Sunday, March 26, 2023



“Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
John 11:40

Jesus had a large circle of friends, both men and women. On the fifth Sunday of Lent, we get an inside glimpse at three of those friends: Martha, her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus from the little town of Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was that special place in the life of Jesus where he and his disciples could stop in, get some rest, enjoy a good meal and then go on their way! If you pay attention to the details of John’s gospel story about Martha, Mary and Lazarus, you soon realize just how close Jesus was to these people. This is a story about intimate friends, affectionate friends.

First, we know that this Mary was the Mary who kissed Jesus’ feet in public, washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and rubbing them with perfumed oil. (When was the last time anybody kissed your feet? You must be pretty close to somebody to do that, not to mention to do it in public!) Read down the text and you see that John underlines, again and again, just how intimate these people were with Jesus. Here’s what it says: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus very much.” “See how much he loved him!” They are even so close that one of these women can “chew him out” and get away with it: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” And finally, seeing Mary weep, we are told that Jesus began "to weep,” as well.

One usually thinks of this story as the “raising of Lazarus,” but Jesus’ raising of Lazarus actually occupies a very small part of this story. Of the forty-four verses that constitute this story, only seven of them take place at Lazarus’ tomb. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus is the climax of this story; it is not the center. This is a dialogue between Jesus and the two women about the power of God’s love in their lives.

In his gospel, John’s stories always have two levels: one on the surface which is true and another below the surface which is even truer still. This intimate story is meant to reveal to us not only the depth of their friendship, but also how intimate God’s relationship is with us! The pain of this family is the pain of God for all his people. By listening in to the dialogue, we are also taught what they were taught: the truth about the depth of God’s love for us, about God’s willingness to give us new life, and about God’s power over our worst enemy – death.

(1) We are taught about the depths of God’s love for us. One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a priest is to convince people of God’s unconditional love for them. Why is it that so many of us have been trained by people who have dismissed these intimate stories of God’s love and have combed through the Scriptures, piecing together condemning, judging, and damning messages that they turn into a religion? Why did they, and why do we, find those negative messages more believable? I have received more letters questioning my “too lenient notions of God’s love” than any other critical letters since I became a priest. Jesus revealed the “true God,” not that “false mean god” that people have created since Adam and Eve. Even in that story, God says to Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11). In other words, “Who told you that you were bad, separated from me, and defective? I certainly didn’t!” Jesus came to talk us out of that mean God that we keep creating in our own minds. I can’t imagine trying to live my religion without being in love with God! I can’t imagine practicing a religion based on fear and dread!

(2) By listening in on the conversation between Jesus, Martha and Mary, we are taught also about God’s willingness to give us new life. This eternal life is on both sides of death. Death does not have the last word. Eternal life is not just some promise for the future; it is available to us right now. We are in it, as we speak! Through Jesus and in Jesus, those of us who are “dead on our feet” can be resurrected now. We can be “born again.” We can act boldly on our own behalf to live purposeful lives, to help others, and to claim the powers that lie dormant within us. One of my favorite old movies is Harold and Maude. This is Maude’s message to Harold throughout the movie: “Oh, how the world dearly loves a cage! There are a lot of people who enjoy being dead.” Jesus came, not just to bring a wonderful life after we are dead, but one starting right now! 

(3) And, as this gospel teaches us, God has power over our worst enemy – death. We live in a death-denying culture. Some of our expensive funeral practices would leave outsiders with the impression that we believe that we are going to come up with a cure for death someday! That makes about as much sense as leaving the runway lights on for Amelia Earhart. We don’t even know how to die. Modern medical technology, as wonderful as it is, robs us of the spiritual experience of “letting go” of this part of our life. Through Jesus and in Jesus, we are able to see in death that “life is changed, not ended.” I feel sorry for those who are conscious at death’s door without this faith.

Over the years, I have had the awesome privilege of talking to some very conscious people getting ready to die: especially those with AIDS and with cancer. Some were not pious people, but most were deeply spiritual. Some were able to tell me that they accepted their approaching deaths and they wanted to “do it well.” Some were extremely thankful for the “eternal life” they had already started to experience in this world. Some looked with “joyful hope” for the “eternal life” ahead of them. You know, if you’re facing death, it doesn’t get any better than that! I hope I can do half as well. I pray for the ability to be conscious, filled with gratitude and ready to go when the time comes! Yes, I want to be conscious! I want to choose to let go and leap into that great unknown, knowing that I will land in the arms of God!

