Saturday, January 19, 2019

Changing the impossible


When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a practicing Catholic family, but my Dad was generally unchurched and had never been baptized. If you remember the church in the 1960s, this was somewhat of a scandal. You simply didn’t marry outside of your faith. My parents were not allowed to have a Mass. They had to stand outside of the communion rail. And, my aunt, who is a religious sister, was not allowed to attend. As you can imagine, this was a somewhat negative experience of the Church, so becoming a Catholic was not high on my Dad’s list at that time.

Dad, though, was always the best non-Catholic church goer you could imagine. He attended Mass with us as a family. He ran most of the pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers and other things events in the parish. Mom, of course, constantly begged him to become a Catholic to no avail. When I entered religious life, I added my voice to that chorus. As a person of Irish heritage, of course, my favorite tool of persuasion was good-old guilt. I can remember saying to my Dad, “You know Dad, it would be so amazing if I were able to give you communion on the day of my first Mass as a priest.” Now, that is some grade-A guilt, but it didn’t work.

The situation seemed impossible, and it didn’t seem like it would ever change. I had my own secret plan that if Dad ever got ill and it didn’t look like he would make it, I was just going to baptize him! (And then go to confession!) In the meantime, I would just pray. After receiving Communion each day, I would just say, “Lord, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place a desire for baptism in my Dad’s heart.” Of course, as always, Mom was also praying the rosary every day for this same intention. But I don’t think that either one of us believed it would ever happen.

And then, one day, 12 years ago, a month before my Dad’s 69th birthday, he called me and said only two words, “I’m ready.” And, I knew immediately what that meant. And in the joy and honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave first communion to my own Dad.

But, in the midst of that joy, I also heard God chastising me. He was saying, “Didn’t you know that all things are possible with me. Didn’t you know that all things unfold according to My plan, in My time. Why didn’t you trust Me?” All the while, I thought it was my job to bring Dad into the Church, and I was failing. God reminded me that my job was just to be faithful, to be prayerful, and to have trust in Him – and that great things would happen.

Now, while most of us haven’t been in exactly that situation, I’m willing to bet that each one of us has something in our lives that we wish would change, but at the same time feels impossible. Maybe we desperately wish that our spouse, our children, our friends, would find a deeper place for God in their lives. Perhaps we know someone – or maybe even ourselves – are caught in the throes of addiction and it just feels like nothing can ever change that situation. Maybe we have some broken relationships in our lives – words we wish we could take back, or words that others have used to wound us – and we just don’t know how to find reconciliation and forgiveness. It is natural for us to feel overwhelmed sometimes by what the world throws at us.

Into the midst of these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, our Scriptures give us hope. “Do whatever He tells you” the Blessed Mother utters. We know this story of the first miracle at Cana so well that we can lose its impact. After all, we know how the story turns out. But think about the horror of this moment for the family throwing this wedding party. When members of a family get married, the celebration is among the most important kind of celebrations we hold. They celebrate not only the love of the two people getting married, but the feast also says something about the family throwing the party. Families go all-out when holding a wedding feast; often beyond their means. It is an act of love, an act of celebration, and a public act of honor. So imagine this family and just about the worst thing possible has happened. Imagine the terror when they realized that there was no more wine. This would disappoint their children, and certainly bring a level of public shame to the whole family for their failure. They would become the “family who ran out of wine at the wedding” and would probably never live that down.

But, Mary says so simply, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” An act of trust that when we invite Jesus into our impossible situations, amazing things can happen. Jesus not only solves the problem and miraculously turns water into wine – but it is in fact the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Trusting Jesus is an invitation to allow the amazing power of God to change even the impossible situations in our lives.

