All posts for the month April, 2024

Saturday 3:30 p.m. at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

April 28 2024 at St Elizabeth Seton and St Peter Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31 + Psalm 22 + 1 John 3: 18-24 + John 15: 1-8

Not long ago I was reading an article that stopped me at the end of a sentence. I had to put the book down for a while and think about what I just read. “The Catholic religion is a hard one to live in but an easy one to die in.” The writer went on to say that we have to be careful as a church not to turn that saying around. We can fail the Gospel by making the practice of our faith too easy, by sugar coating everything with talk of love, love, love like the Beatles’ song or a Hallmark greeting card. It is about love alright, but when you listen to today’s Gospel, you begin to see that it is about what we might call, “Tough Love.” 

That business about pruning a vine is tough. It’s real, and there is no way or reason to soften it up. Wine can mark an occasion one of great joy and celebration, and a true disciple of Jesus Christ becomes just that for others, a source of joy and celebration. But we cannot be that if we do not allow the vinedresser to prune us. Without being cut, without the hardship of sacrifice and service, without following the Way of the Cross in our lives it is likely that we will become spiritually unproductive, shallow, and just simply pious without any real passion.

When I was leaving the seminary at ordination time, my confessor and mentor for several years advised me to find someone to take his place who had suffered if I really wanted to grow in my faith and spirituality. I have learned the wisdom of that advise. There is just something about being knocked around, about falling down, or suffering some insult or injury that can make a person truly noble, wise, and holy. I think that is why so many of saints had periods of suffering and sadness. It’s not that holiness means being miserable and sad. Those kinds of people could never be a source of real joy and celebration. On the contrary, people who have suffered, who have known pain are really the ones who know and have something to celebrate.

Five weeks ago, we celebrated the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was not until he suffered surrendering his will to the Father’s Will, not until he died abandoned and in disgrace did he become for all of us a source of joy and celebration. Before that he was, to those around him, a wise rabbi who was condemned by the very ones he taught, healed, and wanted to lead to the Father. 

My friends, we follow one who called himself the “vine,” and was himself pruned by the vine grower. Our unity with Christ Jesus must lead us into the mystery of loving service, of sacrifice, and even into the mystery of some pain, suffering, and sadness. Without it, we will have no share in the Resurrection. When we finally surrender to the Father’s will as Jesus did the night before he died, the Father will be glorified, and then we shall know why we are here, not just in this church, but why we are here on this earth and in this life. Every now and then, it might be a good idea to ask that question and remember the answer: for the glory and the honor of God. This is a hard religion to live in, but an easy one to die in if we can just remember why.

April 21, 2024 10:00 a.m. Sunday at St. Elizabeth Seton

St Peter Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 4: 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3: 1-12 + John 10: 11-18

Not often I stop and ask myself why I am doing something. That question came to me on Holy Saturday afternoon, twenty-two days ago. If you remember, it was an absolutely glorious day without a cloud in the sky. There was a very light breeze just enough to make the palm trees swish around with that sound I find rather pleasant. A flower bed needed to be dug up, there were dry clothes in the dryer and dirty dishes in the sink. I’m sitting at a desk with this Gospel text open wondering why I’m doing this, and I decided that I don’t ask that question often enough. It must be the same for you. I don’t think we ever ask that question often enough. If we did, I suspect we might do a few things differently or maybe not all.

In that reading we just heard from Act of the Apostles, Peter answers the question about why he is doing something, and he learned the answer from the man who called him away from fishing for fish. He did that for pay. With this Gospel today, Jesus contrasts a good shepherd with one who works for pay rather than for love of the sheep. That’s not necessarily bad except that the one who works for pay may not be much good if danger comes along. He may well be more interested in taking care of “number one” than any of those sheep that probably belong to someone else.

This weekend an invitation is extended to us all suggesting that we give some thought to why we do things: for that matter, why we do anything. Why we are here? first of all, why we use the time we have left in this life the way we do.? There is an attitude that all of us, especially those of us retired, might be find challenging by what we hear today. That attitude is about “deserving.” I can’t count the times I have heard people say to me, “Oh Father, after more than 55 years, you deserve your rest.” 

My reflection on this Gospel lately is that I’ll have eternity for that rest, which seems like a very long time. Right now, the one who is deserving is God, not me or you. What we deserve is sometimes frightening if I think about it seriously. What God deserves is our attention not just in this church. What God deserves is way more than most of us have been willing to provide.

