Thursday, September 6, 2018

Tuesday, September 4, 2018




When you are serious about personal growth, there is also the underlying fear of being seen by others as self-centered, arrogant, and living a life’s that extraordinary and hence unacceptable.

You need to know that many people reserve a special kind of ridicule and resentment against those who are more successful or talented than the majority. There is a lot of pressure to conform, as mediocrity is granted more acceptance. Giftedness often means being differentiated to the point of isolation and standing out can mean getting shot down more easily because the target is clearer that way. 

It is understandable why many people would prefer succumbing to a simple life meeting their basic needs, and actually being rewarded by those around them for it, instead of battling it out in the bloody road towards self-actualization. If you do dare to embrace serious personal growth and change, you can expect that others will criticize you or even think you are crazy when you begin to move into uncharted, untried directions.

When you go against convention, when you change your mind about who you are, those who know you in one way may be loath to watch you change into someone else with whom they share little in common or someone who challenges their comforts, habits and values. You can easily find yourself feeling isolated, misunderstood or unhappy in their company as well. 

In these transitions, you are alone.  If you cling too tenaciously to the approval of family and friends, and you need their approval more than you need your healthiest ideas or behaviors, then you risk trading in the possibility of a richer fuller life in order to stay more acceptable to them. If you do cling too closely to what others think of you, you should know, in advance, that any serious personal growth will probably be in jeopardy. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Preaching in the Cathedral of the Assumption
Diocese of Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers 
only, deluding yourselves.
James 1:17-18, 21B-22,27

In light of our second reading today, I thought I would say a few words about Catholic preaching.

You might not know it, but preaching the gospel is supposed to be the primary duty of priests. Catholics have been disappointed with Catholic Church preaching for so long, they are afraid to expect it and surprised when they hear it. When Catholics do find a priest who can preach, they tend to follow him from church to church like hungry puppies. Others learn to live without it. Some give up and join some Protestant or Independent denomination. As I tell the priests of Canada and the United States when I lead their annual priest retreats, "Listen guys! If we are going to hog the pulpit, we have to be able to bring home the bacon!" 

This problem, I believe, can be traced back to the Reformation, four hundred years ago. It is over-simplified of course, and I have gotten in trouble for using this image, but I still believe it has some truth in it. In that painful “divorce” that some call “the Reformation,” it was almost like there was a property settlement where Catholics took the altar and Protestants took the pulpit. That’s why most Protestant churches, at least until very recently, seem to have tiny little communion tables and huge pulpits, while most Catholic churches tend to have tiny little pulpits and huge altars.

Catholics who leave us for a Protestant pulpit sometimes don’t realize that when they do, they are also going off and leaving the Eucharist. What we Catholics need to do, what we have been working on over the last several years, is to have both: a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Word followed by a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We need to know how to use our pulpits and our altars.

Preaching is being taken more seriously than ever in our seminaries. I was not a homiletics professor by profession, but I did teach a few homiletics (preaching) classes at St. Meinrad Seminary. The downfall of most preaching courses, I believe, is that they focus way too much on public speaking techniques and not enough on the faith of the preacher. My belief is similar to William Faulkner’s who said, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.”  I always reminded my students that if the love of God is in their heart, they will find an effective way to communicate it, if not, their efforts will just be another speech about God. A homily is not a speech. The insight of a homily is meant to turn on a light bulb, to help the listener make a connection with God.  The best response is always, "Ah ha, now I get it!" 

The preacher, and readers of Scriptures at Mass too, must be the first to ‘humbly welcome the word” and “be a doers of the word and not just speakers and readers only,’ as the Letter of James puts it.  Preaching, especially, is an awesome responsibility and the "well" from which it comes must be constantly fed!  The preacher must know himself, know others and know God, and be able to talk about all three in a convincing way. Lectors don’t just “read to people,” they too “proclaim the good news."

The Letter of James is famous for its insistence that faith is lived, not just claimed and talked about. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” “What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, “Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless.”

My fellow Catholics, we cannot be ignorant of scripture and at the same time do what God asks of us. As the Letter to the Romans puts it, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe unless they have heard of him? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach? Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ.” 

