Friday, June 2, 2023


 Come One! Come all! 

"about a 75 minute drive from Louisville"

10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Saturday June 10, 2023


St. Theresa Church
9245 Rhodelia Road
Payneville, Kentucky

Drop in and take a tour of our new facilities. Check out the 150 historic photo hallway gallery. Visit the new museum room with historic objects and memorabilia including the story of our connection to a soon-to-be American saint and our 123 year association with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. 
Enjoy a drink and a snack in our coffeeshop/lecture hall/kitchen.  
See the library meeting room and the large meeting room with a podium. 
Take a look at the five offices for pastor, deacon, secretary and two staff members.
Sit on the porch in one of the twenty new rocking chairs on the full length porch and enjoy the view.  

Saint Theresa Family Life Center

Father MacNicholas Guest House   

*Private Retreats: Priests, Sisters, Deacons and Lay People
*Overnight Guest Speakers at the Family Life Center
* Visiting Fill-In Priests
* Rest Area for the Pastor and Deacon Between Masses and Before Meetings 
* A Quiet Space for Writers, Artists and Historians

Thursday, June 1, 2023



A wound can be bandaged and an insult forgiven.
Sirach 27:21

I read that lists 160,510 books on the topic of forgiveness. That’s 31,629 more than on sexuality. What does that tell us about the human heart and what it hungers for most?

You haven’t experienced freedom unless you have experienced the freedom that comes when you let go of resentments that sear your soul, preoccupy your thoughts and drain your strength. Yet, there are so many people who hug their hurts and nurse their wounds in an all-consuming preoccupation because they cannot “let go.”

When they refuse to forgive, they choose to be “right” over being free. Catherine Ponder said it best when she said, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to forgiveness is to believe that it is a favor one does for the one who has wronged them. It was Suzanne Somers who said it best when she said, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.”

Lewis B. Smedes said it this way: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Alan Paton pointed out, “When deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.”

Another mistake people make when it comes to forgiveness is to believe that forgiveness is a sign of weakness and spine[1]lessness if you don’t “stand up for yourself.” Actually, as Mohandas Gandhi pointed out, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 The refusal to forgive keeps one imprisoned in the past. Paul Boese put it this way: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Forgiveness is basically a choice to have a future over a past.

The biggest obstacle of all to forgiveness is the belief that the one who wrongs you needs to apologize, make amends and show evidence of change. While that is certainly part of justice, it is not essential.

Forgiveness is most powerful when it is unilateral and unconditional. Unilateral and unconditional forgiveness is a sign of ultimate strength, because when you forgive unilaterally, you take charge of your situation and refuse to be someone else’s victim any longer.

I have been a priest for 43 years. I can honestly say that the most spiritual experience of my life was not the day I was ordained, not the day I said my first Mass, baptized my first baby, married my first couple, anointed my own mother before she died or presided at my first funeral. The most spiritual experience of my life was the day I decided consciously to forgive and seek forgiveness. I finally realized that taking offense is just as toxic as giving offense.

A Reprint From My For the Record Column
July 21, 2011

Tuesday, May 30, 2023



May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be 
gracious to you! May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Book of Numbers 6:24-26 

I live on a busy street. You can see the world from my front porch. It walks by, drives by and shuffles by like a marvelous circus parade. It is some of the cheapest entertainment available.

Some passers-by are regulars. Some pass by only once. There is the middle-aged woman with a distended belly who walks like she has had one shock treatment too many. There is the scruffy drunk carrying a beat-up, old guitar who likes to aggravate cars with a few in-your-face chords from an old Elvis tune. There is the screaming married couple, with windows rolled down, who decide to have it out with each other while waiting for the traffic light to change. There is the elderly couple, shuffling hand in hand, savoring every squirrel, baby and flower they pass.

There are the U of L athletes, tanned, lean and rippled with muscle, strutting their stuff, proud as peacocks. There is the African-American nurse’s aide from the local hospital with grocery bags in each hand, waiting in the rain for a bus to take her to another day’s work at home. Too tired to stand, she sits on a wet set of steps. There is the overweight, well-intentioned, if not short-lived, jogger who huffs and puffs his way to that leaner and trimmer waistline in his mind’s eye.

What do you see when you see people like these? Do you judge them or bless them? I am embarrassed to admit that I found myself judging some of these people one day as I sat and watched them go by. I was reminded of a line from the movie “On Golden Pond.” Katherine Hepburn says to Jane Fonda when she was terribly frustrated with her aggravating, old father, “If you look closely enough, you will realize that he is doing the best he can.” Remembering that line, I decided to bless those who walked by my house and pray for them. Who knows how lonely, scared, abused or stressed they are? “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Prayer has the power to help those who don’t even know you are praying for them. Why break the “bruised reed?” Why quench the “smoldering candle?” Jesus says, “Do not judge and you will not be judged.” St. Paul says, “The member who hurts the most needs the most attention.”

