28 Ordinary: October 13/14, 2018

We all have fears – and my fears are probably not your fears.  I have a fear of spiders and snakes and heights.  You might have a fear of flying or doctors or dogs. . .  For almost anything we can name – elevators, bridges, enclosed spaces, darkness and dampness  – someone, somewhere, is afraid of it.

And when people are asked about their fears – certain ones are almost always at the top of the list – including death and public speaking – which usually is ranked higher than death, which is really quite interesting when you think about it.

Oh yes, there is another fear that usually makes it into the top five — the dreaded:  fear of commitment!

We tend to joke about this last one – but for some people – it is a real problem. . .  Some people have a hard time taking out a mortgage – worried about owing someone else for so many years.

Some are afraid to pursue academic degrees beyond high school – worried that they won’t finish and will have wasted a great deal of money.

Some people might be interested in military service – but NOT if it means signing up for more years than they would like.

And of course the big commitment fear – the fear of relationships!  Some people just get cold feet and push others away once they start to get too close.  >>

I guess you could say that many people often want to maintain their freedom and don’t want to get tied down to anything or anyone.  They want to do what they want – when they want!

SO — What about our commitment to God??

And the truth is – even though people sometimes fear certain kinds of commitments – others they willingly embrace.

Some people would never think of missing an episode of their favorite television show.

Some people golf on the same day of the week, with the same people – and would never think of skipping a round.

Some have the latest phone the day it comes out – even if their current phone works just fine.

Some people place their children’s sports ahead of absolutely everything else – including Mass.

Some have never missed a single day of jogging or working out in years – or never have a problem working out conflicts when it comes to watching a particular team play on ESPN. . .

Yes, some people may have a fear of certain commitments — but not all commitments.

SO –What about our commitment to God??

That seems to be what Jesus is trying to get his listeners to consider in the conversation he has with the rich man in today’s Gospel. >>

We know the story well.   A man wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life.

He is obviously a good guy.  He follows the commandments –and Jesus has no beefs with him.  But Jesus does challenge him –and anyone within earshot – which means you and me —- and Jesus looks at him lovingly – a detail that should not be overlooked – and tells him he is only lacking one thing:

“Go sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. . .”

There goes Jesus again!  Just when we are getting comfortable.  Just when we’re feeling pretty good about our relationship with him.  >>

Just when we are thinking we are obviously pretty good guys – or gals —— he shakes things up – rattles our conscience – makes us wonder if we can even call ourselves a disciple. . .

SO — What about our commitment to God?  Are we just dipping our toes in the water – while Jesus wants us to dive in?

We sometimes forget that Jesus’ message is NOT an easy one.  We try our best to “tame it” – or water it down – try to make it into something that won’t require much effort. .  .  And yet would our God have chosen to become one of us, walk our journey, and ultimately die for us — simply to teach us how to be NICE??

Jesus’ life was a radical one – demonstrating a radical amount of compassion, a radical amount of mercy, a radical amount of forgiveness and generosity, and gentleness and love.  Nothing about Jesus was “watered down.”  His life was over-flowing in everything we believe God is – and everything God calls us to be!

SO — What about our commitment to God?  Are we afraid to be fully committed to Jesus – out of fear that it will just cost too much?

The hardest thing to wrap our minds and hearts around, I think, is that we tend to think following God’s will is going to be restricting for us – that it will hold us back – that it will take away our freedom.

Yet, in faith, we are taught the opposite is true.  God’s way is always the best way.  God’s way will always bring us a fullness of life in ways we can’t even imagine on our own.

God’s way is pure freedom – a life free from anything and everything that makes us less than who God created us to be.

Our way – our own selfishness – is actually what leads to spiritual bondage – leads us to the chains of a self-centered life, leads to the slavery of sin.

God’s way – leads to something meaningful and life-giving – something worth giving up everything in order to have.

Like the rich young man – God looks lovingly at us – and wants so much more for us than we usually end up settling on in life.  May our commitment to God be something we never fear – but something we readily embrace, each and every day.  And may no other commitment ever take a priority in our lives.


27th Ordinary: October 6/7, 2018

“Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

Let’s face it, Jesus says some strange things at times – doesn’t he??  I’m sure more than a few of his followers were puzzled by this particular statement.

First of all  — did any of them really know what he meant by the “kingdom of God??”

And then certainly the part about a child entering the kingdom would have been a bit challenging for them. . .

Aren’t the ones who always do the right thing – those who are pleasing to God — worthy of God’s kingdom?

Aren’t those who know the Jewish law inside and out – or canon law in our days – the ones who should find favor with God?

How about those who pray the most or sacrifice the most in their day in and day out lives – should not they be at the top of God’s list??

How can a child somehow be more faithful or more connected to God or living a holier life than men and women who know more and do more and pray more???

