Sunday, June 23, 2013


At an end-of-the-school-year picnic on Friday, I learned that the pre-K kids at Holy Family School are taught that, whenever they pray, they should close their eyes and imagine that Jesus is holding them. I told their teacher: it's not a matter of their imagination...

   Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,
more than 7,500 different products
bear the likeness of Mickey Mouse,
making his the most widely reproduced image
in the entire world.
In second place is Jesus.
Number three?  Elvis, of course.

Most everybody knows the name of Jesus.
And most everybody knows a little bit about him.
And even though he lived
long before the advent of photography,
many people can pretty easily recognize his image.
But how many folks really know Jesus?
And when I say know him,
I mean in a truly personal way:
not in the way you know about other great historical figures
like Julius Caesar or Abraham Lincoln,
but in the way you know your parents or siblings or best friend;
in the way you know someone
who’s let you in beneath the surface—
who’s revealed something of his or her inner self to you.
Safe to say: even many—if not most—of those Catholics
who are regulars here at Sunday Mass
struggle with this personal, one-on-one knowing of Jesus.

Jesus first asks his disciples:
Who do the crowds say that I am?
He’s well aware that the merely curious, the casual bystanders,
all have their own theories and opinions about him—
much as we do about movie stars or our favorite singer.
But then Jesus takes things a whole lot deeper,
asking those disciples—those who have followed him closely—
Who do you say that I am?
These are people who know Jesus differently.
Like the crowds, they’ve heard him teaching openly
and seen his many miracles: healing the sick;
multiplying the loaves; even raising the dead.
But they’ve seen more.
This Sunday’s Gospel begins by telling us
that Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him.
That’s something the general public was not privileged to see.
To see Jesus pray—and thus to see how Jesus prayed—
made it quite clear:
this man is not like the other preachers and teachers
in our synagogues and on our street corners;
this man is not like the other wonderworkers
who wander about from village to village.
Because his disciples have gotten so close to him,
they not only know him differently;
they know him to be different.
Peter—true to his role—speaks for them all:
You are the Christ—the Messiah, the Anointed One—of God.

How important it is for us to remember—
though it can seem so glaringly obvious—
that Jesus is a real person!
He’s not another endearing character
who exists only in the pages of a book or up on the silver screen.
Jesus really lived, really died, and really rose from the dead.
And although he does not walk among us as he once did,
Jesus is still alive very much and just as real today as ever.

Jesus is indeed a real person…
…but Jesus is no ordinary person.
There’s a tendency in the modern mind
to consider Jesus as an exceptionally gifted individual.
English author C. S. Lewis—an adult convert to Christianity—
once famously wrote:
      I am trying here to prevent anyone saying
      the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:
      “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher,
      but I don’t accept his claim to be God.”
      That is the one thing we must not say.
      A man who is merely a man
      and said the sort of things Jesus said
      would not be a great moral teacher.
      He would either be a lunatic—
      on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—
      or else he would be the Devil of Hell.
      You must make your choice.
      Either this man was, and is, the Son of God:
      or else a madman or something worse.
      You can shut Him up for a fool,
      you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon;
      or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.
      But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense
      about His being a great human teacher.
      He has not left that open to us.
      He did not intend to.  (Mere Christianity)
If an ordinary man—a mere mortal—
told you that he’d soon be rejected,
crucified, then raised from the dead;
and if he told you that you, too, ought to take up the cross—
not once, not once and a while, but daily—
and then follow him down the same road:
you’d say he was nuts—and you’d be right!—
and you’d be just as nuts to obey him.
But if that man is truly the Christ, is truly “of God,”
then where he’s gone you can, in trust, follow…
…and you’d be nuts not to obey him.

On Friday night some friends invited me to join them
at the third annual Babbling Brook Bluegrass Festival
just a few miles north on Route 37.
While no one playing was quite as famous
as Mickey Mouse or Elvis,
the music was good—really good, in fact.
When we first got there, however,
I remarked at just how sedate the crowd was
(kind of like Catholics in church on a steamy summer morning):
quietly sunk deep into their lawn chairs.
But as the evening wore on and the bands continued to play,
heads began bobbing and toes began tapping.
By the time the last group was wrapping up,
many (myself included) were then singing along
and a few people were up on their feet dancing—
including a blond boy (all of five-years-old, I’d say),
who was loudly protesting, “Don’t make me go home!”…
…but nonetheless danced all the way to the car.
If time spent in the presence of a few talented musicians
has such power to draw us in and lift us up,
then how much more so
time spent—one-on-one—
in the presence of Jesus, the Christ of God?

St. Paul reminds us along with the Galatians
that when we were baptized
we clothed [ourselves] with Christ.
Clothing wraps and envelops our entire body,
expressing our identity to others.
Likewise, putting on Christ means allowing him
to work on us in a very personal way,
embracing our total reality—
and, in so doing, eliminating all of our superficial distinctions.
You see, who we say that Jesus is
makes all the difference in who we say that we are.
Spend time getting to personally know this extraordinary man,
and all of your life—even when marked by the cross—
begins to appear pretty extraordinary, too.

