Kill your pride: A homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Todascreen-shot-2012-10-04-at-1125382.pngy in our readings, there is a lot of fighting going on.  In the Gospel, we hear about how the disciples were fighting about who was the greatest among them.  In the second reading, James is writing to his community and he notes the same thing — a lot of fighting is happening — and he muses, “Where does all this war come from anyways?”  He says a lot, but starts out with what summarizes all of it: “selfish ambition….”  And finally, even in our first reading, we see a group of people intent on “tearing down” another group of people….why? Because they are making them look bad by their virtuous lives.

All this strife, all this disagreement, all this discord.  And all of it comes from pride!

The thing that makes us argue, and fight, and wind up in tantrums….it’s pride!

The thing that leads people to get in a huff and make bad decisions….it’s pride!

We want things this or that way, things don’t go our way — and of course we know what’s best — so we get cranky and unhappy and pick a fight …. or walk away


We need to do a few different things today…….

  1. We need to acknowledge that we all have this pride. I’m included!
  2. Ask God to get rid of it, to help us grow in humility.
  3. Lastly, we need to be servants….Jesus sits the proud disciples down in our Gospel today and says, ““If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
    2. a servant doesn’t push his own way. He serves. And not to be noticed, appreciated, etc….sometimes people are happy to serve only on their own conditions, and then the moment something happens the don’t like, they announce: “I’m not doing this stuff anymore”
    3. A servant realizes there is something bigger than me and my own thoughts and feelings, there is something larger here that I’m serving….especially the faith community

Servants.  The more we serve, the more our pride goes away!

Let’s pray God for humble, servant hearts!

A heartfelt lesson from King Josiah that speaks to our present mess: A homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Mahqdefault.jpgny of you are aware of the recent news with Fr. Maung. Some have asked for me to comment on the situation.  I do not know anything beyond the contents of the statement made by the diocese.  A claim against Fr. Maung was made in recent days of a situation that the claimant says happened decades ago. The diocese immediately suspended Fr. Maung’s faculties and the civil and ecclesial investigations commenced.  Fr. Maung denies the claim. Because I don’t know anything about this, I withhold my judgment until the process is complete and truth is found. I think we all must do the same.

In our first reading today, Moses tells the people that if they follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord, they shall live — and live well. Jesus in our gospel adds a twist: he says we must follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord with our hearts. External observance is not enough; Jesus wants the heart.

If we give Jesus the heart, the external actions take care of themselves. Sometimes people try to stop this or that sinful habit, and they fail. Because they’re focusing on the bad habit and not on the heart.  “Love and do what you will” says Augustine.  On Tuesday last week we heard from Jesus in Matthew 23: “You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

Clean the inside says Jesus, and what flows from the inside will also be clean. Fix the heart and the actions will be follow.  We need to give Jesus the heart. It isn’t just about saying the right things; it’s about meaning what we say as our second reading from James insists.  It isn’t about just “doing the right thing”; we must want to do it, not reluctantly or begrudgingly. It’s not about just believing the right teachings; we must love the teachings, even if we struggle with them. It isn’t about saying prayers; we must mean the prayers, with all our hearts. It isn’t just about tolerating people; we must love them — in concrete ways.

This is what is needed in our church today — local and wide.  The problems facing the church are real. They must be addressed and changes need to happen. But no amount of new procedures or protocols, no amount of increased transparency or lists — I’m not against those things and they probably are necessary—but none of that can fix what is ultimately a heart problem.  The problem is, people in all ranks fall out of love with Jesus, and in their wretchedness pick something else instead. (This is why we strike our hearts at the confiteor.)

Sometimes what people pick instead of Jesus is horrific, repulsive, and even criminal.