What exactly was Jesus trying to say??



As you probably know – Jesus talked about the “kingdom” a lot.  Sometimes he said the kingdom of God and sometimes it was the kingdom of heaven – whatever the kingdom was –it clearly was pretty important to Jesus – and clearly needs to be important to his followers so they can understand what it is all about so they can get there successfully.

And there is NOT really one simple, short answer – as to what the kingdom really means.  It doesn’t have such a narrow meaning that it can be tied down so easily. . .

In one sense – we, the Christian community two thousand years later – have sort of tilted the focus of the kingdom — toward the afterlife –

that after our earthly lives have ended, we hope to live forever with God in the eternal kingdom of heaven.

And why this is certainly NOT WRONG – Jesus seems to use the word kingdom to describe something NOT in the future – but in the present.  A reality that can be embraced and entered into and made present in every time and place.

In other words, God’s kingdom is NOT something we have to wait for.  It is right here in our midst – should we choose to step into it, and begin living in it – by thinking a certain way, and seeing a certain way, and acting a certain way.

And so Jesus seems to be telling his followers that there is this wonderful thing called the KINGDOM that he wants us to embrace and share in – a kingdom which can only be experienced when our hearts become like that of a little child.

So what do young children have that adults often lack?

Children have an ability to TRUST.  Do we trust God?  Do we trust in the inherent goodness of others.  Or is our first tendency to distrust – and only change our minds after it is proven otherwise??



Children have an ability to be HOPEFUL.  Do we do the same?  Do we truly believe that tomorrow can be better than today —  that the world can be better – that we can be better??  Or do we remain cynical and negative?

Children have an ability to LIVE IN THE PRESENT – disinterested in the past and hardly ever worrying about the future. . . Whatever kid happens to be standing in front of them –is their new best friend, and has all of their attention.  Do we go through life clinging to grudges and past hurts?  Do we continually play our regrets over and over and over in our minds?  Do we plan our lives to the smallest detail and are crushed when things don’t go our way?  Do we spend our time absolutely dreading the future? >>

Or do we just try to make today the best day it can be – a day in which we are kind and thoughtful and generous in whatever situations come our way?

Children are often completely AMAZED AT THE WORLD AROUND THEM—filled with a deep sense of wonder and curious about just about everything.  Do we no longer find beauty and wonder in our world?  Do we fail to see the hand of God in people and situations?  Do we fail to find anything special in the day-to-day “ordinariness” of life?  Do we consider our world a “good” place or a “bad” place – something worth treasuring or simply something to criticize and look down on?

Children are completely DEPENDENT ON OTHERS for nearly everything.

Do we try to go it alone?  Are we convinced that we are in charge, that we are calling the shots, and that we can’t count on anyone, including God, to help us out?  Do we see needing others as a weakness?

Children have FEW BOUNDARIES.

Do we keep people at a distance?  Do we put up walls rather than tear them down?  Or as Pope Francis would say – do we build walls or bridges – between ourselves and others?  Are we reconcilers or dividers:  stepping stones or millstones?  Do we build up the body of Christ or tear it down?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course.  But it does show that many of the very best things about children often get discarded as we move into adulthood.  And some of these qualities and attributes are precisely the things that help us to begin living in God’s kingdom right now – this very day – a kingdom of incredible goodness and generosity, and love – a kingdom which reflects deep truths about  what God created the world to be and knows it can be.

It just takes the heart of a child.  May each of us strive to reclaim the very best in ourselves that might have gotten lost along the way.                            Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. . .

26 Ordinary: Sept. 29/30, 2018

Back in the 1800s, a woman went to her doctor with a list of complaints about her health.  The doctor examined her thoroughly and became convinced that there was nothing physically wrong with her.  He suspected her negative outlook on life – her bitterness and resentment – was the key to her feeling the way she did.

The wise physician took the woman into a back room in his office where he kept his supply of medicines.  He showed her a shelf filled with empty bottles.  He said to her:  “See those bottles?  Notice they are empty.

They are shaped differently from one another, but basically they are all alike – they are empty bottles.

Now I can take one of those bottles and fill it with poison – enough poison to kill someone.  OR I can fill it with enough medicine  to bring down a fever, or ease a throbbing headache, or fight bacteria in one or another parts of the body.  The important thing is that I MAKE THE CHOICE.  I can fill it with whatever I choose.”

The doctor looked her in the eye and said, “Each day that we are given is basically like one of those empty bottles.  We can choose to fill it with love and life-affirming thoughts and attitudes —

Or we can fill it with destructive, poisonous thoughts.  The choice is ours.

We make choices every day –which builds our life one day at a time – as well as effecting the lives of those around us.

