, and most often, on these occasions, the Church simply expresses what the Church already knows, what its people have long believed. After all, they’d been singing Marian hymns for ages, indeed since the Middle Ages…”Hail Holy Queen” and praying the fifth decade of the Glorius Mysteries.

Pope Pius actually gave three reasons:

1.    Mary’s close association with Jesus’ redemptive work;

2.    Her preeminent perfection of holiness;

3.    Her intercessory power on our behalf.

Good theological reasons with which all of us would agree. But for me, and for so many others, she’s simply the only Queen we’ve ever known.

And, believe me, she’s no “sit on the throne” and just look important kind of Queen. No, indeed, she loves to get right into the midst of the lives of her subjects, doing whatever is needed to help them out. For her, interceding is a full-time job.

And as I’m sure her Son will verify, she’s pulled me out of a lot of very difficult situations. And all I had to do was ask. Now that’s a Queen!

Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Mother of God…Pray for us. Intercede for us.

Homily: Year A, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Here's another unpreached homily...but I was ready, more or less, just in case. That's something I've learned to do over the years: always be ready to preach. Anyway, it focuses on one of my favorite healings, so well described by Matthew, so I decided to share my imperfect thoughts with you all.


Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Ps 67; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28


It would be easy to overlook this brief encounter depicted in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew. It would be easier still to discount its importance. After all, Jesus cured hundreds, probably thousands, during His public ministry. What makes this one so special?

But this encounter with the Lord was special because it was different…very different. First of all, it took place in the region of Tyre and Sidon, outside the land of Israel. And the woman he meets there is a Canaanite, a non-Jew, a pagan. Jesus, Matthew tells us, is withdrawing from Israel, and she is coming out of her own land, searching for what? It appears they are searching for each other, a meeting the Father has scheduled. And we know that Jesus never misses an encounter at the precise time and place arranged by the Father.

We can also see what the disciples thought of her: "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." Yes, the simple word, “Canaan,” evokes everything contrary to Jewish faith and tradition, everything they have been taught to despise.

And yet this pagan woman comes to Jesus, a Jew; and she comes to Him as her Lord and Savior: “Lord, Son of David…” Yes, each has left something behind to fulfill a deep yearning: Jesus yearning to save, and the woman’s to be saved. No power on earth can thwart this encounter.

Are our encounters with Jesus like this? For Jesus is seeking each one of us you just as He sought the Canaanite woman. He will gladly leave the holy places; He will enter into the unholy land of our sinfulness, in search of lost sheep.

But like the woman, we must turn to Him. And turn to Him she does. Yes, her only business that day was to find Him and to express her desperate need in the strongest possible terms. And in doing so she becomes the very embodiment of fervent intercessory prayer.

She screamed out her need, a parent agonizing over the suffering of her child, a daughter possessed by a demon. Without knowing it, this earthly mother appeals to the compassion of the heavenly Father, who understands well the agony of a child’s suffering. Her daughter’s distress is her distress: “Have pity on me,” she begs. “Lord, help me,” she pleads, as if she and her daughter are one, as if her daughter’s distress reverberates through her very being.

She is on a mission; one her daughter cannot complete. She must become her daughter’s voice, her daughter’s hands…just as Jesus became the Father, His hands, His feet, His voice, His Word. Does Jesus recognize in this woman and her attitude a mirror image of His own mission?

And yet, despite all this, Jesus responds with silence…the same silence that often greets our own prayer. Does this mean she should turn away, and just hope for the best? Does it mean she should address Jesus differently? Did she shout too loudly, or not loudly enough?

Should she have realized, as the disciples apparently thought, that Jesus was on a greater mission, a mission to save the world? That He really couldn’t be troubled with one woman’s problems? Was this saving, this healing of His strictly a Jewish thing? Did all this pass through her mind?

We can almost picture her, face flushed, eyes frantic, hands reaching out, pleading, as her mind jumps from one concern to the next…but she too says nothing, her pain muted by Jesus’ seeming indifference.

And yet, God’s silence, His silence in us is one of the choicest works of His grace. Her speculation and worry are no different from that which we experience when faced with God’s silence. But eventually, if we stop speculating, stop worrying, and become silent ourselves, we can come to hear God’s Word in the silence.

The disciples can’t stand it. In effect they tell Jesus, “For crying out loud. This woman’s driving us nuts. Do something, will you?”

But Jesus just says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He dismisses them just as He seems to have dismissed her. But this comment only causes her to plead once more, “Lord, help me.”