I was praying about the state of things the other day. At a loss, I said, “Lord please help” and turned my bible to a random page. He answered my prayer! I turned to 2 Kings 22, the story of Josiah. Josiah became the king of Judah in 640 BC. His father was Amon and his grandfather was Manasseh. Both his father and his grandfather made more mistakes than you can count. They reigned a combined 57 years, and each year was filled with idolatry and infidelity, and scandal of every kind.

Josiah was 8 years old when his dad was killed by his own servants. Josiah became king as a little boy….and it was a very dark hour in judah’s history indeed.

Josiah’s ancestors had destroyed more than you could possibly imagine by their sins. Everything was in ruins. Trust in leadership had been broken. Josiah took the throne and everyone wondered if he would be the same. Most probably suspected he was the same kind of monster. He proved them wrong.

And it was Josiah’s heart that fixed everything. 2 Kings mentions Josiah’s heart many times — the love he had for God and his people.  The long abandoned temple was falling in on itself, and Josiah commissioned the forces to rebuild it. As they were doing so, Hilkiah found the scroll, from which our first reading comes. They found the rules of the Lord. It had a lot of dust on it.  Josiah famously brought everyone together and had the scroll read out loud by Shaphan, the scribe. Everyone listened and came back to the Lord—though it took some time.

After all was said and done, 2 Kings 23:25 shares this about Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.”

I just want you to know that I’m trying to be like Josiah.  And not just me–loads of other good priests and seminarians. We’ve inherited a mess from a few rotten priests and bishops and cardinals who made horrible mistakes, unthinkable ones. These men have inflicted so much pain, brought so much grief. Now we’re not perfect–far from it–but, like Josiah, we’re standing in the ruins some corrupt ancestors have left behind for the rest of us to deal with. May we never forget just how deadly, how destructive the deadly sins are.

And we all must be like Josiah. The devil goes around destroying things, leaving a disaster behind him, and our job is to heroically clean it up. Josiah didn’t throw up his hands in defeat, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t give anger the final word. He did cry. And he worked to fix things and put the kingdom back together again. What he did most of all—was to give God his heart: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might.”  The fruits of Josiah’s decision to put give his heart to the Lord?  Thousands upon thousands came back, virtue took hold of the kingdom, and the depravity went away.  No wonder Jesus wants the heart!

When we were batpized, the priest anointed our hearts.  Consecrated, set aside — for the purpose of love!  If our hearts are right, so will our actions be.  What would it be like if we….

Really prayed with the heart
Confession with the heart
Receive communion with the heart
Service with the heart
Treat everyone we meet with the heart
Prepared dinner with the heart

Ours would be a story like Josiah’s, that’s what would happen

May God give us strength and hope…and strong, faithful, soft hearts

I will serve: A homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

altar.jpgToday God says– “Decide TODAY whom you will serve”

A Christian is one who serves in the pattern of Jesus, one who gives his life for others…

How do we know if we are serving God?  Answer:  If we are serving others!

Matthew 25…..for I was hungry and you gave me bread, thirsty….

In other words, when peopel look at you–do they say, “Now THAT is a person who serves!  Anytime I need something, they’re there. That’s one of the ones who always volunteers, who’s always to be counted upon.”??

family life … 2nd reading, depend on each other

I think about my Granny.  My grandma was that way—altar society, treasurer of every group, knit prayer shawls, hospitality, choir, help with the kids, every fundraiser and fair.  The priest at her funeral said she had the curse of competency.  She served and served.  As a priest I have come to realize how important people like Granny really are. The parish depends upon them.

I think about our altar servers.  I always like to tell them, don’t you dare look nice and holy up here and not serve in your house when asked, or not serve your friends and classmates.

I also think about so many of our high schoolers who are always asking, is there anythign you need Fr?  festival, first fridays, all type of things…these guys are there.  They offer us an important example.

That’s the proof of our being Christian!  It’s the proof of our love.  “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…”  And love must be provable, must be service.

