Homily

April 14, 2024 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-5, 17-19 + Psalm 4 + 1 John 2: 1-5 + Luke 24: 35-48

The risen Christ is among us here gathered in his name and proclaiming the Word of God in this assembly This gives voice to that presence. He asks us a question, not just those disciples in the past. He also gives us a command just as he did those other disciples.

“Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?” he asks us. At the time for those disciples it may have seemed like a very silly question. Why in the world would they not be troubled and filled with questions when the very person who had lifted their hopes, shown them great signs and wonders, had been brutally killed and buried was now suddenly in their midst? They were not imagining this. He was real. The scars of his torture and death were visible. He ate with them. They are not imagining things.

Christ stood there among them facing those who abandoned him, and I believe he stood there with a smile on his face and his arms outstretched. His wounds were on full display making it perfectly clear that no evil, no suffering, no disaster can overpower the goodness of God. It took them a long time to understand that. They were slow, and so are we. Too many are still troubled, and asking the wrong question. We hear it all the time: “Why doesn’t God do something?” This Gospel rephrases the question: “Why don’t you do something?” 

When they finally got it right through the help of the Holy Spirit, those disciples did do something, and we are here as a people of hope, faith, and charity because they did do something.

Then comes a command to take on a new vision of life, to believe and act with the sure knowledge that love is the only lasting power, that love disturbs the violent more than any great weapon. When we really believe that the only way to peace is loving forgiveness, there will be peace. If we could get that right there would never be another violent act of revenge like we see today in Gaza or the Ukraine. 

It was out of ignorance that Jesus Christ was put to death. He said so himself at the time: “They know not what they do” asking for their forgiveness. We are not ignorant. We do know what we are doing, and what we fail to do. During these fifty days leading to our Pentecost we would do well and pass these days profitably with the hope and the prayer that we will finally understand and believe in the depths of our hearts what the cross reveals: that the violence, oppression, and hatred will fail every time an innocent person stands up in the face of it. Moving through life, we can either cling to a dismal and hopeless view of life and complain because God does not  fix things; or, like the disciples, we can allow ourselves to be confused enough for the Holy Spirit to open our minds to understand new ways. 

St William Catholic Church in Naples, FL 2:45 pm Saturday

April 7, 2024 at St Peter, St William, St Agnes Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 4: 32-35 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 5: 1-6 + John 20: 19-31

We had the privilege of welcoming guests here last Sunday, and just as we did at home, or perhaps still do, we moved over and squeezed a little closer together. Most of those guests are gone now back to whatever it is they do while we are here, and we have to hope that somehow what they experienced here will make them want to return because we need them.

Easter is not just about what happened to Jesus. It is about what is happening to us because of it. In fact, what happened to Jesus is meaningless if nothing happens to us. Easter is a powerful reminder that our short lives here are a time of preparation for eternity not for anything else. We are not here to keep the economy going by our shopping. We are not here to consume all we can get our hands on out of this earth’s resources leaving the next generation with debt, mountains of trash, and dirty air. Easter is about us and about what has happened to us because of what has happened to Jesus Christ.

Consequently, Easter is more than a Sunday in the spring. It is a lift-style and a life-long commitment to be, maintain, and preserve the presence of Christ in this world. The Mercy of God which we remember today is not just for us to receive. It is an undeserved gift to be passed on to anyone else who may not deserve it either. The way that underserved gift is passed on is through forgiveness which is the only way we will ever possibly know and experience the peace that the risen Christ gives us. There is no peace gained from war, conquest, or some imagined victory. All that can do is create resentment which eventually boils up again destroying the illusion of peace. Merciful forgiveness is the only path to peace, and that is exactly what John’s Gospel reveals to us today.

Jesus who had been abandoned, denied, misunderstood, and left to die alone among thieves with a crowd mocking him came to them, stood in their midst, and in one remarkable act of mercy forgiving them and leaving them his peace and an assures them of his love.  Not only that, he comes again for a late-comer who is not too sure and too solid in his faith.

