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, December 30, 2019

Have you noticed...?

"Nothing is easier than denouncing the evildoer; nothing more difficult than understanding him." -- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Have you noticed...

That the more popular and famous celebrities are, the more likely they will become an embarrassment, if not to themselves then to anyone with a sense of propriety.

That the politicians who are most vociferous in their support for public schools send their own children to private schools. They realize, but will never openly admit, that many of our public schools are failing, so they gladly pay to send their children to schools that will actually educate their children. 

That the elitists -- the politicians, academics, and celebrities -- who seem most concerned about the human impact on "climate change" are the same folks who ride around in big SUVs and fly private jets to their climate change conferences? Oh, yes, and whatever happened to global warming?

That these same elitists, who support confiscating firearms owned by law-abiding citizens, are always surrounded and protected by armed bodyguards? You and I simply aren't important enough to be allowed to protect ourselves and our families from those who would do us harm, from those who ignore all laws, including so-called "gun control" -- really, people control -- laws.

That the leadership of the Democrat Party loves to accuse conservatives of racism, despite the Democrats' active and public support of Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by racist Margaret Sanger, who wanted nothing less than the elimination of what she believed to be the lesser races. Concerned that this aim might become public, she wrote to Dr. Clarence Gamble, "We don't want the word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population."

That after a black couple armed with rifles stormed into a kosher grocery store in Jersey City and killed three people, some in the liberal media -- and, of course, US Rep. Rashida Tlaib -- blamed the killings on "white supremacy." Interestingly, the murderous couple, members of a fun pseudo-religious group that oddly calls itself the "Black Hebrew Israelites," admitted to being full-fledged haters. In the words of one of the killers, "I do this because my creator makes me do this and I hate who he hates." Yep, certified, self-proclaimed haters.

That politicians who claim their policies and legislation are designed only to "help the children" are loudest in their support for abortion "rights" -- the right to kill those little ones before they are born.

That when politicians say they're "personally against abortion, but respect a woman's right to choose," media folks never ask the obvious question: "Why, exactly, are you personally against abortion?" I would really like to hear their answers to this question.

Finally, that for the left, it's all about abortion. Abortion trumps everything else. Yes, indeed, if a politician supports every wacko left wing policy, but is openly prolife, he or she will be vilified, silenced, and ostracized.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Truth About Santa Claus...Sort of

Ho Ho Ho!! We all love Santa Claus, don't we? After all, he's the giver of Christmas gifts who distributes them throughout the world from a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. How cool is that? Yes, indeed, a true miracle worker. But he's also a remarkably joyful one. We all remember how Clement Moore described him:
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
Moore, of course, was a product of the 19th century, when a "round belly" and a pipe signaled prosperity and amiability. Since then things have certainly changed. My doctor, for example, a 21st-century man of science, would be all over poor Santa: 
"You, my not so little friend, are obese. First of all, stop eating all the cookies those enablers leave for you. And cut out that whole milk.
"No? Well, since you seem to have little self-control, a lifestyle change is in order. Get out of that sleigh and show me 10,000 steps every day. Stop this foolish gift-giving and all your problems will go away. 

"And your smoking! Don't you realize it's killing you? If you don't care about your own health, just think of the effects of second-hand smoke on all those children. 

"It's really quite simple: diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices...the keys to a long life. How old are you, anyway?" 

How old? Well, the real St. Nicholas was born in the late third century, which would make him about 1,750 years old. Sadly, though, he died at the age of 73 in the year 343, on December 6, the day we celebrate as St. Nicholas Day.

As the Bishop of Myra (now Demre in modern Turkey), Nicholas was known for his love for the poor and his generosity, particularly his secret gift giving. This is likely the source of the Santa Claus legend with which he is associated. Other Nicholas legends abound. He calmed storms at sea, saved soldiers from unjust execution, and even resurrected three children who had been murdered. There is no evidence, though, that he was either chubby or a smoker. (Indeed, smoking was unknown in Europe at the time and we can thank the tribes of the Americas for passing along that vice to Europeans.)

