Thursday, November 30, 2023


November 27, 2023

When Jesus looked up, he noticed a poor widow putting two small coins into the temple treasury. He said, "She, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."
Luke 21:1-4

The closest thing today to the Temple in Jerusalem of Jesus’ day - at least in my experience - is a downtown cathedral. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem attracted a host of characters at the time of Jesus, most downtown cathedrals today attract a cross-section of humanity: millionaires and street people, tourists and residents, the non-religious, the marginally religious and religious fanatics. Like bees to honey, an important religious landmark, be it the Temple or a Cathedral, attracts a human circus.

For 14 years, from 1983-1997, I had the privilege of being the pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. From confessions that would curl your hair, to mental cases that would work your nerves, it was, by far, the most interesting pastoral assignment I have ever had, bar none! On my first day, I had to deal with a homeless man who had the urge to take off all his clothes to scare old ladies. I had to pull a drunk out of the bishop’s throne. I had to help wrestle a stalker to the floor who pulled a knife on me over a homily. I mistakenly called the cops on the archbishop, thinking he was an intruder! I have had a man drop dead during a wedding, babies pee on me during baptisms and altar servers vomit on me during Mass. I had to drag a screaming woman from the altar steps to the back door through a wide-eyed congregation, too frozen to move. I was regularly panhandled and manhandled.

In my 14 years, I probably met at our Cathedral most of the types that Jesus met in the Jerusalem Temple, including the poor “widow woman” of today’s gospel. This woman taught me a very important lesson about priesthood. 

I was running late for the noon mass. I was going to the back of the Cathedral for something when I was confronted by a “bag lady” coming at me, with both arms waving to get my attention. I was used to it, so used to it, that I thought I “had seen it all” when it came to “street people.” As soon as I spotted her, I just assumed that she wanted money. I had been down that road so many, many times. Before I could get my well-rehearsed “come back later” or “go see our social worker” speech out, she asked excitedly, “Father, where is the poor box? I want to make a donation!” At that she opened her dirty hand and there she clutched her gift of a few nickels and pennies for the “poor box.” I had stereotyped and judged her by her appearance. Her generous “widow’s mite” judged me! 

This modern-day version of the “widow and her mite” taught this priest several lessons. (1) You never know what is going on inside the people, merely through external observation, so always “take off your shoes” and approach them as you would “holy ground.” There is nothing as dangerous as a judgmental, “know it all” priest, be he a young priest or an old priest. (2) As Jesus taught the Pharisees, some of the people may have the appearance of saints, but inside are like whitewashed tombs, while some of those who appear to you to be terrible sinners may just turn out to be living saints. “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” (3) Generosity has very little to do with the size of the gift. Many big givers give once in a while from their surplus and blow a horn when they make their gifts, but the ones who really keep parishes going are the many consistent little gifts from people who have to sacrifice to give.

The poor woman today has an important lesson to teach us and that is: generosity is always rewarded, and often extravagantly! As Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl from Holland who was forced to live for two years in a secret attic by the Nazis, being caught and ending up dying in a prison camp, wrote during World War II, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Selfless generosity is what many women, including my dear mother, have taught me over my lifetime!


Sunday, November 26, 2023


Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?
Matthew 25:31-46

I learned to say the Confiteor in Latin when I was 7 years old. I have said it in English thousands of times since the Mass was allowed to be celebrated in English when I was about half-way through my seminary training.

What was so amazing about the Confiteor is that it reminded us that we could sin in two ways – by what we do and what we fail to do! In other words, we can sin by doing bad things, yes, but also by not doing good things when we can.

I am reminded of that wonderful little story Jesus told about Dives and Lazarus. Dives was filthy rich, but that was not his sin. Dives lived in a gated community, but that was not his sin. Dives ate gourmet food every day and dressed in expensive suits, but that was not his sin. Dives did not order his security guards to have Lazarus removed from around his front gate! Dives did not verbally or physically abuse poor Lazarus! There is no indication whatsoever that Dives was evil. He didn’t do anything harmful to Lazarus. That, however, seems to be the point of the whole parable: the rich man did nothing wrong, he simply did nothing. His sin is that he didn’t even see Lazarus, and because he didn’t even see him, he did nothing!  He was blind and therefore complacent as a result! He was so absorbed in living his own cushy life that he didn’t even see the suffering right in front of him.

Recently, as you may have read in The Record several months back, I led the recitation of the Confiteor at the grave of Matilda Hurd Chisley in my home parish down in Meade County. She was the slave grandmother of the soon-to-be-canonized slave, Fr. Augustus Tolton. What struck me that day was the awareness that several of the parishioners of my historic home parish of St. Theresa of Avila, founded in 1818, owned slaves and I was looking at the grave of only one of 222 of them who were baptized down there. I became very aware of our sin of enslaving people in the history of my parish, but I also became very aware of the sin that most of our parishioners today, including me, knew nothing about that history! It was bad enough to own slaves, but to deliberately wipe their memory from the community’s consciousness was, no doubt, an additional sin. Even though many of those slaves helped quarry the foundation stones of the present church that we both grew up praying in, and made its bricks by hand, we may not have sinned by owning slaves ourselves, but we have been sinning by conveniently forgetting the people we had enslaved. As a result of this new awareness, I have been on a personal crusade to publish a list of their names and display their names in the historic photo gallery of our new St. Theresa Family Life Center. I want to make sure that we do not keep sinning by not honoring them, by not knowing their names and by not making the next generation aware of their contributions to our parish!