Judging others, especially those we do not know, is a bad habit that says as much about us as the people we judge. This bad habit can be replaced with the good habit of blessing others. All we have to do is monitor our own thinking, check it and replace it with new thinking. A new world is often only a changed thought away.

A Reprint From My For The Record Column
October 31, 2002

Sunday, May 28, 2023



To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, 
though many, are one body, so also Christ.
I Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

St. Paul is famous for his comparison of the church to a human body! Understanding how the human body works is certainly an effective way to understand the church. Jesus is the head of the body and together we members of the church make up the various other parts. Jesus is the head so we follow him, listen to him, and let him guide our steps, just as own heads do for our own bodies. Likewise, this analogy to a human body acknowledges how good diversity is for the church. The body needs its many parts working together to function properly just as we believers need to work together to accomplish the mission Jesus handed over to us. Rather than expecting everyone to be alike and do the same thing, each of us can contribute to the health of community by using whatever individual gift or talent God has bestowed on us in particular.

St. Paul goes on to explain our diversity this way, “If the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

Each believer is valuable to the church and each of us is a needed part of the body of Christ. This diversity is something to be celebrated and recognized as part of God’s great design for the church. We have all heard the expression "It runs like a well-oiled machine." That's what St. Paul is trying to tell us about the church today, that just like a healthy body the church needs all its members working together in harmony - like a "well-oiled machine." A disciplined group with a goal, like a “well-oiled machine,” can take on any action it chooses. Through hard work and allegiance to each other, this church can grow and accomplish great things, but only if we support one another and only if we work together as a team.

I just had my annual physical a few weeks ago. The doctor checked out my blood, my heart, my lungs, my joints, my balance, my ears, my eyes and my reflexes and more. He gave me a list of tune-up ideas to help my body continue to function smoothly. He told me that “to get to my goal" I needed to watch my "sugar intake" and to “engage in more vigorous exercise.” These days, because I am headed toward 80, I get maintenance physicals "twice a year" to make sure there are no damaged parts in need of attention.

If healthy parishes are like human bodies, then every member must be active and doing his or her part to serve the rest of the body. One of the things that I have heard over and over again during the Family Life Center project is this: "You can't get anybody to do anything for the parish anymore!" If that were actually true, it would be tragic indeed! If that were actually true, these two parishes would be sick indeed - so sick that they could both be dead in a few more years! Let me be perfectly clear! I do not believe that opinion to be true at all! I believe that what many small parishes have these days is a spiritual leadership crisis. I am not taking about a management crisis. Spiritual leadership is about “doing the right things.” Management is about “doing things right.” As hard as it is, building a parish hall has always been easier than leading a congregation into a deeper level of discipleship. 

Effective spiritual leaders have the ability to influence people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be – the ability to inspire them to become people who willingly serve others. This means that if parishioners are not inspired by their leaders to use their gifts, have their gifts recognized and appreciated, parishioners quickly get used to not offering them. They shut down like any unhealthy organ in the human body putting the rest of the body at risk. Just think how long we would last if our hearts stopped, our digestive systems failed, our lungs no longer functioned, our kidneys quit working? That's exactly what happens when most of the members of the parish are not pulling their weight, playing their part and sharing their gifts to build a community where people can grow closer to God.    

I do not believe that "you can't get anybody to do anything for the parish anymore." I do believe, however, that people will not step up until they are asked to step up and shown that their help has been used, appreciated and found helpful. Managers help do the “right things” right. They organize and manage human resources! I know from 53 years of experience that people will help if the goals are clear and they have committed leaders to guide them! When it is up and running smoothly, the Family Life Center will need a capable manager if its potential is to be unleashed. If people volunteer and no one is in charge, no one is around to answer the phone and they are never trained or shown appreciation, they will soon lose heart, engage in turf wars and finally give up. In a spiritual leadership vacuum, nobody knows what the goals of the parish are! In a management vacuum, the “crazies always take over the asylum” and the situation usually sinks into chaos! 

Friends! I didn't give my life to serve the Catholics of this diocese to see our small faith communities dwindle, shrink and wither away. I have spent time in ten different countries promoting parish revitalization. I have taught the basics of parish revitalization to Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, thousands of priests, hundreds of seminarians quite a few deacons and an unknown number of lay people. I have published books about parish revitalization. I cannot believe that the last fifty-three of my life doing all that has been a waste! What I learned, when I got my doctorate degree in Parish Revitalization from a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago, can be boiled down to this! The bishop doesn't close parishes. Parishes starve to death and then the bishop is forced to close them! The bishop, of course, is always blamed when the real blame should be directed to the parishioners who were absent and withheld their gifts. "Where were you when we needed you?" 