According to some early writers, Nicholas had been imprisoned during the persecutions under Diocletian but was freed after Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan (313) and allowed Christianity to flourish. 

Many of these same sources describe a very un-Santa-like event that apparently took place during the Church's first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325. Arius, a priest from Alexandria who had been spreading heretical doctrine on the nature of Jesus Christ, was invited to the council to defend his teachings. As Bishop Nicholas listened to Arius, he became increasingly agitated by the heretical attacks on the truth about his Lord and Savior. Unable to stomach it any longer, Nicholas rose to his feeet, approached Arius, and slapped his face. 
St. Nicholas adds Arius to his Naughty List
Personally, I have no problem with this, but the Emperor and Nicholas' fellow bishops thought it was grossly impolite behavior, even though delivered to a heretic. Nicholas was stripped of his bishop's vestments, put in chains, and tossed into prison. The bishops decided they would deal with him when the council concluded. 

In his prison cell, Nicholas asked God for forgiveness but didn't waver in his belief about the dangers of Arius' heretical teachings. (He was certainly right about that, since Arianism went on to divide the Christian world for centuries.) That night, Jesus and the Virgin Mary both appeared to Nicholas. They presented him with a bishop's stole and the Book of the Gospels, which he read for the rest of the night. In the morning the jailer found him unchained, dressed as a bishop, and peacefully reading the Gospels. Learning of this, Constantine freed Nicholas and reinstated him as Bishop of Myra. The Council of Nicaea went on to condemn Arius' heretical teachings and gave us the gift of the Nicene Creed, which we confess together every week at Sunday Mass.

How much of the St. Nicholas story is true? We really don't know, but I prefer to believe it all. 

Next December, when you and the kids (or grandkids) encounter Santa at the local mall, why not take a moment to thank him for slapping down heresy at Nicaea? Who knows? He just might be the real St. Nicholas.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Homily: Monday 3rd Week of Advent

I have embedded bellow the video of this homily for Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent, preached at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Wildwood, FL, on 16 December 2019. The complete text of the homily follows the video.

Readings:  Nm 24:2-7,15-17; Ps 25; Mt 21:23-27


Balaam Blessing the Israelites
As we continue into this third week of Advent, we're invited to be watchful, for "the Lord is near." What a great reminder, even though the Lord is always near, dwelling within us thanks to His gift of the Eucharist. But during this time of year, the message becomes all the more real to us. 

In our Old Testament reading from the Book of Numbers, we encounter Balaam, a Gentile soothsayer or magician from Mesopotamia. Balaam had been summoned by Balak, the King of Moab, who feared that this huge horde of Israelites coming out of the wilderness would overwhelm his kingdom. He therefore tells Balaam to curse the Israelites. But God also speaks to Balaam, commanding that he bless and not curse the Israelites. 

Now Balaam was a complex character, a man motivated largely by selfishness and greed. And yet Balaam fears the God of the Israelites, this God who is near, who speaks to him and commands him. Fearing God more than the Moabite king, Balaam does as God commands. And embedded in his blessing is a Messianic prophecy:

"I see him, though not now; I observe him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel” [Nm 24:17].
Notice that God chooses whomever He wills. Even Balaam, whose motives are far less than pure, when he submits to God’s will, becomes a prophet, a messenger from God. 

Balaam's prophecy of a "rising star of Jacob, and a scepter…from Israel" is seen as one of the earliest Messianic prophecies. 

Interestingly, the ancients believed strongly in the power of blessings. Balaam certainly did and so did the Israelites. But what about you and me? How do we respond to the blessings we receive from the hand of God? Have you ever considered that every talent and ability you have was given to you by God?

But that’s not all. God doesn’t’ simply distribute blessings and talents. No, He wants you to use them to fulfill the mission for which He created you. In other words, every blessing is meant to be shared in the service of God. I suppose that’s the question we must ask ourselves: do we imitate the selfish Balaam who ultimately turned away from God’s direction, or do we submit to God’s will?

