Archive for August, 2018

A 30-Second Homily 9-2-2018

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

An elderly priest made a retreat. In the course of it he was struck deeply by three things that he’d always been aware of but never had really taken to heart.
First, there are millions of people in the world who are hungry and homeless. Second, he had spent his entire priestly life preaching comfortable sermons to comfortable people. Third, he had bent over backwards to avoid disturbing or alienating people.
In other words, the priest found himself to be much like the priest played by Jack Lemmon in the film Mass Appeal. He preached only about those things that didn’t disturb his parishioners and made them feel good.
And now, like the priest in Mass Appeal, the old priest suddenly realized that he had been more worried about pleasing his people than about preaching the Gospel. He had been more worried about rocking the boat than about challenging his parishioners to look into their hearts to see if they were satisfied with what they saw there.
The week following his eye-opening retreat, the old priest looked up the Scripture readings to prepare his Sunday homily.
As he read the Gospel, these words of Jesus leaped right off the page: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
The priest resolved, then and there, that he was going to share his soul-searching with his parishioners. So he began his homily by saying:
“My homily this morning will be exactly 30 seconds long. That’s the shortest homily that I’ve ever preached in my life, but it’s also the most important homily I’ve ever preached.”
With that attention-grabbing introduction, the priest gave his 30-second homily. He said:
“I want to make just three points. First, millions of people in the world are hungry and homeless. Second, most people in the world don’t give a damn about that. Third, many of you are more disturbed by the fact that I just said damn in the pulpit than by the fact that I said there are millions of hungry and homeless people in the world.”

With that the elderly priest made the sign of the cross and sat down.

That homily did three things that many homilies don’t do.
First, it caught the attention of the people.
Second, it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the gospel.
Third, hopefully it made the people look into their hearts.

The story of this priest and the gospel reading make the same point.
Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not primarily, observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain rituals.
That’s what many people in Jesus’ time had turned religion into. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious.

To illustrate the hypocrisy of such legalism, William Barclay tells this story – about a Muslim pursing an enemy to kill him.
In the midst of the chase, the Azan, or public call to prayer sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him.
It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously in his time.
Jesus made it clear that religion isn’t something you do at certain times on certain days. It’s not saying certain prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love – love of God and love of neighbor. Love in action.

Today’s Scripture reading invites us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us: “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The Scriptures also invite us to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us:
Act on (God’s) word.
If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.”

I hope this homily today did 3 things:
First – it caught your attention.
Second – it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.
Third – it makes all of us look into our hearts!

Yes we should be talking about Sex Abuse in Church 8-26-2018

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

When I was pastor in a parish called Madonna del Sasso, I was involved in the building of a wonderful parish hall. It was very exciting for me to see this building come up and how it met the needs of the community as your parish hall has done for you. It was very interesting for me to see the foundation being prepared. I learned a lot about all the ingredients and exacting preparation that goes into making a solid foundation….a foundation that will be strong and secure enough to withstand all the various storms that will come its way.

We are often reminded that the Church, the Catholic Church to be specific, needs a solid and secure foundation…and that foundation is JESUS CHRIST. If you flip through the pages of history you see that the Catholic Church has endured many serious storms. I believe this to be true only because of its foundation…JESUS CHRIST.

The Catholic Church today is going through some serious storms. I honestly feel one of the most serious is the sexual misconduct of priests and all the hurt, pain and mistrust that goes along with that unhealthy behavior. As a Catholic priest for 46 years I would like to share with you some personal reflections about this “storm”.

I think some are quick to say that we shouldn’t be talking about this topic in church…I believe we should. It is going on in our Church family and as disgusting and repulsive as it may be, it needs to be faced and named. Along with that, we need to constructively and honestly deal with it… so real healing can take place and trust can be slowly restored.

As a human being, as a lifelong Catholic, and as a priest, I am very embarrassed, discouraged, hurt and angered by what I see on TV and Internet, read in newspapers and magazines, and hear people talking about it wherever I go…. about how some priests have sexually used and abused people of various ages….how some church leadership has covered things up, moved priest from place to place and pretended that nothing was wrong. As hard as it is to hear these things…they are true….and we must deal with them.

As a human being, as a lifelong Catholic, and as a priest who is committed to helping the Church grow, heal and deal more openly with its problems and weaknesses and not just point a critical and negative finger of judgment at “those people”
-I apologize for the devastating damage that some priests have inflicted on innocent people…on any of you.
-I apologize to any of the victims and their families and I promise that I will keep them in my daily prayers
-I apologize to the parishioners who sit in the pews, Sunday after Sunday and repeatedly have to hear the statement, “What is wrong with your Church?”
I want to assure you that my apologies are not made simply to be politically correct, rather they are sincere.

