Finding Jesus in the Chaos

February 2, 2021 – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Simeon recognized Jesus: Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation…

Anna recognized Jesus: There was also a prophetess, Anna. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child…

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It was customary in the Jewish faith, forty days after the birth of a male child, for the parents to bring the child to the temple. They would dedicate him to God and offer sacrifice on his behalf.

This event is often captured in paintings that show pristine marble steps and grand columns, with Joseph carrying a small cage with two doves that would be sacrificed. Mary is pictured handing the child Jesus to Simeon, while Anna looks on.

However, listen to this description of what the experience in the temple would have been like: There was a roaring trade in sacrificial animals in the great courtyard of the Temple. The demand for pure, sacrificial animals was huge, so at the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, one would have heard a symphony of animals braying, birds screeching, the stench of living and dying animals, the carnage from the sacrifices, gutters of blood, and the high sound of animal traders and money changers hawking their wares. 

The reality is that the temple experience would have been nothing short of chaos. Simeon and Anna didn’t recognize Jesus in the peaceful serenity of a beautiful setting. They recognized Him during, and in spite of, the chaos of daily life in the temple.

We can recognize Jesus when we all come together prayerfully and completely focus on Him. However, do we recognize Him in the chaos of our daily lives?

Simeon and Anna recognized Christ because they were seeking Him. Their hearts were open and their desire to find Him was genuine.

If we do the same, we’ll find Jesus in the chaos, too.

Homily: Next Man Up

August 31, 2020

He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-30)

The following homily, based on this same Gospel reading, was originally delivered in January 2013 at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. Message still rings true today:

In professional sports, there is an expression – “Next man up.”

When you play in the NFL, everyone on the team practices every day. However, only the best 11 are on the field at any one time, so the others wait for their opportunity, never knowing if or when that time will come.

You hear the success stories all the time. A star player gets hurt and some guy no one has ever heard of steps onto the field, plays a great game, and leads the team to victory. He was the next man up, he was ready, and he responded.

Fear and doubt were there, but his joy, exhilaration, and preparedness allowed him to do the job he was called to do.

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When couples exchange wedding vows at the altar, they promise to love one another in sickness and in health. The fact is, as they say those words, they are likely thinking it will never happen to them.

Then a long-term, debilitating disease comes along, and both are challenged – one by the disease itself, the other by the prospect of caring for her spouse, possibly for the rest of his life…until death do they part.

One spouse can no longer care for himself. Maybe it’s as simple as bringing him the remote or helping him out of the chair, but it might be more profound. He might need to be dressed and fed. She might need to be bathed, including fixing her hair just the way she likes it. They took the vows, they have had years to prepare, so when it happens, it’s next man up.

I have had the privilege to witness loving couples go through such hardships. I saw how one spouse got past the fear and doubt, and allowed love and a servant’s heart to do the work necessary. They were not only living out their wedding vows; they were also living out the Gospel message. Scripture was fulfilled in their actions.

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Homily: It isn’t Easy, but It is Simple

August 30, 2020: Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

The following homily was originally delivered at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis in 2014:

When I am preparing to preach, I study the readings for the weekend several times, highlighting words and jotting down notes as I go.

This week I highlighted two passages: From Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “I urge you…to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” And from Matthew’s Gospel, I highlighted, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

So we have: offer your body as a living sacrifice…and deny yourself, and take up your cross. Next to these highlighted passages, I wrote: Jesus needs a new marketing team. Hearing these passages wouldn’t cause many people to say, “Christianity sounds great, where do I sign up?”

Being a disciple of Christ can be a pretty tough road at times. It’s not surprising so many veer off the road or choose a different road altogether, opting for the path of least resistance.

Carol and I have four children, two boys and two girls. Growing up, the two boys could not have been more different. My son Rick was an athlete. He always had a ball in his hand. He would play football, then basketball, then baseball, then repeat the cycle all over again.

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Homily: Universal Bank of God

August 23, 2020 – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 16:13-20

I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis today:

Back in the old days – before ATMs, drive-through service, and mobile apps – human beings used cash, wrote checks and even, at times, went inside of banks.

I remember on one occasion going to the bank to cash a check. It was raining, so I ran to the door, only to discover I had arrived early and the outer door was still locked. A nice lady with a key felt sorry for me, and unlocked the door.

We stood in the lobby awkwardly together, as the second door – the inner door – remained locked. The woman told me she was a teller, and we both needed to wait for the assistant manager to unlock the inner door.    

At 9:00 a.m. sharp, the assistant manager unlocked the door. He greeted me as I entered and I then waited patiently for the teller to get her workspace in order so I could conduct my business.

As I waited, another customer entered and explained to the assistant manager that she needed to get to her safe deposit box. “Certainly,” he replied. “Let me get the manager for you.”

Moments later the manager emerged from her office, with a set of keys in her hand and a smile on her face. She greeted the customer, escorted her to the opposite corner of the bank, and using her keys, unlocked the vault area and led her down a hallway to where I presume she was given access to her safe deposit box.

Three employees in the bank – each granted a specific level of authority as well as the keys necessary to act on that authority. Continue reading

Homily: With Good Intent and Love in Your Heart

August 12, 2020

“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that  every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-20)

Here is the audio of the homily I delivered this morning:

 

This is the text of the homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis in September of 2017:

Instructing His disciples, Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”

The reading takes us in an interesting direction. Are we being called to judge our fellow man? This certainly is not in line with modern thought. The strong message coming from society is that everyone has a right to do as they please, with no moral boundaries.