In our Gospel passage from Matthew we find the Pharisees resisting Jesus’ teachings, God’s will, out of fear. They feared Jesus because He threatened their authority.

I can sympathize with them because it’s not easy to let go of the comfortable way of life we’ve created for ourselves. Yes, indeed, it’s hard to turn away from what we think we know, and embrace the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It’s hard to leave our predictable world behind and open ourselves to the mystery of God working in ways we could never imagine.
Pharisees Fearful of Jesus
In truth, we must become like children, open to the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives, allowing Him to lead us on the path to holiness. This was something the Pharisees could not do. Unable and unwilling to listen to Jesus, they could only test Him, measuring Him against their human understanding.

Perhaps this is why Jesus didn’t answer their question. Addressing this in a homily, the early Church father, St. John Chrysostom, said: 
“Even if He had told them, it would have profited nothing, because the darkened will cannot perceive the things that are of the light.”
Yes, brothers and sisters, God alone can save us from the darkness of the world and from our own internal darkness. Only God can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from hopelessness and the fear of death. 

The gospel of salvation was the Good News when Jesus preached it 2,000 years ago, and it’s still the Good News for us today. This Advent, then, let’s use our time wisely and come to know the joy and freedom of the gospel.
Father, You have blessed us, creating each of us for a purpose. 
Jesus, You died for us, and called us to complete Your work.
Holy Spirit, through You we carry out the work for which we were created.
Father, Son, and Spirit – teach us to accept your blessings and to use them always for your glory.

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent - Year A

I've embedded below a video of this homily preached on December 15, 2019, the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday). The complete text of the homily follows the video.

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11


Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy, a day on which we wear these rose-colored vestments to symbolize the joy that should fill us in anticipation of our celebration of the birth of Our Lord. Looking out at you all, I don’t see a lot of joyful faces, so how ‘bout a smile or two. That’s better. 

Sadly, in today’s world far too many people live joyless lives. And interestingly, the most joyless of these are not the poor, but rather those who are among the most affluent. Having so much, they can’t understand why they aren’t happy.

Back in the seventies the wife of a friend just upped and left him and their children, saying that she had to “find herself.” There was a lot of that going around back then – men and women leaving their families in search of something else, presumably something better. I’ve always found that a bit odd – people going off in search of themselves, when what they really seek is right there in front of them and within them. They search for meaning but look in all the wrong places.

St. Teresa of Avila, whose works are certainly worth reading, made a point of teaching that it is only in the search for God that we can uncover and discover our own true selves. Yes, indeed, as Christians we believe no one can encounter themselves until and unless they encounter Jesus Christ.

But who is this Jesus? Is He God? Is He man? Is He both? Do we accept or reject Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we acknowledge Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God? Our answers determine both our entire worldview and how we view ourselves; for once we accept Jesus for who He is, those identity crises disappear. In a word, we find ourselves. When we find ourselves in Jesus, He becomes the very center of our being. It’s then we begin to experience the distance between who we are and who we’re called to be.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist has his disciples ask these same questions of Jesus.
“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” [Mt 11:3]
I’ve always believed John knew full well the answer to his question, but his purpose was to release his disciples, to turn them into Jesus’ disciples. After all, wasn’t John the one who said, 
“He must increase, and I must decrease”? [Jn 3:30]
Didn’t John, as an unborn infant, leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived at his mother’s doorstep? If the infant knew who Jesus was, then surely the adult knew as well. And hadn’t John, as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, watched the Spirit descend and heard the voice of the Father praising the Son?

"He must increase..."
No, John he knew his mission was ending. Locked in Herod’s prison, facing execution, John had only to convince his disciples of this same truth. Indeed, this would be the final act of his mission: to send his disciples to Jesus, He who must increase. John’s question was not about himself; it was about Jesus. John didn’t need to find himself; he needed to help others find Jesus. That had been His mission all along.

