Thursday, November 16, 2023




“Wherever I go, you are always there! Your hand guides me and your right hand holds me fast!”
Psalm 139

Psalm 139 has to be one of the most beautiful Scripture passages in the whole Bible! It is nothing more than a moving description about how much attention God gives each one of us! In every living moment of our lives, God carries each one of us in his heart.

It almost gave me cold chills as I read and re-read it. Just listen to it again and think of yourself as the one telling God how you notice all the attention that he is giving you!

O Lord, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence where can I flee?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I sink to the nether world, you are present there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast.

Praying people are often so busy trying to keep their focus on God in prayer that they forget that God is already focused on them every moment of their lives even if they should forget God. This psalm reminds me of the awareness of God that Jeremiah had when he was called to be a prophet. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” One of our familiar hymns, You Are Near, puts it this way. “You know my heart and its ways, you who formed me before I was born, in the secret of darkness before I saw the sun in my mother’s womb.”

Isaiah, the prophet, reminds us (49:14-16) that even in those times when we feel forsaken and forgotten by God, God reminds us, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, I have you engraved upon the palms of my hands.”

Scriptures, like the ones I have just cited, remind us that God is always with us. Even one of his names, Emmanuel, means “God with us!” The problem then is not whether God is with us or not, but whether we are consciously aware of his presence!

Sometimes the problem is that we are like those on the walk to Emmaus on that first Easter evening. Jesus walks with us, but we fail to recognize him. Thankfully, as we do in every Mass, once the Scriptures are explained to us and we have broken bead together, our eyes can be opened to his presence once again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


It Case You Missed It Last Time

Give yourself some time.  

Sunday, November 12, 2023



Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13 

Every year or two, I get a letter from the Archdiocesan Priest Personnel Office asking me to update my funeral plans. They want to know, among other things, where my will is, where I want to be buried, what readings I want read, what music I want sung and who I want to preach and preside at my funeral Mass. The last time, I started to fill it out, but finally laid it aside. I just couldn’t get into it. Since not doing it could put both the diocese and my family in a bind someday, they sent a reminder insisting that I fill it out and send it in. I guess I was a little like Woody Allen who once said, “I know everybody dies, but I’m still hoping an exception will be made in my case.”

As we wind down another liturgical year, the church asks us to think about death and entering the kingdom of God. We will be hearing some parables over the next three weekends that will challenge us to make plans for “the end of what we know here” and “the beginning of what we can’t even imagine there,” even though we will still not know the day or the hour.

Today we have the first of three such parables. In today’s parable, Jesus tells a colorful little story about ten invited virgins waiting for a bridegroom to arrive for his wedding. It has some important things to teach us about how to wait for the return of Jesus at the end of time and how to prepare for our attendance at the wedding feast of heaven.

This little story is based very much on everyday reality at that time. Things like this actually happened at weddings back then and they happen even to this day in places in the middle-east. Weddings receptions were nothing like our cake and punch receptions that last a few hours. Wedding receptions back then were week-long blow-outs. To be invited to such an event was a great honor and a good time would have been had by all! Remember the story of the marriage feast at Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine?  The wedding party ran out of wine probably on the fourth or fifth day – and it was at that time, some commentators point out, that the total amount of the new wine created by Jesus would been around 180 gallons. That is the equivalent of about 900 more bottles of wine!

Back then, when a wedding was announced, no precise date or time of day was given, only that it was "about to happen." Couples did not go away for “honeymoons,” they stayed at home and kept an “open house” for a week of partying. Invited guests had to be prepared to join the wedding procession whenever the bridegroom chose to show up for the wedding. It could be anytime, day or night. It could be that day, the next day or in a week or two. Once the groom started toward his house, all the invited guests fell into line and followed him to his house where the ceremony took place. If he decided to begin the wedding procession at night, you had to be prepared because it was illegal to be in the streets without a lighted lamp. Once the bridegroom and his guests came through the streets and entered his house, the door would have been shut and late-comers would not have been admitted.

In this story, five of the ten virgins brought extra oil for their lamps in case the groom were to be delayed, while the other five were not prepared for such an eventuality. In this story, the bridegroom took his time in coming and the five foolishly unprepared virgins were “caught with their pants down,” so to speak. Having run out of oil, they would have had to wait till morning to go for more. In the meantime, the wedding party would have reached the house and the door would have been barred. As a result of their miscalculation, they would have missed out on one hell of a party! The main message for us is simple:  “If you snooze, you lose!”

The first thing this parable teaches us is that the end is going to be wonderful for those who are ready for it. Even though we claim every Sunday in the prayer after the Our Father that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” most of us still believe that the end of our lives will be about sadness and loss, doom and gloom. Not so! Rather, in the end: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even dawned on us the great things God has in store for those who love him.”

The second thing this parable teaches us is that when it comes to the great “wedding feast of heaven,” living in readiness, waiting in joyful hope, makes a lot more sense than running around and trying to get ready at the last minute, with its risk of missing out altogether.

The more I read these parables, the more I believe that if there is a “hell,” it is the pain of realizing that we have missed out of the greatest opportunity in the universe and it was our own fault!  I don't think of “hell” as a matter of God punishing us or getting even with us for a wasted life, but a matter of us snoozing and losing because we were not paying attention and we were not prepared for the great experience offered us!  

Just as the whole town was invited to first century weddings, we are all invited to the great wedding feast of heaven. It’s up to us if we miss the boat. If we were to put in today’s language, all of us has been given a free, winning Powerball ticket for the zillion dollar drawing and some of us will have misplaced it out of carelessness and inattention. Can you imagine what it would be like to know the rest of your life that you threw away a $100,000,000 lottery ticket because you were careless and weren’t paying attention? Can you imagine missing something, even more wonderful, so wonderful that human beings can’t even begin to imagine it? That “something wonderful” is the “eternal life” that Jesus offers each one of us! 

The third thing this parable tells us, just as others like it, is that we do not know, nor can we predict, the day or the hour. I get so tired of those TV evangelists who claim to be able to de-code the so-called “prophecies” about the “end time.”  Jesus says “do not listen to them and do not follow their prophecies” Jesus is clear: we must live in readiness, not look for signs and portents so that we can predict the end and then “get ready.”  The only reason to try to predict the end, is so we can live anyway we want and then try to get ready right before the final bell rings. Forget it! You can’t predict it. The only thing you can do is live in readiness with your lamps lit, your belt around your waist and with your shoes on, as the scriptures so poetically puts it.  Like a pregnant woman with a bag packed ready for the trip to the hospital, no matter what time of the day the labor pains hit, we Christians are called to live with our bags packed be ready when the time comes!

We all like to think that we will all die after a long illness when we are old, but that may not happen. Most of us would welcome just going to sleep one night and never waking up! Personally, I pray mostly for a pain-free exit. We certainly don’t know when our time here is up! We may die today, tomorrow, next month or years and years from now. We just don’t know, so we must live in readiness so that we will not miss out on the most incredible event known to human kind. Living in readiness does not mean that we are morbidly preoccupied with death, it means to live a full life every day, to be the very best human being we can be, to love God with all our minds, hearts and souls and our neighbors as ourselves. As one of my favorite quotes puts it, “If everyone would sweep in front of his own door, the whole world would be clean!” If we would all live that fully, then it wouldn’t matter when the end would come, because we would already be prepared!

Yes, it might be wise to make your end-of-life plans, but remember that that is not nearly as important as planning to live your life as best you can while you can!  If you do that well, you won’t have to worry about “the end!”