All posts for the month December, 2023

December 31, 2023 at Saint Agnes & Saint William Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128, + Colossian’s 3: 12-21 + Luke 2: 22-49

Luke has a way of balancing things throughout his Gospel and here in chapter two we get a perfect example of that, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon. The men seem to be a lot alike. They listen a lot, and as a result of listening to the Holy Spirit, they find themselves in the Temple that day. Then there are the two women, Mary and Anna. We know nothing about Anna except that she is a widow which would at least tell us that she knew a thing or two about suffering.

We probably should not celebrate the birth of this child and the beginnings of this life without reminding ourselves how it will end. This is precisely why our tradition ends this week of Christmas with this sober reminder. These two women know sorrow. They will end their days as widows.

Sorrow can have one of two effects. It can make us hard, bitter, and resentful, or more understanding, kinder, and more sympathetic. It can take away our faith, or make our faith more solid. Which side of these alternatives happens will depend on what one thinks about God: whether God is a tyrant who sends sorrows with no apparent reason other than His own pleasure, or a loving Father who permits us to be tested to show who we are. To both of these women, God was a loving Father.

Our tradition tells us that Anna was 84 years old. Like sorrow, age can have one of two effects. It can sap one’s strength, take away our heart and leave us grimly resigned to the way things are or it can give us wisdom, humor, and other virtues. Here again how we experience age will depend on how we think of God. If God is remote and distant, we despair. If God is connected with our life and close at hand, we live through aging with hope. It is not hard to see that Anna had not stopped hoping, and she managed to stay like that through constant contact with the source of her strength as she came to the Temple day after day. That is a better description for a “fountain of youth” than anything on the market these days. Both Anna and Simeon shared a similar prayer life, and they both gave thanks to God.

Hours before a new year dawns on us, we can sit here with these holy people: two men wise enough to be found here in the Temple and wise enough to be good listeners, and two women full of hope. Hardened hearts bitter and full of resentment have no place here among us. Kindness and compassion, humor and hope is what belong to us wise enough to be here listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through the Gospels day after day.

Our God is no distant tyrant quick to anger and judgement. Our God is Emmanuel – close to us, no stranger to suffering, and gentle as baby. We can do nothing better than imitate Simeon and Anna and give thanks to God.

6:15 pm at St William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

December 24 & 25, 2023 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 9: 1-6 + Psalm 96, + Titus 2: 11-14 + Luke 2: 1-20

We no longer walk in darkness. We can see, and we can be seen. Even though we might prefer to sleep in heavenly peace and ignore the reality of what is going on around us, while we hum “Joy to the World,” we may not forget the historical context of this birth story. It was a gloomy world with suffering people valued only for their labor and the taxes they had to pay. It is a story of people, refugees, fleeing a dangerous tyrant, people who are homeless, sleeping on the street. This story we tell from the past is not quite over. We can tell it today with the same details as we read it in this Gospel.

In more than 55 years as a priest, I have sat and stood through more Christmas pageants than any of you could ever imagine. One of them that stands out in my mind was in the Cathedral Church in Oklahoma City years ago. There was an elaborate scene painted on a set that went from pillar to pillar across the church in front of the altar. It was worthy of a movie set. When the homeless couple knocked on door marked: “Inn” just in case you didn’t know what it was, an 8-year-old opened the door, scowled at the couple, pointed to the side, and slammed the door. At that point the entire elaborate scenery collapsed.

Later, when reflecting on what inspired that innkeeper’s response, I began to wonder how and why the Innkeeper often seemes to be refusing hospitality when in fact, I have often thought he was just about the nicest person of all. He did the best he could with what was at hand. He saw a need and he responded. I think that this little moment in the story teaches us a lesson we have easily missed for way too long when it comes to believing the Incarnation. There is more to this spectacular moment that changed all creation than just the birth of a baby, shepherds and magi. 