How fitting this all is. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just sent out his disciples to evangelize, to bring His saving presence to others. And then John sends his disciples to Jesus, seeking answers: Is Jesus the One revealed by the prophets, the fullness of Revelation? John teaches his disciples one more thing: “Go to Jesus. Ask Him yourselves, and you will see.”
“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”
Jesus’s answer, neither “Yes” nor “No”, must have disappointed some, but I’m sure John understood. For in answering the prophet’s question Jesus turned to Isaiah, another prophet. The passage, originally written to celebrate the return from the Babylonian Exile, is also a revelation describing the reign of the Messiah.

Calling on Isaiah, Jesus testifies to the signs that are taking place…by Him, in Him, and through Him. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; the poor —the outcasts, the hopeless; they all hear the Good News. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

And Jesus adds a beatitude, a blessing: tell John that those who take no offense at me, who are not disappointed in me, are blessed. After this we hear no more of John. Stripped of his disciples, his mission complete, he dies at the hands of Herod: “He must increase. I must decrease.”

The Messiah has come, but we still wait don’t we? 

Yes, Jesus is present and working through His Body, the Church, and He will come again in glory, but He must still come more fully into each of our lives. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses. Jesus forgives. Jesus brings back to life that which was dead. Jesus brings good news to those who despair.

In a few moments Father Cromwell will pray these words in today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Payer: 

“It is by His gift that already we rejoice…so that He may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise.”
Are we doing that? As individuals, as a Catholic community here at St. Vincent de Paul, are we “watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise?” So many have yet to know the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ. In the words of Pope Francis, 
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
But do we share our joy, and do so with the same patience and love urged by St. James in our 2nd reading?

Our Christian vocation is really not unlike John’s. We’re called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our hearts and the hearts of others, so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation" [Ps 51:14], the healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone give real meaning to our lives. 

What will be the message others receive about your life and mine? Do our lives bring hope to others? To those who are searching? So many today search in vain, looking in all the wrong places, seeking themselves, but finding nothing.

To those for whom Jesus is simply a name? When they ask -- “Is Jesus the One, or do we look for another?” -- How do you and I respond? Will our lives, our voices, open their ears to the Word of God? Do we give the answer Jesus gave? Do we offer them the light of Christ, the light of hope that helps the spiritually blind see, the light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives?

And the lame, those crippled by hatred. Or today’s lepers – the ostracized, the cast-offs, the forgotten – those filled with self-hatred. Will you and I take Jesus and the hope of salvation to them, or will they look for another? Go to the nursing homes, the soup kitchens, the shelters. Bring hope where there is despair. Bring the good news to those who hear so much bad news.

We’re also sent to raise the dead, but don’t look for them in the cemetery. No, to find the dead, the spiritually dead, go to the prisons and jails. Put all that is hurting, stained, impoverished, and dead and lay it at the Lord’s feet. He’ll pick it up, so nothing will come between us and Jesus Christ. Shame and hatred and sin paralyze, brothers and sisters. Only the love of Christ brings healing.

This is our vocation: to be healers and prophets, to pave the way for Jesus Christ in the world. Our lives must reflect God’s Love within us, so the world might experience conversion, and know that the Kingdom is here, in Christ and in His Church!

Christmas is a time of gifts -- giving and receiving. Include Christian joy among the gifts we take to others, the joy we celebrate on this Sunday of Joy.

The world doesn’t need to find itself. It needs only to find Jesus Christ. And you and I are the ones God sends into the world so those in search of Jesus need not look for another!

Blessed are those who are not disappointed in us.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Them Killer Guns

"Civil wars happen when the victimized are armed. Genocide happens when they are not." -- A. E. Samaan
OK, in the spirit of full transparency, I'm a deacon and I also own a few firearms. Nothing weird about that. I know many other brother deacons who enjoy shooting. As for me, I used to engage in occasional target shooting, but really don't have the time now. So, in truth, I clean my firearms every so often, just to keep them operable, but really haven't used them very much in recent years. And like virtually all legal firearm owners, I obey the laws, even unjust, un-Constitutional laws. This, of course, separates law-abiding owners of firearms from gun-toting criminals who, as you might expect, don't really pay attention to laws. 

