Sunday, February 22, 2015


I've received a LOT of positive feedback on this one.  (Last night a parishioner said, "That was one of your top three, Father!")  I pray it's helpful to you, too.  A blessed Lent...

   First Sunday of Lent   B 

Four priests were on vacation together,
and the conversation turned to their worst temptations.
“It’s embarrassing,” said the first priest,
“but my biggest temptation is looking at pretty women.
I once bought a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
“My temptation’s worse,” replied the second priest.
“It’s gambling. 
One Saturday, instead of working on my sermon,

I went down to the track and bet on the ponies.”
“Mine’s worse yet,” added the third.
“I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink.
I’ve even broken into the altar wine.”
The fourth priest sat rather quietly before speaking:
“My brothers, I hate to tell you this,
but my temptation is the worst of them all.
I love to gossip—and, if you’d excuse me for a few minutes,
I’d now like to make a few phone calls!”

What would you say
is the devils’ most dangerous temptation?

Is it lust?
In this age that prefers sex with no strings attached,
lust is indeed a strong contender.
But what about murder?
Willfully taking another’s life
is certainly a pretty serious crime.
Murder must be at least close to the top of the list.
And how about greed?
After all, it’s greed that so often prompts murder
in it’s unrelenting pursuit of power
or money and all it can buy.

What is the devil’s most dangerous temptation?
I’d say that it’s actually none of the above.
I’d say it’s mediocrity.
I’d say it’s the temptation to be…nothing special—
to believe that you’re second rate,
or run-of-the-mill, at best.
You see, it’s not so much that the devil
is keen to exploit your weakness—as we so often assume;
it’s that he fears your glory.
And so he tempts you to be…eh?…mediocre.

That’s the best way I can describe
how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.
Still wet from his Baptism,
Jesus heads out into the wilderness.
Remember what happened
when he emerged from the Jordan River?
The heavens were torn open,
the Spirit descended like a dove,
and the Father’s voice was heard:
“You are my beloved!  You are my Son! 
With you, I am well pleased!”
The glory of God is seen shining on the face of Christ. (cf. 2 Cor 4:6)
And that makes him particularly dangerous—
at least, as far as hell is concerned.
There had been other faith healers and wonder workers.
And preachers?  Why, they’re a dime a dozen!
The devil’s never had much problem
eliminating such troublemakers…
…usually by winning them over to his team.

What’s so dangerous about this Jesus
is that other people might get the idea
that they’re made for greatness, too—
that they are God’s sons and daughters;
that they are beloved;
that they have an irreplaceable role in God’s plan.
The all-righteous One would soon enough suffer
for the sake of the unrighteous.
God became man so that man might become God. (cf. St. Athanansius)
If mere mortals are allowed to recognize their true potential—
that they’re not...well...mere mortals;
that God’s glory is meant to shine on their faces, too—
then, for Satan, it’s game over.

So the devil does his darndest
to get Jesus to doubt his true identity:
You’re nothing special.
You’re just another slacker, like all the rest
So settle down.  Settle for less.
Satan didn’t get anywhere with Jesus,
but often has much better luck with you and me.
Lust, murder, greed: they’re simply flashy distractions—
an elaborate and vicious smokescreen
disguising his real agenda.
It’s when we don’t fall for these big-ticket sins
that he moves in to perform far more covert operations:
Thank God you’re not like those wicked wretches!
So relax.  Make yourself comfortable.
Drift along with the current.  Go with the flow.
There’s no need to rock the boat.  Live and let live!
Just be…normal.  You’re just like everybody else.
You’re nothing very special.

Don’t ever—ever—believe those lies!

My friends, you’re as precious to God
as those eight souls he salvaged in Noah’s ark.
That’s why he saved you through water—
not the waters of a great flood,
but the waters of Baptism,
both of which are meant for the downfall of sin.
That’s why he’s given you these 40 days of Lent:
This is the time of fulfillment!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
You are God’s hope for a fresh start for the world!
So be the man, be the woman, God made you to be.
Believe in yourself—in your goodness, in your glory,
that you’re beloved and pleasing to God.
Believe that God believes in you.
The devil fears nothing more than this!

Of course, during Lent we must repent
of our lust, violence, and greed—
of any and all our deadly sins.
But we must also repent of our indifference,
of our conformity to the world and its ways,
of our hesitance and our mediocrity.
Lent is here that you might rediscover—
or maybe discover for the very first time—
just who it is that God made you to be.
The truth is: God made you to be someone special.
God’s given you a role he’s not given to any other.
Dare to be that person!
Do not fear failure;
this is God’s project, after all, and not your own.
Believe in the gospel—in the good news—
and that this god news is meant for you.
Don’t settle for good enough;

The faithful and feisty St. Catherine of Siena
lived almost seven hundred years ago
in turbulent, trying times.
In a letter, she once wrote:
“Be who you were created to be,
and you will set the world on fire.”
Resist every temptation to be mediocre.
God made you for so much more.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Embrace Ze Snow

As much as I like the snow, I never want to go "poomph"...


   Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

A bus passed in front of a leper hospital
and two patients, with obvious deformities,
flagged it down and got on board. 
There was an uneasy silence
as they wedged themselves between other passengers. 
When they later asked the bus driver to stop so they might get off,
one reached out her hand to pay the fare. 
The driver—not wanting to touch her hand or the coins
for fear of catching the disease—said,
“Never mind.  Your ride was free.” 
The patient was so very grateful…
…that she immediately grabbed his hand
and wouldn’t stop kissing it! 
The driver nearly fainted.

Whenever reflecting 
on Jesus’ interactions with lepers—
and they are frequent enough in the gospels—
it’s rather common to consider
the plight of those in our own times
who live on the margins as outcasts—
those considered “unclean”
and forced to dwell “outside the camp,”
in the language of Leviticus.
In modern society, it might be
the undocumented immigrant 
who cannot speak English,
the AIDS patient or the addict,
the sex offender 
who’s considered beyond redemption.
In the present day Church, it might be
unwed parents, the divorced and remarried,
homosexuals, or the woman who had an abortion.

This week, at a meeting here in the parish,
I heard a couple of parishioners share an experience
of being pushed to the margins that I never expected—
and which stopped me in my tracks.
They shared—
as very devout and involved Catholics—
how it often feels to them
that when the Church is planning programs,
we’re always catering to the far less committed;
for example: that when we’re making up
the religious education schedule,
we seem much more concerned
about the family which might choose hockey practice instead,
rather than those who make Sunday Mass
and the Catholic upbringing of their children
a priority above anything else.

I haven’t been able to get their comments 
out of my head.

On the one hand, I want to ask in reply,
“But isn’t that what the Church is supposed to do?
To rescue the wandering?  To lead back the stray sheep?
To go out to the ‘peripheries’—in the language of Pope Francis?”
But on the other hand, I must also admit that they have a point.
In an effort to keep our numbers up and the parish viable,
we do worry about keeping as many people on board as possible.
It does sometimes seem like compromise.
I guess I’d never really considered how
it might leave some of our “regulars” feeling left out—
faithfully returning to the table,
but not always satisfied by the way they’re being fed.

Needing some further insight,
I did what I find myself doing more frequently
when facing a parish predicament:
I turned to St. André Bessette for wisdom.
What’s clear to me in this is that we’re all wounded:
for some, our wounds are quite readily apparent;
for others, they’re hidden well out of sight.
So if we’re dealing with open wounds,
why not turn to a man known to be a great healer?

Br. André was widely celebrated
for the many miraculous cures wrought at his hands.
Of course, he always gave the credit
to the powerful intercession of St. Joseph.
Yet in his constant dealings with the sick,
Br. André was much more preoccupied
with the health of their souls than of their bodies.
“If the soul is sick,” he’d say,
“one must begin by treating the soul.”
He’d ask to see if the sick person
went to confession and communion regularly,
and would invite them to do what was necessary
to get themselves back into a state of grace.
But once asked why, in some cases,
the sick were healed right away,
while in others it would take a long time,
Br. André gave an answer opposite what you might expect:
“Those who are healed quickly,” he said,
“are those who do not have faith or have just a little faith,
that they might then have faith;
whereas those who already have a solid faith 
are not healed quickly,
because the good God prefers to test them,
to let them suffer in order to make them holier.”

We are all lepers on this bus.
We are all the walking wounded.
And our woundedness—whatever it’s cause—
makes us feel a bit cast out and cut off.
Maybe it’s some past hurt, as of yet unhealed.
Maybe we’ve got a sort of “spiritual infection”:
unforgiveness or resentment, apathy or anger.
Our wounds are as individual as are our life stories.
In his homespun way,
I think St. André provides us all with some insight
into what it will take to be healed, to be made clean,
to be made whole again.

That being said,
there's certainly a lot more to ponder here.

No doctor can prescribe proper treatment
until we reveal our symptoms to him.
The coming 40 days of Lent are a privileged time
to look deep within our hearts,
to be honest about the wounds we find,
and ask the Lord to touch us there.
On our way to Easter,
we’ll behold Christ’s flesh marked,
not with the sores and blotches of leprosy,
but by the instruments of his Passion.
My friends, 
Jesus does more than identify with us
in our brokenness and rejection;
through his wounds flow hope and new life.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Everything I Need

Having finally (at least, mostly) warmed up from my last night out, I ventured into the woods again Wednesday-Thursday for a stay in the lean-to at Grass Pond (just north of Paul Smith).  I've stayed there before in both winter and summer--along with plenty of other day trips--making it a very familiar place to go to clear my head for a spell.  As "Bev" very wisely wrote in the lean-to's log book just last week:
"I used to think I came here to get away from it all,
but I now realize I come here to get everything I need...." (2/7/15)


Sunday, February 8, 2015

By the Hand

I have no homily text to share this Sunday, as I was preaching at our first "Children's Church" Mass.  While I had the assistance of about 10 youngsters, I didn't have a text.  We talked about how Jesus revealed God's love to the sick (like a living Valentine from the Father, if you will), and how we can do the same to all who are hurting.  (You'll notice a couple came in uniform for Scout Sunday.)