Parishes are like marriages. If both partners do not feed their marriage, it too will die of starvation. Then there is nothing left but divorce. Parishes are like pot luck dinners. If everybody contributes something, the meal is absolutely fabulous, but if most of the parishioners show up only when they are hungry for something (a baptism, a wedding or a funeral), expecting somebody else to have brought enough to feed them then everyone goes hungry, even those who did their part and brought something to the community meal! People who don't do their part tend to treat the parish like an in-and-out fast-food restaurant where quick, easy and cheap is the name of the game! Not too long after that, people stop showing up saying, "I don't go anymore, because I don't get anything out of it!" The real reason they didn't get anything out of it is probably because they never put anything in to it. (I know I am talking to the wrong crowd here because many of you are obviously very involved. The parish owes you its deepest gratitude! I realize that what I am saying should be addressed to the people who are not here!) The death of a starving parish is more like a slow-growing cancer than a quick heart attack!

Let me list a few practical suggestions. (1) Everybody can surely do a little something to strengthen the parish, but if you feel you can't do anything, at least thank those who are doing something and tell them you appreciate what they do for the community! When I restored and revitalized our Cathedral, raising over $22,000,000 (67% from non-Catholics) and helped to grow the parish from 110 members to 2100 members, the work was hard and long which I was happy to lead. What hurt was the fact that out of 120 priests in our diocese only 6 said anything positive to me about it! Thanking those who are doing something motivates them to do more. Withholding gratitude makes the "doers" want to give up and quit! 

(2) “No one has ever become poor by giving.” That is a quote from Anne Frank who gave her life helping hide Jews during the Holocaust. I remember the day when one of the street people that we fed daily at the Cathedral rang the rectory door bell. I assumed he was begging. When I opened the door, he opened his hand with a few coins in it! "Here, Father! I want to donate this to the Cathedral restoration project!" I took it, because I did not want to rob him of the opportunity to be generous too, but I felt ashamed of myself for assuming he was a beggar instead of a donor. I was so moved by his generosity that I actually wanted to cry! 

Give some of your time. Offer some of your talent. Share some of your treasure. Think about leaving something to your parish in your will. Personally, I have already given what I had previously designated in my will to Family Life Center. I wanted to give it to you before I died so I can see some of the good that it will do. When my niece Terry Stull sent me photos of your Confirmation Retreat in the new Family Life Center, I knew that I had done the right thing! There are tax laws that can help you do that without taking anything away from your kids! Talk to a professional! Wouldn't you rather invest in the future of your parish than give it to the tax collectors?

(3) This end of Meade County needs these two parishes! We need everyone to be involved in standing up to the worst tendencies of our culture. Selfishness, laziness and me-me-me are epidemic! We have got to show the next generation how to care for these communities, rather than join the "every dog for himself" way of life that is so very popular right now. Selfishness is not something the government can fix! This epidemic of selfishness, laziness and me-me-me is a serious spiritual disease! Building two thriving parishes, seriously committed to building stronger Christians, is the most effective way I can think of to fight the spiritual diseases that are now infecting even small communities like ours!












Thursday, May 25, 2023


Back when I was in my last two years of college at St. Meinrad Seminary in 1964-1966, we were required to major in Philosophy. To escape that eventuality, we had to take extra courses if we wanted to graduate with a different major. I chose English Literature. I don't remember much about either that long ago, but I do remember that the philosopher Eric Fromm was "hot" at that time. I am sure I owned one of his book, but I am not sure which one. Just recently, I got a bit curious about reading him again when I read about an old work of his - Escape From Freedom. I ordered a "used copy" of this work published in1941.

Erich Fromm was born March 23, 1900 and died March 18, 1980. He was a German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist and humanistic philosopher. He was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the U.S.

Escape From Freedom caught my eye because Eric Fromm escaped from the rise of the autocratic Nazi era when so many German people surrendered (or were forced to surrender) their freedom to an autocrat rather than endure the burdens that went with freedom when times got hard. Even though it was written 82 years ago, it sounded very prophetic at this time in American politics.

The central thesis of this book is this: if humanity cannot live with the dangers and responsibilities inherent in freedom and democracy, it will surely turn to authoritarianism. Once the individual faces the world outside himself as a separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. (1) He can be determined to grow in his ability to handle his personal freedom in a society of free people without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. (2) The other course open to him is to escape - to fall back, to give up his freedom out of fear, unbearable anxiety and panic surrendering it to some authoritarian figure who can take over the responsibility - a cult leader or anyone who can say, "I alone can fix it!" People who choose the second option show a marked dependence on powers outside themselves, on other thought-to-be stronger people or newly evolving organizations.

Another mechanism of escape from the responsibilities of freedom is destructiveness. They feel they can escape the feelings of their own powerlessness by destroying the institutions that protect democracy and freedom. This destruction is another desperate attempt to save themselves from being crushed by the responsibilities and the riskiness of their own freedom.

A third mechanism of escape from freedom is to become an "automaton of conformity," giving up critical thinking and parroting, as one's own thinking, whatever the leader or the group tells them to think and no one else! Whether what they are told is true or not, they are relieved from the hard work of having to search for truth on their own.