Her only solution is to throw herself at Jesus’ feet and cry for mercy. Although she’s probably never heard a single line of Scripture, her entire being is intuitively reduced to the cry of the psalmist: “Let thy mercy come to me and I will have life.” For she realized that day what St. Bernard realized a thousand years later, “The torrents of grace do not flow upward to the heights of pride…but downward into a humble, low-lying heart.”

Jesus now utters what to our ears seems a horrible insult: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."

How can He say such a thing?” we ask. Where’s the voice of the Good Shepherd? Where’s the Jesus who consoled the woman of Samaria? Where’s the Savior who died to set all people free?

Well, he's right here, right here in this encounter. He's the teacher goading the student. He's the coach pushing the player to give his all. He's the debater throwing down the verbal gauntlet so the argument can begin, and the truth can be seen by all.

The woman is no fool. She seems to recognize this. She may have no claim on the inheritance of Israel, but she still needs God’s promises to be fulfilled in her. And so, she doesn’t disagree, but in effect declares that Jesus speaks the truth, that she is, indeed, among the least of His creatures, nothing more than a dog in search of its master.

We can almost hear her joy as she plays this trump card on Jesus and realizes what its effect will be. For in her deep faith, and filled with the Spirit, she knew all along that Jesus would answer her prayer. After all, how could the Son of God turn her down?

After all, had she wanted to risk sounding insolent, she could have asked Him what on earth He was doing in pagan territory to begin with if, as He claimed, He had come only to redeem Jews? Why indeed had He come to this place, to encounter those in need, if He intended to do nothing about it?

You see, brothers and sisters, it is this wonderful woman’s genus to have understood the truth, the divine secret, that in order truly to win – that is, to be overtaken and sheltered and saved – she must allow herself to be defeated by Jesus.

She and you and I win only by submitting to God, by adoring God, and by finding that adoration accepted. The whole drama is shot through with an indestructible passion of faith, with her inability to conceive of God in Jesus as anything but an inexhaustible fountain of mercy.

Yes, it’s all about faith. “Kyrie,” [Lord] she cries out four times in this brief encounter.

“If you’re indeed Lord,” she seems to say, “the all-powerful Lord, then you must be the loving Lord of all, of the high and the low, of the sheep of Israel and the dogs of the pagans. I don’t care which I am, only that I am with you. If you’re truly the One Son of the One God, then you’re the Lord of all, then you’re my personal Lord too, and my rejoicing over it will never end.”

Unlike so many who demand that God serve them at their table, she has no problem abiding on the floor under His table. She has no problem with crumbs, glorious crumbs from that table, heavenly crumbs falling from the hands of Jesus Himself.

For she knows that wherever Jesus is, there is abundance; that wherever sin is, God’s compassion ensures that grace is there too, superabundantly. Just as we know that here, at this very altar, at the Eucharistic table, Christ’s mercy will forever be raining those crumbs of life.

"You’ve got great faith, woman," he says, "You’ve got remarkable faith!"

Won't it be wonderful when he says the same thing to you and to me?

Saturday, August 19, 2023

James L. Buckley -- R.I.P.

Yesterday, those of us who identify with the "permanent things" conservatism of Russell Kirk and others like him, lost one of our heroes, former U. S. Senator James L. Buckley. According to reports, Buckley died in a Washington D.C. hospital at the age of 100. 

A remarkable man, Buckley was the fourth of ten Buckley children, and the older brother of the more famous William F. Buckley who died in 2008. But James Buckley had his own claim to fame and served in all three branches of the federal government. In 1970 he won election to the U. S. Senate as a third party (conservative) candidate. He later served as an undersecretary of state in the Reagan administration, and also spent 15 years as a federal judge. 

Buckley was a strong and consistent advocate of less government, especially at the federal level, and frequently warned against government's desire to control all aspects of citizens' lives. He was also a solidly faithful Catholic. As Kathryn Jean Lopez tweeted (or Xed, or whatever it's now called) yesterday (link: Kathryn Lopez):

A most beautiful soul, James Buckley, died this morning. He was a senator and judge, but I will always remember him most fondly at the altar rail, where he said we are all equal and in need of our Savior. May he be in union with Him today and for eternity.

Can we say anything better or more fitting about this man? 

If you want to learn more about James Buckley as a senator, read his fascinating 1975 book, If Men Were Angels -- no longer in print, but still available. Buckley took his book's title from George Wahington, 

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Rest in peace.