Being judgmental also flies in the face of foundational Christian ideals – hospitality and welcome to all, celebration of the diversity and unique gifts of others. Didn’t Jesus say, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged”?

It is important to note that today’s readings focus not on judging others, but rather on holding others accountable…accountable for their decisions, words, or actions. The readings tell us it is our responsibility to hold others accountable. In addition, Jesus told us to be direct in our approach: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” You go and tell him his fault. Continue reading

Homily: YOUR Defining Moment

August 9, 2020 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-13 / Romans 9:1-5 / Matthew 14:22-33

I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis today. You can listen to the audio version as delivered last night, or read the written text below:

 

I would like you to listen again to these five sentences from our gospel, broken into three segments.

One: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 
Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 

Two: But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and began to sink.

Three: He cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Within these five sentences, Peter undergoes three separate faith experiences: Strong faith, wavering faith, and a renewal of faith.

When we hear this gospel story, we tend to focus on Peter’s uncertainty, his lack of faith. Jesus even asked him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

This is not the only time Peter seemingly gives us an example of what NOT to do.

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Homily: Why is God Eating Lunch at McDonald’s?

August 2, 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I delivered the following homily, based on the same readings we have today, was at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis in 2014

Today’s readings include: Isaiah 55:1-3, Romans 8:35-39, and Matthew 14:13-21

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A little background before I share a story: When our children were young, Carol and I would prepare them before we went to church for Sunday Mass. We would remind them that we were entering the God’s house, and that they needed to be on their best behavior. We added that if they were quiet and really listened, God would talk to them.

Over their formative years, our two daughters paid close attention to what we said, and were generally well-behaved and attentive. Not so much with the boys. They didn’t really care whose house it was – they were going to do whatever they wanted.

And now the story: We were having lunch in McDonald’s one afternoon. Our daughter, Mary, was about 4 years old. The pastor of St. Pius at that time was Fr. Jim Sweeney. Long-time parishioners will remember Fr. Jim as a big man with a big personality. He knew no strangers and you always knew when Jim Sweeney was around.

He walked into the same McDonald’s that afternoon. After ordering, he walked around the restaurant, waving to parishioners and stopping to chat at most of the tables, including ours.

Mary could not take her eyes off of him. She was mesmerized. When Fr. Jim moved on to the next table, Mary leaned over to Carol and I and asked, “Why is God eating lunch at McDonald’s?”

Today I will be talking about God and food, or more precisely, God and being fed. Continue reading

Homily: Embrace the Gift

July 26, 2020 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12 / Romans 8:28-30 / Matthew 13:44-46

I delivered this homily at the vigil Mass last night at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and will be delivering it again at the Masses this morning. You may listen to the homily by clicking below or the text of the homily follows if you would like to read it.

 

Most of us – at one time or another – have been overwhelmed by a gift we’ve received. The gift was a surprise; it was bigger or more expensive than expected; or maybe we thought we didn’t deserve the gift.

In the early 1990’s, I became quite ill and needed to go to a specialty hospital in Chicago. I was transported to that hospital for a week’s worth of treatments. Carol, of course, wanted to be with me. Our four children were ages 4-11. We had no extra money and our low-limit credit cards were maxed out. Carol left the kids with her sister and made the trip to Chicago, deciding that she would just figure out how to pay for a place to stay once she got there. I was in no condition to argue with her. She checked into a hotel across the street from the hospital — a hotel in downtown Chicago was not going to be cheap. She had no idea how she would pay for it at the end of the week. Continue reading

Homily: Did God Set Us Up to Fail?

July 5, 2020 – Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Romans 8:9-13 and Matthew 11:25-30

The following is a homily I delivered on these same readings at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis back in 2014:

Did God set us up to fail?

I certainly don’t want to second-guess God, but at times what He asks of us, and the position He puts us in, do not seem to be in alignment.

I am sure you have heard the expression, “Put yourself in a position to succeed.” The implication is that we should do things that accentuate our gifts and talents, that allow us to use our strengths while diminishing our weaknesses.

We follow that logic at school. We schedule students into classes based on their academic abilities and strengths. We put teachers in front of them who are licensed and competent in the subject matter, in the hope that the students experience success. We wouldn’t put a student who struggles in Math into the highest level Calculus class, or assign a teacher to the class who is trained to teach Social Studies. We would be setting that student up to fail.

I shared a story a few weeks ago about a fictional Fr. Joe, who did not prepare at all before attempting to deliver a homily. He was set up to fail, and he did just that.

Which brings me back to my original question: Did God set us up to fail? Continue reading

Homily: Serve, Pray, Repeat

June 28, 2020 – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

I delivered the following homily on these same readings at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis this weekend in July of 2017:

I had the honor of speaking to the Serra Club of Indianapolis on Monday evening. The topic was, Our Work is Never Done. The central message of that presentation was – no matter how much you did one day to serve God and others, you are expected to get up the next day and do it again.

One of the reasons many people stray from the Church, or lapse in their faith, is that the role of disciple is demanding and relentless. By nature, human beings are self-centered. To focus on Jesus is hard work and cramps our style. Continue reading