A while ago, a parishioner, having heard that I owned some firearms, suggested that, "as a man of God, it's immoral for you to own guns." When I suggested that automobiles, knives, baseball bats, and fists also killed a bunch of people every year, some more than guns, he said, "That's different." When I asked why it was different, he had no answer. "It's just not the same," he said. (By the way, every year knives kill far more people than rifles.)

Of course, it's not different. Cars and knives and firearms are simply tools, and there's certainly nothing immoral about owning any or all of them. Sadly, though, this man was the victim of an intentional misinformation campaign that has apparently achieved some of its hoped-for goals. When Americans were polled recently and asked to guess the leading cause of gun-related deaths, the results were interesting. Check it out:
I'll spell out the results since the captions on the graph are rather small. Their guesses:
  • 4% - Don't know
  • 25% - Mass Shooting
  • 33% - Non-Mass Homicide
  • 23% - Suicide
  • 14% - Unintentional
As you can see from the above, most Americans seem to believe homicides and mass shootings are the leading causes of gun-related deaths, with suicides and unintentional (presumably accidental) coming in third and fourth. 

Now let's look at the actual data from the Center for Disease Control:

  •  0.3% - Mass Shooting
  • 36.8% - Non-Mass Homicide
  • 60.8% - Suicide
  • 0.9% - Undetermined
  • 1.2% - Unintentional
The CDC, a government agency, keeps track of all causes of death, and their latest data on gun-related deaths (from 2017)  show how misinformed most folks are. I can only assume their ignorance results from a media and uninformed politicians that feed them grossly inaccurate information on firearms. 

Note that the actual leading cause of gun-related deaths -- over 60% -- is suicide. But more striking is the figure for mass shootings: less than 1% as opposed to the 25% result from the poll. 

To read more on the results of this poll, including a demographic breakdown of those participating, click here: Washington Free Beacon.

I've also embedded the following video of Amy Swearer, a legal analyst at the Heritage Foundation. By the way, her statistics are absolutely correct...I checked.

Read what Teddy Roosevelt said over 100 years ago:

"The great body of our citizens shoot less as time goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world...The first step -- in the direction of preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come -- is to teach men to shoot."
Teddy Roosevelt understood that the 2nd Amendment wasn't designed to protect hunters or target shooters, but to protect the people from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Interestiingly, in 1962 I graduated from a Catholic high school in New York's Westchester County. Our school had a rifle team and a indoor rifle range. I suspect that school no longer has either. Perhaps the range has been replaced with a safe room where students can escape from those ever present microaggressions.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

Jane Austen
Jane Austen, the more than great English novelist, was born 244 years ago today on December 16, 1775. 

I first encountered Jane Austen's writing when I was assigned to read Pride and Prejudice as a senior in high school. That simply whetted my appetite for more and turned me into a lifelong fan. 

A lot of folks consider her a romantic, but not me. If you want to read 19th-century romance, read a Bronte. I've always considered Jane Austen to be a down to earth storyteller who was somehow able to combine biting social commentary and moral theology, all the while developing some of literature's most interesting characters.

A few years ago, in September 2013, Dear Diane and I made a kind of Austen pilgrimage to England, visiting many Austen-related locations. We had an absolutely wonderful time. In fact we spent a week in a rented cottage in the Hampshire village of Chawton, where Jane spent most of her last years. The cottage is right next door to the Austen house, which is now a well-visited museum (Jane Austen House Museum). And most handily, the cottage was also directly across the street from a charming village pub, The Greyfriar. Unfortunately, since the cottage and its main house, a very old home called "Clinkers", were sold not long ago, the cottage is no longer available as a rental. 
The Austen House in Chawton (2013)
The Greyfriar, dogs and children welcome

