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!