All posts for the month August, 2023

Isaiah 22:19-23 + Psalm 138 + Romans 11: 33-36, 29-32 + Matthew 16:13-20

The Golden Jubilee Celebration for Father Jack Feehily

August 27, 2023 at Saint Andrew Parish in Moore Oklahoma

When Father Jack called me and invited me to stand here today, the first thing I did was look up the Gospel for the day, and I shuddered thinking, “I should have said I can’t make it.” Why couldn’t it have been a text where Jesus says, “Pick up your mat or your walker and come follow me.” But no, it has to be this one about keys for a man who no longer has any.

You have to wonder, and I suppose that’s the whole idea of the Gospel, to lead us to wonder over what in the world God is thinking. I mean after all, he seems to be building the foundation of his Church. You would think he would be looking for people with law degrees from Yale or Harvard, with business or economics degree from Stanford, or an engineer or architect from MIT. But no. He goes wandering around the seashore and calls a simple fisherman who was neither wealthy nor educated. He calls someone who over and over again puts his foot in his mouth, keeps thinking he’s in charge, is full of doubts, and not perfectly loyal nor obedient. This is the guy who gets out of the boat and sinks. This is the guy who impulsively wants to build three tents on the mountain of the Transfiguration, and then falls asleep after dinner when asked to stay awake and watch. He’s nowhere to be found during the crucifixion even after declaring that he would die for his friend.

When we see him in today’s Gospel, he is beginning to perceive the long expected and the decisive intervention and presence God in the world. That revelation he began to receive about Jesus also brought a revelation about himself, who he was and what place was to be his in a new world of the redeemed that is about to be established.

His first meeting with Jesus stirred something in him, and he wanted to know more about what Jesus had to offer, and when Jesus gave him the opportunity to do so, he acted upon it. I like to think that Jesus saw the best in him. So, we watch Peter throughout the Gospels struggle with himself, stumble, love his Lord and deny him, speak rashly and act impetuously. His life reminds us that our Lord did not come to save the virtuous and strong but to save the weak and the sinful. Simon, that simple fisherman was transformed by the Holy Spirit, becoming one of the first witnesses of the risen Lord and herald of the Gospel. He becomes aware of the need to open the Church to the Gentiles.

Peter’s story is about the extraordinary way in which God uses ordinary people to bring healing, forgiveness, hope, and joy to a lost and troubled world. God does not seem to care about how worthy we are, how adequate, or what skills we have. God seems to simply look into our hearts. When we are broken, feel ashamed and guilty, despair of ourselves and believe that we cannot possibly be loved by God, Peter reminds us that we always get a second chance.

We are here today with a man who has been broken, ashamed and guilty. We celebrate with a man who without a degree in economics or engineering has seen some debts paid off and buildings raised up probably to the surprise and relief of several contractors and architects. This is a man who has been a herald of the Gospel and been aware of the need to open the church to all of God’s children. 

Some of us, as old as he is, have watched him struggle with himself, stumble, speak rashly and act impetuously. I’ve seen him sink, but I’ve also seen him reach out his hand to the Lord and be pulled up out of the chaos, because his story is the story of God’s love, grace, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

This thing called priesthood is a great and powerful mystery full of surprises, twists and turn, ups and downs. Sometimes I think of it like rides at the State Fair when you get into a little car and ride around in the dark jerking, and being startled by things that ought to scare you, but instead leave you laughing. It is such a curious thing and such a wonder at what God can do with a piece of clay and little breath. Always leaving me to wonder what’s next and grateful for what has been.

We join this man today in expressing his gratitude to God for the 50 years of jerking around and being startled by the unexpected. In those fifty years, he has become more wise than smart. The evidence that wisdom has taken hold is calmness and perseverance.

Father, my brother, if Father Francis has not taken away your keys, he should have. The only keys you now need are the keys you have had for a long time. You can open hearts with forgiveness. You can open minds with the truth of love, and you can open the kingdom of heaven by the gentleness of your words. As a much-loved Archbishop said to you fifty years ago, “May God complete the good work he has begun in you.” Congratulations.

August 20, 2023 at Mary Mother of Light Parish in Tequesta, FL

1 Corinthians 3: 1-11 + Luke 8: 1-15 

It is important to remember how parables work learning how to listen to them because parables are not our common way of teaching. In the verses of this Gospel proclaimed today, there are two parts. The first is a parable which very likely Jesus actually spoke to the crowds. The second part is likely an addition that Saint Luke needed to write and add for the Gentiles not accustomed to this way of teaching. We should pay more attention to the parable rather than to the allegorical interpretation that Luke has added.

