Thursday, March 9, 2023


The whole audience in the synagogue was filled with

indignation. They rose up and expelled Jesus from the

town, leading him to the brow of the hill, intending

to hurl him over the edge.

Luke 4:24-30


Talking about a homily gone bad! As a preacher, this story puts the fear of God into me every time I read it. The moral of this story might be: preaching can be hazardous to your health!   


What we have here is the last half of a longer story. To get the full impact you need to know what goes before.  Jesus is home in the Nazareth synagogue. It is the Sabbath. He is asked to read a passage from Isaiah and give the homily.   


Things go well at first. He had their undivided attention. They seem to be expecting something out of the ordinary. It says “their eyes were fixed on him.”  Things were going very well - at least as long as he said things they wanted to hear, at least as long as he said things they agreed with. “All present” it says, “spoke favorably of him; they marveled at the discourse which came from his lips.”  


Here is where it starts turning ugly. Jesus starts saying things they didn’t want to hear, things they didn’t agree with. He begins to challenge their religious boundaries by giving two examples of God’s generous love for Gentiles. For his audience, this was heresy, pure and simple. “What do you mean by saying God loves Gentile scum? We are God’s chosen people and we have been taught all our lives that his love is restricted to us! Gentiles are destined for the fires of hell! We all know that and so should you!” 


At this point in Jesus’ homily, the whole audience, were are told, was filled with indignation. His own home town synagogue rose up, dragged him out of the pulpit, ran him out of town and even tried to throw him over a cliff. Now, that is a homilist worst nightmare!   


This message and this indignation would be repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry. The people of Nazareth, and the people who thought like them, were the all-day vineyard workers who resented the full day’s pay that the vineyard owner gave to those who arrived right before quitting time. They were the older son, who resented the fathers fawning over his prodigal brother. They were the self-righteous who condemned Jesus to death for being so generous with God’s love. “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” This last crowd didn’t just drag him out of a pulpit and try to throw him over a cliff, they flogged and crucified him for his “outrageous liberal theology.”  


This text is very personal to me.  As pastor of our cathedral, I specialized in reaching out to marginalized and disaffected Catholics. Like Jesus, I had the honor of being accused of “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” Because of that, I was often the target of a small group of right-wing Catholics. I had a knife pulled on me over a homily that welcomed fallen away Catholics back to the church and I was featured prominently in their hate-filled and anonymous white paper that circulated around the city of Louisville.  I was loved by many and hated by some.


The gospel is powerful stuff and serious business. Preaching the gospel can bring you great blessings or get you killed. As Father Polycarp Sherwood, one of my St. Meinrad professors, used to tell us: “The gospel is a two-edged sword. It settles the unsettled and unsettles the settled.” In other words, he wanted to remind us that those whose lives are a mess, those who are on the margins of the church, those with nothing more to lose will find comfort in the words of the gospel. On the other hand, he wanted to remind us that those who have the world and the church by the tail, those who have a lot to lose, will be threatened by it. If they love the message of the gospel, they will love the messenger. If they are threatened by the gospel message, they will attack, or even try to kill, the messenger. On many Sundays as a pastor, I was met at the door by two basic groups: those who would marvel at the words that came from my lips and those who wanted to rip my lips off!  Besides Jesus, remember Jeremiah suffered the same rejection! They threw him into an empty, muddy cistern and left him there to die! 


Preaching can be hazardous to your health, but in the end, you can believe this: those who tell you what you want to hear are not necessarily your friends and those who tell you what you don’t want to hear are not necessarily your enemies. Sometimes medicine soothes and sometimes it stings. 


As a preacher, I have always tried to remember that if I get rejected, I hope I get rejected for preaching the gospel, not just get rejected for my own ignorance, stupidity and foolhardiness.  



Sunday, March 5, 2023



Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high 

mountain by themselves. 

                                                 Matthew 17:1-9 


After being invited the first week of Lent to “go to the desert” for new insights into ourselves, we are invited the second week of Lent to “go to the mountain” for a new perspective!   

On this second Sunday of Lent, Jesus invites us to go to the mountaintop, a traditional place for achieving a new perspective on life - where we have been, where we are and where we are headed! From a mountaintop you can see in all directions. Jesus invites us to go to the mountaintop with him because conversion of life, the real purpose of Lent, is impossible without a change of perspective, without a new way of looking at reality.  


It is easy to “get stuck” in the way we think. As Brooks Atkinson put it, “The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view.”  Some of us go through life living out the old joke, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” Even scientists have trouble incorporating new information. The French Academy announced at one point that it would not accept any further reports of meteorites, since it was clearly impossible for rocks to fall out of the sky. Shortly after their declaration, a rain of meteorites came close to breaking all the windows of the Academy. Lent is a time to take a long, loving look at reality behind our convenient illusions!  


Dr. Wayne Dyer teaches us that, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This is certainly true in resolving soul-eating anger and resentment toward other people. What many people fail to realize is that there is a “way out” when offending people refuse to apologize and own the hurt they have caused. What they fail to realize is that the hurt can be healed and the problem resolved with a new way of looking at the perpetrator. Lent is a time to change the way we look at others, especially those who cause us distress and pain.   


