Thursday, October 27, 2022


Tapped on the wall near my computer, where I can see it all the time, I have my COVID 19 Vaccination Record Card. Even though I got my two COVID shots and its three boosters, it was surely just a matter of time! Yes, I finally tested positive for COVID! I decided to wait till I was almost over it before I reflected on my experience in a blog post today.

I have tried to be careful most of the time. I have been in crowds (mostly at Masses) and public places (like restaurants) for the last few months - some of the time without masks.  I had grown to think that I would be one of those lucky people who had escaped COVID. Wrong! At the end of last week, at the end of the day, I drove out to my doctor's office to be tested while still in my car because I had a very stuffy nose and was starting to feel achy. It felt like the flu, but I wanted to be sure. He tested me for the FLU and COVID. A few minutes later my doctor came out to tell me that I had indeed tested positive for COVID. On one hand, I was shocked. On the other hand I was grateful - grateful that I had gotten the vaccines with their boosters and that I would probably recover in a few days.  

I am certainly not writing this to get sympathy. Some people have had COVID two or three times. I am simply writing this as a warning. No matter how careful we are, we need to know that we are still susceptible! On the way home from being tested, I kept thinking of all those people (before the vaccinations were available and those who refused vaccinations) who were in the hospital on respirators for extended amounts of time,  Many of them died and were not even buried with dignity! As a result, I actually felt lucky! 

I have tried to be safe, but my profession requires that I be in crowds especially on the weekends for Masses. I haven't been on a plane since the beginning of COVID. I haven't been to a movie theatre or a concert hall for a long time. I have eaten out a few times a month at the most. I have been to the grocery quite a bit, but usually in a mask. I could have gotten COVID from somebody at the dedication of the St. Theresa Family Life Center, but I doubt it. The timing didn't seem quite right.  I could have gotten it at Mass here in Louisville the next day or any other place at the beginning of the week. What I do blame it on is the fact that I was worn down and exhausted from weeks of pushing myself to "get things done on time."  I learned the hard way that I am just as vulnerable as everybody else! 

In quarantine, I realized a few things about myself of which I needed to be reminded. First, I am no "spring chicken! No, I am more of an "old rooster!" Second, as my "St. Theresa Project" was getting close to completion, I pledged to make it my last building project. My present situation made me realize the wisdom of that insight and decision. Third, I realized that it's past time to slow down! I don't need to keep driving myself to the point of exhaustion all the time which makes me vulnerable to sicknesses. I need to say "yes" to rest and "no" to work more often without permanently being consigned to a rocking chair or recliner! I realized that I had become one of those people who professes to be "retired" on paper, but keeps on working "full time" in reality. 

In quarantine, I realized that the world can go on without me! I was forced to clear my calendar of the commitments that I had made - something I found very hard to do.  That comes from a childhood script that I am not valuable unless I am accomplishing something. When I did clear my calendar, I found out that the world did not end. In fact, the world hardly noticed.  As if I needed more proof of that fact, while "out of commission," one of my ordination classmates died. It reminded me in stark terms that the world actually can go on without us?    

The famous ancient Greek physician Hippocrates was right! "Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity." You can learn a lot about yourself and your priorities while you are sick! Thank God I am healthy enough to recover!  

Tuesday, October 25, 2022


‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9

In the early 1970s, I did campus ministry at Somerset Community College, down on Lake Cumberland. During those years, I used to take students on month-long backpacking trips all around Europe. I took five of those trips in all. Every year, we always spent one of those weeks on retreat in Taize, France. We were always in a camp ground with several hundred students from all around the world.

I have stayed in contact with a few of the friends I met during those years, including a couple of students from Belgium, who later got married. He became a forestry engineer for NATO which required that they live in several countries around the world, surveying forests.

On one of their trips to visit me here in the US, I was living near the intersection of Norris and Eastern Parkway. I had planted a small birch tree in the front yard, but like the fig tree in Jesus' parable today, it was not doing well. It was stunted from disease and the lack of something - I knew not what! Being a forestry expert, my Belgian friend noticed my pathetic little tree, right away.  When I told him that I was thinking about digging it up and throwing it away because I was tired of messing with it! Using almost the same words as the gardener in today's parable, my tree-expert friend said to me, "Before you do that, let me go out and prune out the diseased parts, dig around it a bit and fertilize it. If it doesn't turn around in the next few months, then you should get rid of it."  I have since moved from that house, but that scrawny diseased bush of a tree has since grown into a beautiful tree that shades the whole front of the house!