The opening line makes the sower the focus of the parable because that’s what Jesus always wishes to do, reveal the Father. In our times, with tractors opening up the soil, and with machines carefully and orderly dropping seeds in perfect rows, this parable’s image of a sower takes some imagination. The whole idea of throwing seed around everywhere makes no sense at all. Then, the amount of the harvest is staggering, leaving us to be further amazed which is just exactly what a parable should do, surprise and amaze. Another part of parable telling is to get the listener to do some comparison or to contrast a thing or two. In the case of this parable, one part is obviously the Father. The other part is you and me. Forget about being the seed or whatever kind of soil you might want to think you should be. That’s a distraction. This is a call to compare ourselves to God, to check and see how well we do reflect the image and likeness of God in whose image we are made. Remember that?

As Jesus tells this parable to the crowds, he raises the question about how much we are like the Father. Sadly, for many of us, the comparison can be disturbing. We are not always quite as generous with our gifts, with our time, or attention as the Father is who throws that seed everywhere. We like to measure out just how much we can spare or how much someone might deserve. We like to consider whether or not there will be a return on our “investment”, and if there is a risk, we are not likely to take it. And so, the purpose of this parable’s comparison is to give us pause to think again not just about how much like the Father we have become, but also to be reminded that even a little bit, or just a part of what we sow can produce an amazing harvest. It reminds us too that even though there may be failures and disappointments over the failure of what we have done or given to beat fruit, we can be sure that some will produce, and that it will be greater than we could ever imagine. 

The parable then reveals something about God and calling for a comparison to check on how much the divine presence, got-like behavior, and expectations have made their way into our hearts, our thinking, and shaped our behavior. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 + Psalm 67 + Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32 + Matthew 15: 212-28

August 20, 2023 

This homily is not delivered during Liturgy as I am serving a Maronite Community this weekend

Concerns about who is in and who is out have been going on since the beginning of time. We organize ourselves in families, neighborhoods, parishes, and all sorts of groups that give us identity, responsibilities, and sometimes privileges. Those groups have boundaries too, and we are usually quick to know who belongs and who does not, usually guarding those privileges that come from belonging so that those who do not belong get no share.

It is a challenge to the pious to see Jesus in the first part of this episode. He is less than we are always expecting him to be. The disciples are too. They want to send that woman away which is exactly what they said about the hungry crowd. She’s not the right kind. Her skin color may have been different from theirs, who knows? Besides, she’s a woman in a man’s world. That first reaction of Jesus seems to satisfy the disciples and confirm that self-protecting attitude. He dismisses her with what was probably a common insult calling her a dog. She will have none of it, and fired up with a mother’s love, she turns his insult back on him with the suggestion that even dogs can become loved family pets.

To a community made up largely of Jewish Christians working hard to figure out how to accept, understand, and live with the presence of Gentiles among them, this Gospel reveals the will of the Father. Today, the message is no less challenging and still comes to reveal the will of the Father. To a Church broken into various religions, it is a call to look again at how and where unity is to be found. To a Church separated by cultures and languages it raises the same questions. To a Church not quite sure about how, when, and where the gifts of women are to be embraced this Gospel calls for some reflection. To a Church still too ready and willing to decide who is in and who is out when it comes to communion with those who are divorced, those whose sexuality does not quite fit old norms, or those whose political views are different, this Gospel rocks the boat, so to speak.

What happens in this Gospel episode raises questions about how we identify ourselves in relation to others. It calls into question how our membership in the Body of Christ shapes and conditions our relationships with others. Old Isaiah, the prophet spoke of the Chosen People wanting them to realize that their privilege was not for themselves but for the sake of the world. He spoke the Word of the Lord this way; “I come to gather nations of every language, they shall come to see my glory. They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord. (66:18) My friends, we have a great privilege because of the gift of our faith, and with it comes a great burden and serious responsibility; not to keep others out, but to draw them into the love of the Lord. 

 Kings 19:9-13 + Psalm 85 + Romans 9: 1-5 + Matthew 14: 22-33

August 13, 2023 This homily will not be delivered during a Liturgy as I am away from Naples

There is enough going on in these verses from the Fourteenth Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to give anyone a headache! The fact that Jesus sends the disciples off in the boat without him is a curious detail. In the meantime, he goes off to some mountain to pray just like prophets before him went up mountains to pray. The fact that the crowd has been dismissed makes it clear that what happens in these verses is something reserved for those in the boat. The crowd is not there to see it. Details tell us that they are far into the lake’s deep waters, and it is the darkest hour of the night. The seas were already calmed six chapters earlier we should not confuse the two stories. There is no sleeping Jesus this time. He comes walking on the chaotic wind-driven sea. 