This book is as timely now as it was when it was first published in 1941. Few books have thrown such light upon the forces that are shaping modern society or have penetrated so deeply into the causes of the decline of democracy and the rise of authoritarian systems. If the rise of democracy set some people free, at the same time it gave birth to a society in which the individual feels alienated and dehumanized. Can this explain why America is now divided right down the middle?

This book is not an "easy read," but it is worth the effort! Do the work if you are able. Even a little background in psychology, sociology and philosophy will most certainly help. Even though it was published in 1941, to me it is prophetic! It strikes me as true of Germany in 1941 and it strikes me as true in the United States in 2023. I just hope we can wake up before it is too late!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023




I've never been old before so I have a lot to learn about how to handle it! Recalling things like names and "what did I come up here for" started several years ago, but a few days before my 79th birthday (April 28) I had a serious wake-up call. I fell stepping up on the sidewalk between the Kroger parking lot and my condo. 

Coming home after celebrating Mass at St. Frances of Rome, I had walked over to the Chinese carry-out place a few hundred feet from my home to get some "General Tso Chicken" and an Egg Roll. Half-way home, I stepped up on the sidewalk, hooked my foot on the edge and fell face-down on the concrete!  

The bag with my Chinese lunch flew out of my hands and the plastic container holding it ended upside down inside its brown bag, leaking badly in front of me. My new glasses went flying off my head and ended up under me twisted and completely destroyed. My forehead had a long bloody scrap similar to what one would expect from a bar fight. My wrists hurt, My side hurt. I could feel my left knee bleeding inside my pants leg. 

A woman, driving by, rolled down her window when she saw me lying face-down on the sidewalk and asked if I needed help. She seemed to be more panicked about my situation than I was! I was able to kneel up, and then finally stand up, before I could tell her that I was "alright." She asked if she could "take me somewhere." I told her I thought I was alright and that I lived "right there" pointing to my condo. I thanked her as she drove off! I picked up my twisted glasses and my soggy Chinese lunch bag and limped home. 

All was not lost! Luckily, the black pants to my Sunday suit was not ripped or torn, but merely dirty. When I got home, I scrapped my Chinese lunch out of its soggy brown bag onto a plate and ate it! When I took my new glasses to be replaced, I was told that the lenses were still "under warranty" saving me $450.00. New replacement frames, not under warranty, cost me $250.00. I was grateful that it wasn't the other way around.  I was most grateful however that I did not break a bone or some other body part!  Even though my forehead looked terrible, my knee was bloody and my side still hurts when I roll over in bed at night, I learned yet again that I am no "spring chicken" and that I needed to quit shuffling when I walk and pick up my feet! 

I was even thankful to have fallen in a public situation. I have always joked with my family that since I live alone in a two-level condo and used to travel a lot doing priest retreats around the world, that if I fell at home there would be nobody to sound the alarm. I would probably lay there and die until my neighbors "smelled something awful" and called the police! If my family had not heard from me for several days, I suspect that they would just presume that I was on "one of my trips." 

I don't have a "Life Alert" gadget yet, but I do wear an "Apple Watch" that is supposed to call for help if it senses that I have fallen! Now, all I have to do is to remember to wear it! 

(I am fully recovered now, so you can hold your sympathy till the next time.)



Sunday, May 21, 2023



Last Tuesday, I celebrated the 53rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. When I read the gospel for today, the Feast of the Ascension, I realized that its words have indeed been at the very heart of my past 54 years, if you count my one year as a deacon.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them
to observe all that I have commanded you.
Matthew 28:16-20

Let me give you a quick synopsis of my own “going out to the whole world to proclaim the gospel” and what I have learned in the process. 

My earliest memory of being attracted to preaching took place when I was seven years old in the Cloverport Baptist Church, way down river, at the funeral of my maternal grandmother’s brother, Napoleon Chappell. At that time, I had never before stepped foot in a Protestant church, but even at seven years old, I was absolutely fascinated by that Baptist preacher’s dynamic preaching style. I was both enthralled and hooked! Back then, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to like it, but I knew that day that I did anyway!

Growing up, our parish priest was a good man, but I do not remember him ever being any good at preaching. I think he actually avoided it as much as possible! In the spring, he would say that it was too hot for a sermon. In the fall, he would say that it was too cold. I do, however, remember being fascinated by the preaching of the priests who would come through every few years or so to conduct a Parish Mission. A bit scary, they would shout and walk down into the congregation waving a Bible or a big crucifix and sometimes wearing a very large rosary like the Sisters who taught us in school! They kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what they would say next! It was obvious that they were there to challenge us to become better Christians and better Catholics! Even as a child, I took them very seriously!

The next time I remember being attracted to preaching was at Saint Meinrad Seminary. When I arrived there in 1965 as a Junior in college, Vatican Council II was going on and I remember taking to heart these words from that Council. “Priests have as their primary duty the proclamation oof the Gospel of God to all.” Not only did I hear that challenge, but I was privileged to hear monks preach engaging homilies every day in the seminary chapel. I always looked forward to their preaching.

