Thursday, September 29, 2022



There is an old belief that when you see a rainbow or cross your fingers, good things are about to happen for you. 

I saw this rainbow on the little pond outside my condo the other afternoon and it grabbed my attention - enough for me to go get my camera. 

I am expecting some more good things to happen for me. However, I am more than a little skeptical about giving a natural phenomenon like a rainbow, a "lucky" four-leafed clover or a physical maneuver like crossed fingers any credit for the good things that happen. 
I know that I am blessed, not merely lucky! The only power rainbows, four-leafed clovers and crossed fingers have is their ability to remind people to expect more blessings to come to them  from a loving God! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022


    Welcoming Church vs Inviting Church 

We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up. It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership, and constant reminders. But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. We are becoming an Inviting Church. That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church. The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop. No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world. This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about. Everything comes from that—including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation. We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls, and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission. Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways. No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone. Who can know God through your worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community? Who needs the gifts you have to offer? Who can offer gifts you need? Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others. When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals. When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development where you have gained so much guidance from other parents. While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.

Based on a council study of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., N.Y. Copyright © 2010 by Chip Heath and Dan Heath), my congregation is going about this transition from being welcoming to becoming inviting in three specific ways. One leadership team is taking the lead for each portion. Each of these three approaches will be the topic of an upcoming post on this blog. As a preview, however, they are: motivating people to invite, taking on invitation in bite-size pieces, and changing the inviting environment. We aren’t sure what the final results will be, but we’re excited to find out. Join us on this journey as we jump off the cliff and (hopefully) learn to fly. Please offer feedback, ideas, and help along the way.


I like this idea, but rather than dropping one approach in favor of the other, I believe that we need both together. An inviting church must be a welcoming church or else those who come to join the community in worship can leave disappointed when no one greets them, notices them, acknowledges them or helps them navigate the worship experience once they have been invited. The guests could feel they have been victims of false advertising. 

Before you invite someone to dinner, you first you get to know them. Once you invite them to dinner, you need to welcome them at the door and have something delicious and healthy to serve them and be ready to focus your attention on the gifts they bring to the exchange! No one excitedly invites people to dinner and then ignores them, talks over them and serves them leftovers! 

The biggest challenge of all is for us to practice what we preach before our words can be credible to others! Faith is contagious, but so is lack of faith! 

Sunday, September 25, 2022




There was a rich man covered with purple
and fine linen who dined sumptuously every day.
Lying at his gate was a poor man covered with
sores who longed for the rich man’s table scraps.
Luke 16

Did you know that “doing nothing” can actually be illegal? Many countries, but not the United States, have “Good Samaritan Laws” that legally require citizens to assist injured people and people in distress. The last time I checked, failure to offer assistance in France can be punished by up to 5 years in prison or 100,000 Euros. This is actually the case of the photographers at the scene of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident. They were investigated for violation of the French "Good Samaritan Law," for their failure to offer assistance.

Did you know that “doing nothing” can not only be illegal, it can also be sinful as well. This is actually the case in today’s beautiful gospel story about a very rich man and a very poor man. Before we look at the sin here, a sin of omission, let’s look at this wonderful story in detail because it is the details that are so stark and shocking.

The rich man has no name, even though he has traditionally been called “Dives,” meaning “rich” in Latin. Dives, in today’s language, lived in a gated mansion, ate gourmet exotic and costly food every day and dressed in the very finest robes. Lazarus, we are told, oozing with open sores, was dumped in front of Dives’ mansion. Peering through the gates, this poor man could see loads of food being carried in and out of the mansion. Poor Lazarus did not even imagine ever sharing in that food. He simply longed to eat some of the big baskets of bread scraps being loaded into the dumpster, but no one ever offered any of it to him. Rich people back then wiped their hands, not on napkins, but chunks of bread that were simply thrown away. Too weak from hunger to fight them off, we are told that alley dogs came and licked Lazarus’ open sores.

Dives was filthy rich, but that was not his sin. Dives ate gourmet food every day and dressed in Armani suits, but that was not his sin. Dives did not order his security guards to have Lazarus removed from around his gate! Dives did not verbally or physically abuse poor Lazarus! There is no indication whatsoever that Dives was evil. In fact, he didn’t do anything harmful to Lazarus. However, that seems to be the whole point of the parable: the rich man did nothing wrong, he simply did nothing. His sin is that he didn’t even see Lazarus, and because he didn’t even see him, he did nothing! He was so self-focused that he had become complacent! He was so absorbed in living his own cushy life that he didn’t even see the suffering right in front of his front gate.