Every day, we make choices that either builds up those around us – or tears them down.  Every day we chose to either a millstone   – that pulls people under – or we chose to be a stepping stone – that helps them out.

I am a millstone, pulling you under – if I am unkind or unjust in the way I treat you.  If I make you feel small or damage your self-confidence.

I am a millstone to you if I fail to understand your weaknesses, mistakes, sins –and simply write you off because of them.  When I condemn you – I make you feel unloved and alone.

I chose to pull you under, when I humiliate you because you don’t live up to my expectations.

Or —  if I do my best to keep you down, or hold you back.  When I grab the limelight and force you to retreat to the shadows and make you feel inferior.

I am a millstone, pulling you under, when I chose to heap unjust criticism on you and sour you with my own cynicism – when I tear down your ideals or destroy your dreams.

I am a millstone when I make the choice to pay someone poor wages.  When I turn you into a slave so that I can live like a lord – when I impoverish you so I can enrich myself.

If I do any of these things to you I am darkness to you.  I am an obstacle to your path.  I am a scandal, a stumbling block to your road to self-development, and I make it difficult for you to reach the kingdom of heaven.

We make choices every day – that either builds up those around us — or tears them down.  We are either millstones  – or stepping stones.

I am a stepping stone to you when I support you in moments of weakness and doubt.

I chose to be a stepping stone to you when I give you a belief in yourself, when I boost your self-confidence.

I am a stepping stone when you are feeling inadequate – and I help you to discover the special talents God has given to you — OR  — when I make demands on you – and challenging you – not to hurt you – but to help you grow and to develop your potential.

I choose to be a stepping stone to you when I accept you, though others reject you — when I refuse to join the crowd and throw words of accusation and judgement at you when you sin.

I am a stepping stone when I forgive you.  When I liberate you from your past and you finally feel free to move forward again.

I choose to be a stepping stone when I understand you and listen to you – and when I employ you and give you a just wage.

Whenever I do any one of these things for you – I am a light in your darkness.  I am a signpost to you in moments of doubt.  I make it easier for you to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said “anyone who gives someone a cup of water to drink because they belong to Christ – will surely not lose their reward. . .”

We make choices every day – that either builds up those around us – or tears them down.  We are either millstones – that pull people under – or stepping stones – that help them out.

What kind of choices are you making?

Ordinary 24 Sunday: September 15/16

Mrs. O’Reilly received news that one of her neighbors, Mrs. O’Toole, was seriously ill.  She said to the person who gave her the news, “Tell Coleen I will be praying for her – and that I hope she’ll soon be feeling better.”

And Mrs. O’Reilly was as good as her word.  That same night as she said her customary night prayers, she prayed very sincerely and fervently for her sick neighbor, Coleen O’Toole.

She said to God, “Lord, I want to entrust my neighbor, Mrs. Coleen O’Toole to you.  She’s very seriously ill.  She needs a lot of help and a lot of support.  But, you already know all of this – just letting you know— that I know.”

When she finished her prayers, Mrs. O’Reilly felt better.  And yet, something was bothering her.  She sat down to think about it – and the next thing you know, she fell asleep – and began dreaming.

In her dream she heard God saying to her, “I can see that you’re very concerned about your neighbor.”

“Yes, Lord.  I really am,” Mrs. O’Reilly responded to God in her dream.

“And I understand your neighbor is in great need of help,” said God.

“So I’ve been told,” said Mrs. O’Reilly.

“You know what she needs most – is someone to spend a little time with her,” said the Lord.

“You’re absolutely right Lord.  I was thinking that myself,” Mrs. O’Reilly answered.

“Now when you were asking me to help her in your prayers, you weren’t exactly expecting me to come down from heaven to visit her, were you?”

“No Lord, I would not expect you to do that.  Nor would my neighbor expect that either – in fact, that would probably frighten her quite a bit.  The shock  might even make her worse.”

“But she does need someone to call on her, doesn’t she?”

“She does, Lord.”

“Who can I send?”

After a long pause, Mrs. O’Reilly said, “Send me Lord!”

When she woke up from her dream, Mrs. O’Reilly knew exactly what she had to do.


St. James says, “If someone comes to you who is lacking food or clothing, it’s not good enough just to say to them, ‘I wish you well,’ and leave it at that.

It’s not enough to say to a needy person, “I’ll pray for you.”  We must not think that we have done our part once we have referred the matter to God.  When we pray for another person we are in effect saying to God, “Here I am lord.  Send me.”

Our prayer should commit us to some positive action, no matter how small that might be.  But even a small act, such as a visit to someone who is sick, could prove to be a costly gesture – because it might put us out of our comfort zone.  And it will open us up to that person’s pain – and we will inevitably absorb some of that pain. . .