As much as I was attracted to preaching, I had a problem. I was so bashful that I was terrorized by even having to read in the seminary chapel. It slowly began to dawn on me that I needed to overcome this handicap if I wanted to fulfill my “primary duty” as a priest after I was ordained. I resolved, then and there, to do whatever I could to conquer my crippling bashfulness.

That resolve eventually led me to sign up for a summer program for seminary students offered by the United Church of Christ. Their program was called a “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.” I was the first Catholic seminarian to sign up for their summer preaching program. After my orientation in Chicago, I was assigned to preach in the campgrounds of Crater Lake National Park in the state of Oregon. In the summer of 1968, I preached in the park campgrounds twice every weekend all summer long. When I got back to Saint Meinrad Seminary for my final year of seminary, when we were offered our very first course in preaching, I went into that course with more preaching experience than anyone else in my class. During that final year of seminary, I was ordained a deacon and was given opportunities to preach at Saint John Vianney Church and Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital here in Louisville where I had been assigned.

Two weeks after being ordained a priest here in our Cathedral, fifty-three years ago last week, I found out I was being assigned to the “home missions” down along the Tennessee border, to a parish the size of the state of Delaware where the Catholic population was only 1/10 of 1%. I was not happy, but I had no choice but to go. For ten years, preaching in a crowded sea of Protestant preachers became my main ministry. I was invited to preach three years in a row by the public high school graduating class of a school that had no Catholics in it's student body. This happened after I had been invited as a guest speaker to answer their questions about Canterbury Tales in their English Literature class. I also had the opportunity to teach Sociology and be an interfaith campus minister at Somerset Community College. I often preached "short church services" for the residents of a juvenal delinquent institution. Oddly enough, while I was missioned there, I was able to get my Doctorate of Ministry degree in "parish revitalization."

After ten years in the “home missions,” I was sent to central Kentucky to a 225 year old Catholic parish in Calvary, right outside of Lebanon, Kentucky. I went from an area with almost no Catholics to an area that was almost 100% Catholic! From there, after only 3 ½ years, I was suddenly sent to the Cathedral, a dying parish that was on the list of parishes being considered for closing. You heard me! The Cathedral was on a list of parishes being considered for closure. Some were pushing the idea of making Holy Spirit Church our Cathedral. Parish membership had dropped to only 110 members. By focusing mainly on preaching for fourteen years, we grew to over 2,100 members.

After leaving there, I went to preach to college students at Bellarmine University and to seminarians from around the world who were studying to be priests at Saint Meinrad. During fourteen of those years, I published a weekly column in The Record that contained summaries of many of my homilies. In the last 25 years, I have preached over 80 Parish Missions and published a few books of collected homilies. I preached over 150 priest and bishop retreats in 10 countries. I have even addressed two conferences of Bishops: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Antilles Bishops Conference. Finally, until COVID reared its ugly head and their volcano erupted, I was volunteering in the foreign missions of the Caribbean. I made 12 trips down there. I preached in their Cathedral many times, in the Bishop’s Pastoral Centre Chapel and in several of their parishes.

After that, I went back to our Cathedral for a short time, only to learn the hard way that “you can’t go home again!” I finally came here to St. Frances of Rome and St. Leonard, my first choice, and have been preaching here happily for the last couple of years! I have also been preaching to the elderly at least once a week, on weekdays, at the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

Why am I telling you all this? During all those years, I learned the truth of what St. Gregory Nazianzus said, “One and the same exhortation does not fit all. According to the quality of the hearer ought the discourse of the teachers to be fashioned.” I learned the truth early that when it comes to preaching, one size does not fit all. A preacher must change his style to fit the hearers in front of him. Let me list the groups I have preached to over the years in all those many places and the various ways in which I have tried to tailor my message depending on who was listening to me. All of them required a different approach and a different style. Preaching to college students is different from preaching to nursing home patients. Preaching to non-Catholics is different from preaching to Catholics. Preaching here is Louisville is different from preaching in the Caribbean missions. When preaching Midnight Mass, for instance, a preacher needs to remember that there are guests there who identify as "fallen away," "lapsed," "spiritual, but not religious," members of other denominations, other religions or none at all. To preach like everyone there is a practicing Catholic would be more than a "missed opportunity." It would border on being criminal! Here are some of those groups to whom we are called to preach the gospel.


These individuals rarely miss Mass, are present at most parish functions, take advantage of opportunities for faith formation, participate in the social ministries of the parish and support the parish financially. Oddly, this may be the smallest of the groups to whom I have preached. This was my main focus when I preached in Calvary and as a seminary staff member at Saint Meinrad. My fellow Catholics, we priests must stop the routine of preaching to the choir and start paying attention to who are NOT here – stop the routine of giving 90% of our attention to 20% of the flock just because they show up on Sundays. When will we get it through our thick heads that the numbers of those who show up are shrinking right in front of our eyes and the warmed-over. in-house. pietistic, “church-chat” we are dishing out from our pulpits is not that appetizing to most of our people?

