Thursday, January 18, 2024


January 1, 2024

The shepherds made known the message that had been told them about this child. 
Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Luke 2:16-21

This gospel passage reminded me of that famous passage from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes that says:

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

It is that last line that stood out today to me as I read it – “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Think of the Martha and Mary story in the gospel. The shepherds in today's passage were the activists, like Martha, in that passage. They told everyone about what they had been told by the angels. Mary is the contemplative like Martha's sister Mary, who reflected in her heart about what had happened.

“A time to be silent and a time to speak” has been a daily part of my life over the last 54 years especially in preparing and delivering homilies.

I have never been one of those priests who believe that they can just get up and “wing it” without preparation because the “Holy Spirit will give them the right words” as they talk. I don’t believe it, I don’t practice it and I believe it is a terrible abuse of a Scripture passage. If I do not have time to reflect on the readings and prepare a homily, I just tell people that “there will be no homily today” and sit down for a few minutes of silence.

I believe in this practice so much that I have made plans to be buried holding a Lectionary in my hands. Vatican II taught us that the primary role of the priest is to preach. Because of that, the Lectionary has become my primary prayer book. The heart of my spirituality is not so much wrapped up in devotional practices as it is in “reflecting in my heart” like Mary and then “telling people about what I have heard” like the shepherds. “Telling people about what I have heard” from reflecting on the Scriptures is not just about talking from the pulpit. Since I spend so much time “reflecting in my heart” like Mary, I write them out and publish them, like the shepherds, for people to read and re-read in books and on my blog, to hear on retreats and during parish missions. I write them out because some people cannot hear, others cannot understand English all that well and still others want to spend some time, like Mary, “reflecting on them in their hearts.” The secret to writing out a good homily is to develop "an oral writing style" like the news people on TV - a simple direct style with just the right word in just the right place. Most people can not do that on their feet! It takes time. It takes thought. It takes practice. I have been very much influenced by a book by Richard Carl Hoefler (a Lutheran preaching professor), first published in 1978, entitled "Creative Preaching and Oral Writing." 

On a practical level, it would be wise for all of us to be like Mary, before we are like the shepherds. We should think before we speak. As Amy Carmichael said, "Let nothing be said about anyone unless it passes through the three sieves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?"

Tuesday, January 16, 2024


“It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals. There are a lot of people who are doing wonderful things, quietly, with no motive of greed, or hostility toward other people, or delusions of superiority.”

Charles Kuralt, American Journalist

For fifteen years straight, I wrote a weekly column for our Archdiocesan newspaper (The Record) called An Encouraging Word. The basic thrust of that column was to be an alternative to many religious columns that tended to focus on condemning our culture for it's seemingly sinking into total collapse. In other words, as they looked for sins to condemn, I looked for goodness to affirm. As John Lubbock famously said, "What we see depends mainly on what we look for."

I have never denied the existence of some very harsh realities in our world. All I am saying is, yes, there are some loud, sick and twisted people doing horrible things, but there are a lot of amazing people quietly doing wonderful things right in the midst of all the mean, selfish and destructive behaviors. Since the unheard and unfocused on tend to do their wonderful deeds quietly, we have to have trained eyes to see all the amazing goodness going on around us!

I used to be a "news glutton." I would watch a few hours of news each day. I finally realized that doing that was like "over eating," which will do damage to my physical health. Lately, I have come to realize that wallowing in "too much news" was doing terrible damage to my mental and spiritual health, especially if it was too much "bad news." Part of my "new year's resolution" is to maintain a healthy diet of good food and a more careful intake of "the news" since it has become so unbalanced in favor of negativity.

Since "the news" has become so unbalanced in favor of negativity, I have again realized that I have to go looking for my own "good news." I need to keep doing what I can to focus on the people who are quietly doing amazing things. I need to go to places where I can see what they are doing, affirm them with messages of support and spot-light them when I can in places like this blog.

I have written about it many times, but let me repeat it in case you have not been following this blog. I volunteer at St. Joseph Home for the Aged, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, having weekday Masses for the Sisters and the residents. It would be easy for me to focus on the problems of them finding enough staff these days, how many of the residents are sick or how many died last year or how much it costs to operate an institution that takes in people who no longer have enough money to take care of themselves the rest of their lives.

That kind of focus would be easy, but that's not what I do. I try to focus on the fact that this nursing home is one of the cleanest and best run nursing homes I have ever been in! I try to focus on the fact that these Sisters, many of them on walkers and in motorized carts themselves, have spent their lives caring for the elderly poor - giving them a home, nutritious food, health care, spiritual sustenance and even entertainment. I try to focus on the many who volunteer there, those who give them surplus food and supplies when they "beg" and those who make regular donations or leave them some funds in their Last Wills and Testaments - all of which keeps them going! I try to give them my best when I preside and preach at their Masses. I never go in there without being amply prepared.

This is only one example of the "people who are doing wonderful things quietly" that Mr. Kuralt spoke about in the quote at the top of this page. I know of many others and so do you! I know people who are caring for elderly parents at home, raising severely handicapped children and single parents struggling every day to keep their families together. I know people who are dealing heroically with cancer and other debilitating health issues every day, not to mention the people who are comforting and caring for them as best they can. They are almost invisible. These people do what they do quietly. Some of those suffering are children. They never make the news, but they are here among us so let's forget "politicians, entertainers and criminals" for a moment and remember them! Focus on them. Find them. Give them some of our focused attention. They are the real over-looked heroes among us!

in his book
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”


Sunday, January 14, 2024



For the third time, old Eli said to young Samuel, "No, I did not call you! Go back to sleep and if you are called again, reply, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!"
I Samuel 3

Not too many years ago, I had two jobs at once, something that I have handled several times over the years. The last time was just a few years ago. One of my jobs was one of the easiest jobs on earth and the other one was one of the hardest jobs on earth.