Homily, Monday 19th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Dt 10:12-22; • Ps 147 • Mt 17:22-27


Because we have the gift of hindsight, thanks to the Gospel, you and I are often amazed at how clueless the apostles seem, as if somehow we would handle it all better.

Jesus spends so much time shaping their hearts, opening their eyes to the meaning of the Incarnation and the Cross, to the Paschal mystery, to the Passion, Death, and Resurrection that must occur. We see an example of that shaping in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew.

In the two chapters preceding today’s passage, Jesus on several occasions refers indirectly and directly to His death and resurrection. But this time, indeed, this time Jesus is blunt.

The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.

Remember all the drama unleashed in Peter when Jesus first announced His passion. Compare that with the apostles’ reaction now. There’s no argument…no, Matthew simply tells us they’re “overwhelmed with grief.”

Jesus’ words were plain, their meaning clear. They now know better than to argue with Him. But still, they don’t understand. How can Jesus let this horror, this evil, happen? I suppose they’ve kind of turned the corner. Perhaps in their confusion and grief, they recognize the Pascal mystery is still beyond them. They certainly don’t understand the “why” of it all. That the Son of Man, the flower of humanity, will be betrayed by men underscores the tragic self-deceit that so often hides the truth from us.

Years ago, I’d been ordained less than a year, in another diocese, I was making hospital visits. Looking at the list of new arrivals, I noticed one man’s last name was Murphy, and thought, Well, this one has to be Catholic. As I entered his room I could see he was quite ill, so I asked if he’d like me to pray with him.

He responded with, “No. I’m a Muslim. Unlike you, I don’t pray to a dead God, one who was nailed to a cross. What kind of God would allow that?”

Talk about a surprise! I wasn’t sure what to say, so I guess I went on the attack:

“What kind of God? Only a God, whose love for you and for me is so great, He humbled Himself, became one of us, sacrificed His life to redeem us from our sinfulness. That’s why I worship a God who died, then rose from the dead to give us hope.”

I thought I had done so well, but in response he just told me to leave. “Go on, get out! I really don’t want to talk with you.”

I learned a lesson that day. The sick want and need to meet a God Who heals; they don’t need an intellectual or theological argument.

Yes, indeed, our God doesn’t come to us as some omniscient, omnipotent being…no, He comes to us as one of us, as a friend, as a loving brother, as a healer, a forgiver. But everyone’s not happy with this. Some actually hate how God approaches us in Jesus. Jesus, by showing us how we can be, lets us see how we really are. This presents us with two choices:

We can listen to Him, do the Father’s will, change, repent, and be conformed to Jesus’ goodness…or we can try to destroy that goodness, in a feeble attempt to suppress its judgment of our sinfulness.

But God simply overcomes all our foolishness. He allows Himself to fall into the abuse and violence of men’s hands so that, when they wound Him, they will be covered by the tide of His Precious Healing Blood flowing from Calvary, from this very altar, and from thousands like it. And His blood can absorb into its love the very worst of what we are capable.

Today we recall the memory of St. Maxmillian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr, who gave his life in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. He followed Our Lord's example by sacrificing himself so another could live.

Victor Frankl, the Austrian Jewish psychotherapist who spent much of World War II as a prisoner in that same Auschwitz, wrote a remarkable book of his experiences called, Man's Search for Meaning. There Frankl describes how, amid unbelievable brutality and the most degrading conditions, he encountered so much remarkable faith and unselfish love. Again and again, he met people who achieved victory over the sinfulness surrounding them.

Out of this experience of suffering Frankl had a revelation. He wrote, “Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’”

Most of us, haven’t known such suffering or come face to face with the kind of evil that surrounded St. Maximilian and Victor Frankl, the kind that Jesus encountered on that first Good Friday…most of us in our sufferings only argue and fight with God.

Perhaps, like the Israelites, we should listen to Moses, who in our reading from Deuteronomy said:

“He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you those great and awesome things…”

Yes, like the Apostles, we too can grasp the great and awesome things our God has done, that He has died for us. 

Yes, as a 20th-century Jew reminds us:

“The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Homily: Tuesday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 2:1-15a • Psalm 69 • Mt 11:20-24


One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is the willingness of its authors and the Holy Spirit to hide nothing and reveal almost everything about the key characters. This is so very different from all other ancient religious texts, as well as the official records of other ancient societies. In these, the kings and pharaohs and conquerors were all depicted as near perfect, as godlike men who always won, and never failed.