And Jesus has not stopped doing the impossible. After all, just look at what He did in my Dad’s life when we stopped badgering and instead entered a space of prayerful trust. The impossible became possible. I want you to think about the impossible situations in your life today. Have you been trying to fix them all by yourself? Have you given up hope that they could ever change? Have you simply learned to live with them and allow the wounds simply to remain? Take a word of advice from the Blessed Mother today, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Today, as Jesus once again miraculously appears on our altar, I encourage you to hand over your impossible situations to Him. Invite Jesus into the messiness of your life; invite Jesus into the messiness of certain relationships or challenges. Because inviting Jesus in changes everything; and cooperating with Him leads to greatness – it leads to miracles. Hand over your impossible situations to Him in full faith and trust and then watch what unfolds – it might be nothing short of a miracle.

And, just imagine what our world could look like, what our lives could look like, if we lived with the same kind of trust in Jesus that Mary had. Imagine our impossible situations turned around; our relationships healed; our addictions cured; our problems resolved – all in the way that God intends. Mary didn’t beg, she didn’t hedge her bets. She simply knew that Her Son could do this. We should know this too. Whatever is impossible in our lives – Jesus has got it; He can do this. So, do whatever He tells you.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Reveal Yourself to us today!


As our Christmas season quickly comes to a close – it will be all over next week with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – I hate to see all of the Christmas music go for another year. I love singing all of our Christmas songs. There are wonderful Christmas hymns, of course, for today, the best known is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Taylor and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.

This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good image for Epiphany. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction clearly on Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. The star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us again today.

Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change the course of our lives. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.

Pope Francis said of the wise men, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be love. For only under the banner of freedom is it possible to realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals us. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned.”

The story of the visit of the Magi opens our eyes to the fact that God shows Himself to us in so many ways. The shepherds came to know of Jesus’ birth through a vision of angels. The Magi came to know through a reading of the stars. King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures – very different ways that communicated the same truth – that God is in our midst and is calling us to come to Him.

Today, as always, God invites us into renewed and deeper relationship with Him through His Son. God is revealing Himself to us in Word, in our hearts – and so powerfully in the Eucharist. In just a few moments, there will be another kind of Epiphany of the Lord – this one will take place on our altar. God will reveal Himself to us in the Body and Blood of His Son. At that moment we will be invited once again to “come and do him homage?”

My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we once again alter our course and head straight toward God, we too will be sent forth by another way. We too will be called to not take a road of selfishness, but instead take a road of empathy, care and concern for others; a road of forgiveness, healing and hope.

The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head again toward Jesus – so powerfully here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.

Let us be the mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.

May the Lord give you peace!

Monday, December 24, 2018

The thrill of hope!


Join me please, “Silent night, holy night…” As you may know, this most beloved of Christmas hymns celebrates its 200th birthday today. The words were written by a priest in a small Austrian town, Fr. Joseph Mohr. Fr. Mohr brought his words to a friend in a nearby village, composer Franz Gruber, who added the melody. On Christmas Eve, 1818, the church organ was not functioning, some say that church mice got at it, and so this beautiful hymn was played accompanied by guitar to honor the birth of the Savior that night. It quickly became popular and spread throughout the world becoming one of the most popular Christmas hymns ever. 

There is something so wonderful about the songs of this season and how they connect us with the deep spiritual reality of the birth of Christ. While we all know well the story of Silent Night, most people do not know the history of another favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night, a history deeply connected to Christmas Eve.

The story of this song begins in 1847 in a small French town with a man named Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure. Placide was a socialist and not a church-goer, but at the time he was a well-known poet, and the local priest asked him to write a poem for the upcoming Christmas. Placide agreed and once done, decided that his poem was so good it should be made into a song. So he contacted a composer friend Adolphe Adams. But, Adams was Jewish, and was now asked to compose the most Christian of hymns. On Christmas Eve of that year, the song was debuted at Midnight Mass – a song whose lyrics were written by a socialist who left the church and whose music was written by someone who didn’t even believe in Jesus. And, of course, as we know, it was a big hit. But, once church officials learned the history of the writers, and the song was immediately banned from use. The Catholic Church in France deemed the song unfit for church services because of what they called its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.”

