Thursday, December 24, 2015

HOMILY 12-24-15


The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream
and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your
wife into your home. It is through the Holy Spirit that
this child has been conceived in her. When Joseph
awoke he did as the angel had directed him.
Matthew 1:20;24

It’s amazing, but sometimes something is repeated so often that we really quit paying attention! This is certainly true of the Christmas story! We have tended to sentimentalize it and make it sweet and charming, when in reality the details are shockingly disastrous – from an out-of-wedlock pregnancy to an on-the-road delivery in a smelly barn. God is God, but his idea of how to send a beloved son into the world is nothing short of bizarre. If you read the story carefully, it’s really one tragic disaster after another.

If the beginning is not bad enough, the end is worse. This baby boy grows up and dies in the prime of his life – sadistically executed along with two common criminals! God’s ways are not man’s ways! The message tonight is surely this! To understand the “disasters” of our own lives, we have to look at them through the eyes of God, not our own!

In the summer of 1959, I was barely 15 years old. It was my second summer home from high school seminary. In a town of 27 people, there wasn’t much to do on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon, except go swimming in a pond on one of my father’s farms. There were four of us boys about the same age: me, my brother Gary, John Paul Manning and his brother Joe-Joe. We walked about three miles to the pond. None of us knew how to swim, all that well, so we had agreed just to play together a few feet from the shore.

For some unknown reason, Joe-Joe decided to swim across the pond alone. Distracted by each other, the rest of us didn’t even realize that he had done this, until we heard his cries for help from across the pond. We tried our best to get to him, but the short of it was, he drowned right in front of our eyes. I can still feel the tiredness in my arms, the struggle to keep from drowning myself, his panic stricken eyes staring right at me and our inability to reach him before he went down for the last time.

He was thrashing about, wildly, trying to keep from drowning. The sad thing was, if he had done the opposite, if he had only relaxed and let himself float, we could have grabbed him and pulled him, or he could have floated, to safety. The more he tried to save his life by thrashing about wildly, the closer to death he came. If he had just quit trying to save his life, he might have saved it. The message was: there are times to hold on and there are times to let go.

As a young priest, I worked with an angry nun who had been hurt by a convent chaplain when she was a novice. Because of his recommendation, she was dismissed from her order as “unsuitable” for final vows. She carried her resentment against him for years, even though she was later readmitted and went on to become a nun.

The more I tried to work with her, the more determined she was to rebuff me. I knew nothing of her bad experience with the convent chaplain, but to her I was “that priest” with another face. The more she rejected my efforts to reach out to her, the harder I tried to win her over.  The more she rebuffed my efforts, the more I re-doubled them until I was so frustrated that I had to go for counseling. In counseling, I kept coming up with more ideas about how I could win her over. This went on for over an hour, until the counselor was practically screaming in my face, “When are you going to take “no” for an answer? She doesn’t want to work with you!”  Shocked by his bluntness, I feel back into my chair as my mind finally “got it.” The interesting thing was, once I quit trying to work with her, did my own thing and let her do her own thing, we got along fine.  The message was: there are times to hold on and times to let go.

I usually preach on the Midnight Mass readings that tell us about the birth itself, about the angels and about the shepherds, but this year I want to talk about the gospel that tells us all the things that led up to the birth of Jesus. I want to talk about St. Joseph, the man who could change his mind when faced with unwanted realities.  

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.
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.

Changing one’s mind is so important in our relationships to God that "change your mind" is the very first challenge that came out of Jesus’ mouth when he began his ministry. We read about it every first Sunday of Lent. The word he used is “metanoiete” in the Greek text of Scripture.   It means, “Change the way you look at things! Change the way you see! To see what God is up to, it takes a radical change in the way you look out at things.”  By being able to change his mind and look at the Mary's pregnancy with new eyes, Joseph was able to see that he was actually part of a great plan that God had formed long ago - not being duped by an unfaithful fiancĂ©e as the situation first appeared to be!

St. Joseph teaches us this Christmas 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 makes life even harder.   
(1)    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.  

(2)    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. They 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. It has happened so often that I can sometimes monitor where I am in the process.  I have a favorite saying, “breakdown is a sure sign of a breakthrough.” 

      Marilyn Ferguson is right when she talks about loss and change. "It's not so much that we're
      afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear. It's like being between trapezes. It's like Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hang onto." Or so it seems.........unless, of course, we are able to take a leap of faith across that great divide ! 
     The truth of the matter is that Christmas has always been more about radical trust than warm fuzzy feelings! Santa Claus is for children, but Christmas is for adults. 

For this homily and the four previous ones, go to: 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Our Fifth Blue Christmas Mass and Our Regular Christmas Mass


Our Lady of the Woods Chapel 
Bellamine University Campus
December 24, 2015

4:00 pm


Each year, we offer those who attend this special mass for the grieving some token of remembrance. In the recent past, we have given blue stars and blue crosses to take home with them. This year, each grieving family will receive a complimentary copy of this new book - a collection of homilies given this year and the past four years for further study and reflection. For other people wanting copies go to Tonini Church Goods on Breckenridge Lane in Louisville or order online at
See MY BOOKSTORE link on the right side of this page 

We ask that this special 4;00 pm Christmas Mass be honored by letting those who are grieving have this time to celebrate Christmas. It is not just an "early mass." Our regular Christmas Mass (listed below) will follow almost immediately at 6:00 pm for the general public. Anyone is invited to that Mass. 

6:00 p.m.

Sunday, December 20, 2015



Every once in a while I get to do something special for someone. Tonight was one of those nights.

Amy (Wayne) Bowles contacted me to see if she and her husband could renew their wedding vows after Sunday night Mass at Bellarmine. When they were dating, she and her husband, John Broyles, used to attend the Sunday night Mass together. 

Because Bellarmine University is closed for the holidays, there was no scheduled Mass. They are such a nice couple and I was free to do it, so I suggested that I meet them there and renew their vows. It was a complete surprise for John - an idea that Amy had to make it even more special. Amy's parents surprised them both by bringing flowers and leaving them for the occasion. It was just the two of them and me! 

They are two of the nicest people you would ever want to meet!