My friends, Easter means that by the power of Christ even our small and imperfect lives have a share in the glory of God’s redeeming work in human history. We celebrate that today in Word, in Song, and in Ritual, and then by our lives, the mercy we find here and the mercy we share, will bring joyful hope to those who like Thomas are absent and weak in faith. There only hope is those of us in this church, and if there is real mercy, they will not be disappointed.

8:00 am Easter Morning at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

March 31, 2024 at St Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10: 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3: 1-4 + John 20, 1-9

It is easy to listen to John’s resurrection story and be focused on what happened to Jesus. Our imaginations fueled by artists and poets can draw a lot of hope and great deal of joy from a story that reminds us so graphically that love and goodness will always triumph in the end. At the same time, it is a little more challenging to focus on what happened to the disciples, which might lead us to think about what it means for us.

John begins today’s Gospel as the very beginning of creation: “On the first day of the week” – “while it was still dark” he goes on. Someone faces the darkness and the chaos, sadness and grief with great courage. She is willing to confront these threats and step into that darkness. The tomb has been disturbed because the realm of death has been disrupted, and it did not look like a grave robbery. The burial cloths were all neatly folded up. There is something else going on here. This death was nothing like death as they understood it to be. 

Over and over again, the Gospel writers keep telling us that they did not understand. Yet, they believed. Here is where we begin to confront what the Resurrection means for us. Like those disciples, the Resurrection is the beginning of a pilgrimage that moves us little by little not only into believing, but to understanding better what this means for our lives right now. Jesus comes and says to them, “Peace. Everything is OK.” The message is that no matter what happens to us, the Father will not let defeat and death be the end.

The pilgrimage that begins on Easter leads to Pentecost, not to place but into the very life of God and God’s Holy Spirit where we shall begin to understand as well as believe that we are the very presence of the risen Christ in this world. In John’s Gospel, we do not have to wait fifty days for Pentecost. The Spirit given on Easter transforms us into that presence as one Body in Christ and with the gift of understanding, we have the power to forgive which is the very thing that leads to peace: forgiveness. Without it, there will never be peace.

In just a moment, in the breaking of bread we must acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ who is the source of our hope. We ask for peace. We accept his mission. We pray to be open to the Spirit and all that Spirit may ask of us in this new creation. Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is living with this mystery, living with things we do not understand, yet living with hope.

Peace be with you, my dear friends. Peace be with you who doubt, wonder, wait. You are in good company with the disciples of Jesus Christ keep moving on the journey toward understanding.

3:30pm Saturday St Peter the Apostle Church

March 24, 2024 at St Peter and Saint William Catholic Churches s in Naples, FL

Mark 11: 1-10 + Isaiah 50: 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2: 6-11 + Mark 14: 1-15:47

Mark begins his report of the Passion with a woman who anoints him, and it will end with more women who come to a tomb to anoint him once more. Women, in Mark’s Gospel, are the only ones who stay and see the death of Jesus. The men are all off hiding somewhere. Among these heroic women is this first one with no name. With a name, she would be identified and defined. With no name, she can represent everyone who follows her example.

By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany for dinner at the home of a leper, there was already a sense so danger. Everyone understood the parable he had told before fleeing Jerusalem. His friends understood that like the murderers in the parable, his death was being plotted. Danger is in the air. The powerful are scheming over how to be rid of him. Yet, one woman gave her all in an extravagant gesture of faith. She broke that expensive jar spilling all the precious ointment over Jesus, all of it.

She does not show up when Jesus was being followed by admiring cowds awed by his power and is words. For her, he was a King to be anoinited as all the Kings before him. She saw a vulnerable man who was about to die. When fickle crowds, confused disciples, and threatened authorities turn on him because he is not the Messiah/King they wanted, she comes to proclaim her faith that God was working through this man who taught that love was the only law of life. With all her riches, she broke the jar and poured out everything in it showing us that wealth is worthless and God is not revealed through human power.