The message to you in today’s gospel is this: God loves you very, very much. He wants you to enjoy the eternal life that you can start to experience right now, and he wants you to know that death does not have the last word. You can enjoy “eternal life” forever, yes starting right now!

Saturday, March 25, 2023


The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Thursday, March 23, 2023


The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
Matthew 1 

Today, I want to talk about St. Joseph, the man who changed his mind when faced with an unwanted reality. While Mary was “open” to the angel’s news about conceiving a child, Joseph struggled with this reality and had to change his mind about the situation.

Some of us are proud of the fact that we made up our minds about something years and years ago and that we are not about to change them now. We may even think that our inflexibility is a virtue. St. Joseph teaches us that, to follow the will of God, we sometimes have to be able to change our minds.


Again, here's the short version of how St. Joseph was able to change his mind. Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Mary became pregnant before the wedding and told Joseph that she had conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph refused to believe it at first. He may have even showered Mary with some harsh words. In response to this unwanted news, he made up his mind to divorce Mary quietly when an angel appeared to him in a dream, confirming Mary's explanation and telling him not to be afraid to proceed with the wedding. Joseph woke up with a changed mind, proceeded with the wedding and accepted his new family.


St. Joseph teaches us that we sometimes have to “let go and let God” and find a way to embrace some very painful unwanted realities if we are to move forward in life. St. Joseph teaches us that letting go in life can be very hard, but trying to hold onto to an idea we love can sometimes make life even harder.  


(   If parents want their children to grow into healthy adults, they have to “give them up” over and over again. They have to put them on the school bus that first day, even though they cry and resist and every bone in their body wants to hold onto them and keep them home.  They have to “let go” when they learn to swim, when they go off to camp, when they learn gymnastics, when they learn to drive, when they leave home for college and when they walk down the aisle to begin their own life. If they “let go,” new life is possible for those children. If they try to hang on to them and cling to their childhoods, they will retard any possible growth into self-sufficient adults.  

(    If someone is addicted and wants to be free, old patterns and old friendships and old thinking have to die and be buried before a new way of living is possible. You cannot hold onto past behaviors and take on new ones at the same time. The old way of living must die, before a new way of living can be born.

(3  If someone is in a relationship that is not healthy and life-giving, letting go of it is very much like a death that one must go through before a new life and a new beginning and a new relationship can come to life. One must be willing to let go of familiar territory to reach new lands. The in between time is what scares people. That’s why abused spouses often return to their abusers: this in-between time is so scary that they return to what is familiar. By holding on to the past, they actually kill any possibility of moving into a new way of living.

(4  Sometimes we have no choice: we are forced into change. Sometimes it takes a heart attack, a terrible loss, an eye-opening accident or a terrible diagnosis, a death of sorts, before we are motivated to bury our old way of living so we can make room for a new way of living. 


(5  Sometimes the church has to go through a great scandal, a purging, a death of sorts, to really renew itself. We are going through one of those deaths, right now. The seed of this renewal is in the ground sprouting as we speak.  The old church is dying and a new church is being born. Many find that so scary and painful that they would attempt to go back to escape the pain of this dying, but we cannot go back. We must embrace this life-giving process yet again in our history.

(6  The church has always grown, not during the times it is most comfortable and respected, but when we have people being martyred for the faith. There is even an old saying that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”  The church cannot be said to be strong until there are enough people who believe it is important enough to die for.  

(7  In my own personal life, I have noticed that times of greatest life and blessing have always been preceded by tough times, times of loss and disappointment. It was when I was forced to let go of some dream, idea, a so-called need or even a beloved mother, that I witnessed unimaginable breakthroughs. This process has happened so often that I can sometimes monitor where I am in the process.  I even have a favorite saying: “Breakdown is a sure sign of a breakthrough.” 


Tuesday, March 21, 2023



Yesterday was supposedly the official first day of Spring! If Spring is here, how come it was still so cold outside? The low was 25 degrees and the high was only 52 degrees toward the end of the day! 
As I was complaining to myself, I remember something I read a few years ago! 



Sunday, March 19, 2023


If you were blind, that would not be a sin. But
since you say you can see, when you are actually
blind, you remain in your sin.
John 9:41

So far, we have been to the desert, the mountain and the well. Next, Jesus invites us to admit that we either can't see or won't see and invites us to go to the eye-doctor to have our eyes "checked."

Tyler Perry is a successful African-American playwright, actor and screenwriter. Perry attributes his success to what he calls “spiritual progress,” especially the “spiritual progress” that resulted in making peace with his own father. One of his profound insights was around learning that “parents do what they know how.” He finally realized that he could not change his history with his father, but he could change the way he wanted to remember it! “My life changed,” he said, “once things changed in me!”

