Tuesday, October 9, 2018


I am in no hurry, but


How about you? Does this kind of thing scare you, repulse you and make you not want to think about it? Would you rather leave it to others to do this kind of thing for you? 

Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come!
Mark 13:33

"If your presence doesn't make an impact, your absence won't make a difference."
 Trey Smith

My tombstone was set in place on September 14, 2018
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Now that it's up, I want moss to grow all over it before I need it!

This inscription sums up my thoughts about my own life. 

I wanted to get this done during the 200th anniversary year of Saint Theresa Church, my beloved home parish, where I will be buried.

Abbey Caskets of Saint Meinrad Archabbey has offered me a complimentary casket because I was an employee of Saint Meinrad Seminary for 14 years. I had my choice. I chose the simplest one - a poplar wood monk's casket. 

Since preaching was my favorite thing to do  as a priest, I will be buried holding a Lectionary (a book of Mass Scripture readings). This particular Lectionary was presented to me a few years ago by Archbishop Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg (Canada), at the end of a priest retreat I led for him and his priests. I had mentioned my desire to be laid out holding a Lecionary in one of the talks I gave about the importance of preaching in a priest's life. In fact, Vatican Council II said preaching was a priest's "primary duty." 

Sunday, October 7, 2018


Jesus said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."
Mark 10:2-12

Divorce and remarriage is not a subject I wanted to talk about. I fretted for a couple of days thinking I could find a way to pass over it and find something else in these readings to talk about. However, that is precisely why the Sunday readings are assigned to us rather than us getting to pick what we would like to preach about! I am not excited about it, but I will try to do my best because it is a subject that affects many in my family and yours. I will try not to offend anyone.

Here is a situation that illustrates why I am not excited about talking about this subject. Several years ago, a woman came to me to ask some questions about her son who wanted to get married. That’s always a bad sign when the mother comes instead of her son.  This usually means one of three things: the mother is too involved in his life, he doesn’t have a parish or go to church for that matter or either he or his fiancĂ© has been married before. 

After a few simple questions, I was told that he wanted to marry a woman who was already been validly married. When I told her that I could not do it, she stormed out of my office yelling over her shoulder, “When will the church ever “get with the times?” She was steaming mad, even though I had never laid eyes on her before. She even slammed the door.

Again, I found myself caught in the middle. Her position was that the church ought to lower its high standards to fit the reality of today’s world. The church’s position is that the world ought to change its behaviors to fit the high ideals of the gospel.  What she did not understand was this: the position of the church is not just the church’s position. It is the position of Jesus given to the church in the Gospel of Mark to follow and defend. If we don’t like it, we need to take it up with Jesus, without blaming the priest or the church!

This was the situation is today’s gospel. Some Pharisees came to Jesus with this thorny dilemma. Could there ever be a situation in real life when God’s law about the permanence of marriage be ignored? They even cited how Moses had made a few exceptions.

As usual, Jesus’ response was unbending. He ignored Moses’ exception and restated that “from the beginning” that was not so. He reaffirms God’s ancient ideal: “Whoever divorces his wife or husband and marries another, commits adultery.” Even his disciples were flabbergasted, saying, “If that’s the case, it would be better not to take the risk of marrying in the first case!”

Throughout the gospels, Jesus is unbending when it comes to high ideals on one hand and unbending compassion for those who fail on the other. In other words, he seems to say, “We need to keep the highest ideals and call people to try their very bests to meet those ideals, but when they fail, we need to offer compassion and forgiveness.”  That, in the mind of Jesus, is different from compromising and lowering the standards.

In our language, we might put it this way. There may be times that people have to run a red light, for example on the way to the hospital. However, to protect us from terrible car crashes in intersections, that does not mean we should change the law of “stop on red and go on green!”  All of us have probably had the scary experience of people now who routinely running red lights. For our own safety, I believe the law should be enforced even more than it is today, even though there are rare exceptions.

The church’s job is to insist on high standards of Jesus, in this case, the ideal of the permanence of marriage. However, in the spirit of Jesus, it is also the church’s job to offer compassion when people cannot live up to those high ideals.

This might be a good place to say a few words about annulments. If the Church is commissioned to defend the permanence of marriage, then what about annulments? If the marriage was not a lawful marriage to begin with, the Church can grant an annulment. Annulments are only concerned about the facts before a marriage that would make it invalid. It is not concerned about facts after the marriage. When one pledges unconditional love – for better or worse until death, in front of God and witnesses – the Church believes that it cannot break that union. “What God has joined, people must not divide.”  Divorce is a civil matter.

This might be a good place mention the fact that the marriage pledge is not made to the priest or the church, but directly to God. The priest and the Church are only witnesses. It is the only Sacrament where the marriage partners are themselves the ministers. What God has joined, the priest and the Church or the civil courts cannot divide!

Pope Francis has taken a lot of heat. He has been called everything in the book by a handful of  Cardinals for trying to find a way to be compassionate to those whose valid marriages have failed by following the other teaching of Jesus on compassion by allowing in some cases for going to communion. Again, to use my analogy, running red lights right and left is different from truly rare exceptions.

Our 60% divorce rate is about a lot more than “rare exceptions.” It is many times about not thinking the decision through, not really knowing the person one is marrying, not knowing oneself and being influenced by our culture, especially Hollywood. Can you imagine how many people take marriage advice from people who have failed at it multiple times! One example, in particular, is the idiotic TV program “90 Day Fiance,” where total strangers from another part of the world marry in 90 days! Being a priest after twelve years of discernment and preparation is hard enough. I can’t imagine having to decide in 90 days!

The Church takes a lot of heat for it, but it deliberately slow down the process and insists on asking some questions. Once I had a bride and groom ask me to do their wedding. I said “no” because they were fighting like cats and dogs. They obviously thought that if they got married they would quit fighting. They both quit speaking to me over my “no,” but the marriage only lasted six weeks!

The Church takes even more heat for it, but it deliberately takes on the American wedding industry that does its best to make sure weddings are not a religious experience. I had a request once by a bride who did not want any Scripture readings. Another only wanted themes from movies – no religious hymns. I almost arm wrestled a hired “wedding coordinator” in the back of church who wanted to tell me how the ceremony was going to be done.

Sometimes good people enter marriage with good intentions, but they do not nourish their commitments. They quit dating after the wedding. I suspect that most failed marriages were not “killed” outright. They merely starve to death. As Winston Churchill said, “Nothing gets better by leaving it alone.”  Both priests and married people do not make a commitment once and that’s it. They have to make a commitment every morning they put their feet on the floor! I would not be standing here today if I had not worked to “stay a priest, and not “just a priest,” but a happy and effective priest! There is noting magic about weddings and ordinations! If you want to live happily ever after, you have to work your tail off at it, especially today!

Today’s teaching is a tough teaching to hear, and even harder to deal with in the real world of today. I have been caught many times in between this high standard and the reality of today’s almost 60% divorce rate. I try to uphold this high standard and offer, whenever possible, compassion and help to those who fail.

Even at that, I know in my guts and in my heart that there is no easy answer here! My advice is this – just stay very close to God because I know for a fact that God loves you!