We can learn something important about faith from this woman that Mark puts before us today probably hoping that what she does will become what we do and what she believes will shape our our belief.

She is unafraid to show her faith in a powerless man who has entered Jerusalem like a pauper riding someone else’s ass. She can see the divine in a man who is helpless to defend himself with no one to defend him. She can see a King about to die and believe that selfless service, pouring out all that one has is the best way to honor the real King. 

As I am serving a Maronite Parish this weekend, this homily will not be delivered at Mass

Ezekiel 37: 12-14 + Psalm 130 + Romans 8: 8-11 + John 11: 1-45

I spent much of my life in Oklahoma. Other than oil and gas, cattle and horses, it is wheat country. Wheat and Rice are probably the most fundamental source of nourishment around the world. So, it’s not surprising that the one who will feed us on his body and blood would use the image of a wheat grain to describe his future.

The whole cycle of farming up there in Oklahoma and throughout the wheat belt was fascinating to me, a city boy whose first assignment as a pastor was to a little country town where the entire congregation was farming families except for the Postmaster. At the end of summer, just a little before the first frost, the wheat gets planted, and if it rains, by November, the fields are green as far as you can see. By the first of December, the cattle are turned out to feed on the green wheat. Then, toward the end of February, they cattle are taken off the wheat which then grows for three months until it turns golden in late May and early June when harvest begins. The whole cycle happens because of one thing: rain – water. If it does not rain, there is no food. If it does not rain there is no life.

It is an amazing cycle that gives us both grain and meat. Both have to die for us to have food to live. In my mind, that grain becomes bread that then becomes flesh the food at this altar that gives us life. The whole natural cycle shapes our liturgy in this church. First the water of Baptism that brings us to life, then as we grow up we learn to love and serve those around us, dying to self or selfishness like that wheat grain so that we might be born again.

The church puts these ideas in our head on the last Sunday before Holy Week because we are inevitably headed toward a death on Good Friday and toward our own inevitable death. We know the truth even though it might frighten or make some uneasy. We are born to die, and every day we die a little more moving one day closer to that moment when we shall be planted or buried in the earth.  Only those who die to themselves really ever live a full and fruitful life. The self-centered, leave nothing behind and bear no fruit. Those who die a little each day to selfishness, to pretense, and to sin hold the promise of a new life that is the fruit that springs from their dying. Every time we pass from one stage of life to another something in us dies and something new is born. We taste death in moments of loneliness, rejection, sorrow, disappointment, and failure. Some die before their time living in bitterness, hatred, and solation. We create our own death by the way we live.

What Jesus teaches us is that when we forget ourselves that we are most free and most happy. It is getting out of ourselves, in dedicating ourselves to causes beyond ourselves, that we grow and bear fruit. The world is poorer and more hungry when people put their own personal safety, security and self-advancement first and last. When people are willing to go beyond themselves and die to self-interest the most precious things humanity possesses have been born.

Jesus gave his life. It was not taken from him. He gave it out of love of God and love of us. To love is to accept that one might die another kind of death, before one dies at the end of life. The way of love is the way of the cross which leads to the resurrection. As priest standing countless times at a bedside for someone’s final moment of life, I have come to believe that those who have died to themselves throughout life find the moment of physical death easy. The hour of death becomes an hour of glory. It is by dying that we are born to eternal life.

March 10, 2024 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

2 Chronicles 26: 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2: 4-10 + John 3: 14-21

Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s Gospel and always at night. What we hear today is the one time Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He comes at the risk of being criticized and laughed at. He comes even though he does not understand what Jesus is doing or what Jesus is talking about. But he comes anyway.

There is a lot of Nicodemus behavior in us. We sometimes avoid any public display of our faith cautious and conscious of what others might think or say about us. We get uncomfortable now and then lest someone think we might be serious about our faith or look too pious or holy. We keep quiet when we hear something that is not quite right not wanting to seem as though we take matters of justice seriously. When some judge immigrants or the poor to be lazy or criminals, we say nothing when we could remind those who judge so unjustly that the poor are really God’s favorites.