This brings me to the next group we are called to feed.


This group has been called “the second largest denomination in the United States.” They may still be registered members of a parish, but they attend Mass infrequently. Some of them may even send their children to sacramental preparation or religious education. When asked, they may identify themselves as “Catholics,” having been “raised Catholic,” “former Catholics” or “recovering Catholics.” This was my main focus when I preached at the Cathedral between 1983 and 1997, in my Parish Missions and quite often in my fifteen-year weekly Record column. Not all non-practicing Catholics are alike! I can list four different types of non-practicing Catholics and each require a different preaching style:

THE MAD — those who describe themselves as having been hurt, abused, or neglected by clergy or other church workers.

THE SAD — those “separated” from the Church because of marriage, divorce, sexual orientation or doctrinal issues. Typically, these people feel a sense of loss.

THE IGNORED — those who stay away because they do not feel accepted, do not feel that they fit in or do not see other minorities like themselves. Many are immigrants or people of color.

THE BORED — those who have no particular complaint with the Church, but who have grown weaker in the practice of the faith over the years, may not have been strong to begin with or who do not identify with much that any religion has to say. They are just flat out bored with what they experience. This could be the biggest group of non-practicing Catholics.


Those in this group are believers who identify with another faith tradition. Their attitudes toward Catholics vary from outright hostility and suspicion to that of interest and respect. This group is especially important because of the number of inter-religious marriages in our Church. This was my focus when I preached in Crater Lake National Park, down in southern Kentucky, the Caribbean missions and at the Cathedral, especially in my work with the Cathedral Heritage Foundation.


These people do not identify with any organized religion. They describe themselves as “not interested in religion,” “spiritual, but not religious,” or “agnostics.” I have always found this group especially honest and fascinating. This group was my main focus in southern Kentucky, especially in Monticello.

Each of those groups require a different approach and a different style of preaching. We priests and deacons simply must move beyond our “one style” “take it or leave it” attitude.

In preaching to all these groups, I have tried my best over the last 50 plus years to carry out the words of Vatican Council II, “Priests have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” Because I consider preaching to have been my “primary duty” all these years, in my own funeral plans, I have asked to be laid out in my free Saint Meinrad casket, holding a copy of the Lectionary in my hands rather than a chalice that most priest are laid out with, holding in their hands. It is a gift given to me by the Archbishop of Winnipeg, Canada, after a couple of days of talking to him and his priests about their “primary duty” of preaching.

In all those years of preaching to such a wide-range of audiences, I have tried to heed the words of Saint Gregory the Great who said “The preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his own heart; then he will be able to reach his neighbor’s ears!” In other words, I have tried to share my own doubts, my own failures, my own sins and my own setbacks to show you that I am with you, not above you! I have tried to do it, not as a way to get sympathy or to impress you, but as a way to show you the path to your own transformation. To remind me of that, I have always tried to remember the words of the famous baseball player, Johnny Sain, who said, “People don’t want to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.” When sharing my problems, I have understood that people don’t want to hear about how bad I had it, they just want to know how to overcome their own setbacks and sins!

As I look out at you today and think of all the congregations in several countries to whom I have preached, let me say it again and again! I am SIMPLY AMAZED – FOREVER GRATEFUL! It has been an honor to share the Word with you and so many other people in so many places every Sunday! My "pulpit tour" today is a glimpse into the challenge of how I have tried to carry out the following words:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Thursday, May 18, 2023


While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

One of the questions priests get regularly is, “Father, what should I do about my adult children?”

Usually, the question involves situations about them living together with a partner outside marriage, not going to church, involvement with drugs or alcohol, not having their babies baptized and the like. Over the years, I have come up with my only bit of advice to parents. It does not always work, nor can it always be applied to small children who need discipline, but I have been surprised at how often it has worked with adult children over whom they have little power anyway.

I tell them to “sit on God’s front porch for a while.” This idea comes from the parable I quoted above. We often call it the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but it is better called the “Parable of the Loving Father.” It's not about the son's sin, but about the father's the unconditional love! The father is the hero, not the repentant son! 

What was the response of the father in this parable to the unwanted, destructive behavior and abrupt departure of his beloved younger son? He sits on his front porch and prays and keeps his eye on the driveway for any sign of him coming to his senses. It doesn’t say how long he waits, but we might recall that St. Monica did this for many years over her wayward son, St. Augustine.

When the son hits bottom, comes to his senses and realizes he has no place to go except back home, he is not met with “I told you so. I hope you learned your lesson. I knew you would come crawling back. You have no idea how much you have disappointed me and your mother.”

It says the father - realizing that his son had come to his senses and had learned his lesson, realizing that his son would have to live with the consequences of his bad judgment and realizing he did not need to have it rubbed in - welcomes him back with open arms!

