Archive for August, 2021

Act on God’s Word 8-29-2021

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

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.
1The 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
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
Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not primarily,
observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain
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!

Commitment 8-22-2021

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

At the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924, the sport of canoe racing
was added to the list of international competitions for the first time.
The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States
team. One member of the U.S. team was a young man by the name of
Bill Havens.
As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill’s
wife would give birth to their first child about the time that Bill would
be competing in the Paris games.
In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States,
only slow-moving, oceangoing ships.
And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and
risk not being at his wife’s side when their first child was born? Or
should he withdraw from the team and remain behind?
Bill’s wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, he had been
working toward this for all these years. It was the culmination of a
lifelong dream.
Clearly, the decision was not easy for Bill to make.
Finally, after much soul searching, Bill decided to withdraw from
the competition and remain behind with his wife so that he could be
with her when their first child arrived.
Bill considered being at her side a higher priority than going to
Paris to fulfill a lifelong dream.
To make a long story short, the United States four-man canoe team
won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. And Bill’s wife was late
in giving birth to her first child. She was so late that Bill could have
competed in the event and returned home in time to be with his wife.
People said, “What a shame!”
But Bill said he had no regrets. After all, his commitment to his
wife was more important then, and it still was now.
The story of Bill Havens is a story of how one man paid a high
price to fulfill a commitment to someone he loved. It makes an
especially fitting introduction to today’s Scripture readings. For each
of those three readings deals with the subject of commitment.
The first reading deals with the commitment of the people of Israel
to God and the difficulty they found living it out.
The gospel reading deals with the commitment of the disciples to
Jesus and the difficulty they had living it out.
Finally, the second reading deals with the commitment of two
people in marriage and the difficulty they encountered living it out.
And the story of Bill Havens fits in here best.
But Bill’s story reveals something important about commitment.
The temptation we most frequently face in our commitments is not
to break them or fail to fulfill them. Rather, it is the temptation not to
live them out as fully as we could.
In other words, we keep our commitments but live them out only
50 to 70 percent, instead of 100 percent.
The story of Bill Havens is the story of a person who lived out his
commitment 100 percent. It also inspires us to live out our
commitments as generously as he lived out his.
There’s a sequel to the story of Bill Havens. And the sequel reveals
a second important point about commitments.
The generosity with which we live out our commitments will have
a powerful impact not only on the one to whom we are committed but
also on those around us – and often on people we don’t even know.
The child eventually born to Bill and his wife was a boy, whom
they named Frank.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1952, Bill received a cablegram from
Frank. It was sent from Helsinki, Finland, where the 1952 Olympics
were being held. The cablegram read, and I quote it exactly:
“Dad, I won. I’m bringing home the gold medal you lost while
waiting for me to be born.”
Frank Havens had just won the gold medal for the United States in
the canoe-racing event, a medal his father had dreamed of winning
but never did.
Bill Havens commitment, 28 years earlier, became the inspiration
for his son. Frank made it the model for a commitment of his own:
to show his deep appreciation to his dad and his generous
commitment to his mother and to himself.
And that’s the important point that parents often don’t think about.
The generosity with which they live out their commitment to one
another is carefully observed by their children. And their children
will often use it as the model for their own commitments in life.
I close with this. We might compare our commitment to a stone
thrown into a lake. It does more than impact the lake at the point of
entry. It ripples out and impacts the lake far beyond the point of entry
– sometimes even to distant parts of the lake. Only God knows the
full impact that our actions have on others.
And so when we come to die, and appear before God in judgment,
we will be amazed at the far-reaching impact of our actions – just as
Bill Havens would be amazed at the far-reaching impact that his
commitment to his wife has had, inspiring hundreds of thousands of
people he never knew.

The Assumption of Mary 8-15-2021

Sunday, August 15th, 2021

I have been doing a lot of moving this past month. During this
process I found things in my closets, in boxes, in drawers – that I had
misplaced. Some of the things I found, I throw away again. But other
things I put them in a more visible place because I realized these things
had some real value for me.
I feel as a Catholic I have misplaced Mary, the mother of Jesus. I
put her on a back shelf of my life because she seemed old fashioned,
pre-Vatican II, not relevant in my life.
Recently, I realized the mistake I made. As I took Mary off the
back shelf of my life and began to dust her off, I began to notice some
very valuable insights. I would like to share my new appreciation of
Mary in the form of a reflection about the Assumption of our Lady.
We know the story well. Young Mary, pregnant with Jesus
hastened over the Judean hills and valleys to be with Elizabeth, pregnant
in her old age. Mary went quickly. She hurried to go to be with
someone who needed her. Mary had a good excuse not to go on that

journey; her own health and preparation for birth. But she risked the
road. She took the time. She spent the energy. All of Mary’s life was
guided by the Spirit of God. Mary knew Elizabeth needed her, and so
she went.
Mary’s Assumption, a triumph over death, celebrates a woman
who lived her life bringing goodness to others. Mary is a wonderful
model of faith for us. In our world of hurry and worry, we can very
legitimately have plenty to do just to care for ourselves and our families.
But there are Elizabeth’s everywhere who need our visits. What a
difference a phone call, a letter, or a “stopping by” can make to a lonely,
ill or aged person. What joy can we bring to children by paying full
attention to them? What happiness we offer family, friends, and
colleagues when we affirm their successes and celebrations. We need
only to look and we will easily find an Elizabeth today.
Mary, delight of God’s heart
May the joy your visit brought to Elizabeth
Be the joy that our presence brings
To those whom we take time to “visit” today.