But, though the church had banned the song, it was so popular that people kept singing it, and eventually it made its way across the sea here to America now into the hands of John Sullivan Dwight who felt it needed to be introduced to America, but not only because it told a timeless story. You see, Dwight, was an abolitionist, and America was in the midst of the Civil War. Dwight strongly identified with the lines: “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Dwight translated the song into English and published it. The song caught on quickly, especially here in the North.

Back to France and yet another Christmas Eve, now in 1871. In the midst of fierce fighting between Germany and France during the Franco-Prussian war, a French soldier jumped out of his foxhole, and with no weapon in his hand, lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang the first verse of this song in French. As he reached the end, a German soldier climbed unarmed out of his trench and began to sing the German Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The fighting stopped immediately and the soldiers held to a ceasefire for Christmas Day.

Finally, one more Christmas Eve. Now it was 1906, and a 33-year-old professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison named Reginald Fessenden, using a new type of generator, spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a person’s voice was broadcast over the airways. What did he say? He said, “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…” The first words ever broadcast over the radio were from Luke, the story of the birth of Jesus. Imagine the reaction of radio operators on ships and radio owners across the world when their normal Morse Code dots and dashes were interrupted by a human voice reading Sacred Scripture. But Fessenden wasn’t done. After he finished reading, he picked up his violin and played O Holy Night – making it the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves.

There is perhaps no hymn more deeply connected to this holy night. Let me speak about just one line in this song that has been coming to me in prayer throughout this season leading us to today: “The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.” Isn’t that a wonderful statement – not just hope. The author didn’t merely write, “We’re filled with hope.” No, he paired hope with another very important word – thrill. When we think of hope, I think we usually conceptualize it in very ordinary ways. We think of hope as a kind of optimism (We say, “I hope things will go well”); or a form of positive thinking (“I’m very hopeful about the future.”) Or even a kind of blind faith (“I hope I’ll get through this.”). This can’t be what the song is talking about. Those are all good things, but thrilling? You see, I think the thrill of hope expresses something so profoundly deep that it is life changing. Something so amazing that this kind of hope leaves us different than the way it found us. Of course, the hope of this hymn is the very event we celebrate today – the birth of Jesus. Our hope is not merely a momentary rush or an exciting situation or circumstance. Our hope, our Christmas hope, is in the long-awaited Messiah, born to set His people free – born to set us free. And that is a hope that is truly thrilling!

I’m sure the world into which Jesus was born was weary. “A weary world rejoices.” It was weary of Roman occupation that crushed the people under the weight of this massive empire. Weary of religious oppression that made it difficult and even illegal for people to worship the One True God. Weary of waiting for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled – a promise that God had been speaking to His Chosen People for countless centuries by the time of Jesus.

And, I don’t know about you, but I think we too can relate to that notion that a weary world rejoices. After all, we’re weary too. There are so many things that make us weary. We can be weary of the simple things – sitting in traffic, weary of waiting in checkout lines, weary of being sick, weary of the stresses of the holidays. But we also bear a weariness that goes deeper. We can be weary of looking for the right person or the right job. Weary of wondering when life is going to be worth living. Weary of waiting to see if God really cares about us. We can be weary about the state of our world – still so troubled by war and terror and violence; we can be weary about the state of our nation – where racism and discrimination have reared their ugly heads again, where dignity and honor seem to be gone from the public sphere, where greed and power have replaced any desire to feed the hungry, welcome the refugee, reach out to those on the margins. We can be weary indeed.

And into our weariness, what Jesus promises us is nothing short of “the thrill of hope.” I love that! When we are given this hope, it is thrilling. The birth of Jesus signifies an end to our weariness. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way. We don’t have to keep asking the same questions. We don’t have to wonder if our soul is worth anything. Because, “Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” That line is so wonderful. Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Jesus is no longer yonder! Jesus is here. Hope is here. And that hope is thrilling!

