Sunday, December 23, 2018



"Blessed are you among women! 
Blessed are you who believed!”
Luke 1:39-45

In 1792 this city was part of the Diocese of Baltimore, Maryland. That year, a newly ordained French immigrant by the name of Benedict Joseph Flaget volunteered his priestly services to the only American bishop, John Carroll. Flaget was hoping to teach in Carroll's seminary in Baltimore. Instead, he was sent to a mission church in far-off Vincennes. Indiana.

En route to Vincennes, the young Flaget stopped in our little river town of Louisville. While he was here, he ran into two other priests who were passing through. Taking advantage of the situation, he went to confession. Legend has it that he knelt under a tree on a farm at the coner of Tenth and Main. After three years in Vincennes, he was called back to Baltimore to teach in the seminary. A few years later, he was deeply troubled to find out that he had been named bishop of the new diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, over his own very vocal objections. This “honor” gave him the privilege of riding horseback in all kinds of weather for 42 years over an area which covered the present states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. Swallowing his dismay, be threw himself into his work. His tired bones are resting peacefully in a leather-bound casket inside a rounded brick vault downstairs in this very cathedral close to where I am standing.

In 1970, almost two hundred years later, this twenty-six-year-old, newly ordained, priest from a small Meade County town, who had his heart set on being an associate pastor of a nice suburban city parish, received a call from Archbishop McDonough's personnel board that I had been "specially selected" to go to the Southern Kentucky Missions to be part of a new "team ministry" project. Like Bishop Flaget, I cried. I protested. I went. This “honor” gave me the privilege, among other things, of living in a church basement without windows for five years, of pastoring a two-county parish of fewer than 15 adult members and the opportunity to go begging to raise the funds for my own salary. It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Because I went there, I got to come here.

Over 2,000 years ago, a young virgin of Nazareth was going about her business, dreaming about her future marriage to the man she was matched with from childhood. His name was Joseph. An angel, by the name of Gabriel, was sent to her by God with this message, “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!” Mary was “deeply troubled” by these words and “wondered what his words meant.” Mary obviously knew enough about God to smell a rat! She had every reason to be “deeply troubled.” Before her baby was born, she would have to endure a long and weary journey to Bethlehem because some foreign despot wanted a census. It was in Bethlehem that she went into labor and delivered her child in a barn. Not too long after his birth, she became a refugee in Egypt because Herod sought to kill her son. After returning to her own country, she raised her child in the obscurity and poverty of Nazareth, only to see him crucified before her eyes amidst a jeering crowd. “Blessed are you among women?” “Blessed?” Really!

We use the word "spirituality" a lot these days, but what is it? Spirituality is about “waking up,” not only to ourselves and to each other, but to the activity of God in our lives. Most, probably, go through life unconscious of God's activity, but others experience it and let it break through into consciousness. Mary experienced it in stages, like so many others have over the ages in so many different ways. Just as in Bishop Flaget’s case, God's “favor” often comes to us, first of all, as something that “deeply troubles” us, that deeply upsets the status quo. The second stage is marked by perplexity; “How can this be?” This stage is marked with the question, “How can little old me possibly do that?” Thirdly, one comes to accept the task, trusting that the strength and resources will be there when it is needed. St. Theresa hit the nail on the head when she wrote, “Anyone who realizes that he or she is favored by God will have the courage necessary for doing great things!” It is God who calls. It is the same God who strengthens us to do the thing we think we cannot do.

Spirituality, then, is about “waking up” to the presence of God in our lives, calling us to some purpose or mission. When opportunity knocks, that knock seldom come from the lips of angels. For Bishop Flaget, that knock came from the Pope. For me, it came from Archbishop McDonough. When such knocks come, they are usually “deeply troubling.” We become overwhelmed with doubts and fears. “How can this be?” The answer, of course, as Mary learned, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

When God comes knocking, it is only the saying of “no” that spells spiritual suicide. Can you imagine where we might be if Flaget had been a coward and said “no” instead of “yes”? I would not be standing here today if I had said “no” instead of “yes” to the Southern Kentucky Missions. It was there I learned what I needed to be able to do what I did here! Can you imagine where we might be if Mary had been a coward and said “no” instead of “yes”? Fear has never been a valid reason to turn God down!

What about you? Are you aware of God's guiding hand in your life ? Have you been in situations that you found “deeply troubling”? Many mistake such situations as the absence of God, when, in fact, they are often the most valid signs that God is indeed on the move! Maybe there were times when you felt overwhelmed with fear and doubt, wondering how you could possibly cope, only to look. back and know that God was indeed there with you all the time! Maybe it was an unexpected pregnancy, a job loss, a serious illness, an unexpected opportunity or a confusing choice. It probably did not look like a “favor from God” at the time, but as time has gone by, you can't imagine how life would be if it had not happened! Maybe you even said “yes” because you felt you had no other alternative, only to find out that God had helped you to say that “yes!”

Claiming to be religious and actually putting oneself in the hands of God are two different things. It is hard to put oneself in the hands of God, but when we know in the depths of our souls that God has called us to some new commitment, then what alternatives do we have? Only people who are already awake to themselves and to other people will be awake enough to take that plunge!

My friends, it's not a matter of whether God is awake to us, but whether we are awake to God. “Nothing is impossible” for those who know that a bit of shaking and moving in their souls and that some suffering is necessary and constructive for those who dare to wake up and respond to God’s activity in their lives!

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