Saturday, June 5, 2021


My friend and fellow Caribbean island volunteer, Fergal Redmond, is back in Ireland facing a couple of very serious health problems. He visited Kentucky a couple of years ago and charmed many of the people he met, making many friends while he was here. Many still ask me about him. Some have stayed in contact via e-mail and texts.  Many know him from his "thank you" letters as the recent chief financial officer for the Diocese of Kingstown in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Please prayer for him! I have already asked the local Little Sisters of the Poor and several others. He has a special devotion to Blessed John Sullivan who was known in Ireland for his healing power. 

Blessed John Sullivan, a fellow Irishman, we ask you to intercede for the healing of our friend, Fergal!   

Blessed John Sullivan SJ (8 May 1861 – 19 February 1933) was an Irish Roman Catholic priest and a professed member of the Jesuits. Father Sullivan was known for his life of deep spiritual reflection and personal sacrifice; he is recognized for his dedicated work with the poor and afflicted and spent much of his time walking and riding his bike to visit those who were troubled or ill in the villages around Clongowes Wood College school where he taught from 1907 until his death.

From the 1920s onwards there were people who testified to his healing power despite the fact that he never claimed credit or causation for himself from these reported cases. Father Sullivan was known for his friendliness; his amiable nature was coupled with a somewhat shy temperament but one willing to aid those who needed it most. He was noted for his strong faith and for imposing multiple penances on himself such as eating little.

Father Sullivan had long been admired during his life and was known as a man of inspirational holiness which prompted for calls for his beatification; the cause later opened and would culminate on 7 November 2014 after Pope Francis confirmed his heroic virtue and named him as Venerable. The same pope approved a miraculous healing credited to his intercession on 26 April 2016. His beatification, the first ever to take place Ireland, took place in Dublin on 13 May 2017.

Thursday, June 3, 2021


“Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

John 16

These words of Jesus, if taken literally and by themselves, have probably let us all down more than once. We may have asked God for a favor, maybe “in faith” and “after hours of prayers” only to be disappointed when we did not get what we asked for.

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus should have added at least one caveat in this teaching about prayer. He should have said that he will give us whatever we ask for only if it is truly good for us and not just if it looks good to us! What earthly parent would hand a child a can of DRANO simply because he wants it, it looks good to him and he cries for it? Well, he did add that caveat. We see it in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” To understand what Jesus is saying, we have to remember what bread looked like at the time of Jesus. It wasn’t the sliced loaf in a plastic bag that we know. No, it was a round, dusty brown loaf that looked very much like a big rock from a distance. In this image, Jesus was teaching us that he wouldn’t give us a big rock if we asked for bread simply because it looked like bread!

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” At the time of Jesus, here was a scaleless fish called a barbut. We know it as an edible eel. In this image, Jesus was teaching us that he would not give us a poisonous snake if we asked for an edible eel just because they look alike from a distance!

At the time of Jesus, scorpions would sometimes disguise themselves by curling up in a ball in a nest with the speckled eggs. If you could not see all that well, you could grab a scorpion instead of an egg. Jesus was teaching us that he would not give us a vicious scorpion if we asked for n egg just because they look like from a distance!

The second caveat that Jesus added in this teaching about prayer, is that we have to do more than simply ask for what we want. We have to seek and knock as well. In other words, we have to be active partners in getting what we need. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says this: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

When it comes to “asking, seeking and knocking,” I love the story of the blind man Bartimeus. It has something important to teach us about prayer.

The story takes place in Jericho, a town about 15 miles from Jerusalem. Jericho was on the main road leading to Jerusalem. This story takes place a few days before the Feast of Passover, the most important of all Jewish Feasts. Every male Jew, if at all possible, who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, was expected to attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. Those who could not go, traditionally lined the road to cheer on those who could go. Bartimeus, being blind, parked himself in a seated position along the road with the other well-wishers. When a distinguished rabbi was on such a journey, customarily he was surrounded by a crowd of people, disciples and learners, who listened to his teaching as they walked along. This was the commonest way to teach.

As the famous rabbi, Jesus, came into sight with all his disciples and admirers following along, the noise level rose among the bystanding well-wishers. The commotion caused Bartimeus to ask what was happening. When they told him that the famous Jesus was passing by, Bartimeus knew that his window of opportunity had opened and that he must strike while the iron was hot. He caused an uproar by yelling at the top of his voice, “Hey, Jesus, over here! Hey, Jesus, look over here! Hey Jesus, I want a word with you!” The crowd told him to shut up and sit down, but he only yelled the louder, “Hey, Jesus, over here! I want to speak to you!” His yelping and screaming brought Jesus and his procession to a standstill. In a case of “the squeaky wheel getting the grease,” Jesus called him over. Bartimeus threw off the cloak he was wrapped in, sprang to his feet and ran up to Jesus. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, Bartimeus told him that he wanted to see and immediately, because of his faith, Jesus restored his sight. The story ends with Bartimeus joining the procession as one of Jesus’ followers.