My weekend job as chaplain at Bellarmine was a real pleasure. No matter how tired I was some Sunday afternoons, a burst of energy filled my body and soul when I drove into the parking lot at the top of the hill and grew as I walked down the isle to begin Mass. I always looked forward to it. In a world where many people assume that young people today have given up on religion, I found that untrue among those who came to Sunday night Mass. There were some serious spiritual seekers on that campus and the long hours I spent preparing my homilies were well worth the time I spent on them. Doing what I did then was the light of my life. 

My other job, vocation director for the archdiocese, was one of the hardest jobs on earth, especially when I did that job during the sexual abuse scandal that hit our diocese.  While I tried to promote all vocations, I specialized in recruiting young men with vocations for the priesthood. When I was really, really discouraged, I felt like I am trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos or tickets to the Titanic!

One good thing about that job, I didn’t know anybody who was out to take that job away from me. I got beyond discouraged. That year certainly didn’t help. Why did I stay with it as long as I could? For one reason and one reason only: regardless of what people may think about the call to priesthood, I still believe I have one of the best jobs in the whole wide world. I still wouldn’t trade with anybody!

My job as a Vocation Director, is described in our first reading today. I represented Eli in that reading. Samuel represents all the young people I listened to throughout the year. Eli (whose name, by the way, means “uncertain”) is an old temple priest who lived at a time when things looked bleak in Israel. The temple priests were corrupt and there was no prophet in the land to speak positively for the Lord.  Old Eli was assisted in his Temple duties by a young man named Samuel. Samuel, we are told, was like many young people of his time: he was not familiar with the Lord. It is precisely in this terrible state of affairs that the call comes to young Samuel.

One night the old Eli and the young Samuel were sleeping in different parts of the Temple. Samuel keeps waking up thinking he hears someone calling his name. He presumes it is the old priest Eli and goes to him and says, “You called?” Twice Eli tells the young Samuel, “No, I didn’t call you!” “Just go back to sleep!” The third time Eli is awakened by Samuel, Eli realizes that it must be the Lord calling him, so he tells Samuel, “Samuel, if you hear that voice again, tell the voice “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  God takes Samuel and makes him into a great prophet “not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” I have always stopped at hearing those words when they come up in our readings. That is any homilist’s greatest dreams “to have his words to never be without effect!”  

Like old Eli, my job as vocation director was not to talk anybody into anything, but to help young people, like Samuel, figure out what God was calling them to do. I just encouraged them to listen for God’s voice and then, hearing it, they would know what to do! I didn’t call people to ministry! God did! My job was simply to encourage young people to listen for God’s call and to answer “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 

All of us have a “vocation” or a “call” to do something in this world for the benefit of others, so let me say a few things about what I have learned about “calls.”

The first “call” all of us have is the call to holiness as disciples of Christ at our baptisms. Our second call, at our baptisms, was to grow more like Christ by carrying on some part of his ministry in the world. Those are the “calls” we all need to “wake up” to: our call to personal holiness and our call to carry on some part of Christ’s ministry!  Within our common baptismal call, some of us carry out our ministry in other sacraments. Spouses and parents carry out part of Christ’s ministry in the Sacrament of Marriage. Bishops, priests and deacons carry out their part of Christ’s ministry in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.    Both Marriage and Holy Orders are geared toward the salvation of others. They are sacraments of service to all the baptized in their calls to holiness.

Within our same baptismal calls, some of you have calls to various professions. The hard part, like Samuel, is to discern when God is calling and what God is calling us to do.

There are several factors that are common in this discernment process. I will speak later about marriage and other vocations, but let me today speak about the calls to priesthood, religious life and full-time lay ministry. Don’t turn me off just because you feel it is not your call. The work of promoting religious vocations is just as much your responsibility as it is mine. Even if it is not your call, you have a responsibility to encourage others in that call if you see a glimmer of service in them. After all, someday you will need to be married, have your babies baptized and confirmed, have your confessions heard, attend Mass and be anointed when you are sick and dying, when it’s time for your funeral or be ministered to in countless ways by lay and ordained ministers.

Today is a day to appreciate and pray for priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, marriage couples and lay ministers. You have one full time priest, two retired priests and many talented and generous lay ministers. Today is a good time to think about calling forth, from the community of believers, new people to carry on their ministries into the future.

This is how “vocations” work! Jesus doesn’t usually appear and say, “I want you!” He usually sends one of his messengers to do the inviting. Back when I was pastor of the Cathedral, the President of Bellarmine, Dr. Jay McGowen, was a parishioner. One Sunday he said to me coming out of church, “Someday you will be working at Bellarmine!” I laughed because I never thought of being a campus minister.  Several years later I ended up at Bellarmine for 14 years as the longest serving campus minister priest in their history!  

Surely, there is someone in these two communities being called to take my place? I believe it’s someone here today! Back when I was working in campus ministry at Bellarmine, I said to one of the faithful chapel students who never even mentioned the possibility of going to the seminary, “Someday you will be taking my place.” He laughed, but a few years later he went to the seminary, got ordained and took two of my jobs – pastor of the Cathedral and Vocation Director!  That’s how vocations work! God prompts somebody to ask and God takes it from there!