Friday, October 6, 2023




While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.
Luke 11:29-32

St. Paul is quoted as saying in the First Letter to the Corinthians that “Jews demand signs and wonders from those who claimed to be messengers from God.” It was as if they were saying to God’s messengers, “Prove what you are saying by doing something extraordinary.”


The bottom line of this gospel is that God comes to us especially in the very ordinary, rather than the spectacular and dramatic, events of life. The Scribes and Pharisees were always looking for “signs” – dramatic and spectacular happenings and super-human personalities to “prove” that God was active in the world. Truly, God is to be found in the ordinary events, in the ordinary moments and in the ordinary people of this world. That is why so many people missed Jesus when he was here on this earth. He was so ordinary, while they were looking for something spectacular. While they were looking “out there” and “up there,” while they were looking among the famous and the powerful and the well-connected, God’s “sign,” Jesus, was standing right in front of them. They missed him because he was just “too ordinary.”


Our traditional Christmas story is a perfect example. That story is told by the evangelist, Luke. Luke wrote for the underdog, the little people, the left-out, the losers of the world. When he tells the story, he emphasizes the dismalness of Christ’ birth: a poor young mother delivering her baby in a barn amid the smell of dung and donkey breath; greasy, crusty, bumbling sheep herders; doves dropping their stuff from the rafters; the restlessness of cows and no one to care. Luke wants his readers to know that God comes, not just for the rich and famous and powerful, the young and healthy, but especially for the lowest of the low, in the most desperate of circumstances. God comes for, and loves, every human being who has ever lived on this planet no matter how insignificant they may be in the eyes of others.


Many of us are very much like the Jewish people of old. We want “signs and wonders” to prove that God is alive and active in our world! Even today, we have people running all over the world looking for those “signs and wonders!” They look feverishly for God working in our world today in places like Fatima, Medjugorje and Lourdes!  I am sure God has worked there, but we don’t have to go to those places to see God working. He is working right here, right under our noses, right now in this very place! We just have the eyes to see it!


Think about all the knee replacement surgeries, heart by-pass surgeries and cataract surgeries that have been performed on many of you!  Think of the kidney and heart transplants and even brain surgeries that have been performed next door. Think of this beautiful building - what it took to build and what it takes to operate it. This Home is a miracle itself, really!


To find God working in our world, all we have to do is look around us. We just need to look at this place, and the people in it, through the lens of faith! Miracles are happening every day, right here and right now! All we need do is wake up and pay attention. That’s what prayer and preaching are for - not to wake God up to pay attention to us, but for us to wake up and pay attention to the marvelous things that God is doing right under our noses.


As Jesus said, in another place, in this very Gospel of Luke (10:23-24)


“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

Thursday, October 5, 2023



The heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him.
Matthew 3:16

They say that our polluting ways have caused “holes” in the delicate ozone layer, which keeps us from being fried by the sun’s radiation. In the spiritual world, there are similar “holes” in the dense layer that veil our view of God. Instead of deadly rays from the sun, a little of God himself shines through.

The Irish call them “thin places,” places where the separation between heaven and earth, the sacred and the secular, seems especially porous. God leaks through more easily in these places, it is thought. Another way of saying it is that, in such places, people find the presence of God more easily. I, too, have been in such places where God seemed especially present.

Before she died at age 98, I used to fix a Mother’s Day brunch every year for an old friend who was not even kin to me. It was always a magic time, a time when I felt that I was actually mediating God’s love to someone who needed to feel it in a tangible way. On such occasions, it was obvious from her face that these simple gestures had great significance.

When I was on-call at the neonatal unit of Norton Hospital, I was called in the wee hours of the morning by the parents of a very sick child. When I got there, I found them asleep on the floor, face to face, holding one rosary between them, obviously exhausted from several nights of keeping vigil. They had fallen asleep praying for God’s help. I could feel the presence of God hovering over them.

I remember being called to anoint a young man who was dying from the complications of AIDS. It was back when AIDS was new on the scene and people were still reacting irrationally. His family, most of his friends and probably his insurance company had abandoned him, with the exception of one compassionate neighbor. The apartment was almost empty, except for a mattress on the floor.

When I arrived, he was filled with guilt, self-loathing and irritation at the church. He was both repulsed and attracted by the idea of a priest coming to see him. I talked to him about the Jesus I knew, the Jesus who welcomed, touched and ate with the marginalized.