Dear Diane and I in the garden of the Austen House

We also visited Jane's tomb in Winchester Cathedral and spent time in Steventon, another small Hampshire village where Jane spent the first decades of her life. Her father, Rev. George Austen, was the pastor of St. Nicholas Church, the Anglican church in Steventon.
Winchester Cathedral

St. Nicholas Church, Steventon
We then drove to Lyme Regis, a near perfect coastal town that reminded me of Cape Cod villages back in the 1950s. Austen also lived there briefly and used it for some key scenes in her novel, Persuasion
A Blustery Day in Lyme Regis
We also visited the old naval port of Portsmouth, a city that makes an appearance in Austen's novel, Mansfield Park. We even stayed several days in Kent and saw the very large house inherited by one of Jane Austen's brothers, a home she occasionally visited. 
Admiral Nelson's Cabin: HMS Victory
Finally, we spent a wonderful weekend (except for the rain) at a lovely Bed and Breakfast in Bath (The Bath House), another city where Austen lived for a time and which she used as a setting in several of her novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion). When in Bath the Jane Austen Centre, another well-managed Austen museum, is also worth a visit.
Diane and friend at Bath's Jane Austen Centre

The Unique Architecture of Bath
Our trip concluded with five days in London where we rented a flat about halfway between Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. One thing we discovered: rather than staying in hotels, it's far less expensive and much more enjoyable to rent cottages and flats. And because they usually come equipped with a washer and dryer, we were able to pack more lightly.

Leaving London, we returned to the USA via a 14-day transatlantic cruise aboard the Celebrity Infinity. It was a long, but truly delightful vacation...all thanks to Jane Austen.

Happy Birthday, Jane.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Go Navy! Beat Army!

After three years of disappointment, Navy's football team came through in a very big way today and soundly beat the Army team, 31-7. Army scored first on a long drive, but Navy responded with 31 unanswered points.
Navy's Malcomb Perry rushing for one of his two touchdowns

The Navy quarterback, Malcomb Perry, was truly remarkable, rushing for a record 304 yards on 29 carries. Equally impressive was Navy's defense. They held a normally explosive Army offense to a total of 148 yards. 

Overall it was a wonderful win for Navy and I can speak from experience when I say that Navy's current plebe class of 2023 is very happy tonight. Because of this win, the plebes get to act almost like normal human beings until January when they return from their Christmas leave -- aka, vacation. (I assume such traditions still exist.) 56 years ago, in December 1963, my plebe class experienced much the same happiness thanks to another quarterback named Roger Staubach when Navy beat Army 21-15.

The Army-Navy game was always a very special event in our family since my late brother, Jeff, was a West Pointer, class of 1962, and I was a Naval Academy grad, class of 1967. I also came from a multi-generational Army family, so when Navy beat Army...well, I'm sure you can imagine the personal thrill of victory as opposed to the agony of defeat experienced by others in the family.

A salute to the Army team as well. The cadets played hard, never gave up, and along with the Navy midshipmen, gave the nation a glimpse of the kind of remarkable young leaders the service academies produce.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent

I have embedded a video of this homily below. Preached on Sunday, December 8, 2019, the full text of the homily follows the video.

Readings: Is 11:1-10; Ps 72; Rom 14:4-9; Mt 3:1-12


"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths" [Mt 3:3].
My dad used to read the Gospels to us on Saturday morning, and I remember him reading this passage from Matthew about John the Baptist, and liking the sound of that phrase, “…make straight his paths.” I asked who John the Baptist was and Dad told me he was a saint and also Jesus’ cousin. Well, I thought of my own cousins for a moment and decided John was pretty fortunate.

About a week later, my dad, my brother and I were riding our bikes in a town park when we came upon a surveying team. We stopped to watch them. When I asked my dad what they were doing, he said they were making a new path through the park, making sure it was straight and level.

At about that time the supervisor, who apparently knew my father, came over and said hello. A moment later he turned at me and said, “Hi there.”