God tells us:  Choose today, who will you serve:  me, or soemthing else?  Make a final decision and stick with it. Enough games! He was probably tired of the people’s lukewarmness in Joshua’s time.  The folks had just taken possession of the promised land but had begun to forget about God….so he has them renew the promises their ancestors made at Sinai to love and serve.  Same story in the Gospel — so many had left Jesus, walked away, and he says: “Are you going to leave me too?”  Peter answers: there is no where else to go.

We must serve the Lord.   Satan was the first to say: I will not serve.  Milton quotes im in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.”  But everyone serves something — ego, money, power, prestige, lust.  ….

God says- -Enough.  You DECIDE TODAY: Who will you serve!  Amd then do it!

Joshua: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord..

Hard to serve…….yes! “hard saying” Jesus

Can’t be too busy to serve…we’re all too busy.  But we can never be too busy for the Lord.

We can never outserve God.  He serves us the perfect meal, his very self…he gave it all up for us.  Let us now serve him.  We can never outserve the Lord….remember Fr Larry Richard’s grandma’s ditty:

What?  Giving AGAIN I said in dismay?
It seems I just keep giving, and giving, and givign away.
O no, said the angel, piercing me through
Just give until God stops giving to you

A reflection on the state of the Church, global and local: A homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

_4204527I’ve been thinking for some time that today would be the day to do the annual “state of the parish” address.  How fitting is our Gospel.  Today we hear from Jesus speak about these singular words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  Everything that we Catholics should be doing, everything we should be about as Catholics, flows from the Eucharist and goes back to it.  The Eucharist–which is Jesus–is our source, our summit, our very life.

Given the events fo the past week, I want to offer a reflection or two on the state of the larger Church before I talk about our parish.  Here’s some good news about our Catholic Church:

  • 1.3 billion strong
  • 225,000 parishes in the world
  • in last 9 years, # Catholics worldwide went up 17.8% while the # of global population went up 17.3%.  We’re growing at a faster rate proportional to the global increase
  • We are a great force of good and love
    • 140,000 catholic schools in the world
    • 10,000 orphanages
    • 5000 hospitals
    • 16000 health clinics
    • numerous food pantries
    • Catholic charities provides services to millions every year–disaster relief, housing, healthcare
  • We have the sacraments, life of prayer, good priests, good seminarians

We should be proud to be Catholic!

That being said, we have learned in recent days the truth of what some corrupted clerics have done in PA and elsewhere.  It is profoundly disturbing.  We have seen the fracture of the body of Christ the Church, which so many of us love so much and for which I gave up my life.  There are so many broken lives, so much pain and anger, and all of this has given way to deep grief.  It is no use dragging up statistics to show that the problem is much more widespread in other institutions and circles; people expect more from the Church and they should.  There has been a major failure here.  I have always wanted to believe that man is rational and civilized, that every priest and certainly every bishop is as good and holy as my childhood priest Fr. Charlie Chesebrough and my spiritual director Fr. Joe Moriarty and some of the other holy priests I know.  My very priesthood, maybe my whole life of faith, I have rested upon this hope.  I’m afraid that, with you, I have been let down.  And there are no words to describe the anger and sadness in my heart.

The archbishop of Denver notes that, “at its root, this is a spiritual crisis.”  What has seeped into our Church, sadly, is the diseased idea that you can do whatever you want and it’s okay.  This is the root of more local problems in the Church as well.  The faith binds us to a certain way of life. Many have made peace in failing at this. The abuse problem requires a fix and I’m sure Pope Francis will make it.  What we can do ourselves is 1) pray in reparation for these awful sins, 2) be careful to safeguard children everywhere, and 3) we must be as holy as we can be on our local level (as families and as a parish), and that increase in holiness will spread to the rest of the Church and have an incredible effect. We must strive to know our faith more and to love it more.