But the story of this hymn still isn’t over. What makes this hymn different than many others we sing at this time of year is that it not only contains praise, but also prescription. Placide left us with marching orders for how we are to respond to this thrill of hope. This hymn tells us what to do, “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.” If we are to be given hope by Christ’s birth, then that hope will shine through in how we treat each other. Even when surrounded by hatred and violence we are called to treat each other with the love and peace Christ has brought us, in a way that is noticeable by the world around us.

“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.” We are called to work so that others can enjoy the same blessings as us, blessings of freedom and justice. God’s work is our work. What are we doing to give others the thrill of hope? What are we doing to help others break the chains of oppression, the chains of addiction, the chains of racism and prejudice and indifference? What are we doing to show others the worth of their soul?

My friends, we are filled with the thrill of hope once again because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. On that night so long ago in Bethlehem, Christ came to us. As we find ourselves on this Christmas night, Christ wants to be born in us again. And when Christ in born in our hearts, He calls us to let Him be born through us for all our world to see.

This wonderful hymn comes to us from a teenage unwed mother and a Jewish carpenter in a little Middle Eastern town. It comes from a socialist to a Jewish composer to an abolitionist preacher and across the airwaves. But this story is not over. There is still one more Christmas (Eve) to tell the long story of this song. This one. Today. There is still a weary world out there in need of hope. There are still countless people out there in need of love and peace. There are our own friends and family who are shackled by grief and depression and loneliness, far from God, far from His love. There are people who are held in bondage by oppressive systems and the power of prejudice. Do we have a song to sing to them, a song about hope? Do we have a story to tell them, a story about the worth of their soul and new and glorious morn? I believe we do. So go yonder and sing it, go yonder and tell it, go yonder and live it! Christ is born again today in us, and His arrival once again fills us with the thrill of hope. Let us tell our story of this holy night.

My friends, may the Lord fill you with peace tonight. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and the thrill of hope that God has promised through the birth of His Son.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

God is with us!

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 23, 2018:

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting, and they usually come with a story. Let me give you an example. I have a beautiful black and white cat named Lucky. I have had lucky for more than 18 years, and he was originally a rescue after he had been injured as a kitten. The local vet was looking for someone to adopt him or they’d have to put him down. So, being a good Franciscan, I took him. I asked my then 6 year old niece to give him a name and she came up with Lucky because as she said, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Names can also say something about who we are and where we come from. For example, I recently led a pilgrimage to Ireland. I am of Irish-American descent, so this trip gave me a chance to connect with the roots of my family and our origins. During the journey, we traveled to some of the places that my family came from in Ireland which gave me a sense of those roots. Doing some research on my family, I was amazed when I looked up my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland, whose name I share. I never knew him, he returned to the Lord long before I was born, but you feel a connection when you share a family name. As I was doing the research, l came across his baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, just 89 years after his. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened my connection to this relative whose name I share. Names usually tell us something about who we are. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family.

And, so much of our Advent reflection has also been about names; in fact, two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung many times already, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name we reflect upon is Jesus, the child whose birth we so eagerly await.

When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel tells us something very important about the birth of this child. It tells us that this is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who is distant and aloof; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. No, our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. Out God is with us!

And then we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells both Joseph and Mary that they are to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that the effect of His presence in our midst will also do something so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!

My friends, as we enter these final hours of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, dwells with us, as one of us; He enters our lives, our struggles and our joys. And ultimately that our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

And speaking of names, let us also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the name Christian, a name that means literally “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us. God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. So, what’s in a name? Nothing less than our salvation.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

I have a secret for you!

HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 16, 2018:

There was a particular monastery a while back had reached a point of crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy hermit living nearby and decided to consult him. He told him how the monastery had diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this incredible revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The old monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and never fasts. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of concealing his true identity. This only made them more confused. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the them, except himself, could be the Christ.

From that day, though, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly; their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and started coming back for to be spiritually fed. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in joy and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.

We heard in Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago – something that happened long ago and far away, but we are being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in His Word proclaimed, in the Sacraments shared, in each one of us gathered in His Name – but also out there in the streets, in all of the many people we encounter – whether friend or foe, family or stranger, rich or poor, happy and healthy or hopeless and in need – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.