My reply? “You’re John the Baptist, aren’t you?”

Well, it seemed logical to me. Hey, I was only six. And so was added another snippet of family lore.

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."
Although John the Baptist wasn’t a surveyor, he was something far greater, a prophet who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the message and the meaning of Advent: Preparing for the coming of Jesus.

The question for us: How and what are we to prepare?

Quite simply, we are called on to prepare ourselves through conversion. A few moments ago, during today’s opening prayer, Father Cromwell, praying for all of us gathered here today, asked God to…
“Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.”
This is how we make straight the Lord’s path – by removing the obstacles that we, in our sinfulness, place in His way. The trouble is, when we pray these words, do we truly mean them? Or are we like the Christian that C. S. Lewis described as praying faintly – for otherwise God might actually hear him.
“Remove the things that hinder us…”
For most of us, these things, these obstacles, represent the habits of a lifetime, and are very much a part of our nature. To remove them can be painful. It’s almost unnatural.

It’s not natural to be selfless when our human nature is basically selfish.

It’s not natural to love God and our neighbor when love of self keeps getting in the way.

It’s not natural to step out of our busy lives, if only for a moment each day, and listen to God’s voice as He calls on us to conversion.

For this is what Advent is: a call to conversion, a call to change. And this morning, from across the centuries, John the Baptist gives us some down-to-earth advice on how to respond to God’s call.

"Make straight His paths… "
John tells us to fill in the valleys – those dark nooks and crannies of our lives that we foolishly try to seal off from God. These are the dark corners that we don’t want disturbed, even though we know they prevent God from entering into our innermost being. We all have some darkness in our lives because we’re all sinners. And only light dispels darkness, the light of God’s love.

John tells us to level mountains -- mountains of pride, bigotry, anger that we build up because we think so much of ourselves and so little of others. To profess that we love God while remaining indifferent to the plight of others is a contradiction.

And so, our journey through Advent demands humility, because it’s impossible to have a personal relationship with God when our egos are in competition with Him.

To see the new, we have to be willing to shed the old. To see the possible, we have to stop believing the impossible. 

What in your life needs conversion? What obstacles have you placed in God’s path? What in your life is preventing Him from coming close?

“Remove the things that hinder us…”
All of this making room for God in our hearts can be a time-consuming and demanding business. It forces us to change so much in our lives. It demands that we actually accept God’s rule in our lives.
You know those signs you see every so often along the highway? 

“Jesus saves!”
Well, they’re right. Jesus does save, because you and I can’t save ourselves. But for Jesus to save us, he needs our cooperation, for He’s a benign ruler. He doesn’t force Himself on us. He doesn‘t demand. He doesn’t even ask. He simply invites, and waits for you to accept His invitation.

And God is patient. He’ll wait as long as it takes, up until the moment we take our last breath. But He calls us to persevere, not to put it off. As Paul tells the Romans:
“…by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” [Rom 15:4]
This patience of God’s is for our benefit: He wants no one to perish. And so, for us who live in time, every day is an opportunity to respond, a gift of God’s mercy.

Advent is the story of eons of God’s own eternal persistent waiting. It’s the story of His plan to let us search for Him until finally we simply allow Him to find us. And then, finally, we can respond with our own “Yes.” 

Of course, saying ‘Yes’ to conversion is means more than just a word. It means living God’s Word, accepting and sharing God’s love in our lives.

Have you ever considered that for many of the people you know and encounter, you may be the only manifestation of the Gospel they ever experience? 

We must, like God Himself, act out of love. It was love that created the universe and keeps creation in existence. And it’s love that reaches out to move our hearts as well, to bring us to salvation. He reaches out to us through Jesus Christ, the great sign of the Father’s love, the manifestation of His will to save. Isaiah describes this sign in today’s first reading:
“Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted” [Is 11:3-4].
This is the saving power of Christ, God’s love incarnate.