To pray for people, or to wish them well, is a good thing.  It gives them the comfort of knowing that they are not alone.  But it is not enough.  That is dead faith.  If our faith is alive we will express our concern in action also.


In the Gospel, Peter got the identity of Jesus absolutely right.  His faith was perfect as far as his words went.  But when the time came for action – he was woefully lacking:

When he told the twelve he was going to have to suffer and die – Peter objected – instead of saying he would be right there with him.

When Jesus asked him to watch with him during his agony in the Garden of Gethesmene – he fell asleep.

And later that same night Peter would deny that he had even known Jesus.


There is faith that consists only of words.  And there is faith that flows from deeds.  We need God’s grace, not only to profess our faith – but also to live it!

23 Ordinary: September 8/9, 2018

About 10 years ago, the Washington Post newspaper conducted an experiment.  It involved Joshua Bell, one of the world’s premier violinist – who has made several guest appearances with our own Kansas City Symphony.

Joshua was commissioned by the Post to play his Stradivarius violin, valued at more than four million dollars – at the Metro Center subway stop – one of the busiest stops in the Washington D.C. subway system.

So he dressed like a homeless person, in very worn and dirty clothes, sat on the station floor – and played for 45 minutes with his violin case open to accept donations.

The Washington Post had a hidden camera to video the entire event – watching how people interacted – or more accurately – did not interact with Mr. Bell.

Out of the 1,197 people who passed him, only seven stopped to listen – instead of just rushing by — and no one tried to interact with him.—either to give him a compliment or ask how he was doing.  He did receive a whopping $12.17 in tips.

Now remember this is a man who would have earned probably 1,000 times that amount had he been in a tuxedo playing at the Kennedy Center for 45 minutes — rather than rags in the subway.


The story would be an excellent illustration of what St. James tells us in the second reading – about giving preference to the well dressed and the well to do.  But I prefer to use the story to bring some understanding to the Gospel.

I presume those 1,197 people who passed by Joshua Bell had good hearing – but their ability to listen wasn’t very well developed – at least not in the area of music. . .

Jesus healed a man in today’s gospel who was deaf.  What a gift Jesus gave him.  This man could now suddenly hear – how amazing that must have been for him!

But he had some catching up to do when it came to knowing how to listen – how to recognize, for example, sounds that warned of danger, or how to recognize not only words – but also nuances in the tone of a person’s voice.  He had to learn how to recognize the sounds in nature, and how to learn what certain phrases that are not to be taken literally mean – like, “ I am so hungry I could eat a one-humped camel”  – remember he lived in Galilee!

We who have always had our hearing – sometimes aren’t very good listeners. . . This happens in families a lot:  husbands not listening to wives, and parents not listening to children –

and wives who don’t listen to their husbands and children who aren’t listening to their parents.  We hear – but we don’t listen. . .  and that causes a few problems.

Not being a good listener happens in the Church – which is one way to explain the whole abuse crisis – people told the truth but they weren’t listened to, or no one wanted to act on the truth and chose, instead, to ignore it.  And this took place in the Church because it also takes place in families —- And that, of course,  causes a few problems.



And not being a good listener happens in our relationship with God.  God always hears us  — but we do not always hear God.  And that causes a few problems.

That’s why we need to keep reading the Scriptures over and over and over again – because we can always hear something new or something different – or even hear something for the first time – and then, as St. James reminded us last week – we have to be doers of the word and not just hearers of the word.

That’s why we need to get away from all the noise in our lives from time to time – because there is always so much noise around us –

that it drowns out the still quiet voice of God. . .  When our thoughts and attention is always being pushed and pulled by all the noise around us – those words of God can never break through – and that causes problems.

Notice two details of this healing story told to us by St. Mark. . .

FIRST – the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay his hands on him.  WE NEED friends and people in our lives who can lead us to Jesus by their faith — and sometimes we have to be the person who leads others to Jesus.


And SECOND – notice when Jesus healed the man he took him aside – away from the crowd.  We need to get away from the crowd, off by ourselves, a little each day just to spend some quiet time with the Lord.

Quiet time has always been so important to me – in and out of the monastery. . .  It helps me keep going through difficult times.  It helps in giving me ideas when I have an issue I can’t figure out, inspiration week after week to preach, helping me with what I need to say to a person needing help – and allowing me to experience God’s loving presence.


Jesus worked many miracles of healing and he still does.  In the gospels we read he healed people because of his compassion, or in response to a request, or in response to faith – all to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is present and in our midst.  Jesus healed people to show in a visible way the blessing he wants to give to us.

Today, Jesus helped this man to hear – and in doing so he shows us his primary mission was – to teach us how to hear and listen to God.  Let us ask God to open the ears of our hearts to his word and to his love — so that we can be doers of the word:  making God’s kingdom presence and in our midst by our words and actions.