But the world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize Christ among us. There are instead voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message that this season hopes to renew in our hearts. God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised.

My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize Him. So, what are we to do? John the Baptist, today shows us. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.

But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into the darkness of our world. Let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.

My friends, “Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”

May the Lord give you peace!

Friday, December 7, 2018

God is stronger!


A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract theological concept, but rather it is a concrete sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.

And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear we hear the words spoken by the angel to Mary in our Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, said, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts tonight – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.

There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than men and women who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”

Pope Francis when he inaugurated the Year of Mercy a few years ago said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."

The Holy Father reminded us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil. God is stronger than any darkness in our world; any darkness in our lives.

My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God; a generous God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.

Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world; the fear in our hearts; and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.

Let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Have you not seen me?"


Let me begin today by sharing one of Leo Tolstoy’s stories called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” In the city of Marseilles there was an old shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself. “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give Him!” He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two tiny shoes of softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. “I would give Him these, my finest work.” Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest. Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name...”Martin! Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I shall pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I shall be your guest at your table.”

Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose and tidied up his shop. On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing upon his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. “Poor fellow, he must be half frozen,” thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea.” And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.

An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, miserably clothed women carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. “Come in and warm while you rest,” he said to her. “You do not look well,” he remarked. “I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in, and my baby boy,” she explained. “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul.” “Poor child!” cried Martin. “You must eat something while you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a bright, pretty fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?” “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother. “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.” Martin took down from the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The poor young mother left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.

Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. “It was only a dream,” he sighed, with a heavy heart. “He has not come.” Suddenly the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. “Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?” Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Today, my friends, is the First Sunday of Advent and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at the beginning of our great story; back to Chapter one of the story of how Jesus came and saved us.

We begin again with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard from the prophet Jeremiah who said, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to seek the signs that something momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will forever change our lives.

Advent is preeminently a time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. We remember both His arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, as we look both back and forward, don’t forget to look down right where we are to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present 2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in our midst today – if our eyes are open to see Him.

Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect.

Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how many fancy cars we own, how nice our home is, how many people work for us. Jesus won’t even ask us how many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead us to action, to love, to reaching out, to actively loving “these least sisters and brothers of mine.”

So, let us so resolve on this first day of a new Church year, to be people ever more aware of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways – in the many ordinary people He sends into our lives every moment of every day. And let us be people who witness to that presence in the lives of others – especially in those places that need God’s presence more than ever. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

God is not done with us yet!

At the closing Masses for Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches, Fall River, MA:

As we gather in this beautiful church today, we have to acknowledge that there is a sadness hanging over our city, and over this place. We gather today for the final Mass in this beautiful church and we know that we are not alone – this weekend also marks the final Masses at three of our Catholic Churches here in Fall River – Holy Rosary, Holy Cross, and St. Anne’s. There is a sadness that hangs over us and it is heavy. It has to be acknowledged and honored – but I believe it also needs to be infused with a note of hope.

Our hope is based on the great legacy of this church and its people, and the effect this legacy has had in so many lives. This legacy began with the founders of this church - women and men of deep Catholic faith. They came to this spot in the city and they built a church that reflected the needs of the community. They were people for whom God was the center of their lives. And they, and the generations that came after them – right up until you and me here today – kept the doors of this church open to respond to the faith needs of not just this community, but really of the world.

And, they did incredible things in the name of faith. So many of you have shared the wonderful stories of faith with me over these last many weeks – stories that have spanned generations. This Church welcomed those came through her doors. Here countless many were baptized and confirmed so that they would know Christ, and bring Christ to all those around them. They were married here, buried from here, lived their lives with this Church as its center. Every moment from the day the doors of this church opened until today has honored the legacy of the good people of faith who have called themselves members of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross Church. And for this legacy, and the difference it has made, we are profoundly, deeply grateful. It is a legacy that has shaped and molded so many into the people they are today.