He does it without folded arms, cold frowns, thumping feet, piercing stares, but with kisses. hugs and a new outfit of clothes.  The father's gushing responses contrast with his older son’s pouting, withholding and punishing self-righteousness.

If you have a child, brother, sister or friend who has “been gone” following a path of self-destruction and you don’t know what to do after exhausting all your pleas and offers of help, try “sitting on God’s front porch” for a while. Pray, wait, keep your heart open and be ready to open your arms, no matter how wounded they may be.

When it comes to brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, parishioners and friends, I have always tried to treat them as I would want to be treated — with the love of the father in this parable, with the same love that God extends to me when I make mistakes, choose badly and let myself and others down.

From my FOR THE RECORD column
May 23, 2013

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


My Ordination to the Priesthood by Archbishop Thomas McDonough
May 16, 1970  

Giving Communion to My Parents at My "First Mass"
May 17, 1970

Sunday, May 14, 2023


Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.

I Peter 3:15-18 

I can remember exactly what she said!  “Why in the hell are you wasting your time in that stupid church?  I finally wised up and got out of that silliness a long time ago!  I can’t believe that anyone as intelligent as you appear to be is still a Catholic, much less a priest!”  I can remember her words almost word for word.  I stood there in freeze-frame as if I had been shot at close range waiting for the pain to register.  I was both shocked and embarrassed!

This situation is not made up.  It actually happened to me several years ago at a reception after my ordination.  The young woman was in her thirties.  She was a college graduate and very aware of all that was going on around her.  When she saw that I did not turn and run, she proceeded to go through her, obviously well-rehearsed, litany of all that was wrong with churches in general and mine in particular.  She went w-a-a-a-a-y back!  She covered the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, Galileo, infallibility of the Pope, sexual repression of the masses, grade school child abuse, the slavery of women, dull Masses, trivial sermons, money grubbing TV preachers and Vatican finances.  I think I even got blamed for Tammy Faye’s make-up and hairdo!  I stood there squeezing the life out of my ginger ale, cringing as if being whipped as she went down her list!  My face was beet red!  My knees started to buckle.  I wanted to melt into the floor.

After the initial shock, I realized one day – after several days of worrying about it – that her tongue-lashing was actually good for me!  I was forced to admit that I hadn’t taken the time to think in depth about why I still believe!  I realized that I really hadn’t thought much about the “hope that is within me!”  I realized that had not taken the time to really answer that question: “Why in the hell am I still in this less-than-perfect old church?”

It was not the first time I have been seriously challenged for being a Catholic.  When I worked in the home missions of our diocese, down along the Tennessee border, I was often challenged as the first Catholic priest to live in Wayne County!  I was attacked by name by a preacher on the radio.  The whole ministerial association was asked to leave the church we were meeting in after I showed up.  The host said he could “no longer in conscience” be part of the group “now that it had a Catholic in it!" He then asked all of us to leave his church!" I had a Sunday morning radio program, but while I was away on vacation, a group of ministers went to the radio station and had me thrown of the air! I was once verbally attacked at the Post Office.  I was snubbed a couple of times in grocery stores, ignored in restaurants and tolerated at meetings simply because I was "one of those Catholics."

Those experiences have helped me answer that question - “the reason for my hope."  Besides that, some of my friends have been neither church members nor believers. All of them have asked tough questions.  It seems that I have been surrounded by people asking for an answer.  It’s about time, I thought, that I answered today’s question!

Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.

Those words from our first reading today, the First Letter of Peter, are unbelievably appropriate even today.  When they were first written, Christians were a despised minority.  They stood out like sore thumbs in a pagan culture.  Neighbors, friends and even family members had serious questions to ask.  Often those questions were asked in hate and anger.

It took guts to be different then, just as it does today.  The writer of the First Letter of Peter writes to encourage believers to stand their ground in the face of ridicule, rejection, persecution, and possible death!  “If you are questioned, give a decent answer,” he says “but give it gently and respectfully.”  “Even if you are defamed, libeled, abused or ignored, do not answer with hate.  If you have to suffer, at least you can say you suffered for being good.”

Those words are as fresh today as they were then.  The young woman at the party may have picked the wrong place, chose the wrong time and asked her question in bitterness, but her questions are valid.  “Why do I stay in a church with so many problems?  Why do I believe when so many people my age do not?  Why am I a Catholic, instead of a member of some less complicated denomination?  Why am I a priest when so many have left and so few are coming in?  When I saw the second reading today, I said to myself, “OK, today is your opportunity!  Tell the people why you believe, why you stay, and why you are hopeful!”

Let share with you, then, my five “reasons for the hope that is within me.”