This story is a perfect summary of the stages of discipleship: eagerness, throwing off old ways of thinking, clarity about what you want, slowly coming to insight and, finally, giving one’s life to the journey. Anyone who is serious about his or her spiritual journey will recognize these five stages. First, you have to hunger and thirst for holiness, you have to have a passion for the search, not just dabble in religion. Second, you have to be willing to let go on some of the stuff (excuses, relationships, blame and the inability to forgive) that keeps you bogged down and stuck. Third, like Bartimeus, you have to get up off your rear end and go for it! You have to shout above the naysayers who want to keep you where you are, the way you are. Fourth, you have to be clear about what you want. God cannot help most people simply because they do not know what they really want. They have vague ideas about happiness and so look for it in all the wrong places. As I learned a long time ago, once you are clear about what you want, God will be there to help. Fifth, you must want to know God and you can’t come to that in a flash. Knowing God is a gradual coming to more and more awareness, one intentional and courageous step at a time, over a life-time. When you commit to discipleship, you commit yourself, long-term, to your own spiritual growth.

As you grow spiritually, your prayer turns from “give me this and give me that,” to “thy will be done.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2021


Once in a while, I get a letter, an e-mail or a text from people saying that one of my clipped columns from The Record that has been especially helpful is still hanging on the family refrigerator or taped to a wall. I got such a note this week. The column was written five years ago, but it was wonderful to hear that its has had a lasting effect. It did my heart good to be reminded what a priest really is, especially since I just went through two delayed celebrations of my 50th priesthood anniversary.  Thank you, Martha, for reminding me where I have been and where I am going. 

                       The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon is another.                          I Corinthians 15:41 


I never thought about it before, but it occurred to me recently that Simon and Garfunkel and Pope John Paul II have at least this one thing in common. They both understood the purpose of a bridge.  

Simon and Garfunkel sang, “When you're weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all; I'm on your side. When times get rough and friends just can't be found, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.”  He was not talking about priests in particular, but it certainly pertains to the role of a priest for sure.  Pope John Paul II said this about the role of a priest. “The human personality of the priest is to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.“ (PDV 43).  

While I like the image of a bridge very much and it does apply, my experience makes me think of the moon and a pipe. The moon has no light of its own. It simply reflects the light of the sun. A pipe is simply a tube through which liquids and gases flow from one point to another. In the case of a priest, he is simply a conduit through whom a meeting between an invisible God and a visible human being is made possible.   

A bridge serves its purpose when it is used for transporting people, animals and materials; the moon its purpose when it reflects sun light; a pipe its purpose when it transports liquids and gases; a priest when he is a medium of God’s love and man’s worship.  

When a bridge, the moon, a pipe or a priest become more important that their purpose, problems tend to happen quite quickly. In the Acts of the Apostles, when Peter and John cured the blind beggar on their way to the temple, the people tried to give them the credit. Peter had to deflect the credit to God rather than absorb it personally, as if the cure was the result of their own power or piety. Many in ministry start out talking about God and end up talking as if they are gods.  

In my own ministry, I try to regularly remind myself that I am like a catalyst in a chemical reaction. I am important only as a medium through which something greater happens.   

Something like this happens every Christmas to remind me of these truths. Like the moon, my job is to reflect the light of the sun, not absorb it. A wonderful couple asks me to find a deserving recipient of their Christmas generosity. I cannot take credit for their generosity. I am only the pipe through which it flows.  

Sunday, May 30, 2021



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

Matthew 28:16-2

One of the things that happens when you read the Bible on a regular basis, like I am required to 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 have 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 had doubts about Jesus? Why would the writer even include their doubts in the story?

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 “worshipped 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 worshipped, 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 do you do when you doubt. Many, when they doubt, think they should 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 again, when my faith is strong again, then it will make sense for me to start praying and worshipping again.” That may sound good, even reasonable, but that’s not how it works! The story of the doubting St. Thomas has a lot to teach us. Thomas did was pretty much the opposite of what we do when we have doubts. When we doubt, we quit joining the community. We assume that joining the faith community is only for those who believe, for those without doubt. People, in our experience, who doubt quit joining the worshiping community! Not St. Thomas! He kept joining them, even when he doubted, until he believed!

As the doubting disciples teach us today, what really works is for us to worship even when we doubt, to worship until we believe.  Like a coal, pulled away from a heap of burning coals, that soon loses its heat, a doubter separated from the community of believers soon loses even more of his faith. A faith community strengthens faith and a doubting community strengthens doubt.

“They worshipped, 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 act as if I wanted 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 was 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.  Yes, even believers sometimes have to “fake it till they make it.”