But not so in the Bible. Beginning with Adam and Eve, and progressing through the Patriarchs to Moses, then on through the long list of prophets and Kings, we encounter so many men, and actually quite a few women; and for all of them, nothing is hidden – strengths and weaknesses, sins and virtues, it’s all revealed.  The focus, you see, is not really on these men and women; rather it’s on God, who chooses whomever He desires to fulfill His plan, to carry out His work in the world. 

And often enough He chooses amazingly unlikely people. Today, for example, in our reading from Exodus, we encounter two versions of Moses.

First, a basket-case floating among the bullrushes, a Hebrew infant, “a goodly child”, his mother called him, surrendered by that mother in hope and trust, and retrieved and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter.

We next encounter a grown Moses, fortyish and entitled, but a man who presumably knew his roots. Driven by a slightly skewed sense of justice, he willfully kills an Egyptian who was persecuting a Hebrew slave laborer. When the word gets out, Moses realizes he too must get out, and heads east to the land of Midian. Moses is introduced to us in all his imperfections. And yet on Mt Horeb God will choose him to free His people and lead them to the Promised Land. How blessed we are that our loving, merciful God chooses us as well, despite all our imperfections. 

Then we encounter Jesus in our Gospel passage from Matthew. You know, a lot of folks seem to see Jesus solely as the warm and fuzzy, group hug, kumbaya Jesus. And yet, in the Gospel He often comes across quite differently.

Today, for example, He’s taking on the role of Prophet. Indeed, He sounds a lot like Isaiah when that prophet proclaimed God’s judgment on the King of Babylon.

“Down to Sheol you will be brought to the depths of the pit![Is 14:15]

Jesus says much the same, doesn’t He? Hard words to those neighboring towns, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, whose people had witnessed all those miracles, but failed to listen. Because Jesus had been with them, and they had seen and heard it all, their judgment will be harsher.

When I was growing up we had a brief family Bible Study every week. Now, to my knowledge, my mom, who was an RN, had no formal training in Sacred Scripture, but always seemed to share wonderful insights. We’d read a few verses then Mom or Dad would ask what we thought of it.

After reading these comments of Jesus, my brother and I tried to say something like: “The people in those towns are really going to catch it.” But Mom simply said, “You know, Jesus isn’t talking to us about those little towns. He’s talking to us about us.” That took all the wind out of our sails. She went on, explaining it all to us in words similar to these...

“Jesus healed all those people because He loved them, and He wanted others to see and understand that they must listen to Him…But so many didn’t. If we instead turn away from Him, we’re no better than the people of those towns. You see,” Mom told us, “Our Lord has been living with us in our home, speaking to us through our church…and when we receive Holy Communion He actually lives within us. Because of that, we must listen to Him, do as He asks us, and let God’s will rule our lives.”

With that, she ended the lesson. Brothers and sisters, Jesus said the same thing, didn’t He? His Gethsemane prayer, words recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels:

“Not what I will, but what you will.”

…words that actually encapsulate His entire teaching. Moses struggled to accept God’s will in his life, and so too did the Apostles.

I guess that’s the question for you and me: What’s the focus of our lives, our will our His will? After all, every day we pray, “Thy will be done,” but do we really seek it?

Friday, July 14, 2023


I noticed a one-paragraph story in this morning’s paper, one of those world news blurbs from the A.P. presumably used by an editor to fill up the page with interesting tidbits. The tiny story had a big headline: “After Quran Burnings, U.N. Calls for Countries to Fight Religious Hate.” The single paragraph that follows doesn’t tell us much, only that “The U.N.’s top human rights body overwhelmingly approved a measure calling on countries to do more to prevent religious hatred in the wake of Quran burnings in Europe.” It seems the “overwhelming” vote was 28 to 12 in favor of the measure, although we’re told very little about the actual content of the measure or who voted yea or nay. The only other piece of information shared with us is that the measure passed “despite objections from Western countries who fear tougher steps by governments could trample freedom of expression.” That’s it.

Anyway, the story piqued my curiosity, so I did a little online research. According to the U.N.’s website, the measure brought about an urgent debate to “discuss the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran in some European and other countries.” These desecrations of the Quran were apparently the catalyst that led the U.N. Human Rights Council to address the issue of religious hatred. It would seem, then, for those 28 countries who voted “Yes”, Quran burning is the ultimate act of religious hatred. 