Distracted by gifts, commercials, lights, trees, and Saint Nick, we have missed the truth and the real mystery of this Feast. The proof of that for me came just last week when a reader came to the ambo and started the General Intentions by saying: “May God bring peace to the middle east.” All of a sudden, I got it. It was clear to me that we have not yet grasped the truth of Incarnation. We want God to do what God has already done through the Incarnation, the birth of his son.

God is not going to bring peace. We are. God has already taken on human flesh and through his Son taught us how to make peace by forgiveness. God is not going to feed the hungry or protect the homeless. We are. He taught us how to do that. That Innkeeper got it right. He was responsible for someone he didn’t even know because they were in need and were children of God. What we might experience this Christmas is a deeper and more personal understanding of what has happened to us and all creation because of what we recall and celebrate today. This is not just about the birth of Christ. It is also about who and what we have become because the Word became flesh. We need to go deeper and ask, “Whose flesh?”

Everything is changed, everyone one of us is changed and charged with the Divine power of love. It displaces selfishness, loneliness, and the destructive individualism of this age that isolates from each other. It removes the helplessness we often feel in the face of this world’s destructive condition with the conviction that we can do something. We can care, we can act. We can forgive, and we can love. It’s not complicated. This great feast is about us as much as it is about a baby born in Bethlehem because, that baby ultimately gave us his flesh to eat so that this divine love might be found in us. When that old prophet cried out: “Comfort Ye,” God speaks to us all with a plea to comfort one another inviting us to become like the God who now dwells about us as close as the person beside you.

2:45 pm at St William Catholic Church Saturday, December 23 in Naples, FL

December 24, 2023 at Saint Agnes & Saint William Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12,  14=16 + Psalm 89, + Romans 16: 25-27 + Luke 1: 26-38

Gabriel is one busy angel. When I began to pay attention to how often and where that angel pops up in our stories this month, I am amazed at how much airline miles must be stacking up. It might well be enough to get us to heaven. And so, Gabriel is at work again, and we have just listened to a familiar passage with a difficult truth.

We must be very careful not to acknowledge the exceptional privilege of Mary and take ourselves off the hook. Visits from angels are for special people we might think, and that’s wrong. Every life is visited by revelations, insights, and calls to commitments. Every one of us knows that. We get too confused by artists’ representation of this scene. There is no reason to think that some figure with wings popped up out of nowhere and started a conversation with Mary. Remember my mantra?

This is not history. This is Theology.

No angel figure showed up in my life calling me to the priesthood, and if you told me an angel had shown up presenting your spouse to you, I would wonder how much eggnog you’ve been drinking. Yet, an open heart and an open mind makes way for all kinds of revelations, insights, and calls to commitment. When these come to us, we can either reluctantly agree and become joyless people, or we turn away in weakness and relief. What a tragedy that would be.

Yet the wonderful thing about this is that God sends another angel, and we all get another opportunity to open our hearts and minds to say, “yes,” accepting God’s will and then marvel at how God’s plan unfolds for us into a life of joy and peace.

2:45 pm at Saint William Church in Naples, FL

December 17, 2023 at Saint William and Saint Elizabeth Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11 + Psalm Lk 46-48, + 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24 + John 1: 6-8, 19-28

For hundreds of years and for generations they were waiting. Parents taught their children to wait and watch sure that the Messiah they were promised would come. There were bad times of oppression from a cruel occupying army sent by a dangerous tyrant in far off Rome. The Priests and Levites did their best to keep that hope alive, and among all those people who listened to their teaching and prayed with them in the synagogues and the temple, they bore the responsibility of sorting out the claims and the deeds of many who came along and stirred up the hope they held deep in their hearts.

It is no surprise then that they come to John near Bethany. They need to know who he is. They cannot risk missing the Messiah and all that they had hoped for. From all their questions, all they can discover is that he is not the Christ. He is not Elijah. He is not the prophet. He quotes them some verses from Isaiah, a passage that comes from their past days of their Babylonian exile. Those who have come out to John know these words and that old prophet who spoke them ages ago.

This message both stirs their hope and ignites their fear. For those Priests and Levites, this is not the way it is supposed to happen. This wild man in the wilderness cannot possibly know the Messiah. That is their job, their right, and their privilege. After all, they came from Jerusalem, that place where it’s all happening. That place under their control.