John Lubbock reminds us that “What we see depends mainly on what we look for!” Oscar Wilde put it humorously when he said, “The optimist sees the donut; the pessimist sees the hole.” The more attention you shine on a particular subject, the more evidence of it will grow. Shine attention on obstacles or possibilities and they will multiply lavishly. Lent is a time to change the way we look at the world and change our perspective on ourselves and the people around us.     


Possibly the most important change we need to make this Lent in our perspective is the way we view ourselves.  No one has said it better than Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Lent is a time to get a new perspective on ourselves and others. Lent is a time to see ourselves and others through God’s loving eyes!      


Because of today's “transfiguration” gospel, they are called “peak experiences” – those intense religious experiences that many of us have been lucky enough to have had at least once in our lives. In fact, I believe that this is the main thing that keeps people in organized religion - at least one “peak experience.” On the other hand, it is also the main reason some people claim to be agnostic - the absence of even one good “peak experience.”    


“Peak experiences” cannot be staged or created. They are simply moments of grace – spontaneous gifts from God. We can go to places where “peak experiences” have happened to other people, even places where we have personally experienced them before, but that does not mean we will have another one. They are simply unpredictable and unannounced gifts from God.   


“Peak experiences” can happen at some of the most surprising times and in some of the most unlikely places. Oddly enough, for example, during the clergy sexual abuse storm that came to light in 2002 a significant number of journalists, who had been assigned to report on the crisis in various locales, ended up converting to Catholicism.  They had a “religious experience,” a “peak experience” even in the midst of that pain and sin!  Others have had these “peak experiences” during the death process of a loved one or even their own process of dying. I witnessed my mother going through one of these “peak experiences” as she was dying of cancer back in 1976. I had a dramatic life-changing one in a very vivid dream about God back in 1976, when I was working in the "home missions" of southern Kentucky. It changed my life overnight! 


“Peak experiences” happen most often during retreats and other religious events. For instance, many seminarians I have known were so moved by meeting Pope John Paul II that they came back to the Church, after having been gone since childhood, and even decided that they may have a call to the priesthood. Many teenagers have their first “peak experience” during their senior retreat or an alternative spring break in places like Guatemala. Many married couples have had life changing “peak experiences” during Marriage Encounter weekends. Other Catholics have discovered a new burst of faith during a Cursillo weekend, a trip to Medjugore, the Holy Land or Lourdes, even meeting someone with the stature of Mother Teresa. Several hundred people, the news reports told us recently, had a "peak experience" down in little Wilmore, Kentucky, at a seminary student chapel.  


How they happen, why they happen and when they happen cannot be predicted, staged or even understood. They all seem to be glimpses into another level of existence or little previews of coming wonderful events that God gives some people who need a reason to hang on! Those of us who have experienced them know how mind-blowing and life changing they can be! To those who cannot say they have ever had such an experience, I would say “it ain’t over till it’s over” and “your time may be right around the corner” at some unexpected and unpredictable time.  


These “peak experiences” have several things in common. You have to be open to them. The “transfiguration” that we read about today, happened during one of hundreds of little retreats that Jesus arranged for his disciples! Regular contact with God through prayer does not guarantee one of these experiences, but makes them more likely to happen. Your mind must to be open and you must remain in such a receiving frame of mind. 


There is always a temptation to want to freeze such powerful experiences, repeat the experiences and make the experiences permanent. This is what Peter was up to in the reading today. “Lord, it is so wonderful to be here. Why don’t we erect some tents and just stay up here forever?” Jesus tells Peter that the experience was only meant to be something to sustain the group during the painful days ahead. He tells Peter that they will have to go back down the mountain and back into real life for a while. Experiencing it “all the time” would have to wait until the resurrection after his death. One of the things that Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Medjugore, senior retreat, Lourdes and other similar experiences have in common is the desire that many have to repeat those experiences or try to be into them "full time." They are never meant to be permanent. They are only glimpses of glory. God wants us to go back to our ordinary lives, with that precious moment in the back of our minds to sustain us.               


Lastly, “peak experiences” are meant to help us “see connections” to see the connection between where we came from, where we are now and where we are destined. This is what the conversation that Jesus had with the saints,  Moses and Elijah, was all about. This conversation helped Jesus realize that he was the one they saw coming in the future so many years before. They helped Jesus understand where God was taking him in the days ahead – glory on the other side of suffering and death. Just so, our “peak experiences” remind us that there is something wonderful in the invisible world that awaits us on the other side of this life.  


May God give you your own “peak experience!” May God give you one of those “glimpses of glory!”  May you get a “sneak preview” of the world to come! May that “peak experience” sustain you in the sometimes tediousness of worldly existence and help you keep your eye on the prize! 


With all the problems going on in the Church today, others ask me and I ask myself over and over again “Why stay?” The reason I stay is that I have been blessed to have had a few “peak experiences” and “glimpses of glory” in my life time. It is these intense experiences that sustain me during the ordinary moments, periods of spiritual dryness and intense discouragement. As I think about all the scandal that has beset the Church, I am not worried or overcome with discouragement. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, who built his famous speech around this gospel, “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it doesn’t matter with me now because I have been to the mountaintop. God has allowed me to go up to the mountain and I’ve looked over and I have seen the promised land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” 


My friends, I am here to stay, I remain hopeful and I am committed to being faithful to the end, not because I am out of touch with the serious problems facing our world, but because God has given me a couple of small glimpses of glory, like he did the disciples in today’s gospel. I hold on because of those “peak experiences.”