The day of salvation has already dawned in Christ. He will baptize in the Holy Spirit, John tells us. And this Spirit, once given in Christ, is the constant renewal of the Father’s love. 

When we invite Jesus into our lives, when we make room for Him in our hearts, we become like John the Baptist. Our lives become an announcement, telling everyone, through acts of kindness, honesty and faithfulness, that Christ is among us.

As we await Jesus’ return and the age to come, let’s not forget that a day will come in each of our lives when we will meet Jesus face to face. Our life is a continual advent for that moment, so let’s not delay preparing for our own personal coming of the Lord.

Homily: Moonday 33rd Week of Ordianry Time

I have embedded a video of this homily below. Preached on Monday, November 18, 2019, the complete text follows the video.

Readings: 1 Mc 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-63; Ps 119; Lk 18:35-43


Jesus cured thousands of people during his public ministry, but of all those He cured I’ve always had a special liking for this blind beggar of Jericho.

In today’s Gospel passage Luke just gives us the basic facts and then goes on to tell the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. But in Mark’s Gospel this blind beggar has a name: Bartimaeus, the son of Timeous.

I don’t think you and I can imagine what Bartimaeus’ life must have been like. There was no Department of Health and Human Services, no Social Security to provide him with a monthly disability check, no charitable organizations to provide assistance or caregivers. No, Bartimaeus was pretty much on his own.
His family probably expected him to pay his way by begging at the city gates, and so there he sat, every day, wrapped up in his cloak, the symbol of his beggary, crying out to people, begging for alms as they passed by. But this day he hears something different, a large, animated crowd, and in his blindness asks what the commotion’s all about.

“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” he’s told.

Now, he’d no doubt heard of Jesus – word gets around – yes, he’d heard about this prophet and healer, and so Bartimaeus seizes the opportunity…and he cries out, as loudly as he can. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Of course, the disciples, who have not yet learned what discipleship is all about, try to shut him up. 
“Be quiet! This is Jesus. He’s an important man, much too important for you.”

Bartimaeus will have none of it, and continues to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus, of course, hears him and calls for him. In Mark’s Gospel we’re told that Bartimaeus leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, and runs straight to Jesus. Yes, Bartimaeus is certain that something wonderful is about to happen to him, and in his excitement he can hardly control himself.

He leaps to his feet and throws aside the symbol of his beggary, that old, dirty, moth-eaten cloak. He throws it aside because he knows he’ll never again need it. That cloak is the symbol of his old life, a life of darkness, a life of begging, a life of slavery. And moved by the Holy Spirit, in his blindness he runs straight to Jesus.

Jesus simply asks him: “What can I do for you?”

And Bartimaeus replies, just as simply: “Lord, please let me see.”

Did you notice how Bartimaeus addresses Jesus? First, he calls him by the Messianic title, “Son of David” and then, when he’s there in Jesus’ presence, he calls him “Lord.” Oh, yes, Bartimaeus, this man of blind faith, was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Moved by his faith, Jesus says, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” And then Bartimaeus follows Jesus giving glory to God.

Mark has a slightly different ending. According to Mark, Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then Mark adds, “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the Way.” 

In other words, he became a disciple. And it’s no wonder because he received a kind of triple healing. Jesus cures him of physical blindness, his spiritual blindness, and offers him salvation.

It’s interesting how often in the Gospel those who are healed, those who experience the intimate presence of Jesus in their lives, how quickly they come to recognize who Jesus is, while the apostles and other disciples plod along cluelessly. There at the gates of Jericho, the disciples were decidedly un-disciplelike as they attempted to limit those who could come close to Jesus.

You and I, which are we?

Are you and I like Bartimaeus, filled with faith, bursting with the Holy Spirit, and willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads us? Or do we simply go through the Christian motions?

Or are we, like the disciples, kind of “Jesus groupies” who jealously guard Jesus from those who aren’t as holy as we? Are we more focused on ourselves than on seeing Jesus in others?

These are good questions to ask ourselves today.