Let’s talk, then, about the state of our parish and how we’re doing at that goal.  Let’s start with the financials. We will mail out a copy this week, together with some additional information.  I am pleased to announce that:

  • Collections are up.  This past fiscal year collections totaled $805,000. Compare that to the prior year’s (2016/17) $737,000.  We had budgeted for $750,000.  This means that we beat last year by $68,000 and we beat the budgeted amount by $55,000.
  • Fundraisers are up.  This past fiscal fundraising revenues were $149,000.  Compare that to the prior year’s $85,000.  We had budgeted $71,500.  We beat last year by $64,000 and we beat the budget by $77,500.
  • Overall, we ended the year with a surplus of $53,188.13.  This is important news. For many years, the parish had ended with a deficit and turned to savings to balance the budget.  We thankfully did not need to do that this year.
  • The weekly collection need remains $14,200, the same as last year.  I am thankful to those who worked so hard with me on this budget.  I am happy this number is the same.
  • I am very German. That means I’m cheap. We are very careful with how we spend money here and do not take contributions for granted.
  • Thank you for your generosity.  Truly, thank you.

Of course, money is only important inasmuch as it enables ministry, inasmuch as it enables us to be the hands and heart of Jesus in Shelbyville.  God doesn’t say money is evil; he says the love of money is evil.  St. Joe’s is not here to get rich; we are here to be Jesus–to feed, to teach, to heal, to shelter, to evangelize, to love–and that takes money.

Our contributions have enabled us to:

  • Increase our ministry of charity:  Together with SV, we have built a Habitat for Humanity house, gone on a mission trip, and started a St Vincent de Paul Society that has 78 volunteers and has helped 137 people already.
  • Increase our faith formation programming:  We started a youth group, we did lots of trips with youth, we’ve made improvements in the school, we started Family Faith Formation, we’ve had book studies and bible studies, we’ve invested in FORMED, we’ve had retreats, we had a big RCIA class.
  • Hire much-needed staff: We hired a music director in September, a youth minister and parish catechetical leader, we’ve got a Spanish teacher and a counselor in the school.
  • Undertake capital improvements:
    • renovation of the old REP building and offices moved there
    • rectory returned to its original location
    • we tore down some more houses and converted the entire field to green space.  Finally, after 150 years, the kids have a playground!
    • new carpet in several school classrooms
    • new Blessed Mother Shrine out front
    • the principal’s office was refurbished
    • school hallways, stairwells and classrooms were repainted
    • PTO room converted into a youth room, refurbished
    • new basketball court and goals
    • new windows in the sacristy, school classrooms, youth room, and hallways
    • new ceilings and lights in several school rooms
  • Here I add a new surprise blessing:  We have purchased the three properties on Pike Street next to the oil change place. Soon we will demolish those homes and expand our green space.  As I’m sure you understand, it was necessary to keep this quiet until the purchase was official, which just happened on Monday.  This will allow us one day to move forward with some version of the plans that were put together for the Master plan before I arrived.

All of that has happened because of our generosity.  I can’t say thank you enough! 

A lot of things don’t show up on a financial report

  • Sacramental numbers up:  54 baptisms, 41 first communions, 18 confirmations, 9 weddings
  • 36 new families
  • RCIA was biggest class in several years
  • James Velez has been accepted into the deacon formation program
  • parishioners have accomplished 100,000 hours of volunteer work (ish) for the 1st Peter Prokect
  • 150th anniversary joys:  Lessons and carols, Bl Mother Shrine, Oktoberfest, Festival came back, St Joe Show, Organ Recital, Archbishop Thompson came, ice cream social, etc

So many blessings.  Some challenges:

  • 75% of Shelby Co has no religion
  • Only about 35% of parishioners show up to Mass.  Tragic.
  • 7% of parishioners do 80% of the contributions and volunteering.  All that we’re doing is being done by about 7%!  What if we moved it up one percent!  two percent!   What would i tbe like if we were at 100!!!

That’s the parish. We’re doing well, so many blessings, we’re becoming holier and stronger here in our corner of the kingdom, and that’s what will make the larger church holier.