Power and privilege become a serious obstacle when it comes to the Messiah and the Kingdom of God not just then, but today as well. We are people much like those Priests and Levites from Jerusalem. We resist change. We have our own ideas about how and when God should act. Forgetting or ignoring how God has already acted makes matters worse. Instead of some great astounding divine action, a baby is born, a man sets out on an unlikely journey proclaiming a Kingdom, and then ends up executed along with other criminals. 

And so, we look around at this world and keep thinking, “Why doesn’t God do something?” while not much happens because we have failed to grasp what God has already done by taking on human flesh. We feel uncomfortable in the face of things gone wrong. We think of hunger in the world, war, division, or discrimination against others for their orientation, ethnicity, age, gender and ask, “But what can I do?” While all the while the truth is that Holy Spirit never calls us to something we cannot do. If anything important is ever going to happen in the face of all that has gone wrong, it will be because people did something about it, people, human beings. That’s how God works.

Ultimately, John the Baptist reminds us that the coming of God’s reign is a gift and a grace. We cannot make it happen any more than the rooster makes the sun rise. Yet, like John, we can live like prophets, helping other catch the hint that there is something going on, something deeper and more meaningful than our society and culture has to offer. That’s what it means to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Today, the Spirit of the Lord urges us to rejoice because we know that the hungry can be fed and the brokenhearted healed. Because something unimaginably wonderful has happened to us in Christ Jesus. Peace comes from forgiveness not from military might.  We know how to feed the hungry by sharing what we have. We know how to heal the broken by lifting them up, listening to their pain and sorrow, and never leave them feel alone or abandoned. There is real joy to be found in this.

December 10, 2023 at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Chur

Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 85 + 1 Peter 3: 8-14 + Mark 1: 1-8

There is that word again, beginning. We just heard it two days ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As we settle into Mark’s Gospel for the coming year, we might as well get used to a few things or we are going to miss out on a lot. There is no end or conclusion with Mark’s Gospel. It simply stops with two women running away from an empty tomb in fear. So, how can there be a “beginning” when there is no “ending?” In his skillful way, Mark is suggesting what many of us have discovered in life, that every ending is a start of something new, a beginning.

With that first verse, Mark announces some Good News about the Christ who is the Son of God. It will not be many chapters into his writing before we come to realize that the good news is not exactly going to be about a triumphant victory, and this Christ he reveals as Son of God does not imply privilege and prestige. In fact, the news is not very good the way the world looks at things, and this Son of God, this anointed one does not fare very well. By the last verse, for those who stay with and live the story Mark tells, there will be a complete transformation, a stripping those words of our conventional understanding because of one word: Jesus.

The “Good News of Jesus Christ” begins before it begins as John the Baptist emerges out of the prophetic tradition of the past. Every detail about John matches the prophets before him: the diet, the garment, the wilderness. His message is the same as those before him echoing God’s eternal plea: “Come back to me.” But Baptism for John is not just about ending one’s old ways. There is in his message a beginning because there is more than just his baptism. His work is incomplete. There is more to come. The baptism of John is simply preparation. It is a call to be ready. He uses the image of a path, and with little effort, we can easily begin to think of getting things out of our way so that we can get where we are going. But the path goes both ways, and it’s not just about us. John’s real thought is that this path is God’s path toward us, urging us to clear that path so that God can get through. The point of making a straight path is for someone to arrive.

This Gospel urges us to be proactive. There will be no sitting around and waiting for the Kingdom to dawn on us. The Jesus who comes in Mark’s Gospel turns upside down all the old thinking about Christ, the Anointed One and about the “Son of God.” There is no privilege and no power coming. There is the hard and difficult experience of being mis-understood and abandoned, of being mocked and scorned of being identified with a loser, a criminal in the sight of some who dies for no other reason other than obedience and love. It’s enough to make anyone run away in fear. But, that’s not really the way it ends.  The truth reveals that it is really the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ and the Good News about who we are and who it is that has come for us. What it takes to make the end become the beginning is for us to get whatever is cluttering the path out of the way, to put an end to sin’s power over us, and challenge the injustice in this world that keeps us all from living right now in the Kingdom of God, because it is at hand.

