Thursday, October 6, 2022


Decide today whom you will serve.
Joshua 24

The word decision comes from the Latin meaning “to cut apart.” When you “decide,” when you “cut things apart,” something stays and something goes, something is chosen and something is rejected, something is embraced and something is pushed away.

We are asked to choose all day, everyday! When we “decide,” we “cut apart” one option from another so as to concentrate our energy in one area, rather than weakening it by spreading it too thin over too many areas. When we fail to “decide,” we are often left paralyzed and end up doing nothing - or worse, we end up in that "being married and acting single" kind of hypocrisy. Like the old saying goes, "You can't have your cake and eat it too!" 

The reading cited above is about decision and choice. Joshua asks the people to make a decision about committing themselves to the God of Israel. Arriving in a land sprinkled with other gods and the temptation to stray from fidelity to the God of Israel, Joshua asks for a decision. Joshua had asked the Israelites to remain faithful before, but here he is at the end of his life, asking them yet again for fidelity.  “Choose today whom you will serve! As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 

This reading has an important message for us today when people’s word and commitments often mean very little. We live in a world of “latest best offer.”  “I’ll love you until someone better comes along, until you get fat and sick, until, until, until….” People used to do business with the shake of a hand. Now you have to call in the lawyers and witnesses because people will lie to your face. The Arabs have a saying, “Trust your camel, but tie it first!” All this has made us a bit cynical and suspicious of each other.

When it comes to fidelity, doing what is right and doing what we have committed to do, a principled person decides what he will do according to a set of standards and values while an opportunist decides what he will do according to whether it will bring him immediate satisfaction and gain, regardless of the harm to himself or others. 

The second thing about fidelity is that we have to practice it – we have to be faithful in small things before we can be faithful in big things. Fidelity is like weight lifting. You are able to lift heavy loads by lifting heavier and heavier loads over a long time.

The third thing about fidelity is that it is always fragile and therefore must be protected. It is not static, but fluid. Fidelity, like a baby, is fragile and needs constant care and feeding over many years.

We live in a world of choices. This is a blessing that carries great responsibility. We have a choice, yes, but also a responsibility to make good choices. Once we make a good choice, we have a responsibility to carry through on that choice, not just for our own good, but also for the good of the people around us.



Sunday, October 2, 2022



God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power (dunamis)  and love (agape) and self-control (sophronismos).
II Timothy 

One of my favorite questions to ask young couples when I was trying to prepare them for marriage was this one. It was the same question I would ask the seminarians I taught over at St. Meinrad Seminary when I was trying to prepare them for ordination. “What do you expect out of marriage?” “What do you expect out of priesthood?” Both would give me a string of idealisms, but not one of them would say that they expected to have problems. Even though more than 50% of all marriages don't last and 10% - 15% of all new priests leave in their first five years of priesthood, they obviously thought they would be exceptions to the statistics - that they would be the ones who would live “happily ever after!”

Knowing what to do when the honeymoon is over is essential in priesthood, as well as in marriage. There will come a time, after finally “making it” through an ordination and through a wedding, when the "high" of that ordination celebration or that wedding ceremony ends and the routine and difficult work of parish ministry and ordinary family living sets in! I call it "shut up or put up" time. That's when you are expected to keep your promises! Even though it is perfectly normal, for most new priests and newly married couples, this settling-in time is a time of crisis or at least the beginning of some serious questioning. In marriage, it happens around the seventh year. In priesthood, it happens within the first five years.

Whether it comes early or late, I believe every priest and every married person ought to expect that the new will wear off - a time when they begin to understand clearly what they have committed themselves to! With 10% to 15% of newly ordained priests leaving in their first five years, with over 50% of all marriages ending, such a crisis is something that needs to be faced and planned for. It’s normally not a matter of “if,” but “when.” When it happens, we need to remember that there is no need to panic. It is normal. It just needs to be worked through! That's what I taught when I worked with those who were about to graduate from the seminary and enter ministry. I taught survival skills. Before I could teach them how to handle what one bishop called "being pushed off a cliff to fend for yourselves," I had to convince them that there were landmines out there and they had better be prepared to deal with them, if they wanted to stay happy and effective. 

Jeremiah, a man called at a very early age, is a model of fidelity in spite of crushing disappointment in ministry. Jeremiah 20:7 has many weak translations. Some translate the Hebrew with “dupe,” “You duped me and I let myself be duped.” (NAB) Or, “You deceived me and I was deceived.” (RSV). Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who translates the verse freely and accurately, expresses the thought: “With you, God, I experienced the sweetness of seduction and the violence of rape.” To paraphrase a famous country music song, it is after this temptation to give up that Jeremiah gives his “take this job and shove it, I ain’t workin’ here no more” speech, only to conclude, like Peter when so many walked away from Jesus, with this question “where else can I go?”

Most priests and married couples do not experience the acute and piercing disappointment of Jeremiah, but rather periodic, if not chronic, low grade versions of “I never thought it would be like this.” This is when priests and married couples are most vulnerable. This is when “the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.” This is when they harbor thoughts of what it would be like to leave. Today, 10% to 15% of the newly ordained and more than 50% of married couples act on those feelings and do leave. 

Timothy, fellow missionary of St. Paul, was such an idealistic young man who faced his own crisis at the beginning of his ministry and offers us a model of fidelity in spite of crushing disappointment. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes to a discouraged young Timothy who wants to give up and come home. Paul reminds Timothy that the Spirit gives us three things during times like this that enable us to continue: dunamis, agape and sophronismos, strength, practical helpfulness and the ability to control oneself in the face of panic.

Every priest, every married couple, if he or she is to survive and thrive in today’s world, must find that peaceful center, that inmost calm that no storm can shake, that anxiety free place where one waits in joyful hope, that place of grace under pressure, that solid foundation on which his or her house can withstand any storm, that peace of mind and heart that only God can give. God did not make us to be cowards! He made us to be courageous! 

These times of vocational crisis are normal. They are to be expected. They are not signs that we have made a mistake, but rather signs that we are on the right path. If they are normal and to be expected, then we need to develop the inner strength to face them, deal with them and overcome them. Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way, “You gain strength, courage and confidence every time you look fear in the face. We must do the thing we think we cannot do.” Why must we do it? In the end, we must not forget the words of Jesus to us, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you.”

To all of you who have been called to make serious commitments and have made them, I wish you dunamis, agape and sophronismos – strength, practical helpfulness and the ability to know what to do in the face of panic. “May the Lord bring to completion the good work begun in you.”

What I want all of us who have made commitments to know is this: we have a choice to make. Will we leave our happiness and effectiveness as a priest or marriage partner to chance or will we take charge of building that happiness and effectiveness for ourselves - from within. Failing to act is to choose. A favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw also seems to be appropriate here.

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose
recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being
thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the
scrap heap; the being 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.

Finally, let me share another one of my favorite quotes from Goethe.  It serves as a reminder that the God who called us, stands ready to help us, empower us and equip us for the work we have been called to do. We are not in this alone. Once we commit, God makes sure that help keeps coming our way.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw
back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative
(and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of
which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that
the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence
moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would
never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues
from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen
incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could
have dreamed would have come his way.

The secret to unleashing all this help, and the bottom line of this homily, is the seriousness of open-eyed and open-hearted  commitments. Everything depends on how seriously we are committed, not just to becoming a priest, but to a lifetime of effective priesting, not just to getting married, but to a lifetime of effective partnering in marriage. Commitments take (dunamas) strength, (agape) practical helpfulness and (sophronismos) self-control - and those three things come freely from God just for the asking!