Saturday, April 9, 2022


A Special Homily Given at the Serra Club One-Day Retreat
Saturday April 9, 2022

"Coming to Terms With Life's Inevitable Changes: An Exodus Spirituality"

Many who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done
began to believe in him. So, the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and 
said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, 
all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” 
 So, from that day on they planned to kill him.
John 11:45-56

Fundamentally, what we have here is a story about a bunch of institutional religious leaders who could not handle change. Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus, a simple rabbi outside their institutional circle, and since they could not compete with him, all they could do is to plot a way to keep their political and social power from being infringed upon by eliminating that threat. For them, facing the possibility of having to change was just too painful.

Their response was not too much different from our own church leaders’ response to the sexual abuse crisis. Some responded to the sexual abuse of children by going public to stop the abuse because it was the right thing to do. Others responded with circling the wagons to protect the institution, their reputations and their power. For them, facing the possibility of having to change was just too painful

Their response was not that much different from some groups in our church today, in the face of an evolving church with all its messiness, who want to go back to the “good old days” when women knew their place, when priests and bishops ran the show, when the laity were not consulted, when truth was either black or white and when they had felt they had certainty and control.  Like the People of God, out in a desert between Egypt and the Promised Land, some of our members, with selective memory and its nostalgic yearning, want to “return to Egypt” rather than complete our present desert crossing! For them, facing the possibility of having to change and having to give up control is just too painful.

In my reading of the situation, their responses are not too much different from our own political leaders’ response to the flood of changes in American culture. Some of our leaders and citizens are responding by trying their best to incorporate women, immigrants and people of color into the mainstream of American life. Others of our leaders and citizens are responding by trying their best to protect the status quo of a by-gone America. Fundamentally, the present political battle of our day is about whether to keep going forward or whether to turn back, between how much change to embrace or how much change to resist. For many, facing the possibility of having to change and having to give up control is just too painful.

In our gospel reading today, we can hear the fear and trembling in the words of the religious establishment when the Sanhedrin met to discuss Jesus and his rising popularity.

'Besides the raising of Lazarus, that man Jesus is performing all kinds of miracles. If we leave him alone, everybody will believe in him and then the Romans will come and take away our land and our nation, not to mention our positions and, along with them, our power. He simply must be stopped now!'

Rather than open their minds to what Jesus had to say, pathetically their response was to develop a plan to eliminate the threat – a plan to assassinate him. Jesus was a threat, not only to the political and religious structures of his day, but to the positions and power of those who were leaders of it!

Change does that! It threatens the status quo and that scares some people to death, especially those with a vested interest in keeping things the way they are! I know that the Brown family of Brown-Forman had a tradition of making family members Presidents of their Corporation since its founding. I remember when they deliberately started to choose Presidents outside the family circle. Like any sound company, they obviously understood that a new day required a new way. Rather than heroically embracing those necessary changes that go with an evolving world, other people foolishly choose to spend their time and energy trying to eliminate any threat to the status quo. Historically, people who resist necessary change usually lose in the long run.

All of us, at various points in our lives, face the same dilemma when confronted with change. If we need to go for alcohol and drug treatment, we can either go or sink into denial and lash out at those who rub our noses in the truth. For many, facing the possibility of having to change is just too painful. If we have a mysterious lump or sore on our bodies, we can either go and have it checked out or sink into denial until it is too late to save our life. For many, facing the fact of possible cancer is just too painful. If we are victims of domestic violence, we can look the other way and keep it secret or we can go get help and save our lives. For many, facing the possibility of having to change and having to give up control is just too painful.

When it comes to change, welcomed or unwelcomed, I would recommend that we all remember the words of Jesus when he said, “The truth will make you free.” Yes, the truth may make us free, but in the meantime, it will probably make us mad! People who tell us what we want to hear are not necessarily our friends, while people who tell us what we don’t want to hear are not necessarily our enemies. The real truth, no matter how uncomfortable it can be to hear, will in the end set us free.

Thursday, April 7, 2022


Be a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
George Bernard Shaw

If you DO dedicate yourself to becoming a "force of nature" rather than being a "complaining little clod of ailments and grievances," be ready to get "hammered!" 
Stand up and stand out anyway!




Sunday, April 3, 2022


April 3, 2022
St. Frances of Rome Church

Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her. In response
they walked away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
John 8

As some of you know, like many people today, I have had more than one job. I grew up milking cows, feeding pigs and chickens and loading lumber. I have loaded semi-trucks at a pickle factory. I have been a groundskeeper at a hospital, an orderly in an emergency room, a house painter, a garbage truck driver, a desk clerk, a bar tender and a campground minister for the United Church of Christ in a national park. As a priest, besides being a pastor of several parishes, I used to write for THE RECORD every week for 15 years. I served as one of the trustees on the J. Graham Brown Foundation Board here in Louisville, making large monetary grants to charitable and educational organizations all over the state. I traveled all over this country and eight other countries giving retreats to priests, bishops and seminarians. I was a campus minister at Somerset Community College down in southern Kentucky and here at Bellarmine University. I developed a major continuing education program, did spiritual direction, built a teaching kitchen and coffee shop and taught classes at Saint Meinrad Seminary over in Indiana. I published a few books, renovated several houses and was a volunteer in the Caribbean Missions among other adventures. 