What we have, what we lack, and what we want: A homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

bible-archeology-exodus-kadesh-barnea-water-from-rock-mosesToday’s readings challenge us to consider three things:  what we have, what we lack and what we want.

  1. What we have….
    In the past week, how many times have you complained?
    Image of starving boy in Africa, text below:  “Your life isn’t that hard.”
    The first reading, from the Book of Exodus, speaks about our ancestors in the faith. They wanted freedom. They were willing to leave Egypt for freedom. But as soon as they had freedom, they realized that the now lacked the food that they had enjoyed in Egypt! This is such a human story. They complain. When we get what we want, then we want something else. And very often we forget to enjoy what we have already.  We don’t hvae it that bad!
  2. What we lack….
    In our first reading, the scripture notes that God hears their grumblings. A stomach grumbles when it’s empty. (Glory)
    God sees our emptinesses, he hears our grumblings…
    Emptiness in a marriage, in a job, emptiness when a kid leaves home for college, emptiness when a friend moves away, emptiness in prayer, etc
    “I’ve heard their emptiness….” I WILL FEED THEM!  – God
    And he not only feeds us, he has given us the RIGHT FOOD TO eat when we’re hungry….sacraments, church, scripture, family, friends `
  3. What we want….
    We all want Jesus, were built for him!
    GK Chesterton: “Even the man in the brothel is looking for love, and Jesus is love”
    “When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” WE THINK….I just want a miracle, I want a full belly, etc….But God has something more in mind.
    A good grumble – I’m hungry for something and I don’t know what it is…..
    This is true in a spiritual way, too………………
    The EUCHARIST!!!!!!!  MUST BE THE CENTER OF LIFE. NO ONE WOULD EVER LEAVE. EVER–if they loved the Eucharist.  One thing everyone who has ever left the Catholic Church has in common:  They did not realize the beauty of the Eucharist, they do not realize that Jesus is the Eucharist.  One cannot walk away from Jesus. We must help to fix this disconnect….help people to realize that the Eucharist IS Jesus….you can’t love Jesus and not have the time fo r the Eucharist.  We should pray every day:  Jesus, help me love you more!  Which is the same as praying:  Jesus, help me love the Eucharist the more!

Maybe these are the three things we should pray with as we prepare for Mass:  We should THANK God for what we have, acknowledge where there is an emptiness and invite him in there, and then pray JESUS, HELP ME LOVE YOU MORE.

Move on: A homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Tshaking_off_the_dusthere’s a great joke about the new pastor of a parish who is chatting with the outgoing pastor. The outgoing priest tells him, “I wrote three notes for you. Don’t open them until things get bad.”  Months go by.  The first problem and it’s with the finance committee.  He opens the letter and it reads, “Just blame me. I can handle it. And I’m long gone.”  So the priest reports that all the financial problems, it’s because of hte last priest.  Second time is with the parish council. He opens the second letter: “Just blame the bishop. He’s got broad shoulders and can take it.”  The parish council accepted this.  Last time is with a big uprising in the church.  Father opens the third letter: “Write three letters.”

Thought of that joke b/c so many of my priest friends have been getting new assignments lately.  We have new priest neighbors in Rushville and Greensburg.  Fortunately I’m staying here, but talking with them has given me pause to reflect on the many movings on in our lives.  We are all called to move on….if not a physcial moving on, a spiritual one.

This is the theme of our readings.

In the first reading we see Amos.  He was a simple man, a prophet called to call a big town to repentance.  He goes to Bethel.  But they don’t like what he has to say.  They chew him up and spit him out.  Get lost, says Azariah, the priest of Bethel.  “Off with you,” he says.  Get lost and take your message someplace else.

And Amos moves on.

In our Gospel Jesus, having given out the apostles’ first assignments, commissions them to go out.  He tells them that not everyone will accept you, and he advises them to simply move on when they come to a place that doesn’t welcome them, when they find themselves in fire and tension and depression.