Friday, February 6, 2015


Seems like there's a new, good priest video every day lately...


Sunday, February 1, 2015

With Authority

I love it when the Sunday comics line up with the Sunday gospel...



"There is no neutral ground in the universe.
Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."
-- C. S. Lewis

   Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

On Thursday I went to the movies 
and saw, American Sniper.
(I’ll do my best not to give away too many details,
in case you plan to see it, too.)
The film—nominated for six Academy Awards—
tells the true story of Chris Kyle,
a U.S. Navy SEAL from Texas,
who serves four separate tours of duty in Iraq
during the height of the conflict there.
The movie provides quite a powerful depiction
of what our service men and women face 
when they go to war.
But one of the most affecting aspects of the movie
is that Chris Kyle finds himself fighting on two fronts:
one is the enemy that he can see—
the violent insurgency in Iraq;
the other is a hidden conflict…
...but one no less deadly.
All that time in battle, you see, takes a toll on Chris.
He’s wounded...but not by bullets or bombs.
As a legendary marksman,
he’s celebrated for all the lives he’s saved;
but he’s continually haunted
by all the guys we wasn’t able to save.
When he comes home to his wife and kids,
there’s a big part of Chris that stays off at war.
And that affects his personality, his character, and his marriage.
We see him, as they say, “wrestling with his demons.”

But I’d say that’s more than just an expression.

This Sunday’s gospel reminds us
of something we’d all prefer to forget:
we live in a war zone.
There are plenty of visible battles going on in the world,
but I’m talking about the one you can’t see with the naked eye.

You don’t have to read through the gospels very long
to notice just how many times Jesus is engaged
in hand-to-hand combat with the devil.
Whether it’s the Lord’s temptations in the desert
or the many times he’s casting out evil spirits,
it’s pretty clear: Jesus has come to take Satan out,
and both the battleground and the prize for the victor
are one and the same—the human soul.
The coming of the Son of God in human flesh
was an ingenious infiltration behind enemy lines,
and now the powers of hell are all stirred up
like when one kicks a hornet's nest.
Jesus, of course, has completely vanquished evil
by his suffering, death, and resurrection…
…but the devil seems to have an awfully hard time
admitting his defeat.

While they were pretty clear to his wife
and the doctors at the VA clinic,
Chris Kyle couldn’t find healing from his hidden battle scars
until he knew for himself that he’d been wounded;
he couldn’t fight an enemy he didn’t even recognize.
Likewise, the devil’s most cunning trick
is to get us to think he doesn’t really exist.
In our modern, supposedly “enlightened” age,
we write off any talk of the evil one
as a myth—a “boogey man”—
invented in a less sophisticated time
to explain things science hadn't yet explained
and to help keep people in line.
But we buy into that lie to our great detriment.

When you’re trying to do some good work,
have you ever noticed
how one obstacle or distraction after another
crops up to throw you off track?
Or when you’ve set aside time to pray or read the Bible,
that that’s right when you get a headache or can’t clear your mind?
Have you always assumed that's just a coincidence?
Have you ever given any thought to what really lies behind
all the acts of terrorism in the world today?
What if there’s a whole lot more going on
behind the scenes in our lives—on a spiritual level—
than we usually stop to realize?

Now, I don’t bring this up to get people scared.
We have no reason to fear the devil.
As I’ve already said: Christ has conquered him.
The authority of Jesus,
which once so astounded the crowded synagogue in Capernaum,
he has passed on to his body, the Church.
If we stick with Jesus, we’ve got more than the upper hand.
There’s no need to be afraid!
Yet neither can we use Satan 
as a handy excuse for our bad behavior.
While he can tempt and taunt us,
we’re still fully responsible for our own actions.
But we’re all going to be better armed
to play our part in this ongoing battle
and avoid any traps that have been set in our paths
if we recognize the wily tactics of our opponent.

A crucial thing to remember
is that the devil is always trying to divide us.
(In fact, the Greek word that gives us that name, “the devil,”
literally means, “the scatterer.”)
God is perfect unity—a Trinity of divine Persons in one God—
and continually working to bring the many into one,
both with each other and with him.
But while the Holy Spirit’s mission is to bind us closer together,
evil spirits look for ways to pull us apart—
whether it’s a marriage, a parish, or a country.
We can even see that happening within ourselves:
feeling scattered; our lives getting out of order;
our mind fighting against our will,
or our passions against each other.
As the old saying goes: “United we stand; divided, we fall.”
If you want a dependable litmus test
for what’s happening uncover in any given situation,
just ask yourself,
“Is this serving to bring people together or tear them apart?”
Division is a clear sign of the devil’s hidden handiwork.

We fight plenty of battles in this world,
but the most critical of them all is one we quite often fail to see.
And so it was with good reason
that, when the Lord taught us to pray,
he concluded with, “deliver us from evil.”

God our Father,
source of all authority in heaven and on earth,
help us to firmly believe that your Son
has forever conquered the enemy of our souls.
Strengthen us to resist every evil
with Jesus at our side.