Saturday, May 30, 2020



The Diocese of Lafayette (Louisiana) recently opened the cause for canonization for three Louisiana Catholics, including Lieutenant Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur — a World War II military chaplain, prisoner of war and a Knight of Columbus.

Father Lafleur, a member of Council 2281 in Abbeville, La., joins other Knights who are either canonized or on the path to sainthood. He was in the Pacific Theater of the war and received the Distinguished Service Medal, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service during the Japanese attack on Clark Field in the Philippines and in the prisoner of war camps.

When offered a chance to escape during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Father Lafleur asked if the rest of the men of the 19th Bombardment Group would be leaving too. The answer was no. Father Lafleur firmly replied, “Then I shall stay here. My place is with the men.”

He was a man committed to his duty as a chaplain. As he said in a letter to his sister, “These fellows here are swell, the best soldiers in the world, and I want to try to be one of the best Chaplains. I want to do my duty as one sees fit to do it.”

In the end, Father Lafleur died helping his fellow POWs evacuate a Japanese prison boat when it was sinking after being struck by a torpedo.


Joseph Verbis Lafleur, was ordained a priest on April 2, 1938 at 26 years old and celebrated his first Solemn Mass a few days later.

In April 1941 he answered the call to join the military as a chaplain. While stationed in Albuquerque, N.M., Father Lafleur’s commander noticed his “exceptional” performance at his duties. The young military chaplain next posting was to Clark Field, a U.S. Army airfield in the Philippines.

Eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes bombed Clark Field, destroying almost every American plane parked wingtip to wingtip on the strip. Ninety-three men were killed and another 143 wounded from the attack.

But as Japanese bombers attacked Clark Field, Father Lafleur ministered to the wounded and dying American soldiers giving absolution and spiritual comfort. He was exposed the entire time, dodging bullets and shrapnel, moving from bomb shelter to bomb shelter checking on the men’s safety and helping doctors administer medical care.

Colonel E.L. Eubank of the Army Air Force witnessed Father LaFleur’s actions and recommended him to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor. He marveled at the chaplain’s courage in his citation stating that Father Lafleur acted “without regard to his personal safety.”

In another incident, as the 19th Bombardment Group was attacked by Japanese planes while evacuating to another island by ship, Father Lafleur crawled through a hail of bullets to rescue a wounded officer on deck. He was the last man on the boat after he assisted evacuating the other soldiers.

Father Lafleur and the rest of the 19th Bombardment Group were captured after American-Filipino forces surrendered to the Japanese following the Fall of Bataan. The military chaplain spent the rest of his life as a POW.


Father Lafleur bounced from prison camp to prison camp until arriving at the Davao Penal Colony in October 1942. He kept his duties as a spiritual leader of Americans POWs, personally constructing a chapel out of bamboo and wood named The Chapel of St. Peter in Chains.

He celebrated daily Mass each morning before the men headed out for work. One soldier noted that Father Lafleur conserved wine by using a medicine dropper. Another soldier said the chaplain’s actions was the greatest factor in keeping up the spirits of the prisoners.

Father Lafleur not only worked beside the POWs in the rice fields outside the camp, but he snuck into the compound hospital to tend to sick prisoners. He shared his food with the sick and wounded, vowing not to eat anything that did not come to everyone else, and even traded his watch and eyeglasses to Filipino natives for food and medicine. But he refused medicine for himself, even during bouts with malaria, saying someone else needed it more.

He never missed Mass. And it made an impact: nearly 200 American prisoners converted to Catholicism because of Father Lafleur’s dedication to the men.

Bill Lowe was one of those men who converted. His interest in Catholicism began after Father Lafleur helped evacuate others into lifeboats before the American-Filipino surrender. He saw in the military chaplain “something that I wished I had” adding that “his demeanor was so convincing that this led me to pursue to become a Catholic.”

“If there ever was a saint, Father Lafleur was one,” Lowe said in a letter dated May 2, 2006.


Father Lafleur’s sense of duty led him to volunteer to take the place of man bound to work on a Japanese airstrip in Lasang, even though he was physically weakened due to lack of food.

Before he left for Lasang in March 1944, Father Lafleur wrote on the label of a can of milk a final message to his family, which read in part, “I do not have to go, but if I didn’t and something would happen, I would never go back to the States as I could never face any of you again. I would feel as though I had not done my duty.”

While at Lasang, Father Lafleur continued to inspire the prisoners with his acts of courage. In one instance, Japanese guards with fixed bayonets surrounded POWs and Father Lafleur during his daily rosary service. A guard kept the bayonet at the military chaplain’s stomach. Father Lafleur didn’t move. Instead, he stood there making the Sign of the Cross. Eventually, tensions subsided and the guards left.