The gospel today is a blunt reminder that merely not doing anything bad is not good enough. The failure to do good can often be just as bad as doing evil! In all circumstances, we must wake up, open our eyes, look around, pay attention to those around us and do something positive to help those who need some help. Let us not have Jesus say to us some day, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

Some recent studies tell us that around 63% of us Americans claim the label "Christian." It has dropped from 90% in 1971. Of that 63% claiming the label “Christian,” according to recent reports, only 6% of us American adults demonstrate a consistent understanding and application of Christian biblical principles to our lives. In other words, only a small percentage of that 63%, who claim the name “Christian,” actually live Christianity seriously.

Unfortunately, many of us who are most vocal about claiming the name "Christian" are making "Christianity" synonymous with bigotry, meanness and repression. I, for one, am not about to let them get away with it! I am not angry so much at such religious fanatics with their narrow political agendas and religious arrogance, those who would have us believe that they are the only true Christians, as I am angry at the rest of us who are letting them get away with it! I consider myself a person trying his best to be a "Christian,” but I certainly do not share their narrow political agendas nor their religious arrogance. I'll be damned if I am going to let them dismiss me and claim that only people who think like they think are "truly” Christian! 

Today’s parable focuses on the final judgement that we will all face. It tells us what we will be judged on in the starkest terms. How will God know that we were disciples of Jesus? The gospel answer is that it is our practical love for one another – especially the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and those who are imprisoned in one way or another! Yet, the facts reveal that some self-professed "Christians" can be just as selfish, just as nasty and just as mean, just as hateful and just as unconcerned as an agnostic when it comes to caring! As the famous Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  Maybe the biggest threats to Christianity are not those who attack it from the outside, but those on the inside who profess it without walking the talk!

Just look at the public behavior of some of the men and women in this country who self-righteously brag about being a "Christian," but engage in rhetoric that is intolerably un-Christian and language that would be profoundly offensive in any authentic Christian community. Venomous hate is now preached daily under the banner of reclaiming our "Christian culture!" The same people who scream "family values" are teaching a whole generation that it is OK, and even admirable, to encourage vicious assaults on immigrants, members of other political parties and even the chronically poor!

My family were immigrants to this country escaping the religious persecution of Catholics back in England. Even in this country, there was a time when Catholic Masses were forbidden in most places. Other groups have been singled out as well in our history. Today, nastiness and meanness are epidemic, even in this so-called "Christian" nation - and sometimes especially in some of our so-called "Christian" communities!

Scripture says, “This is how they will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.” What does it mean "to love?" It means deliberately living out the ways, the works and the words of compassion. By doing that, we will leave God's signature on the church and the world. It is really millions of little things, done out of love by millions of Christians, that will transform this world, not the hateful words and mean-spirited actions of "wolves in sheep's clothing!" Christians are called to resist such behavior, even when those actions are coming out of the mouths of the enemies of Christianity. Did Jesus not tell us explicitly to "love our enemies" and "do good to those who hate you?" 

Let me give you three simple examples that come to mind of what I think it means "to love." The first example came in the mail when I was pastor of our Cathedral. It was a "thank you note" from a someone whom we had been helped from our community service fund to which our parishioners generously contributed. It was addressed to all of us. "Dear Members of Assumption. Even though I don't attend your church, you didn't try to force me into your beliefs on the grounds that I needed your help. I know now that there is still unconditional love left in our world." This note was signed by a woman and her children. I kept the note.

The second example came from my mother. When we were growing up in the country with seven kids in the family, food was scarce and never wasted – especially meat! When we had fried chicken, my mother even fried the chicken back and ate it herself. I grew up believing my mother loved chicken backs. I was much older before it dawned on me that she wanted us to have the best parts. She was willing to take what was left over, out of love for us kids.

The third example occurred one Friday when I had the opportunity to go to the Islamic Center on River Road. The Muslim community invited some of us from the Cathedral Heritage Foundation for lunch and to attend a Muslim prayer service. We were reverenced and respected and welcomed. We had reached out to include them in our inter-faith Thanksgiving and rededication celebrations. They reached out to us in return with a loving gesture of welcome.

My friends, this is the heart of our religion. this is what it means to be a Christian. This must be present in every Christian's life or else all of his or her religious practice is one big silly charade! This is not an optional activity. This is essential for discipleship. Often, religious people confuse loving someone else with approving or agreeing with everything they do. How ridiculous! How dangerous! Why can't we help another person for their good, and not for what we can get out of it, as the Cathedral did for that struggling single mother? Why can't we freely and quietly “give each other the best pieces of chicken,” as my mother did, instead of always competing for the best? Why can't we be good, strong and faithful Catholics and at the same time have a curiosity about, and a reverent respect for, people who practice a different religion and who sincerely try to live it? This is what it means to love one another. This is our trademark as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. This is the heart of the matter.

It is time for us to go back to Christianity as "a way of life," not just a “world religion.” Lived Christianity is what will attract people to our faith, not forced religious conformity. Lived Christianity is about all those small loving gestures in thought, word and deed carried out by millions of disciples. The attractiveness of lived Christianity, not another angry Christian "crusade," will transform the world. Let’s not let the religious crazies of this world seduce us into their hateful brand of religion. Christianity is, and always has been, about "love." Those of us who believe this must respectfully and firmly disagree with those who spew their venomous hate - without restraint, without hesitation, without compassion - and call it Christianity!