Is it not so with Jesus too? Jesus finds himself in his hometown, as we heard last Sunday, and the people elected not to listen to him. What does he do?  He shakes the dust and moves on.

And that is our summons, too.   When the difficult stuff happens, Jesus says, move on.

In our lives very often we find ourselves saddled with difficulties and problems that we never asked for, certainly never expected. Sometimes these have to do with our finances or our families, or our past relationships.

And yet the voice of the Lord encourages us to be moving on.

We all know what pain and heartache are, we know what loss is—loss of health, or money, or a job, maybe a reputation….we know what loss is, especially the greatest loss: we know what it is to experience someone we love, leaving.  Sometimes even passing away.

And with that loss, there is the admonishment from Jesus to be moving on.  Mourning is of course a part, but we move forward, we carry on.

In our lives we know what it is to have been wronged, we know the power and pain of resentments and disagreements and frustrations with decisions we don’t like.

And yet the Lord says: MOVE ON.

In our lives we can easily get wrapped up by our sins, our fears, our failings….But Move on the Lord says, Move on

How can it not be so? How can it not be necessary?

We have to move on.  Why? Because that is what Jesus did. That is what our Lord did. Faced with trials and enemies he moved on. Plagued and embarrassed by having fallen on his way of the cross not just one time but three times, He moved on. When people ridiculed or renounced his message….Shake the dust from your feet. He moved on.

We know what it is to receive the same summons from the Lord. Keep on moving.

Keep moving. Why?

First of all, because if we don’t, we get stuck and we simply stew in whatever “it” is.

Second of all, St Paul tells us i our second reading today, because we have a purpose….a mission….chosen as St Paul says in our second reading….we were picked like the apostles and like Amos to fulfill a mission that God knew from before the foundation of the world.

Jesus could have made anybody.  But he made YOU.  He made ME.

And it wasn’t for naught. He knew what he was doing.  We all have a purpose.

And fulfilling that purpose has to be what motivates us….not money or some joy or whatever….but fulfilling God’s purpose for our life.  That must be our motivation.

And that’s a daily thing.  A good practice is to ask dayil:  Jesus, what is your purpose for me today? Maybe God has lots of purposes for us every day.

May we look at life that way. Amos came to do so, and so did the apostles. They kept on moving on towards the fulfillment of their purpose.

It’s a hard thing to do, to move on–whether physcially or emotionally or spiritually.  It’s a hard thing to move, a hard thing to fulfill our purpose.  But we can do it.  Because we have the power of Christ alive in us.  It’s the month of Precious Blood.  We receive HIS blood into our veins at this Mass.

And with him we can move on.  WE can fulfill our purpose.

“As the LORD spoke to me…”: A homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Is-the-Bible-the-Word-of-GodThe first few lines from our first reading today (Ezekiel) go like this: “As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet….”

This is what happens when we listen to the word of God….when we take the time to listen to him speak — especially in scripture:  the Spirit enters us and sets us on our feet!

Three steps then:

  1. Listen to God speak, daily scripture reading
  2. Holy Spirit fills us
  3. God sets us on our feet….ACTION

First, we have to take the time.  We can’t make excuses….daily scripture reading is critical!  Maybe just a verse of the day, or a miracle of the day, or work your way through Proverbs, or Psalms, or Gospels, whatever….we must listen to God speak!

Second:  Because when we do that, when we listen to God, we are filled with the Spirit!  He enters us….fills us!  St Paul knew this well.  He says: “That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me….”  He was filled with the Spirit, after experiencing an “abundance of revelations”  The saints, too – they were filled with the spirit….that’s how they did what they did, not because they were stronger than the rest, but because in their weakness they turned to HIS POWER

Third:  Then, after we’ve heard God speak and been filled with his spirit, God puts us to action.  That’s why we stand for the Gospel at Mass: because through it God calls us to act.