In the midst of the sadness of this day, as I have prayed about my words today, God has consistently been putting something else on my heart – a note of hope that has been with me so strongly that I have to share it with you today. My friends, what I keep hearing in my heart in prayer is simply this – God is not done with us yet. 

I keep thinking of the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In chapter 12, we hear, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’”

Today may be the sad day that the doors of this church building close, but it is also a day in which God is renewing His call in each of our hearts – He still needs us to be His hands to the poor around us, He still needs us to be His voice to those who have not yet heard His word; He still needs us to be His presence to those in sorrow, His love that is the only antidote to the darkness of our world. He still needs us to go from this place and bring its legacy of faith to other parts of our city that need our holy presence.

In the story of Abraham, God gave him difficult news that was a challenge for him to hear – God told him to leave the place he knew, the place he’d always lived, the surroundings that were familiar, the faces that he knew and knew him. But, God didn’t just tell Abraham to leave. He told him that there was something new waiting for him – something full of blessings that Abraham could not imagine. Surely at this message, Abraham was scared. Surely, he was unsure. Perhaps he was angry, and just maybe he didn’t even really believe it. I’m sure that, like us, today, some part of him wanted to hold on to all he knew and stay there in that place forever.

But I also know something else – he went. And God accomplished in Abraham everything that He promised. God promised him a legacy of descendants who were greater in number than the stars of the sky, or grains of sand in the sea. You and I are those grains of sand, we are those shining bright stars. And although today we are being called to go from this place, God is not done with us yet. And what God did for Abraham and Sarah, God will do for those of us who are his legacy.

You and those who have come before you for more than a century in this church have done everything possible to honor the legacy of faith here. You’ve done it by loving your neighbor. You’ve done it by being good stewards of this place. You’ve done it by being men and women of forgiveness and compassion, kindness and joy. You’ve done it by trusting that God never forgets His children, and always leads them where they should go.

As we leave here today, one last time, may we renew our commitment to carry our legacy with us – wherever God is leading us. Carry that legacy as people who serve God and our neighbors. Carry that legacy as we join another community of faith. My deepest prayer is that you will continue to be a part of the Cathedral parish, one of the parishes of our new collaborative, or one of the many other beautiful churches in our city. We need you. God needs you. God is not done with us yet.

Next week as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, we will all begin anew. We will engage this journey as we do each year with the Holy Family – another family who were called by God to leave the home they knew to embark on a new adventure. I know that it is not easy to leave this place, but if we do it with God at our side, He will journey with us, and lead us to blessings we could have never before imagined.

God's words to Abram, I think, are also His words to us today, “I will make of you a great people, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” to all who encounter you. My friends, God is not done with us yet. Let us step into this new chapter together.

May God bless the people of Holy Rosary and Holy Cross churches. And, may the Lord give you peace.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The end is near!!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone!” The car sped by and then all of a sudden the priests heard a big splash. They looked at each other and the one holding the sign said, “Maybe we should just write ‘Bridge Out Ahead’?”

We find ourselves today in the final weeks of our Church year, and our readings echo the same theme to us, “The end is near!” Next Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and a week later, the First Sunday of Advent. We will begin again the great cycle that recalls the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings. The end is near!

The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that it is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus, we find Him present in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven. 

Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed?

In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel writes about 500 years before Christ. Wars and distress are all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.

In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.

My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.

Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Giving it all away


A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”

My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.

But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.

What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord and His all in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.

The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. Only then will we have life to the full. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.

“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Won't you be my neighbor?


Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. Sing with me if you can: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, like most, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood every day. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, all the same cast of characters. And, always the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Today, Jesus is posing the same question to us from our Gospel. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus does’nt stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.

Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”

Our world needs this neighborly reminder more today than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. Not to mention the murder of 11 people praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue last week – all killed simply because of their faith. Ironically, did you know that synagogue is located literally in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood? Fred Rogers lived just a block away from that spot.

Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. Because when we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...