Matthew tells us the disciples are terrified, and there is more than one reason for their fear. The storm would be reason enough to afraid. Then, seeing someone come out of nowhere walking on stormy waters would be even more reason for terror. And yet, there is another reason that you and I would not notice since we are not Jews. That reason comes from what Jesus says to them. He speaks the name that no Jewish person would ever speak. He speaks the very name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus says: “I am.” In other words, suddenly, God is there. This is a profound moment and an important incident in Matthew’s gradual revelation of the identity of Jesus. They see Jesus, but now they are in the presence of God. To portray Jesus walking on the chaotic water like a conqueror is to cast him in the role of the creator-God who governs the waters. This all leads up to that final verse of today’s Gospel when the disciples do Jesus homage and declare him to truly be the Son of God. This Gospel episode is then, one more affirmation of the Divinity of Jesus for the sake of the disciples who, at this point, are of little faith. They are going to need more as the Gospel unfolds.

It is a story well told in our own times when there is so much chaos all around, when there is so much to frighten us, so much darkness, with so many sinking into the chaos. This is a story told to remind us that even though we may not recognize him, God is in our midst at the darkest of times. Yet, we are so used to depending upon ourselves, to wanting and sometimes having so much control over our lives and surroundings that when we lose it, as always happens, we sink even deeper into chaos.

We are always like Peter caught between faith and doubt, too easily frightened. Sometimes too, we are like Peter who wants to play God and walk on the water. He wants to do what only God can do. If he can walk on the water, he can abandon the boat and the people in it. That is not a good plan. So, Jesus comes and gets in the boat with them. They need to stay in the boat, which for Matthew is always a symbol of the church. If they stay in the boat through the storms, Jesus will get them to the other side. 

Disciples, you and me, are not invited to walk on water in the middle of a howling storm. We are invited to stay in the boat, and it is there that we shall and should do him homage. Trying to play God is not the role of disciples. We bear witness to the presence of God in our midst even to the God we may fail to recognize.

Isaiah 55: 1-3 + Psalm 145 + Romans 8: 35, 37-39 + Matthew 17:1-9

August 6, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, Fl

We all have all had moments in our lives or experiences that we hoped would never end. I’ve had many of them, and I’m certain that you have too when just mention of it brings back those memories, those people, that place and time when we just hoped time would stop. I think this is exactly what Peter, James, and John felt that day Matthew has recorded for us in this Gospel.

As always, how that happened, when or where is less important than what it means for us. The Law and the Prophets were at the very heart of the Jewish religion, and there was their friend and teacher talking with the very representatives of the Law, Moses, and Prophet Elijah. There he is standing between them in conversation. Finally, that voice is heard affirming who it is there with Moses and Elijah, saying: “Listen to him.”

As we proclaim this Gospel here in this assembly, that voice still speaks telling us to listen. Peter, James, and John heard the command we have heard, and that moment became a turning point for them. For seventeen chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, they have been watching, but they have not done much listening. They watched the power of cure after cure, they loved those admiring crowds rushing and chasing around after Jesus, they experienced that feeding of thousands, but they were not listening. In the verses just before he takes them up that mountain he began to tell them that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, and be killed. Instead of listening, Peter talks taking Jesus aside telling him it could never happen. Jesus spoke of self-denial, taking up a cross, and losing one’s life. They did not listen. They didn’t want any of that stuff. 

What actually happened to Jesus on that mountain is irrelevant. What happened to the disciples is not. They heard what God expected of them. “Listen to my Son.” Here we are, reminded once again, that listening to what Jesus Christ has to say is what is expected of us. There comes a time when Bible Study must become Bible Listening, because by listening we can begin to know what God is like. If we want to hear God’s voice in our own time, if we want to know the will of God, we have to listen.

The wonder of the Transfiguration was not a light show but an invitation. If we want to know what God really looks like, we will should gaze on those who love God. They come with curly hair and bald heads. They are old and young, Christian, Muslim, Jew and more. Not even Michelangelo could imagine all the variations in which God chooses to appear among us. When we stop to listen to one another, the world will be transfigured. 

Often missed in the telling or reading of this Gospel is that last gesture of Jesus. Remember, after they heard the voice, those three fell to the ground, but Jesus touched them. The power of this scene is not the vision of Jesus transfigured, but that healing touch offered to his beloved disciples. The disciples needed to be healed from their weakness of spirit, their lack of courage for what was to come.

It still works the same way today. We need the healing touch of Christ which is why we stretch out our hands, and once again let him touch us so that one day when we have fallen asleep in death he will say once again: Get up, and what we have feared will be no more and we will shine like the sun.