Who is Jesus for you?
How did you reach that conclusion?
And are you satisfied with it?
Is Jesus really real for you?
Is Jesus someone you know—
or someone you only know about?
Are you ready to get to know him better?
Because his question is personal—and eventually unavoidable:
Who do you say that I am?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Born To Be...Blessed

I'm really loving that Pope Francis blessed a whole bunch of motorcycles last Sunday...

In honor of Harley Davidson's 110th anniversary, a major rally took place in Rome last week, which included stops at the Vatican.  There's a great reflection here on what that means for the New Evangelization.

I must admit: I kind of miss the annual Blessing of the Bikes that was among my responsibilities as pastor in Old Forge...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Peace be with you?

This may be about the "C of E" (Church of England)...but much of it surely still applies.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What a Shame

Blessings on all the Dads out there!

   Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

A proud father had worked hard 
to raise his sons right—
among other things, 
making sure they got to Mass every Sunday. 
One week, on the way out of church,
his youngest looked up 
at Fr. O’Malley and said,
“When I get older, 
I’m going to give you some money.” 
“Well, thank you,” the priest replied, “but why?” 
“Because,” the boy answered, 
“my dad says you’re one 
of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had.”

We’ve all experienced guilt:
when we regret having knowingly done something wrong.
And we’ve all experienced embarrassment:
we’ve been concerned about what others might think
when we’ve slipped-up…or when our kids have.
Both guilt and embarrassment come about
when I feel that I’ve done a bad thing.
But shame is an emotion that runs a good bit deeper,
because beyond feeling bad about my actions,
it’s a matter of feeling bad about myself.
Shame comes either when our flaws have been exposed,
or we merely fear that they will be.
Unlike guilt or embarrassment—
which at their best spur us on to do better—
shame often leaves us pretty well paralyzed
because we’ve grown unsure that we actually can be better.
Shame leaves us feeling very unworthy…
…and not necessarily because anybody else has condemned us;
the one we generally struggle most to forgive, after all, is ourselves.

You see, shame is precisely what many people feel
when they acknowledge their sin, when they uncover their guilt,
when they confess their faults to the Lord.
But shame is precisely what God does not want us to feel
when we come to stand before him.

Look at the woman in the gospel:
we are not told the specifics of her crime…
…but her sins are apparently public enough
to be familiar to many others.
With what compassion Jesus speaks to her:
“Your sins are forgiven; go in peace.”
And consider King David: his sins we know!
Captivated by the beauty of a married woman,
he seduces her, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant,
and then sends her husband off to be killed in battle.
Yet even in the face of such a grievous offence,
what tender mercy is shown by God:
“The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin.”

Some people today question the truth
of the many miracles recorded in the Bible.
Some are uncertain about Christ’s resurrection—
wondering if it isn’t just a fine metaphor
for a new springtime of humanity.
But I suspect what more people—in every age—
have a harder time believing than anything else
is that God still deeply loves them
no matter the depth of their sin.

Every human father knows—even if only instinctively—
that his love for his children
isn’t based on their successes or achievements,
and that a truly fatherly love is far bigger than any of their failures
or any embarrassment they might cause.
As he helped to bring this life into the world,
so a father would do whatever it takes to bring it to birth again:
to see a troubled life restored and renewed—to see it saved.
How much more must that be the case with our heavenly Father
when he sees us weighed down with guilt
and wounded by shame!

We are not justified 
by following the letter of the law.
God’s love isn’t a reward 
bestowed only for doing good!
Rather, it’s because God loves us 
without condition—
the very heart of our faith,
revealed oh-so-clearly on the Cross—
that we want to be good, 
to do what pleases our Father,
to obey the Lord’s every commandment.
It’s love—God’s love—
that alone has the power to heal us
of sin and guilt, of embarrassment and shame.
And when I recognize it—
when I can accept that God has accepted me
despite all of my flaws—
then the only appropriate response 
is love in return:
great love born of forgiveness;
love which overflows
like so much precious ointment over the feet
of him who has loved me 
and given himself up for me.

What is it that you’re most ashamed of?
(No—please—don’t say it out loud!)
And can you believe that almighty God, the Creator of all things,
sees right through it to the dignity and immeasurable worth
with which he made you in the first place?
Dare you believe that you have a Father in heaven
who loves you that much?
’Cause if you can believe that God loves you as you are,
then you must also believe that God’s love
won’t be content to leave you that way.

As you can see, we ought to feel no shame
presenting ourselves before the sinless One.
Nor should we feel shame in the company of other sinners;
we’ve all been there!
(Now, run into someone like Simon the Pharisee—
a sinner who somehow thinks he’s sinless—
and that’s a problem…but his problem, not yours!)
Do not be ashamed, but instead have faith:
faith in a Father who loves you so much
that he sent his Only Begotten Son to take away your sins.
I sure hope I haven’t preached it poorly…
…because that’s the faith which can save you.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


   Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

A Funeral Mass was offered
for a woman who had just passed away.
As the pallbearers carried her casket 
to the church door,
they accidently bumped its corner 
into the wall, jarring the coffin.
A faint moan was heard inside.
So they quickly opened it up
and found that the woman 
was amazingly still alive.
In fact, she lived for ten more years 
before dying.
A second Funeral Mass was then offered 
in the same church,
and the pallbearers again 
carried out her casket.
And as they made their way 
toward the church door,
the woman’s husband 
was heard shouting,
“This time, watch out for that wall!”