Yet, to me, what speaks most powerfully about Nicodemus beyond his courage to come at all is that he comes to Jesus even though he does not understand what Jesus is doing or saying. It seems to me that there is something right about that. Instead of throwing up his hands and taking off when he does not understand, he comes anyway. 

All of us from time to time experience and see things we do not understand, wondering why God works in ways that are beyond us. Too often it is a very painful or tragic event that leaves us wondering if there even is a God. Even more often a painful experience drives some away from God rather than being drawn closer.

The two other times Nicodemus is mentioned in the Gospel are closer to the end when he urges his collogues to listen to Jesus and be slow to judge. Then at the end, it is Nicodemus who provides what is needed for the respectful burial of the body of Jesus. Even though he does not understand everything Jesus says and does, and even though he risks the ridicule of others in the Sanhedrin, he stays, he serves, he speaks up.

Nicodemus stands as a model for any of us who struggle to understand the ways of God that are not our ways. Even Jesus struggles with the God’s plan as we shall soon hear in the Passion when it becomes a mighty struggle against what he sees is God’s plan. In the end, he throws himself on the ground surrendering to God’s will and plan. For that, he is raised up on the third day. It would be the same for us if we simply stay and take the risks.

3:30pm Saturday at St. Peter in Naples, Fl

March 3, 2024 at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Exodus 20: 1-17+ Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25 + John 2: 13-25

Part of what gets the authorities riled up in wild opposition to Jesus is this talk about the Temple’s destruction. For them, the Temple is not so much a place of sacrificial worship as it is the center of commerce and business. It is the economic engine of its time. Talking about its destruction would be like destroying Wall Street. That is not going to fly with them, and they need to stop that talk and silence this man who keeps saying things like this. You can understand the threat all of this talk means to them. Instead of the Temple sanctifying the city. The city was desecrating the Temple. If those desecrators had been asked what religion was theirs, an honest answer would have been “profit” and another would have been “power.” The most cynical and honest might have said, “none” which is what we hear a lot of these days.

What they did not understand and sometimes we still do not either, is that Jesus is talking about his body not some architectural wonder. Jesus is teaching us that God’s presence cannot be captured in buildings. The Incarnation, our fundamental belief that God has taken human flesh, is the reality here. The Body of Christ is the dwelling place of God, not the Temple, and in these verses of John’s Gospel, Jesus is telling anyone who will listen that they can destroy his body, but it will rise again.

There is plenty of evidence that what this Gospel proclaims with the words of Jesus is still not being understood or accepted. My friends, what makes this church holy is the people who assemble here. It is not that tabernacle, the statues, or the glass. It is you and me, the Body of Christ. The Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle could not be there were it not that we have assembled here. Sharing the Eucharist in Holy Communion makes us one in the Body of Christ. We become what we eat.

My friends, the whole wonder of the Incarnation is that God’s dwelling place is first of all, and perhaps best of all found, honored, and respected in human life. There is a real presence in human life just as truly as any Temple, building, or man-made object. This Gospel invites and challenges us today to examine just how we decide what is sacred and what is profane. It is a felon to deface a church, and people get in an uproar every time one is vandalized. Yet, there is hardly a whisper of concern when one of God’s people dies of hunger or is homeless living in a car or a tent.

My friends, the very rock of our foundation in faith is the Incarnation. God’s desire to live, to love, and to be revealed in human flesh and blood. God speaks to us with the very human voice of Jesus Christ when we are here together. We must listen and learn because we can be the face and the merciful hand of God to anyone looking and longing for God. This season calls us to repent and change how we think, how we see things, and how we treat each other. This third week of Lent offers a chance to check carefully how well our behavior reveals our beliefs.