What Jesus wants us to know today is that we are that little fig tree and God is the gardener. Many of us, at some point in our lives, are like that poor unproductive fig tree. We may even feel that others have given up on us, and we even feel sometimes that we have given up on ourselves. Even though we may feel that way and feel treated that way, we need to know that God never gives up on us!  With God, as long as we are alive, there is always hope for the growth and change that leads to a productive life, no matter how hopeless we feel or how poorly we are viewed.  Jesus is the gardener sent by God to call us all to a full and abundant life.

This parable resonates with me!  During most of my childhood, I felt like that scrawny little fig tree. I was told growing up that I would never amount to anything. My own pastor told me that I would never make it when I left for the seminary at age 14. Even during my second year of seminary, at age 15, the rector of the seminary, like the owner of the fig tree in today's parable, called me "a hopeless case," saying that he intended to send me home. Like the gardener in the parable, I pleaded with him for a second chance. If it were not for my own resolve and the encouragement of a hand full of other people - people who worked with me to cultivate my gifts and talents - I probably would have given up on myself. I may have not known how powerful God's grace can be! I tremble to think where I might be today if I had not asked for that second chance and there had not been a few people around to believe in me!

Friends!  No matter how you feel about yourselves at this point in your life, no matter how low others perspectives are of you, it does not have to be that way - unless of course you accept their low opinion of you! As far as other people go, Eleanor Roosevelt was right, when she said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."  What people say to you and about you mean nothing unless, of course, you start believing them! Decide today to be one of those people George Bernard Shaw called "a force of nature." "Be a force of nature," he said, "not a selfish, feverish little clod of grievances and ailment, complaining that the world will not get together and make you happy."  If you show up, God will show up to help you!

Every time I drive past my old house and see that big beautiful tree that used to be a stunted bush, the one I almost dug up and threw away, I think of my own progress. I thank God every day that I did not believe those who did not believe in me.

Friends! My prayer today is that you be your own gardener - that you would take responsibility for your own lives by standing up to your own cowardice and addictions and do hard things for your own good.  God wants you to have the fullest life possible and he awaits your cooperation!   




Sunday, October 23, 2022


“I thank you, God, that I am not like the rest of humanity!”
Luke 18 

“Hypocrites” up front!  The “humble” in the rear!  That’s about how seating arrangement went at church when I was growing up... at least that’s what we tended to think!  The rich, the uppity and the seriously educated sat toward the front - behind the nuns in the front row.  Drunks, the poor and the marginalized, in all their marvelous country-parish variety, staked out the back seats.  Nobody made us sit that way, but that was the pecking order as I remember it.  Families sat in the same locations, generation after generation.  In my very early days, families had their names in little card holders at the ends of the pews. We knew where people were “supposed” to sit, and God help you if you dared sit elsewhere.  Stares would focus on you with all the intensity of a laser beam.  We exercised invisible control over each other that way.  Anyone who was ever raised in a small town knows exactly what I mean!  

My family, characteristically, chose the middle… dead center, in fact!  After all, we considered ourselves better than some people and not as good as others.  That’s how we felt and that’s how we sat!  We were probably a bit ambivalent toward God as well.  We were neither too close to Him, nor too far away.  We followed the rules, but we were never accused of being religious fanatics.  We chose a safe distance with a bit of wiggle room!  We were a lot like the religiously ambivalent woman in The Color Purple who said,  “…it ain’t easy trying to do without God.  Even if you know he ain’t there, trying to do without him is a strain!”


Now all of you, unaware of what today’s gospel was going to be about, who unfortunately chose the front seats today need not panic! All you who chose the back seats, of course, are not necessarily humble. Some of you maybe just like to be prepared to make a mad dash to your car after communion.  Neither holiness nor the effectiveness of one’s prayer has anything to do with where you sit in church. It has to do with one’s attitude toward God and neighbor.  The effectiveness of prayer  comes from within the heart and not in the seating location!  This parable is about attitudes in prayer, not about where you park your body, so all of you can relax wherever you chose to sit!