The shepherd working for pay is concerned about what he’s going to get out of it. The shepherd who works for love gets nothing but love in return which is far more valuable. When we start deciding what to do in this life and the question of what we are going to get out of it comes along, it’s time to ask that question, Why?” with God in mind. It might be time to stand alongside Peter and search our hearts until we can explain why it is that we do what we do. 

We can believe a lot about Jesus, but the real invitation and real choice we have is to believe in him, through him and with him which will surely lead us to become identified with him by loving whom he loves and allowing him to work through us. The Jesuit-trained priests who taught me in High School, and many of the Sisters before them always insisted that the letters: AMDG be written at the top of my assignments. It was then, and still is, a very good reason for doing something: For the Honor and Glory of God. If what I’m doing does not somehow very clearly glorify God, I need to stop doing it and do something else that will.

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. 

Acts 10: 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8 + John 20: 1-9

April 8, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

The world in which this Easter is celebrated has problems with resurrection. It has problems with anything transcendent: anything it can’t see, buy, control, or understand. This life is all there is. You only go around once. Grab all you can for the thrill of it. Enthralled and entertained by skills of indulgence talk of heaven and the suggestion that there is something beyond this life seems oddly out of place and to some inappropriate. We want to make good sense of our faith as Christians especially to those who think our beliefs are outdated. But our discourse and conversation is hardly ever about forgiveness, redemption, heaven and hell. If someone would ask us about our church or our faith, we might start talking about how friendly it is, how beautiful the church is, how wonderful the choir, or how big the gym and inclusive the programs might be from softball and soccer to quilting and healthy living.

To think, talk, and act this way leaves us on a collision course with what we are really doing in here in worship Sunday after Sunday. If we ever give serious thought to the reality we claim is taking place in this assembly around this altar, we might run for cover, or cover it up. There is something more astounding and profound happening here beyond warm fellowship. There is something more profound going on here than stirring music and crafted thought-provoking homilies. The act of our liturgy is more significant than this homily or their music. The act of our liturgy is more significant than this building, it’s style or decor, but that fact does not seem to be sinking in or widly believed for let something go wrong or something more interesting come along, leaves us to count the missing.

What we do here is about our salvation and our destiny or it is nothing it all. It is the pledge of eternal forgiveness. Communion is not mere bread for earthly bodies. Quite the contrary, it is nutrition for transformed bodies. It is what sustains pilgrims on their way out of and beyond this life. We eat this body of Christ who has died and risen so that we might die and rise.

We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because this is the promise of an eternal banquet. We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because on the night before He died he asked us to do this in memory of him. We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because he said: “Unless you eat flesh of the Son of Man and drink  his blood you shall not have life in you.” We celebrate Eucharist because every celebration of Eucharist is Easter for those who are celebrating and proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes in glory.

We are a people who believe that there is more than meets the eye. There is more than the earth in all its might, more than our projects and exploits in all their splendor, and therefore, there is more to us than what we can buy and consume just as there is more on this altar than bread and wine. There is more to that empty tomb than met the eye of those who looked into it. They found nothing. Not only did they fail to find the Body of Christ, they did not find death either which is what they expected. So that discovery was a surprise; it did not fit in to their expectations and it changed everything. That empty tomb was more empty of death than it was of Christ. What they failed to find was death in a tomb. It isn’t there anymore.

There is a little detail in John’s gospel that feeds our imagination and faith. It is the matter of those folded up cloths. Unlike Lazarus, who comes forth from his tomb wrapped in burial cloths that needed to be untied so he could go free, the burial cloths of Jesus are left behind. They are folded up neatly, not ripped and left in haste by anyone who might take the body. Jesus comes forth from that tomb in a totally new kind of life, leaving behind the rags of his old life.

That woman, Mary Magdalene and Peter are slow to believe. The other disciple, the one Jesus loved the Gospel says, saw and believed. What did he see, or what does “seeing” really mean? The other disciple with Peter was a man of love which always allows us to see what others do not see. True Resurrection faith does not arise from seeing and believing in an empty tomb but from meeting God in the Scriptures and knowing that God is love. As long as there is love, there will be life. As long as there is love, there will be forgiveness. Those who love Jesus Christ are drawn to mourn his death, only to learn that he lives with them in a way that trascends their hopes because there is always more than meets the eye. There is more to us all than what others can see. Say “Amen” to that someone!

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!

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.