3:30pm Saturday at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

February 25, 2024 at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18 + Psalm 115 + Romans 8: 31-34 + Mark 9: 2-10

The whole purpose for the writing of Mark’s Gospel is the identity of Jesus. Who is this? That is the question Mark wants to answer. For a real true and honest relationship to develop you have to know who a person is. We can work or live beside people for a long time without ever really getting to know them. It is one thing to know about people, and quite a different thing to really know someone. and it usually takes some unexpected surprise or some tragedy for that to happen which is what is unfolding in Mark’s Gospel. They are slowly getting to know Jesus.

Mark pulls out all the stops, so to speak with this story. Because we are hardly familiar with the Old Testament, it is easy to miss the details that would have alerted that early community of Jewish converts he is writing to. The six-day comment that begins this story would immediately remind them of the time Moses spent on Mount Sinai where the cloud of God’s presence covered the mountain for six days before God spoke to Moses. What demons knew at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and what Jesus heard at his Baptism is now revealed to those disciples. Once again, God speaks to answer the question that drives this Gospel. But knowing about Jesus is not enough. Peter and those with him thought they knew all about the Messiah, but the one they thought was the Messiah kept talking about being handed over and rising from the dead after three days. How could they possibly know what that meant until it happened. Those disciples will eventually let go of what they knew about a Messiah and really come to know Jesus. But that will not happen until the end when the tragedy of his death takes place.

It would be easy to look at this Transfiguration story as a mid-point encouragement for the apostles giving them something to remember when they see Jesus on another hill crucified between two criminals. The transfiguration is far more than that.

A deeper meaning is that even after moments of great glory we have to come down the mountain and continue to listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him on the way to the cross. Those apostles were struggling to get to know Jesus and I believe that what they learned on that mountain is that things and people are not always as the first appear. They followed Jesus up that mountain without a clue about what was to happen or what they might see.  How could they know that heaven was about to break loose in front of them?

My friends, there is a hidden glory deep in the heart of things. We get a glimpse of it in flowers and sunsets, but it is also there in darkness and shadowy places where we might not want to find ourselves. There is always glory concealed in loss, and there is always glory behind every cross. You can’t see Easter from Good Friday, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Sometimes you do not see the image of God in an enemy or some foreigner, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If we want to get to know someone, if we want to have a lasting and beautiful relationship with someone, we just have to listen which is exactly what God has had to say.

Lent 1 St Finbarr Catholic Church in Naples, FL

February 18, 2024 at Saint Finbarr Church in Naples, Fl

Genesis 9: 8-15 + Psalm 25 + 1 Peter 3: 18-22 + Mark 1: 12-15

The Gospel of Mark just proclaimed to us says that the Spirit Drove Jesus into the desert. It is the same verb used to describe what Jesus did to unclean spirits and how Jesus cleansed the Temple. There is something powerful about that verb with a sense that there is a great force at work here, and that idea carries all through Mark’s Gospel when it comes to the ministry, the intensity, and the force driving Jesus back and forth across that lake, from Galilee to Judea, from one Synagogue to another, from one town to another, up mountains and out to the desert. If you ever really step into Mark’s Gospel, it isn’t long before you begin to see and understand that this driving force in the life of Jesus was both a powerful desire to do the Will of his Father, and a fire of compassion and love for those around him.

This Sacred time we call, Lent, might well give us cause to examine just what it is that drives our lives or maybe ask if anything at all is driving us. There some who sit around all day flipping from channel to channel on TV driven by nothing at all. Sometimes I wonder what is driving some whose whole life is planned around dinner parties or Tee Times at the Club. For others it’s clear that ambition, greed, and an insatiable desire for approval are the forces driving their lives. Whatever, this season offers a chance to examine the force that drives us, and when that force drives us might be worth some examination and review as well.

The force driving Jesus was first took him to Baptism. Some might wonder why the Holy Son of would need that. Sin couldn’t be the reason. In Mark’s Gospel it is clearly a way of expressing the incarnation, the very reality that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was one of us experiencing and doing what we do, one with us in everything. Then, just in case that point is missed, he goes to the desert where he lives between beasts and angels, the bad and the good, being tested, not tempted to make sure he has the strength or the force to do what is asked of him by his Father.