It would be wonderful if every one of us took the opportunity to study scripture in a formal way. Scripture classes are offered in almost every parish these days, including this one. The diocese has many continuing education classes available on scripture. Many, of course, do not have that luxury. One of the simplest ways to study scripture, one available to all of us, is to take advantage of our Liturgy of the Word each week. To get the most of the Liturgy of the Word each week, if the seed is to fall on the rich soil of our hearts and produce abundant fruit in our lives, three things must happen. (1) Readers must read well. (2) Preachers must preach well. (3) People must learn to listen well.  You have good lectors here. Since its early days the Cathedral has been known for good preaching. I know you to be an attentive congregation.

(1) One of the hardest things to get across to lectors is that they are not just “reading to people,” but they are “proclaiming the word of God.”   That means they must, not just be able to read the words on the page, but to be the medium through which people hear God speaking to them. That means the reader must be familiar enough with the text to convey its meaning. If the reader does not know what the words mean, how can he or she read it with meaning? Lectors are not just readers. They proclaim the word of God behind the words of the text. The role of the lector, standing in the pulpit, should be taken as seriously as the priest standing behind the altar. Incompetence, sloppiness or carelessness in the pulpit or behind the altar should never be acceptable in our churches. Good liturgy strengthens the faith of the people. Bad liturgy weakens the faith of the people.     

(2) As a priest, my primary role is to preach. I have a long way to go myself, but of all the things I do, I take preaching most seriously.  In fact, in my funeral plans, I will be holding a Lectionary in my casket! It was given to me by Archbishop Weisgerber of Winnepeg, Canada, at the end of a priest retreat that I led there. I had given a conference on priests using the pulpit for spiritual leadership and personal sanctification.  Notre Dame University called a few weeks nack and asked me to give that conference again in an upcoming 2019 conference.  

I'm not the best homilist in the diocese but I do typically work a minimum of 10-12 hours a week preparing these homilies. I publish them on my blog for re-reading and for those who cannot hear all that well. When I worked at Saint Meinrad in the World Priest Program, I suggested that to our foreign priests who are hard to understand. When I was the Vocation Director, I still remember reading an evaluation one of our pastors wrote about one of our soon-to-be-ordained seminarians. He criticized the seminarian for “working too much on his homilies.” He went on to say that he “knew of no other priest, except for maybe the Vocation Director (that was me), who spent that much time on writing homilies.” This time the seminarian was right and the pastor was wrong! The very best compliment I ever got about preaching happened in Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary where I was pastor before coming here in 1983. I found out that some of my parishioners were secretly taping my homilies. They were playing them back and discussing them in the barn with their neighbors as they stripped tobacco!  Two of the parishioners her at the Cathedral used to stop by and pick up a handful of tapped homilies to play in the car on their driving trips to Texas.  I was so honored by both parishes. 

(3) People must learn to listen well. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” In reality, many Catholics still don’t get it. They come to liturgy and put the whole burden of a meaningful liturgy on the backs of the priest, the musicians and the liturgical ministers. Many Catholics sit with their arms folded, never singing or answering the responses or even mouthing the creed, with an attitude of “OK, now entertain me, impress me and inspire me and, if you fail, I’ll blame you and leave here to tell the world that “I don’t get anything out of Mass because of the boring priest and the lousy music.” The word, “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” We preachers, presiders, lectors and musicians are here to “help you pray,” not to “do your praying for you.” It is your job to pray over the readings before you get here or at least sit up and pay close attention when God’s word is proclaimed and preached.

“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you.” Like the parable of the Sower and the Seed, it is not enough just to have good seed to sow (the word of God), not enough for the sowers to sow well (the lector and the preacher’s job), but the ground on which the word is sown must be fertile and receptive. That, my friends, is your job: to be good hearers of the word.   We all have a job to do to make this pulpit life-giving! 

Preaching in the seminary chapel at Saint Meinrad Seminary.

Preaching a Parish Mission at the Meade County Fairgrounds.

Preaching a Parish Mission at St. John Paul II Parish.