Sunday, August 26, 2018



Many of his disciples no longer accompanied him, so Jesus
asked, "Do you want to leave too?" Simon Peter answered
him, saying, "Master, to whom would we go?"

Some people have told me that I'm nuts for being a Catholic priest. After last week's news from Pennsylvania, they may be right! I hadn't been ordained but a day when the first person came out of nowhere to challenge me on this. I have told this story before, but it immediately came to mind when I read this gospel. It happened at one of the receptions, following my first Mass.

I was standing there in my new black suit and Roman collar - a little proud of myself – when, all of a sudden, a stranger approached me and stuck a pin in my balloon. "I can't imagine anyone as intelligent as you appear to be would still be a Catholic, must less become a priest! I got out of all that craziness a long time ago!"

I stood there, shocked, like I had been shot at close range as she went down her well-rehearsed list of things wrong with the Church.  When she finished, she disappeared into the crowd, never to be heard from again - at least that is what I thought.

Like me, St. Peter must have been challenged many times about his decision to stay that day when so many others walked away because of Jesus teaching on the "bread of life." He writes many years later, in the first of his two letters, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and reverence." (I Peter 3:15,16) When I am challenged, I try to follow his advice.

That first happened when I was 26. I am now 74.  At 74, I agree wholeheartedly with Peter's response to Jesus when he asked him if he would leave too. "To whom would I go? Who has a better offer?" I have been offered a lot of so-called alternatives, I recognize more problems in our Church than most of you, but I can say this much in all honesty. I haven't seen anything yet that I would trade all this for!  In the language of gospel music, "I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now. I've got to make it to heaven somehow, though the devil tempts me and tries to turn me around. He's offered everything's that got a name, all the wealth I want and worldly fame; if I could, still I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now!"     

Friends! One of the most important questions facing all of you these days is "Why do you stay in the Church?" Why do you choose to remain Catholic, when so many others are walking away? I am sure many of you have been challenged seriously, maybe even in an angry way. Maybe you have thought about it. Maybe you have even tried it for a while. Maybe you stay because you are scared not to. Maybe you do it to please your parents.  

Well, let me tell you something. I was not "assigned" here by the bishop. I don't have to do this. I have plenty of other jobs - too many jobs, in fact. But I want to be here and I choose to do this because I want to help you be able to give yourselves, and those who question you, reasons to stay in the Church so that you do not "walk away,” or worse, just "drift away." 

Yes, you heard me - help give you reasons "to stay in the Church." There are many people today who claim they want to be "spiritual, but not religious." Archbishop Dolan of New York described them this way, "They want to believe without belonging. They want to be sheep without a shepherd. They want to be part of a family, but they want to be an only child."  The fact of the matter is that Jesus founded a church on Peter, one of those who did not walk away, and Jesus promised that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" and that he would "be with it always, until the end of time."  The truth of the matter is, we are not individually children of God, we are God's family with many children and, as a family we are called to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

At Bellarmine University, where I worked for 17 years, I wanted to help young adults move from an inherited faith, to a personal faith. I found them deeply spiritual, sometimes ravenously so, and I wanted to help them in their process of knowing God, loving God and serving God. I also wanted them to feel valued and appreciated by the Church - so that they would hang in there with the rest of us who are on a serious spiritual journey. Each week, as I preached, I tried to help them find answers when "someone asked them for a reason for their hope."  And, yes, I did it "with gentleness and reverence." That is what I have always tried to do here as well - both when I was your pastor from 1983-1997 and now as a fill-in for Father Wimsatt. 

Friends! Let me put my cards on the table in the bluntest way possible! I don't know about you, but I am not about to let a minority bunch of sick priests and cowardly bishops take my church away from me! Over my dead body, will they cause me to lose hope or drive me out of this church! I'm not perfect and neither or they, but I am here to stay because Jesus himself told us that even "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!" 

By the way, the woman who challenged me forty-eight years ago showed up at one of my Masses a couple of years back. She apologized and told me that she had returned to the Church and was absolutely loving it for the first time in her life. As the great "theologian," Yogi Berra put it, "It ain't over till it's over."  

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