Thursday, July 20, 2023


Every once in a while, I am reminded of something from the past that I had almost forgotten until somebody reminds me of it once again. Such is the case of the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann that I remember having in poster form on the walls of one of my college dorm rooms in the 1960s when I was in the seminary. 

This time, it was my youngest brother, Mark, who discovered it and sent it to me. Even though it was written in 1927 and I loved it enough to put it on my dorm room walls, I had not seen it for over fifty years. To my surprise, it still has a lot to say so I am sharing it with you so that you can hear it, read it or print it. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023


Here is a short YouTube video of a younger Maggie Smith in a clever monologue on what it was like being married to an Anglican priest. (A bit older now, Maggie Smith played the outrageously cranky old woman, Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the Downton Abbey TV series.)

Her monologue is both sad, funny and insightful. Be sure to expand the screen and turn up the volume so you can catch her English humor! 



Sunday, July 16, 2023


Some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
Matthew 13:1-23 

In light of this parable, I thought I would say a few words about the state of Catholic preaching today.

You might not know it, but preaching the gospel is the primary duty of priests! Catholics have been disappointed with Catholic preaching for so long, they are afraid to expect it any more. When Catholics do find a priest who can preach, as many of you already know, they tend to follow him from church to church like hungry puppies. Others learn to live without it. Some give up and join some Protestant denomination.

This problem, I believe, can be traced back to the Reformation, four hundred years ago. In that painful divorce, it was almost like there was a property settlement where Catholics took the altar and Protestants took the pulpit. That’s why most Protestant churches, at least until very recently, tend to have tiny little altar tables and huge pulpits, while most Catholic churches tend to have tiny little pulpits and huge altar tables.

Catholics who leave us for a Protestant pulpit sometimes don’t realize that when they do, they are also going off and leaving the Eucharist. What we Catholics need to do, what we have been working on over the last several years, is to have both: a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Word followed by a powerful celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We priests need to know how to use both pulpits and altars.

Preaching is being taken more serious than ever in our seminaries. I am no professional homiletics professor, but I taught homiletics (preaching) at St. Meinrad Seminary for a while. The downfall of most preaching courses, in my estimation, is that they focus way too much on public speaking techniques and not enough on the faith of the preacher. My belief is similar to William Faulkner’s who said, “If a story is in you, it has to come out.”  I always reminded my students that if the love of God burned in their heart, they will find an effective way to communicate it, if not, they will end up just giving another speech about God. A homily is not a speech. The insight of a homily is meant to turn on a light bulb, to help the listener make a connection with God.  Nemo dat quod non habet.” "If you ain’t got it, you cain’t give it." 

Preachers, and lectors too, must be the first to ‘humbly welcome the Word” and “be doers of the Word" as the Letter of James puts it.  Preaching, especially, is an awesome responsibility and the well, from which it comes, must be constantly fed!  The preacher must know himself, know others and know God, and be able to talk about all three in a convincing way. Lectors don’t just “read to people,” they “proclaim the good news” too.

Some seed fell of the path, some on rocky ground, some among the thorns, but some fell on rich soil and produced abundant fruit.

The Letter of James is famous for its insistence that faith be lived, not just claimed and talked about. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” “What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, “Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless.”

My fellow Catholics, we cannot be ignorant of scripture and at the same time do what God has asked of us. As the Letter to the Romans puts it, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe unless they have heard of him? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach? Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ.” 

It would be wonderful if every one of us took the opportunity to study scripture in a formal way. Scripture classes are offered in almost every parish these days. The diocese has many continuing education classes available on scripture, but one of the simplest ways to study scripture is to take advantage of our Liturgy of the Word each week. To get the most of the Liturgy of the Word each week, if the seed is to fall on the rich soil of our hearts and produce abundant fruit in our lives, three things must happen. (1) Readers must read well. (2) Preachers must preach well. (3) People must listen well.  You have good lectors here, this parish is known for good preaching and I know from experience that you are an attentive congregation, so I am not criticizing anybody, but just challenging all of us in general.

(1) One of the hardest things to get across to lectors is that they are not just “reading to people,” but they are “proclaiming the Word of God.”   That means they must, not just be able to read the words on the page, but to be the medium through which people hear God speaking to the congregation. That means the lector must be familiar enough with the text to convey its meaning. If the lector doesn't know what the words mean, how can he or she read it with meaning? Lectors are not just readers. They proclaim the word of God behind the words of the text. The role of the lector, standing in the pulpit, should be taken as seriously as the priest standing behind the altar. Incompetence, sloppiness or carelessness in the pulpit or at the altar should never be acceptable in our churches. Good liturgy strengthens the faith of the people. Bad liturgy weakens the faith of the people.     

(2) As a priest, my primary role is to preach. I have a long way to go, but of all the things I do, I take preaching most seriously.  I typically spend a minimum of 10-12 hours a week preparing these homilies.  As you know, not all priests do that. When I was the Vocation Director, for instance, I remember reading an evaluation one of our pastors wrote about one of our soon-to-be-ordained seminarians. He criticized the seminarian for “working too much on his homilies.” He went on to say that he “knew of no other priest, except for maybe the Vocation Director, who spent that much time on writing homilies.” I was that Vocation Director! That time the seminarian was right and the pastor was wrong! Preaching is not just one of many things a priest does, it is the single most important thing a priest does!  That is why I plan to be buried clutching a Lectionary!

(3) People must learn to listen well. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” In reality, many Catholics still don’t get it. They come to liturgy and put the whole burden of a meaningful liturgy on the backs of the priest, the musicians and the liturgical ministers. Many Catholics sit with their arms folded, never singing or answering the responses or even mouthing the creed, with an attitude of “OK, now entertain me, impress me and inspire me, and if you fail, I’ll blame you and leave here and tell the world that “I don’t get anything out of Mass because of that boring priest and that lousy music.” The word, “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” We preachers, presiders, lectors and musicians are here to “help you pray,” not to “do your praying for you.” It is your job to pray over the readings before you get here or at least sit up and pay close attention when God’s word is proclaimed.

St. Paul says, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you.” Like the parable of the Sower and the Seed, it is not enough just to have good seed to sow (that's the word of God), not enough for the sowers to sow well (that's the lector and the preacher), but the ground on which the word is sown must be fertile and receptive (that's all of us)!  

To "get something out of this weekend experience," we all have to "put something into it!"