This led me to ask, “Who voted Yea and who voted Nay?” And I found the answer quickly thanks to Al Jazeera, the Islamic news agency that never misses a chance to attack the West. Their coverage included a complete breakdown of the vote. Once again, keep in mind these nations are the members of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, what the A.P. called it’s “top human rights body”. We should, then assume they are all in favor of human rights…right? Here’s the vote:

Glancing through the list of Yes votes, it’s hard not to notice that many of them are totalitarian, or authoritarian, or theocratic, or just plain old dictatorships. Since the measure was precipitated by the most recent Quran burning in Sweden, we can rightly assume the Islamic nations voted for the measure. Of course, their concept of human rights is somewhat restrained, and generally relates only to what they consider Islamophobia. Sadly, within their own nations, most deprive the Kafir (the non-Muslim) of basic human rights, particularly religious rights. And the extremists among them, the Jihadists, simply kill non-Muslims which they believe to be a religious duty. We recall the many executions based solely on religion, like the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS in 2015 (see below):
I will gladly admit, I am strongly against Quran burning, or Bible burning, although I don’t believe it should be criminalized. But 
such actions, although obvious examples of religious hatred, do not compare to the far more vile crimes being committed against the world's most persecuted religion, Christianity.

Speaking of burning, in Egypt hundreds of Christian churches have been destroyed, often burned, by Muslims. And, perhaps surprisingly to most people, the same has been happening in parts of India (another Yes voter) but perpetrated by radical Hindus who want to eliminate all Christian communities. In both nations (and many others) the seeming indifference of local and national police agencies is telling. I find it interesting that such persecution of Christian minorities is taking place in India, often described as “the world's largest democracy”. This is another reason why unchecked democracy, which leads to the dictatorship of the majority, is really no different from any other form of totalitarianism. We should thank God every day for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers who, because they recognized the perils and historic evils of pure democracy, left us a lasting (we hope) legacy of a constitutional republic.

One parting comment: Because the United Nations has staffed its Human Rights Council with so many nations who openly despise human rights, I see no reason to pay much attention to anything that flows out of that building into the East River.

Pray for those who persecute us.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Good News and Bad News

A few days ago I read that National Geographic might be on its last legs. Walt Disney, the corporation that now owns the magazine, has fired pretty much everyone that works for National Geographic. Apparently there weren’t that many folks left to churn out the woke drivel that has replaced what used to be wonderful articles about our fascinating world. Although the magazine will still be published, at least for a little while, all future articles will be written by freelancers and then cobbled together by the few remaining editors. I don’t expect that to last too long, especially since their subscriptions are just a fraction of what they once were. At one point over 12 million people subscribed (including me), but now it’s down to 1.5 million (excluding me). I suspect most of these are long-time subscribers who just can’t give it up, despite the magazine’s current weirdness. 

Anyway, unless the Disney wokecrats (Did I just coin a new word?) convert and support the dreaded DeSantis campaign, the future of National Geographic is bleak indeed. I suppose that’s the good news. Sadly, it’s also the bad news. My parents began subscribing to National Geographic when they were married on July 4, 1935, and never threw out an issue. I read and reread all those magazines and turned to them whenever I wanted to learn something about a particular place in our world. It was a unique magazine, well-written, and wonderfully photographed by many true professionals. How wonderful that my folks kept every issue. Unfortunately when they moved from New York to Chatham on Cape Cod, I think all those mags were left behind. Of course by then I had left for college and soon enough had my own subscription. Yes, indeed, it was once a great publication.    

Then there were the maps! I’ve long been a cartaphile (Did I just coin another word?), probably from the age of seven. When NG arrived in the mail, the first thing I looked for was the map. No map, no joy. But if one of those wonderful maps were included, I would open it up and spread it out on the dining room table. Just to see it opened up was almost magical, as if I were right there in that other piece of our world. As a child I’d pore over each newly arrived map for hours, fascinated by it all, the cities, rivers, borders, mountains, lakes, and seas. I suppose those NG maps were the reason I became a geographic fanatic, something reflected even in my choice of hobbies: stamp collecting and ham radio. Like those detailed maps, both took me around the world, but in very different ways. 

And so, I am saddened hearing that National Geographic may not be with us much longer. It could, of course, be restored, but that’s unlikely. One thing about ideologues: they’re so wrapped up in their beliefs, they’re really unable to change. But nothing in this world lasts forever, but at least I and many other will still have the memories of this once great publication.