Dives is like “the complacent” that Amos the prophet condemned in our first reading today - lying on ivory couches, eating lamb chops and tenderloin, drinking fine wines and dabbing themselves in expensive perfumes while the people around them starved.

Let me be clear on one thing. This gospel, again tis week, is not condemning wealth. Besides, you don’t have to be rich to be blind to the suffering of those around you. Jesus did not condemn wealth. Rather, he taught that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” He is teaching us that the richer you are, the more responsibility you have, but he does not let those of us who are neither rich nor poor off the hook! We all have a responsibility to notice the suffering around us. The sin here then, is not wealth, but the blindness that goes with being totally self-focused.

The first step to helping those around us who suffer is to notice them. We cannot do something about the poor and suffering without compassion for the poor and suffering. We cannot have compassion for the poor and suffering without first noticing them.

When I worked at Bellarmine University, we offered the students yearly opportunities to notice the poor and suffering up close. There were some who had their eyes opened in a dramatic way on trips to Guatemala and Appalachia. For some these trips were life changing. Others volunteered to work in places like nursing homes for the very old and places like the Home the Innocents for the very young. We called them “consciousness raising” experiences.

After I left Bellarmine, I started volunteering personally in the Caribbean Missions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the poorest countries down there. After I went down several times, I invited group of five adults to join me – a doctor, a nurse, a computer teacher and two other young adults. Others who could not go down got involved in the renovation of the diocesan pastoral center in the Diocese of Kingstown and the purchase a couple of needed vehicles. Some helped us send seven youth to world youth day. Others were involved in sending school supplies, surplus medical supplies, Christmas toys and used liturgical furnishings. I have been down a total of twelve times after I retired. Archbishop Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago, when he was the bishop of Barbados and Saint Vincent, got me started.

The thing all these experiences had in common, both at Bellarmine and in the Caribbean, was they helped us all wake up and take notice of suffering we were not aware of, something Dives was unable to do until after he died. There he met poor Lazarus whom he never even saw sitting at his gate and regretted his blindness after it was too late.

Poor Lazarus longed to eat the scraps from Dives table, but nobody made and effort to get them to him. However, I am happy to say that there are some people and organizations in this town who do make sure that our leftovers are not wasted. All these amazing efforts began with noticing. Kentucky Harvest was started by a man who noticed that grocery stores and bakeries were throwing away perfectly good, but outdated food while many were hungry. That organization has spread to other cities. On one trip to Florida, I helped a local man of some wealth who volunteered to pick up flawed oranges from a citrus grove to take to homeless shelters. The dining hall downstairs at the Cathedral, staffed by its many volunteers, has fed thousands and thousands over the years by collecting leftover food from neighboring hotels, restaurants and food companies. That whole operation began when a few people started noticing the poor and the waste and brought them together in a brilliant solution. At Nord’s Bakery on Preston, near my condo, volunteers from the Franciscan Shelter House pick up day-old doughnuts to feed the hungry. When I was working in the Caribbean Missions, we were able to send ten tons of surplus and expired medical supplies coming out of our local hospitals and nursing homes to the hospitals on the island of Saint Vincent through Supplies Over Seas located down the street from St. Frances of Rome Church. Because somebody noticed the waste and recruited teams of volunteers, they help get it to needed areas around the world, rather than dumping it in our local landfills.

Friends, the message today is simple: true Christianity is not just about avoiding evil, but even more about doing good. In the eyes of Jesus, the failure to do good is often just as sinful as actively doing evil. At the beginning of Mass, in the Confiteor, we often confess to “what we have done” and “what we have failed to do.” In another passage, Jesus gives us a parable about judgment day when people stand before God and ask, “Lord, when did I see you hungry?” Jesus answers them, “As long as you failed to do it to one of these, you failed to do it to me.” Maybe our biggest sin is not the evil we do to others, but the good we fail to do for them. Before we can do that good, we have to look beyond the ends of our own noses, beyond what’s going on in our own lives, and notice the people around us and what is going on in their lives.

There is a lot of condemnation of "wokeness" in American political news. "Wokeness," as I understand it, is a hyper-attentiveness to social injustices. The critics of "wokeness" complain that too much awareness makes people feel unnecessarily uncomfortable and guilty. From what I know of the teachings of Jesus, willful blindness to injustice, the turning away from injustice to make ourselves feel more comfortable and less guilty, is to be avoided. Like Dives in today's gospel, we are being called to at least notice the Lazaruses laying outside our gates, even though sometimes we may be unable to do much about it personally!