One of the last jobs I had over at Saint Meinrad Seminary, before I retired, was to teach two classes a week to the guys who were about to be ordained priests in the spring. That class was entitled "The Transition Out of the Seminary and Into Pastoral Ministry." We covered most of the issues they would face in their first several months. Some have compared their transition out of the seminary and into parishes to that of leaving home, graduating from school, beginning a career, getting married and starting a family - but all at once. Some things we covered were of a very practical nature, like paying taxes and starting a saving plan for retirement, while other things were more psychological like dealing with the grief of going off and leaving their seminary friends after many years and the anxiety of entering a strange new community of people as a new priest.

One of the important subjects we covered was "how to enter a parish." I spoke of things like going in and establishing trust and building a bond with people before they even thought about correcting people from the pulpit. It seemed that some of them just couldn’t wait to get ordained so they could condemn other people’s sins! I spoke specifically about how unwise it is for them to say things in a homily like "you people" and how much better it is to say things like "we sinners." I warned them specifically about obsessing about condemning sexual immorality all the time. In my book, doing that always says more about the people doing the condemning than those they condemn! 

This is exactly the issue Jesus dealt with in today's gospel – a bunch of salivating religious fundamentalists who just couldn’t wait to have a poor woman stoned to death for committing adultery!  The last time I checked, it takes two to commit adultery. Since the text says she had been “caught in the very act of committing adultery,” I have always wondered where the man was and why they were not as eager to stone him! This story has three scenes. Let's look at them one at a time. 

(1)The religious authorities drag a poor woman into an open area where Jesus was teaching and make her stand there humiliated. She had just been caught in adultery. Yes, she was obviously used in the committing of adultery, but the religious authorities were also using her themselves - this time to trap Jesus in his speech so they could have something for which to condemn him! They thought they had a perfect trap because, on one hand, if he was too lenient, they could say "Aha! See! He teaches something different from Moses who told us that such women were to be stoned to death!" That could get him labeled as a heretic. If he were to be in favor of stoning her, then they could say on the other hand, "Aha! See! He is not as merciful and forgiving as he has been saying he is!" That would turn the crowds against him!

(2) In the second scene, Jesus realizes that they are using her to set up a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" trap for him, so he doesn't answer one way or another! Instead, he just stoops down and writes on the ground with his finger. What was he writing? No one knows, but some say he was simply making a list of their sins in the dirt. Once he had written his list of their sins, he stands up and says to those who were so anxious to stone the poor woman, "Let the one among you has never sinned yourself be the first to throw a stone at her!" With that he stooped down again and continued to add to his list of their sins. 

(3) Jesus did not have to say much after that because her condemners began to drop their heads, to drop their rocks, and to drop out of the crowd one-by-one. It even says, "They walked away, one by one, beginning with the older ones." I suppose the longer we live, the more sins we commit. This leaves Jesus and the poor woman there alone. He stands up and says to her, "Neither do I condemn you! Go, and don't commit this sin again!"

By saying that, Jesus does not wink at the seriousness of the sin committed, he merely means that we would all be better off if we spent more time being outraged at our own sins and less time being outraged by the sins of others. Rather than focusing on the woman's sin alone, by his actions Jesus simply says that everybody that day was in need of forgiveness. Jesus offered the grace and mercy of God to all equally - scribes, Pharisees, the woman, all who witnessed this event and all of us who have heard it read aloud again today. 

Fellow Catholics! Jesus spoke to us often about judging others. He told us not to judge, lest we be judged. He told us not to go around looking for specs of sin in other people eyes when we have a 2 X 4 sticking out of our own and that we need to remove that 2 X 4 first. He told us that the measure we use to measure others will be used to measure us! He told us to forgive and we will be forgiven. He told us that all we can see are externals and only God can see into the heart! Sin is real! Sin is destructive - to ourselves and to others! We need, each of us, to become as outraged about our own sins as we do the sins of others.

When I taught young priests of tomorrow, some of whom were so anxious to get out there and condemn sin, I would tell them a story from my early priesthood that I am reminded of every time I read this gospel. There was a radio preacher in the area where I worked who loved to be on the radio to rant and rave about "sexual promiscuity in our culture today." He even went so far as to host a huge bon fire in front of his church one Saturday where he invited people to bring what he called their “dirty magazines, obscene clothing and other filth." The fire that day was huge. The following Monday, he ran off with the church's teenaged organist! As Shakespeare said. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" Personally, I have always preferred how Billy Graham put it when he said, "It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love." 

Fellow Catholics! With what's left of this Lent, let us examine our own consciences, let us resolve to let go of our own sinful ways, let us rely on the mercy and compassion of God and let us offer that same mercy and compassion to our fellow believers who have also sinned!