His time at Lasang didn’t last long, as the Japanese decided to move the prisoners to mainland Japan due to the advance of American forces. Father Lafleur and hundreds of POWs were loaded into a ship —the Shinyo Maru. — which had no white flag to denote it was carrying prisoners.

With no markings denoting the ship was carrying prisoners, it became a target for Allied forces. On September 7, 1944, the Shinyo Maru was torpedoed by the USS Paddle. During the attack, Father Lafleur was leading prisoners in the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer as they were trapped in the ship’s hold. Suddenly, the hatch was opened. Father Lafleur began evacuating the prisoners as the Japanese threw grenades into the hold. Other prisoners were shot on deck as they tried to dive into the water. Only 82 prisoners out of hundreds survived.

Father Lafleur was not one of them. He was last seen standing near the ladder trying to help others escape.

As he wrote in his final message, “If I am not [here], I will be with you anyway and I will have a reserve seat up in Heaven. I am sure Our Lord will let me roll back just one little cloud so I can look down. And from up there I will have a more beautiful view and a more perfect understanding of what is going on.”

Thursday, May 28, 2020


This is the fifth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  
The most desired gift of love is not diamonds or roses or chocolate. It's focused attention.
Rick Warren

I find it amazing how many times we look at things, but never really see what we are looking it. Take a US dollar bill, for instance. Most of us have looked at them thousands and thousands of times in our lifetimes. However, if you ask most people how many colors of ink are used on the back of a one-dollar bill, they can't tell you. Many guess that there are three, maybe two, but in reality there is only one color of ink on the back of a US one-dollar bill - green. That's why they are sometimes called "greenbacks." 

Attention is the key to so many things related to our lives. We have to pay attention to walk across the street. We know our relationships are more satisfying if we actually pay attention to one another. Driving a car requires a lot of attention. Our business affairs require our attention. All of this seems somehow self evident.

Attention is noticing and being with something without trying to change it. It means to be able to look at it "as it is," not as we imagine it "should be." Attention takes the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, to watch as things change by themselves without our trying to ‘fix" anything. Attention is patient and attention is kind. No rush. No burden. No criticism.

Healing an injury requires the practice of paying attention, of being with something fully, of focusing upon it over and over again without pushing it away or trying to change it. It is in paying attention that we will discover the tiny threads of healing and transformation that are developing moment to moment. Losing weight requires attention to the food we eat and the exercise we get. It is attention, not judgement, that will help our brains rewire.

Paying attention is ultimately an act of loving kindness towards ourselves. If we love a child, we pay attention to her/him. We watch this child thrive as we give her/him our attention. We know this works. In this way we are not different from the child. We too will thrive with attention and as adults, we have the capacity to give that attention to ourselves. Is that not what we mean when we say to someone when we leave them, "take care of yourself?" 

During this time of pandemic, when my world seems to have shrunken a bit, I am trying to pay more attention to things right in front of me, things I have sometimes in the past failed to notice - failed to pay attention to. 

Out of fear that I would get fat and lazy, without even being aware of it, I have been paying close attention to what I am eating. I have for all practical purposes, cut out bread, sugar and other carbohydrates. When I want to watch TV, I give myself permission only if I am on the treadmill while I am watching it! So far, I have maintained the weight I lost, I sleep better and I think my immune system has been strengthened. 

I haven't been able to travel, go to restaurants, see people at church and visit people at the coffee shop. To replace all that visual and interactive stimulation, I have started to do things that help me pay closer attention to the small, ordinary things. I have gotten up early several times just to fix a good cup of coffee, go out on the deck and feel the cool air, see the opening buds, watch the gentle rain fall on the pond, hear the birds chirp and the trees bend in the breeze. I don't really care what the weather is like because there is something new to notice whatever it is! I read once that "there is not such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." I have come to believe that "bad weather" is in the eye of the beholder. 

I haven't been able to be around a lot of people for the last eight weeks but I have tried to pay more attention to what people are saying when I do talk to them. Instead of preparing what I will say when they finish talking, I try to encourage them to talk more while I pay more attention to what they say - to the person behind the talker. 

I don't get out a lot, but when I do I try to really "see" those who are performing vital services. First I try to realize that many of them cannot afford to be safe "in place" like me! I greet them more. I compliment them more. I even tip them more. Giving attention to the men and women who do menial tasks for us is the least we can do! 