 The gospel today says that “Two people went to the temple to pray.  One went home justified, the other did not!”


The first man, a Pharisee, a meticulously religious man, was very proud of his success in keeping rules and he knew of the failure of others to do the same. He was proud of his success and had become contemptuous of those who were not so successful.  When he approaches God, he not only proceeds to inform God just how good he has been, but he also compares his grocery list of spiritual successes to the man praying behind him!  “Thank God, I am not greedy, crooked and adulterous, like that man over there!”  He assumed he could be good without God’s help, if necessary, which made him “self” righteous!


The second man, a tax collector, aware of his failures, simply asks for God’s forgiveness, mercy and acceptance.  He knew he needed God’s love and forgiveness because he was aware of his inability to be good on his own power.  He compared himself to no one, but God, and was humbled by the comparison!


Often, when we read these parables, we tend to identify the “good” and the “bad,” “winners” and “losers,” and the “hypocrites” and the “humble”… as if reality fell into two simple categories!  Then when we believe we have identified the villain, we project that villain onto others whom we have identified.  Actually, we end up condemning in others what we really hate in ourselves.  This condemnation of others makes it easy to believe that we are really different, better and more favored by God.  Maybe we ought to read this parable as if both of these characters exist in all of us.  In truth, there is a part of both in each of us!  Instead of condemning in others what we do not want to see in ourselves, let us “own” the Pharisee within us.


The Pharisee exists in all of us.  We would like to believe that we are “not like the rest of men, grasping, crooked and adulterous.”  When in actuality we really are “like the rest of men.”  We would like to believe that we are better, different and even more favored by God!  We select out of the truth what we want to believe about ourselves and project the rest onto a convenient list of those we assign labels like "the grasping, the crooked and the adulterous.”  Instead of owning our sin, we project it on others so we can disown it!  After we condemn others, we often tend to invoke God’s condemnation of them as well to feel even better about ourselves. 

When God doesn’t join us in our condemnation we pout like Jonah, like the older son, like the vineyard workers who worked all day and like the Pharisees!  Jonah pouted because God was so forgiving.  He wanted the Ninevites fried in Hell!  The “older son” pouted outside the house because his father was so forgiving of his wayward brother.  He wanted him punished!  The all-day vineyard workers pouted because the late comers were paid the same as they!  They wanted more for themselves and less for others.  The Pharisees pouted because Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” welcomed them and ate with them.  They wanted Jesus to do what they did: condemn and exclude!  The Pharisee in all of us resents God taking away our delight in having “sinners” punished.  We used to call in theology, the sin of “morose delectation:” taking delight in others’ sins and failures.


The Pharisee also exists in all of us, in our subconscious mind where we store those things that we do not like to see about ourselves, where we store that information we do not want to own.  Down deep we know that there is a little Jim Baker, Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler and Pharisee in all of us, no matter how much we try to hide it from ourselves and others.  We can come to see this, not by comparing ourselves to others, but by comparing ourselves to God.  “We only admit to consciousness those things which we have the courage to deal with!”  The pain of bringing these realizations to consciousness so that God can love them away is what spiritual growth is all about!


When we gather here for prayer, as we stand together before God each week in this Eucharist, we gather as sinners… one and all!  There are no neat categories of “good” and “bad”, “favored” and “unfavored,” but simply God’s children: broken, sinful, lost, grasping, adulterous and crooked in one degree or another!  No one can see well enough to condemn anyone else.  We can see only externals.  God can see into hearts.  This God who sees all, did not come to condemn, but to save!  Our prayer, no matter where we sit in church, will not be heard until we recognize our own sinfulness, own it and treat ourselves with the same compassion that God treats us to!  That's why we start Mass with confessing our sins and right before Communion we say, "Lord I am not worthy, but say the word and I will be healed!" When we are able to receive that compassion from God and from ourselves, we will be able to extend it to others!  When we have done that, we have finally learned to love God, our neighbors and ourselves!  When we have done that, the Sunday Eucharist will have finally exemplified the parable of the wedding feast: a feast where the “good” and the “bad” are invited to sit down with the great King and bask in his love and compassion!