The only reason God broke into human history in the person of Jesus is that we were not getting the message – the message that God is madly in love with us.  Because we were not getting the message, God came in person! I cannot believe how many so-called “religious” people still wonder whether God loves them or not, people who worry about going to hell over trivialities, people who even cringe in fear at the name of God.  I cannot believe how so many so-called “religious” people wring their hands in anxiety about how the world is going to end – as if it is still up for grabs!  When Jesus announced the Kingdom, he said that it would start growing quietly and almost imperceptibly, but it would keep growing until all evil was crowded out.  Jesus said that the battle between good and evil would meanwhile continue, yes!  Jesus said that evil would win many more battles, yes, but it would not win the war!  Jesus promised that the outcome had already been decided!  When all is said and done, good would win out over evil.  He told us that since the victory over evil has already been won, all loss and suffering would be temporary and that everything would turn out for good ultimately! 

So, my friends, as we face our set-backs, disappointments and losses, we must keep this good news in the back of our minds and remember it when we are discouraged.  I did not make this promise! Jesus did!  As for me, I don’t care how many more priests resign, how many more empty seminaries and convents are sold, how many more crooked preachers are arrested! I already know how things will finally turn out!  The victory over evil has already been decided!



The church is a gathering of people – real flesh-and-blood human beings, not angels!  Therefore, it is a mixture of the stupid and the wise, the silly and the serious, the gutless and the heroic, the vicious and the loving, the sinner and the saint.  There is no “them” and “us.”  There is a mixture of good and evil in each one of us.  It’s just a matter of degrees.  So, how can we get so upset about the splinters in our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes, when there is a plank in our own?  It has been that way from the very beginning.  Jesus knew that when he got involved with human beings, he was bound to get in trouble.  He did it anyway.  He did it on purpose.  He did it with forethought and deliberation.  He chose the weak, the idiot, the prostitute, the reject and the sinner on which to build his church.  He has been choosing the same types ever since.  So the next time you call the parish council a bunch of imbeciles and the parish priests idiots, just remember people like that have been in the church family since Peter, Judas and Thomas; a liar, a traitor and a non-believer!  If they were good enough for Jesus himself, I am certainly not leaving the church or losing hope just because it is still filled with human weaknesses and human problems today. To those who want to buy a lot down the street so they can build a problem free church, “not like all those other churches," I would say, “Get a grip and wake up and smell the coffee!”  Remember the words of Jesus, ‘Healthy people do not need the doctor, sick people do!’” 




I am happy the church is not controlled by what is trendy and what most people think.  It both speaks to the modern world and listens to it! For that, it can both stand up to the world and take some heat from the world!  Even when I disagree with its conclusions sometimes, I am proud of the struggle it is making to renew itself and deal with a gamut of complicated problems that face the world today.  That renewal is messy, uneven and confusing, but at least it is not putting its head in the sand! The church does not have answers for everything, but I choose to stay like St. Peter who asked Jesus, “To whom else shall we go?”



Before Jesus left this earth, he said this to us, his church: “Do not be afraid. I will not leave you orphaned!  I will give you the Holy Spirit as your Helper, to be with you always!  He remains with you and will be within you!”  We, you and I, received that Spirit when we became members of the church.  We still have that Helper always.  With that assurance, there is no reason to lose hope!  We are invited to help the Kingdom come, but we are not responsible alone for making it come! God is!  So let us concentrate on doing our very best, forgiving each other when we don’t and quit worrying as if it were our responsibility to control the world! With the power of God within us, there is no reason to lose hope.  There is, on the contrary, every reason to have hope!



The world has many problems and I believe the only thing that stands in the way of solving them is our fear and failure to believe the “Good News,” that “blessed assurance” that everything ultimately is going to be okay.  If we really believe that God is on our side, that God is madly in love with us and that God has seen to it that the end will be wildly festive then the only thing that stands in the way of dealing with the world as it is, is lack of nerve and a shortage of guts to stay in the struggle.  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good people to do nothing!”  If we really believe the basic “good news,” we will hang in there no matter what.  If we don’t believe what Jesus promised, there are a million good reasons to quit and any of them will do!

Much ranting and raving about the church is done by people who still equate the church solely with its leaders. When we do that, every problem is the responsibility of somebody “up there” to fix!  We are the church and we will go on no matter how weak and rigid our leaders might be! The validity of the message has never depended on the goodness of our leaders! We are individually called to fidelity no matter how many other so-called believers jump ship!

It was cynicism, pessimism, rigidity and despair that killed Jesus and still tries to defeat him.  Too few of us go through life like we believe anything beyond what we see in front of us.  Often we are just as gloomy, just as hand-wringing, just as anxious about the future as any atheist! That is sad indeed! 

These are a few of the reasons I have hope.  In the end, the church is a lot like my old grandma.  She had a wart on her nose.  She was a little rigid and cranky.  She was not perfect, but she was all the grandmother I had.  I loved her.  I didn’t love her in spite of her shortcomings, I loved her because she had problems.  You know, my grandma, my church, and me have one thing in common.  We’re not perfect, but we are certainly "good enough" for God!