Even though I had to cancel trip number 13 to the islands, I have not quit my ministry with them and among them. In fact, I have become even more aware that, even though there are needs here in this country, their needs are even more acute. Charity may "begin" at home, but it doesn't have to "stay" at home! 

To live well, to live on purpose rather than being passive and letting anything and everything happen, requires disciplined attention. 

To live well is a lot like driving a car – you have to be able to see what is going on behind you, in front of you and all around you, but all at once. You have to learn from your past, plan for your future and be alert to what is happening in your life right now. 

Jesus reminds us in the gospel to be “watchful” and “alert,” warning us that “we don’t know when the Lord will come.” It says that he “may come suddenly and find us sleeping,” so we need to “watch,” “wake up” and “pay attention.” 

Living well, alert and watchful, is hard work. Our lazy side must be stood up to, over and over again. Our lazy side tells us that we have plenty of time, that we can get around to it someday and that we can cut corners for a little while longer. Our lazy side is our sinful side. The best definition of “sin” I ever heard was that it is at its root giving in to laziness. When we “sin,” we choose the “easy way” rather than the “right way.” Laziness is the opposite of “staying awake and staying alert.” 

If you look at it closely, all sin is about laziness. Theft has laziness at its root. It is easier to take what belongs to others than it is to work for what is your own. Theft is a lazy shortcut to getting what we want. Gossip has laziness at its root. It is easier to cut others down to our size than it is to build ourselves up. Gossip is a lazy shortcut to feeling good about ourselves. Pornography has laziness at its root. It is easier to relate to an anonymous printed or projected image than it is to build intimacy with real people. Pornography is a lazy shortcut to feelings of intimacy. Excessive eating and drinking has laziness at its root. It is easier to do the things that feel good to our bodies than it is to do things that are truly good for our bodies. Excessive eating and drinking is a substitute for facing unpleasant feelings. Taking recreational drugs has laziness at its root. It is easier to take a pill or snort a substance that gives us an artificial high than it is to work for the high of a deeply spiritual life in relationship with God and others. “Following the crowd” has laziness at its root. It is easier to gain acceptance by “doing what everybody else is doing” than it is to “do the right thing” and risk rejection. Yes, all “sin” is about choosing the “lazy way,” about choosing the “easy way” over the “right way.” 

St. John Paul II gave us some great advice for daily living when he put it this way: "Remember the past with gratitude! Live in the present with enthusiasm! Look to the future with confidence!"

Would that you would meet us doing right
and being mindful of your ways.
Isaiah 63:7-9; 64:3-4

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


This is the fourth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against hast and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.  


Here is a scary exercise that some of you might consider. I have done it and believe me it is scary! What is it? Take a pen and pencil and make of list of your most personal secrets - the kind of person that you know you really are, the things that you have done or still do that you are ashamed of or the things for which you would rather die before having them exposed to the light of day. Do it without self-judgment and self-condemnation. We all have scars, sins, wrongdoings, mistakes, blunders, missed opportunities, bad decisions and improper choices in our histories. Remember, there's only one group of people who do not have personal "secrets," and they are all dead.

Of course, I recommend that you destroy your list as soon as you are finished, lest it fall into the wrong hands. It is meant for your eyes only so that you can have more insight into yourself. Socrates said, "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom!" Shakespeare said, "This above all - to thine own self be true." Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." 

Believing that you have made mistakes is one thing. Believing you are a mistake is another. Examination of conscience and confession of sins, a basic tradition in the Christian faith, has so often been misunderstood and even ridiculed by our culture. We hear people cynically refer to “Catholic guilt.” What they are talking about is “shame,” not “guilt.”  “Guilt” says “I have made a mistake.” “Shame” says “I am a mistake.”  If the Church helps us feel “shame” because of who we are, that is bad! If the Church helps us feel “guilt” because of the evil we do, that is good!  
In Scripture, as soon as we were created, we are told that God looked at us and declared us "good," "very good!" That came before the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. God never meant Adam and Eve be ashamed of themselves but to simply recognize the wrong they had done - basically to themselves! 

In Scripture, it is clear that we were created "in the image and likeness of God" and therefore should never be ashamed of who we are, but own up to the bad we do to ourselves and others. In Scripture, it seems that God is more concerned about our learning from our sins than keeping count of them! He seems to want us to admit our mistakes, not just so that we will feel bad about making them, but so that we can make progress in overcoming them. Devoid of introspection, ignorant people keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, either because they want to deny them or seek to blame others for them, instead of owning them. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know that progress in overcoming them accelerates when they do. 

There is a world of difference in believing you are a good person, capable of sometimes doing bad things and believing you are a bad person, capable of sometimes doing good things. 