Because we always feel like we ought to say something,
people are prone to giving all kinds of advice at funerals.
Some of the worst advice is also, unfortunately, the most common:
“Be strong!” is how it’s generally conveyed.
The idea is usually to keep a stiff upper lip
in order to be of steady support for somebody else.
In my experience, anyway, that’s pretty bad advice.
What a grieving person often needs most
isn’t a strong shoulder on which to lean,
but another pair of teary eyes along with which to cry.

But here comes Jesus—in our Gospel this Sunday—
meeting a funeral procession on its way to the cemetery.
And what, pray tell, does Jesus say to the widow
who’s now lost her only son?
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her
and said to her, “Do not weep.”

So much for my opinion on funeral advice!
…Or is it?
Let’s take a closer look at that single verse
from Luke’s gospel.

When the Lord saw her…
We take for granted that “Lord” is an appropriate title for Jesus,
and can forget what a weighty word it is.
Only a few lines before this one
is Jesus first addressed as Lord:
not by one of his disciples, nor by a pious Jew,
but by a Roman centurion—a pagan—
expressing his complete confidence in Jesus.
The centurion’s words are very familiar to us:
“Lord, …I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof,
…but say the word and let my servant be healed.” (7:6-7)
To call Jesus, “Lord,” is a profound expression of faith.
In the Old Testament, the name is reserved for God alone.
Jesus is not one mourner among so many others,
just waiting his turn to sign the guest register.
The crowds may soon come to think of him as a great prophet,
but from the start Luke wants us to know:
Jesus is Someone far greater than that.

When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity…
The original Greek text is a bit more earthy:
it says that Jesus “felt it in his gut.”
The expression shares roots with the Greek word for “womb.”
Jesus is able to identify completely
with the gut-wrenching loss this mother is suffering
because he himself knows the labor pains
of bringing new life into the world.  (cf. A. Matt)
How can he—you ask—
a man, a man who’s not a husband nor a father,
even begin to understand such a thing?
Because Jesus is not only a man:
he’s the Author of Life;
he’s the eternal Word which existed before the beginning
and through whom all things came to be;
he’s the Lord.

When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her
and said to her, “Do not weep.”
You see, Jesus can give funeral advice that we shouldn’t
because he’s able to do things that we can’t.
In Jesus, God himself is visiting his people.
Jesus has the uniquely divine power to give life!
And Jesus has the uniquely divine power to restore life again!

Blessed Pope John Paul II frequently pointed out
that contemporary society is caught up in a dramatic struggle
between the “culture of life”
and the “culture of death.”  (cf. Evangelium Vitae)
This potent language is most often used
in reference to the pro-life movement:
the “culture of death” referring to specific issues
such as abortion and euthanasia,
unjust war and environmental devastation.
But there are lots and lots of areas in modern life
where we run into this culture of death, aren’t there?
We can observe a death of manners and morals,
and the impact it is having on family life.
We see the global economy dying,
especially for the chronically unemployed and the working poor.
We witness death in politics,
as many elected officials seemingly have given up
on civil discourse and the primacy of the common good.
We perceive the Church to be dying,
as congregations are aging and parishes closing.
We experience so much death personally, too:
the loss of good health, the passing of a relationship,
the demise of hopes and dreams.
A culture of death is all around us.

Are we satisfied with this state of affairs?
Have we come to except
that this is simply the way things have to be?

Or can we recognize that there is another way?

What if we dared to honestly believe that this Jesus is Lord?
What if we actually believed that Jesus—
just as he did for that young man in Nain—
is still stepping forward to touch our coffins…
…and not simply to wipe away the tears of the grieving?
What if we genuinely believed that Jesus wants
to revitalize us and our families,
to reawaken faith in our parishes and community,
to revive our nation and mortally wounded world?
What if we truly believed
that Jesus can command what is dead to arise,
not because his word has the borrowed authority of a prophet,
but is itself the very breath of life?

My friends, I declare with St. Paul:
this is the Gospel—the Good News—that we preach!
We preach it in proclaiming the holy Scriptures.
We preach it celebrating the Eucharist and the other Sacraments.
We preach it serving the least of our brothers and sisters.
We preach it in the fact that we assemble—Sunday after Sunday—
on the selfsame day of the week
when Jesus was raised from the tomb.
This Gospel is not of human origin, but of divine revelation.
And it’s the Gospel of Life!
It’s all about resurrection.

Imagine how the culture would change around us
if we all lived like people who really believe
that Jesus Christ has conquered death—once and for all—
and has both the power and the desire to bring us back to life.
The world desperately needs us to be men and women
who carry this faith, this promise,
this everlasting hope within us.
If we believe this Gospel,
if we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord,
then when people who’ve already crawled into their caskets
happen to bump into us
they, too, will be awakened to life again
and say as did those folks at a funeral long ago:
“God, indeed, has visited his people.”