I, too, had to learn how resentment can keep you stuck and how you can free yourself by going to the eye doctor and have your eyes opened. The ability to see in a new way is like being let out of prison, having your chains cut, throwing off a heavy load. Like Tyler Perry, it was only when I chose to “see my past in a new way” that I was no longer a victim of it. 

We cannot do anything about our pasts, but we can choose whether we want to be victims of it. Once I began to understand that my own father “did what he knew how,” I was able to move from anger to compassion. I constantly thank God that I was able to bury all that resentment, even before I buried him!

“Seeing in a new way” is exactly the conclusion Jesus came to in his search for clarity during his forty days in the desert. Coming out of the desert, he began to preach “conversion.” That conversion is summed up in the Greek word “metanoia.” “Metanoiete” means “you, change the way you see!” Change the way you look at things and heaven will open up to you. Once things change in you, things around you will look very different.” The devil tried to get Jesus to change things. Jesus resisted that temptation. Instead, Jesus called for an internal change within people, believing that if people would change inside, things outside them would also change. A new life begins with having your eyes opened!

Today we have a wonderful story about a bunch of blind people: one who can’t see and others who won’t see. All of them need Jesus in order to be able to “see.” In this wonderful story, Jesus uses the occasion of healing physical blindness to tell us something about the healing of spiritual blindness.

The man born blind, not only regains his physical sight, but step-by-step he begins to see Jesus in a new way. At first, he says he tells people he doesn’t know who this Jesus is who healed him. As the story unfolds, he calls Jesus a “prophet” and finally “Lord.”

The Pharisees and his parents can see physically, but they are spiritually blind and refuse “to see in a new way.” The Pharisees are blinded by their own rigid religious structures. They can’t see the beauty of this great healing, a blind man getting his sight. All they can see is that this healing took place on the Sabbath day and healing was illegal on the Sabbath. The parents are blinded by their fear of being ostracized by neighbors, friends and organized religion if they admitted to this healing. They conveniently choose not to know and not to see. “Ask him,” they say, “he is old enough to speak for himself.” Both Pharisees and parents are afraid of “seeing in a new way” because it would mean their cozy little routines would be disrupted. It was convenient for them not to see and so remain stuck in their chosen blindness.

I am amazed when I talk to “stuck” people. I believe that most people who are stuck are basically people who are blinded by “the way they see,” by their inability to “see in a new way.” They whine and cry and wait to be rescued, but they cannot change their minds and look at their situations from a new angle. They can’t “let go” of their old way of thinking and seeing, and so remain stuck in their blindness. They are like the monkeys I read about several years ago. To catch these monkeys for the zoo, people would cut a hole in a tree, just small enough for a monkey to put his hand into. Then they fill the hole with peanuts. When the monkey sticks his hand into the hole and grabs the peanuts, he cannot pull his hand back out. Instead of letting go of the peanuts, they howl and cry till someone comes and hauls them off to the zoo. All they had to do was to let go of their grip on the peanuts. People are a lot like that! They cannot let go of the way they see things and so remain trapped, whining and crying all the while.

Some people simply cannot “let go” of the way they see things. They clutch at beliefs like: life ought to be fair, parents ought to be perfect, spouses should not let each other down, the church ought to be perfect, things ought to make sense and people ought to respect you, love you and meet your needs. And, of course, when life isn’t fair, when parents and churches aren’t perfect, when spouses let them down, when things don’t make sense and when people do not meet their needs, they fall apart and remain stuck in their belief that if they just don’t like it enough, it will go away. All they would have to do to free themselves is to “let go” of their old beliefs and “see things in a new way.”

Jesus was right, “If you were physically blind, there is no sin in that, but when you choose to be blind, your sin remains, you keep your own suffering going.” Tyler Perry is right, too, when he says, “My life changed once things changed in me.”

What about you? What situations do you need to “look at” in a new way? What people do you need to “look at” in a new way? Is the way you have been “looking at” these situations and people still causing you pain? Maybe it's an old relationship that didn't work out, some one who hurt you in the past, a business partner who stole from you, a relative who cheated you, a change in the church you didn't like or a child who disappointed you!  If so, ask God for healing! Ask God for a new set of eyes! Once things change in you, life around you will change for the better for you! Sometimes, all you have to do is to "let go" of those "peanuts" you are holding onto by "choosing to change the way you look at the grip you have on them!"