As you review your secrets, please, please, please remember the difference between shame and guilt!  Shame is about who you are! Guilt is about what you have done! 

In the end, our biggest sin, no doubt, is to get to that place where we start calling good evil and evil good.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020


When the eleven disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped,
                  even as they doubted.                          
 Matthew 28

(A homily reprint from 2018)

One of the things that happens when you read the Bible on a regular basis, like I do, is that even familiar passages are always speaking to you in new ways. It happened again a couple of years ago when I read today’s gospel, a text that I had read and preached on many times. That was the first time I noticed the words, “When the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had committed suicide) saw Jesus after his resurrection, they worshiped even as they doubted.

“They worshiped Jesus even when they doubted.” That’s pretty much the opposite of what we do. When we doubt, we quit worshiping. We assume that worshiping is only for believers. People, in our experience, who doubt quit worshiping! So why would these disciples worship Jesus, if they doubted him?

The first thing many people assume about faith is that doubt is the opposite of faith. Not true! Honest doubt is not the opposite of faith. There is faith even in honest doubt.  Honest doubt is actually an integral part of faith. When Matthew tells us that the disciples “worshiped even when they doubted,” he wants us to know this basic principle: honest doubt was part of the faith, even for those who were closest to Jesus. The Easter stories, we have been reading, are a mixture of faith and doubt. The disciples are presented as very skeptical about Mary Magdalen’s report about seeing Jesus alive on that first Easter Sunday. Thomas, flat-out refused to believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus with his own hands.  On the road to Emmaus, other disciples were astounded by the report of Jesus being seen alive and did not recognize him walking right beside them on the road. Even after many reports, even after having seen him themselves, they worshiped, even as they doubted. Yes, the message is simple: faith is never black and white, all or nothing, but always mixed with a good measure of healthy doubt.  Doubt does not necessarily mean you don’t have faith. Doubt probably means you do have faith!

“They worshiped, even as they doubted.”  The bigger question than whether doubt is part of faith, is what to do when you doubt. Many, when they doubt, absent themselves from prayer and worship until faith returns or becomes strong again. They say to themselves, “It is hypocritical for me to pretend to believe when I really don’t believe. When I start believing, when my faith is strong again, then it will make sense for me to start praying and worshiping.” That may sound good, even reasonable, but that’s not how it works! As the disciples teach us today, what really works is for us to pray through our doubt, to worship until we believe.  Like a coal, pulled away from a heap of burning coals, soon loses its heat, a doubter separated from the community of believers loses even more of his faith. Faith begets faith and doubt begets doubt.

“They worshiped, even as they doubted.”  This may be yet another version of the great truth: “fake it till you make it.” Even though Alcoholics Anonymous made that idea famous, it actually goes back to the ancient Roman poet, Ovid who said, “Pretend to what is not, and then you’ll become in truth, what you are pretending to be.”  The great philosopher William James put it this way, “Act as if and the mind will produce your desire.” The idea is, if you take something that feels impossible, or at least completely unnatural, and pretend that it is the easiest, most natural things on the world for you to be doing, eventually, it will become as easy as you have been pretending it to be!

I practice this often in my own life. (1) As many of you know from me talking about my history, I grew up pretty much crippled by bashfulness. Bashful people find it painful to be in public situations. To cope, they are driven to avoid public situations as much as possible. This is a sure way to keep bashfulness going. The solution is to get out in public as much as possible, faking confidence, until one day you wake up and find out that you are no longer bashful.  The only way out of the fear of public speaking is to “fake it till you make it,” to do public speaking until you are no longer afraid to speak in front of crowds.  You cannot think your way out of bashfulness, you have to act your way out of bashfulness. (2) When I was sent to southeastern Kentucky as a newly ordained priest, against my will, somehow I was able to open my mind to “faking it till I made it.” I decided, since I did not get what I wanted, I would pretend to want what I got until I was able to really want what I got. It worked. Those ten years were wonderful years in many, many ways. I “acted as if” it were a great assignment until it actually became a great assignment.         

‘They worshiped, even as they doubted.”  My friends, all of us have a good measure of doubt, even as we believe. The secret to making sure that the scales do not tip too far to the doubt side, is to act as if we believe until we believe, to pray our way out of doubt, to worship until we feel like worshiping. So, when you are tempted to drop out because “I don’t get anything out of it” or “I’m not into it today,” that is when you really need to get into it, that is when you really need to act as if you are getting something out of it until you get something out of it.  Even believers sometimes have to “fake it till they make it.”    

When the eleven disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped,
                  even as they doubted.                          
 Matthew 28