Sunday, April 15, 2018


Peace be with you!
Luke 24:35-48

I would describe myself, especially in my early years, as an “anxious” person. To be “anxious” is to be “uneasy and apprehensive about something uncertain” or to be “worried.”  It’s all about that awful thing might happen next.  Living in anxiety is a lot like living with a ticking time-bomb strapped to your leg – only all day, everyday. It is living in dread, living on “pins and needles,” “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” waiting to “hit bottom” after falling. It is no way to live and only those who have been there understand. 

As a small child, anxiety was a simple, passing experience – the terror of hiding under covers, wide-awake, after your older sister had told convincing ghost stories or during the height of a crashing, booming rainstorm.

As an older child, our home was an emotional mind field, loaded with unseen triggers everywhere. You never knew if your next step would set off an explosion of curse-filled name-calling – and worst of all, knowing that there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from it. You had to stand and take it until the storm passed, only to have it return again without notice. 

As a young man still in school, it was about the fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of being laughed at and bullied, fear of not having enough to live on and the fear of going nowhere from where you were, the fear that “this” was going to be “as good as it gets.”

As a young priest, it was about being threatened by the Klan, being scorned in public for being a Catholic by some Protestant ministers on the radio and for being a liberal Catholic by fundamentalist Catholics, being stalked by a knife wielding schizophrenic, watching years of work and dreams crack and almost fall to the ground in front of me, sleeping with one eye open for years after having your home burglarized three times, being ashamed of being a priest and maybe of being falsely accused during wave after wave of bad news about the sexual abuse scandal or waiting for the results of a biopsy that might have been cancer. 

Peace be with you!”

At 74, this may be the most anxiety free time of my life. Today, I know “peace,” the opposite of “anxiety.”  I have a safe place to live. I have enough to live comfortably and a little saved for the future. I have a few successes behind me and I have a variety of wonderful jobs to wake up for every day. I feel loved and accepted by myself and by most of those who know me.

But most of all, I am more at peace now than I have ever been because I have discovered the “good news” that Jesus came to bring. I know that I am loved by God, without condition, and in the end that everything is going to turn out OK, even if I may still have to face the challenges of old age, bad health and, God forbid, a painful death.  Because of the peace that God gives those who believe in his “good news,” I am confident that he will help me handle whatever comes my way, the rest of the way.    

                                 “Peace be with you!”

As many of you know, I officially “retired” June 30th  2015. Before I retired, I worked for several years on a project that would help me and other retired priests across the country do exciting and interesting things we had always wanted to do, but never got a chance to do – things that would help the church and keep us engaged for several more years. I managed to get it funded, I was going to run it in my own retirement, it was all set to be launched when it blew up on the launching pad. Because the plans for my own retirement, as well as many others who were looking forward to this new program, were in ashes due to a couple of dysfunctional people, I was left angry and hurt and confused.  My peaceful center was shaken to the core.  At my lowest point,  I wrote in my journal that I wanted to believe that when plan A falls apart, it just means that God has a plan B that he is about to reveal that could be even better. It has been that way through most of my life. Well, God’s plan B for me was revealed to me over the Easter holidays three years ago! Indeed, we should be careful what we pray for because God is certainly capable of delivering some big surprises!

Holy Week, three years ago, I went down to the Caribbean island countries of Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to help Bishop Jason Gordon with a prayer day for his priests preceding the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Kingstown on St. Vincent. That was followed by leading services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday at two parishes in the center of the island for a priest who had come down sick.
Before you think white sandy beaches and beautiful hotels, think poverty, heat, pot holes and challenging foreign mission work! I came home reeling from one of the most challenging Holy Weeks I have ever been through. The people were poor, the water risky, the roads a mess and the whole island was lacking in beaches and gorgeous hotels compared to typical Caribbean travel brochures.  However, the people were very friendly and appreciative, they welcomed me with open arms and they can put Catholics in this country to shame when it comes to singing in church!
I have been going back. Bishop Gordon (now Archbishop Gordon of Trinidad), himself a native of the island country of Trinidad, wanted me to come back two or three times a year mainly to do some ongoing formation for his handful of priests and deacons, as well as help in parishes whenever possible. He wanted me to do some of these thing in both of his dioceses - Bridgetown (Barbados) and Kingstown (St. Vincent and the Grenadines). It’s tough, uncomfortable and demanding work. One has to have the heart of a missionary and a huge amount of God’s grace for a spoiled American like me to serve down there! I am truly amazed at how much we have accomplished in the last three years, especially in Saint Vincent. 
I had no idea this opportunity would present itself the way it has. I didn’t know how fast I could get involved, but I was certainly willing to explore these possibilities. I started out in the home missions of our diocese, now it looks like I could end up, part of the year at least, working in the foreign missions. My tenth trip is coming up in June. One toe at a time, I am willing to take the plunge.  I have been amazed at how much has happened already.  I am hooked. My peace and excitement for ministry has been restored. I feel I am in the right place! 

“Peace be with you!”

These words of Jesus were not only addressed to the terrified disciples, huddled together and cringing in fear, in that upper room after his crucifixion, these words are addressed to all of us today; whether you are a student worried about grades, finances or the fall-out of a bad choice made in the heat of passion; whether you are living in abusive relationship or an unsafe environment or with constant discrimination of being different; whether you are unemployed, in debt up to your ears or barely handling a chronic health problem; whether you are a single parent trying to make it on your own; whether you are religiously scrupulous and live in constant fear of a punishing God and can’t let go of it. Jesus addresses his words to you today. Peace be with you! Calm down! It’s going to be OK! When all is said and done, things are going to turn out just fine. I am with you! Trust me!

Anxiety is worry about what might happen. Peace is the awareness that everything will be OK no matter what happens.  Trust in God is the only way to peace. Peace is God’s gift to us and it is based on the “good news” that we are loved and that great things await us – because God said so!

Let me end with one of my favorite prayers by Saint Francis de Sales. 

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for
you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

“Peace be with you!”

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