Some force drove you here to this church today, and it was not your Lincoln, Escalade, Honda, or Toyota. Some force is at work in all our lives to awaken lazy compassion or drive us out of self-serving, pleasure seeking comforts. There is a reason for us to be here. There is something for us to do here that will transform our lives, lift us out of our over-privatized, individualistic fake worlds, and plunge us into the truth of who we were meant to be, awaken us to what our lives ought to be about, and stir up our dreams about what God had planned for us from the beginning.

There is a force in our church called: Liturgy, and that force is way more than the rituals we experience here week after week. It is a force that can drive us home – drive us back into the arms of God – drive us back into Paradise. Yet, too many have no clue about how it works, what it needs, and what we can expect of it. Don’t ever think you came here to get something. The force of liturgy does not give you something, it takes you somewhere, and it makes something of your ordinary and sometimes dull lives.

I’m going to talk about that the next three nights. I will come to talk about the reason the force of the Holy Spirit has driven you here so often and for so long. Hunger is a force that is driving people all over the world to get up and move looking to be fed. Those of you who are hungry need to get up the next three nights and let that force open the pantry of our church’s traditions so that once like the one who feeds us here, compassion and love, service and sacrifice will drive us home and into the arms of our loving God.

February 14, 2024 at Saint Eugene Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, OK

Joel 2: 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2 + Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving: the traditional and common practices we observe in the coming forty days. Prayer and Almsgiving hardly need any commentary. For one thing, we ought to be doing that all the time, not just in Lent. But when it comes to fasting, we’re not very clear about that, and actually have not shown any great enthusiasm for figuring it out much less putting it into practice. We live in a world of plenty. In fact, our world is more than plentiful, it is downright wasteful. There is enough food thrown away in the back of every grocery store to feed a small city for a week. What is not sold is destroyed.

If you have ever tried to explain Catholic regulations on fasting to a Muslim, a Jew, or a Hindu, you would be laughed at. Somehow “one full meal and two lesser ones not equaling it” does not cut it in the eyes of other world religions. Their idea of fasting is closer to what our doctor has in mind when he tells you to fast before coming in for a blood test.

I would like to suggest that this might be the year for us all to rediscover a valuable spiritual life practice and stop playing games with it. Too often we think of fasting as a kind of self-punishment for sin or as a way to earn forgiveness. The problem with that thinking is that it ignores the fact that forgiveness has already been granted. It is not earned. We tend to think that God will love us if we change, but God loves us so that we can change. Fasting, my friends, is about liberation. It is not about suffering.

It is not helpful to think about or practice fasting without prayer and alms giving. In fact, without them, fasting is more like going on a diet.

Here’s an example. A second century mystic writes: “In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having added up the price of the food that day which you might have eaten, you will give to a widow, or an orphan, or to someone in want.”

In just a few moments all of us will reach back into the earliest days of our faith tradition and accept a mark that must mean more than tell other that you came to church today. We cannot do this because we always have. To do so for those silly and shallow reasons makes a mockery of what we are about and the sacred season we are beginning. If you accept these ashes, you must accept what it means and what goes with it: Prayer, Fasting, and Alms giving.

If prayer, fasting, and works of justice called, “Alms Giving” form the core of Christian life, they must be so through the whole year. These forty-days are a time of testing, improving, and renewing these practices so essential for Christian life. Friday is for us the day of our salvation. It is now and always has been the day of all days when we fast celebrating our freedom from sin and our freedom for life with Christ. The most simple and consistent observance of Friday is the absence of food until evening, or one meal a day as simple as possible.

We are not a body and a soul, two separate things. We are one reality. What is good for my soul is good of my body and vice versa. Fasting nurtures humility and reminds us that we are dependent on our Creator for all good things. And, fasting is marked by moderation. Like everything else in the spiritual life, it is not about doing it all or doing it right. It is just about doing it in a spirit of faith and love.

In every culture and religion in history, fasting has been an instinctive and essential language in human communication with God. Let us not be the ones who forget the reasons, the rituals, and the words.