At some point, I put my prayer book down and spoke from the heart. As I tried to comfort him with the “good news” that God loves all of us without condition — no ands, ifs or buts about it — I had a strong sense of Jesus speaking through me at that moment.

There are “thin places” everywhere, places where God seems to "leak through" more easily. Once we have been under one of these “thin places,” we do not need “proof” of the existence of God. We understand on some deep level that God’s love is shining on us all the time. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Thursday evening, September 28, I attended a Harvest Prayer Service and dinner in a barn down in Meade County. I was asked to select a Scripture and offer a short reflection. It is an annual affair for the farming communities at that end of Meade County and is held in one of the Pike family barns just outside of Payneville. I was honored to be asked to be part of this amazing event.  

Children brought up water, seeds, soil and equipment to be blessed. They had three musicians who led the group in singing three hymns during the service. Some of my relatives, some of my friends from growing up and even some people I did not know were there. Father George, the local pastor, and a priest friend of his from Edmonton, Kentucky, attended. The local deacon, Greg Beaven, was Master of Ceremonies.  


Gratitude in Good Times and in Bad

And one of them, realizing that he was healed, returned
and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
Luke 17:11-19

We are gathered here today to give God thanks for another good harvest. While expressing our gratitude is fine and good, I have a challenging question for you today and it is simply this! What would you have done if we had not had a good harvest this year? Would you have (a) cancelled this year’s Harvest Prayer Service or would you have (b) held it anyway? Think about it for a minute as to why you would do one or the other!

How we answer that question is a lot like how we think of airplane crashes. In my estimation, failed crops can be a lot like airplane crashes. It is extraordinary how safe flying has become. We are now statistically more likely to be elected president of the United States in our lifetime than we are to die in a plane crash. But what we end up focusing on are the catastrophic plane crashes that are incredibly rare but do happen every now and then. Likewise, we have more crop successes than tragedies, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes withholding gratitude when a rare crop failure does happen. Maybe a periodic crop failure serves the purpose of reminding us not to take all our good harvests for granted!

All this caused me to remember one of my favorite stories about farmers praying for rain on the crops. In the early 1980s, I was a country pastor of a church down in Marion County in the town of Calvary, Kentucky. Back then, I liked to stand out in front of church before Mass to talk to the farmers who came early to gossip a little. One day, one of those farmers asked me if I would pray for rain at Mass that day so that the crops would not fail. I agreed right away, of course! However, one of the other farmers interrupted us by saying, “Wait up! Let’s think about this for a minute first! A few years ago, we were in this same situation and I went into the church and lit one of those 30-day candles and prayed for rain! Well, it started raining right away, but it wouldn’t stop! After three or four days of rain, I finally had to go into the church and blow that candle out!”

In the touching story that I just read about how ten pitiful lepers, standing at a distance as required by Jewish law, call out to Jesus for help and healing. “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”

All ten lepers were healed, but only one, a non-Jew, a hated Samaritan, bothers to come back to say “thanks.” The other nine lepers either forgot or thought that it was Jesus’ duty to heal them or simply saw no need to return to thank God for their healing. Nevertheless, grateful or not, they were all healed and the liberality of God’s mercy is revealed to us in the ungrudging generosity which is showered on all of them, the grateful and the ungrateful alike. As a passage from the Gospel of Luke puts it, “Your heavenly father makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

This story, then, is not so much about leprosy, as it is about God’s universal and unconditional love for all people, the good and bad, as well as the grateful and the ungrateful.

This message, the liberality of God’s mercy even for the ungrateful, is the essence of the “good news.” If we don’t “get” that point, we don’t “get” what Jesus was all about and we don’t “get” what Jesus came to this earth to tell us.

If I have preached it once, I have preached it a thousand times: God’s love is unconditional. It is not based on whether we are deserving, or grateful or whether we love God back. Many people, including people who claim to be very religious, still don’t “get” this truth. They think, and sometimes preach, the opposite. They think, and sometimes even preach, that God loves us, if we love him back, if we are grateful and if we have done enough to deserve it. If, if, if…….!

Jesus asks, in the gospel of Matthew, “If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors do as much?” Jesus practices what he preaches. The Scriptures are clear! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The parables of Jesus tell us clearly that God loves the lost sheep and the prodigal son; those who work all day in the vineyard and those who work only an hour all get paid a full day’s wages and the good and the bad alike have an invitation to the king’s wedding reception.