3:30 pm Vigil Mass at Saint Peter the Apostle in Napes, FL

December 28, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Genesis 3: 9-15, 20 + Psalm 98, + Ephesians 1: 30-6, 11-12 + Luke 1: 26-38

“In the Beginning” starts the Book of Genesis from which that first reading is taken. In the beginning we were all created free is the point of the story; free to care for creation and one another and free to live with the constant present company of God. This is not about Adam and Eve as though they were not you and me. Their story is our story. With that freedom a choice gets made again and again. It is the choice of sin. The choice of putting ourselves before our God and Creator. 

“In the Beginning” says the meaning of this Feast, Mary too was free. Conceived without sin means that she never chose to put herself before her God and Creator. So, not putting herself first, setting aside her own plans and future, she accepts what at first seems impossible and even frightening. She simply turns to the task at hand. She accepts what she does not understand or really desire. Because she knows the goodness of God, the trusts in the plans God has for her and not in the fear she feels about what is to come.

What happens to her is not just her experience. We may not have angels talking to us, but we have all had those moments or received some news that makes us wonder or cry out: “How is this happening to me?” “I can’t do this.” Now, if you have had an angel talking to you, I don’t want to hear about it because none of the rest of have. We have all had our plans, our hopes, our dreams get changed by something we never expected or wanted. When trust in God’s plans for us takes hold, the fear will be gone. Accepting whatever is asked of us opens the future to a life that is really free and back in the hands of the Creator who will look upon us, smile, and say: “This is good.” 

St William Church in Naples, Fl 2:45pm Saturday

    December 3, 2023 at St Peter the Apostle, St Agnes, and St William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19, 64:2-7 + Psalm 80 + 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9 + Mark 13: 33-37

“Watch” says Christ Jesus to us today. “Watch.” It is an experience that involves no activity. Doing it requires attention not action. There is nothing to do when you watch except pay attention. We know how that works. We’ve all watched things and people. We watch a football game, we watch children at play. We watch them grow up, and our loved ones grow old. We don’t do anything except pay attention and sometimes that’s the hard part, attention. I suspect that is why Jesus speaks so sternly and passionately to us his disciples. We get distracted and fail to pay attention. When that happens, we miss things, things that are important.

This season of Advent that we begin today is all about watching and paying attention. It is about focus on things that matter. It is about paying attention and therefore being attentive to the presence of God. It has nothing to do with “You better watch out, you better not cry because you know who is coming to town.” For that matter is not about something that tradition says happened in Bethlehem a long time ago. Neither is it just about a future that we sometimes call “The end of time.” It is about now, because the message of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. What is to come is already here. We have been too busy to watch and be attentive to the truth and the reality that by the Incarnation, by the birth of God’s son, God is no longer off in the clouds listening to angels sing. God has taken human flesh and human life, and we need to pay attention and watch; watch how powerfully and beautifully that human flesh and life can accomplish God’s wish for us to be one, to be love, to be healed, to be saved.

We are reminded today to watch, to pay attention to anyone, to any human life that fails to reveal Godliness. We are reminded today to pay attention to ourselves as well lest others fail to see God through our words and deeds. We need to watch that.

If we are watching and pay attention, we will not sleep. We will not sleep well when another who shares this life with us is sleeping on the street. If we are watching and paying attention to the hunger in this world, we will promote and encourage public policies that address human hunger rather than just feel badly cleaning our overloaded plates because Mom reminded us of starving children around the world.If we are watching as Christ Jesus insists, we will see what needs to be done for all who long to know the mercy of God. And, as we watch, we might do well to remember that God is watching too, watching to see whether or not we are sleep or awake and attentive. It would surely be better were we not found sleeping. On my part, I don’t think it would be an acceptable excuse.