I assure you, that in our Diocese under Bishops Ryan, Garcia and Wilkerson’s leadership, there is an open, honest, fair process that has been established to face such issues and not cover them up. I offer an open invitation from myself and from our Bishop, to you and anyone else, to help heal any damage….whatever it takes.

So consequently, how do you or I keep this storm in perspective, not be overwhelmed by it and not mistrust every priest brother and sister we meet? For me, I recall all the priests, sisters, and brothers who have impacted my life in a positive way with love, sensitivity, care and concern over the years. I try to keep in mind that it is a small percentage of all priests who have done these awful deeds. I am saddened when I hear priests say things like, “I’ll never be seen around kids” or “you’ll never find me over at the school or at the CCD classes.”

Because, I love these young people and realize what a great gift they are to our Church, I will not let the sins of a few or the somewhat understandable mistrusting looks of others, keep me from ministering to young people and kids in the Church as I have done for the past 46 years.

I pray that our Church will learn some great lessons from this storm and that some things that need to change will change. During this time we need to constantly ask ourselves: What can we learn from this? How can we grow from this to fully become the Church of Jesus Christ?

We need to remind ourselves often, that we cannot make the foundation of our faith or the foundation of the church, a particular priest, sister or brother. It is unfair and unrealistic for everyone concerned. Signs of earned respect and affirmation are necessary but putting anyone on a pedestal is a very unhealthy posture.

In closing, I pray that we have the heart of Jesus Christ…a heart that is filled with compassion for those that are hurt and abused… a heart of forgiveness for those who inflict abuse, even if they are not on my list of those who deserve forgiveness… a heart that is not quick to judge and condemn those accused… a heart that is committed to building the church that is always in need of healing and growth…and a heart that is not afraid to ask and answer the HARD questions.

Harry Was A Minister 8-19-2018

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

I have a special story for us. I believe there is a powerful lesson for all of us in this story:
Harry never even vaguely considered himself a minister in his church. “Come on,” he would say. “The people who give out the Eucharist, the ones who lecture, maybe they are ministers, but me…. I’m just an usher.
A young priest in Harry’s parish had given a talk on the “ministry” of a greeter, but Harry wasn’t buying that “malarkey.” He said he was just trying to “give the pastor a hand” by taking up the collection, steering people to Holy Communion and saying hello to parishioners when they came into church.
Harry believed that, until one cold March night he came home from work and his wife told him the pastor called. Harry returned the call and the pastor told him that a letter had been received at the rectory. The letter was simply addressed to “Harry the usher.”
The priest said that since he was the only usher called Harry, would he please pick up his letter. Harry, intrigued by the request, complied and on the way home ripped open the envelope and in the dim light of the car read the following:
Dear Harry, I don’t know your last name, but I guess that’s fair. You don’t know mine either. I’m Gert, Gert form the 8:00 am Mass. I am writing you for a couple of reasons, and I hope you will understand. One of the reasons is to ask a favor. I am not particularly close to any of the priests in the parish but somehow I feel close to you. I don’t even know how you got to know my first name, but every Sunday morning when I walked into Mass you smiled and greeted me and called me by my name. We would exchange a few words that were perhaps meaningless to most like how bad the weather was; how much you like my Easter hat and how late I was on a particular Sunday.
I don’t have any close family left, Harry. My husband has been dead for 16 years and the kids are scattered. Not too many people smile and greet an old lady like me, but you did.
Harry, in the little time left to me, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the thoughtfulness; for remembering my name is Gert; for the smiles and little laughter; the consideration and the conversation. Now for the favor, I am dying Harry. My time is running out. It is not important that you come to my wake, but what is important to me is that when they bring me to church for Mass for the last time, you will be standing at the front entrance. It wouldn’t seem right if you weren’t standing to say “Hello Gert.” “Good to see you.”
If you are there, Harry, I will feel assured that your warm hospitality in my home parish will be duplicated by Peter, Jesus, and Mary in my new parish, my new home. I hope they will say as you always did, “Hello Gert.” “It is good to see you.”
The lady who wrote that letter recently was buried from her parish church. Harry did stand at the entrance. He smiled and said the words Gert wanted to hear as he gently touched the coffin. Harry gave Gert Eucharist.
Eucharist, when will we learn that Eucharist is so much more than the ritual, following along the missallete, an obligation, a passive congregation, a me and God experience, a place to be entertained, a how fast can I get out of here happening.
Eucharist, so much more; two sides of the same coin. Jesus present in the Bread and Wine, and Gods’ word, the flip side, Jesus present in the people. Eucharist, so much more. When will we learn.