This does not make sense by the world’s standards of conditional love: I’ll love you, if you love me. God’s love is unconditional: I’ll love you whether you are grateful or love me back or not. This is the way God loves us! This way of loving is the way we have been called to love each other.

It is just one small thing, but I try my best to continue to be generous to my friends, to strangers and to my nieces and nephews, whether they bother to thank me or not. I choose to be generous to them because God is generous to me, whether I am grateful or not, deserving or not!

In the same way, I hope you would have come here to thank God tonight, even if it had been an awful year for farmers. Whether it is crop failures or a plane crashes, gratitude should never be withheld because of that one plane that crashed last year or that year that crops didn’t do well, but expressed because of the hundreds and hundreds of planes that didn’t crash today and the many years when crops didn’t fail!

Sunday, October 1, 2023


A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the 
vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' 
but did not go.
Matthew 21:28-32

The meaning of this parable is pretty clear - neither of these sons are much to brag about! One told his father that he wouldn't obey and then changed his mind and did obey. The other pretended to obey his father and then didn't! 

This parable explains clearly why Jesus was always hanging out with riff-raff and ended up at odds with the religious establishment of his day. Those in the religious establishment pretended to say "yes" to God, but actually said "no." The riff-raff appeared to say "no" to God, but ended up saying "yes."

In the religious establishment of his day, Jesus had a terrible reputation! He talked so much about eating and drinking and accepted so many dinner invitations, even from public sinners and religious outcasts, that he earned the nicknames of “glutton,” “drunkard” and “friend of sinners!” As the gospels put it, the religious leaders were so shocked by the huge number of rejects and sinners who were hanging around Jesus that they “murmured” out loud, “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them!” The religious establishment appeared to love God through external conformity, but in their hearts they were as mean as snakes. They represented the son who said "yes," but didn't go into his father's vineyard. The rejects and sinners were the one who welcomed Jesus' teaching and followed him wherever he went! The religious outcasts represented the son who said he wouldn't go work in their father's vineyard, but ended up going!

This parable explains so much about why Jesus called religious leaders fakes, phonies and frauds. They were the ones who loved to parade around in all their religious regalia putting on airs about how religious they were, but underneath all of that they were rotten to the core, using and abusing people's trust and good will for their own benefit. These people represented the son who said he would go work in their father's vineyard, but ended up not going!

As a priest, I have always seen both of these two groups at work in the church. I am proud to report that I have always gravitated toward those who said they wouldn't go, but did go rather than those who said they would go, but didn't go. When to comes to religion, I have always trusted honest doubters more than convinced fanatics.

I am turned off by pietistic, arrogant, religious know-it-alls. They get on my nerves big time! On the other hand, I have always been attracted to the honest doubt of those who have serious problems with organized religion, especially those who have been hurt by the condemnation and rejection of religious conformists. I identify more with honest doubters than arrogant, sanctimonious super-convinced religious fanatics.

Just as in Jesus' day, there are two very common classes of people in the world. There are those whose profession is much better than their practice. They make great protestations of piety and fidelity. but their practice lags far behind. Many of them are very much wrapped up in American politics today. They like to claim the high road of morality, but they are willing to engage in some boldly obvious un-Christian behaviors in their efforts to turn this country into a Moslem-hating, immigrant hating, women hating, dark-skin hating enclave, run by white male "Christians" who get to dictate the rules. It was about them that Gandhi famously said, "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

On the other hand, just as in Jesus' day, there are those who profess to have no interest in the Church and in religion, and yet, when it comes right down to it, they live more Christian lives than many professing Christians. They like to sound tough hard-headed materialists, even agnostics, but somehow they are found doing kindly and generous things, almost in secret. I have meet many of them. I am friends with many of them. I have been amazed by many of them.

The key to really understanding this parable is that neither son was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father because both were unsatisfactory. The ideal son would be the one who accepted his father's orders with obedience and respect and who unquestioningly and fully carried them out. The ideal disciple is the one who both professes faith and "puts his money where his mouth is!" The ideal disciple is the one who, "if he were to be accused of being a Christian, there would be enough evidence to convict him."

The ideal disciple is the one in whom profession and practice meet and match! (repeat last line for emphasis). As Jesus said, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my Father who is in heaven."