Thursday, March 7, 2024


A few weeks ago, I made a statement in my Sunday homily on the Feast of the Epiphany. I could hear the congregation suck in a little air when they heard it! I assumed they realized that it hit the nail on the head. They do that when they tell me I have hit the nail on the head! That made me go home and do some more thinking about what I had just said. Here are the very words. "If we do not like who we are today, it is probably the result of hundreds and hundreds of small lazy or cowardly choices made over many years."

What was on my mind was the belief that we live in a society made up of more and more so-called "victims." "Victims" are unhappy people who blame their unhappiness on others, be it their parents, the government, the church, the culture we live in, and especially anyone more successful than they are!

Why do people behave this way? There are some benefits to adapting to a victimhood mindset.

Being accountable for your life means you’re in the driver’s seat. You take responsibility. That can be scary to someone who has a victim mentality. You would have to admit life isn’t just the result of the actions of others. Taking responsibility bursts the protective bubble of victimhood.

Some people’s problems continue because of the secondary benefits. Sympathy, attention, and access to medication or funds are common examples of secondary gain. Someone with a victim mentality might not even realize they are getting these benefits, and often feel truly distressed.

People with a victim mentality, especially when it comes from past trauma, unconsciously seek validation and help from others. They play the “poor me” card consistently. This can generate sympathy and help from others.

Projecting blame on others is a key part of the victim mentality. It’s a way to avoid being truly vulnerable and taking risks.

In comparing the paranoid protector of his status and power, King Herod, to the Magi who risked everything in their spiritual quest, I referred to a book I wrote a few years ago entitled BETWEEN COURAGE AND COWARDICE: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good. This book is a very personal, autobiographical book that traces decisions I have made since I was six years old that have led me to where I am today. The thread throughout the book goes something like this. When I gave into fear, I withered as a person. When I stepped out in courage, I grew as a person. Many of the decisions I wrote about revolve around the decisions I made that led to the new places I have been, the decisions I made that propelled me forward and the decisions I have made one after another that have brought me to this day. I wrote it as a personal whole-life review, but I also wrote it as a way to teach others about the benefits of facing down fear and embracing opportunities for personal growth and change. I wanted to teach what I had learned - God gives us some amazing ingredients, but we must make our own cake! We have to create the life we want and give up whining and blaming. It's a truth I believe in and it's a truth I try to teach! How else can we explain the fact that some great people have overcome some enormous obstacles on reach an unbelievable level of success, while some of the most talented and materially blessed people have ended up sad failures in life. Victimhood, I believe, is ultimately the result of laziness and cowardice in most cases. The life we want is not a matter of luck, it's about the effort we put into building it! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024



Take care of your father (and mother) when (they) are old; grieve (them) not as long as (they) live. Even if (their) minds fail, be considerate of (them); kindness to a father (and mother) will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins. 

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14

The good news is that we are living longer and longer. The bad news is that, in many ways, it is becoming harder and harder to die at home of a natural death. The extension of lifespans has created a booming nursing home industry, a booming legal business of end-of-life and medical surrogate lawyers and complicated machines that can keep us suspended between life and death for years, if that is required! In some states and countries, it is now legal for sick persons to end their own lives through "assisted suicide" (aka "medical aid in dying." That is so scary when I think about where that is going in the future! Thankfully, however, there are also "assisted living" programs offering hospice or palliative care that help the dying be comfortable until death comes naturally. 

Being a hospital chaplain is not as easy as it used to be either! I have two memories of being called to the hospital when someone was dying. The first was when my presence was resented by the hospital staff. The second was when I was appreciated by the hospital staff.  

When I was a Deacon, I was assigned to a Catholic Hospital here in Louisville. I was called to anoint a man who was dying. When I got to the room, I waited outside until the staff told me is was OK to come in. One of the good Sisters, in an attempt to help me get set up for the anointing. plowed right past me right into the room, past the nurses and the doctors who were working on the patient, pushing her cart with candles, crucifix and oil, calling out in a loud voice, "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I forget exactly what the doctor yelled to her about her cart, but it wasn't nice!  I was happy I had the good sense to stay out of the room until I was invited in! 

When I was a young priest, I was called to the hospital to anoint a young man who had been in a terrible accident. He was terribly swollen and had wires, tubes and equipment attached to him to keep him alive artificially even though he had been brain dead for quite a while. The doctors could not turn off the machines unless the family agreed for fear of being sued, along with the hospital. I realized right then and there it would be my job to help the family make the decision to turn off the machines and let him go! After talking to them a while, I helped them make that decision, making sure that everyone one of them was in agreement. We prayed for a while together. I laid the pix with the Blessed Sacrament on his chest over his heart as they turned off the machines. Within a few minutes it was over. His body was no longer being tortured because they couldn't bring themselves to let him go. He was at peace and so were they! One of the doctors came out as I was leaving to thank me for the ministry I had just offered the family - something that he himself could not do under those circumstances. 

It is hard to die these days because of the maze of new medical treatments and the jungle of legal health care issues. My first suggestion is to be sure you and your family members have a LIVING WILL DIRECTIVE and a LIMITED HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY so that your survivors will know what you want in such situations.  My second suggestion is call your pastor and ask for the Anointing of the Sick at the beginning of your illness if possible. Don't wait till the last minute and then try to find a priest for the "Last Rites" after the patient is unconscious! Many hospitals no longer have priest chaplains on call and the number of available priests is shrinking every year. My third suggestion is to talk to somebody in the family, even if you are a young adult in good health, about what you want if you are in an accident and as far as a funeral - even if it is just a few little instructions they can remember. If you are an older person, you  might even want to pre-plan your funeral so that your family will know what you want and how you want it done. It will help them tremendously. 

Before all that, while your parents are alive and doing reasonably well, there is much you can do for them and much you owe them. Visit them! Call them! Remember their birthdays, anniversaries and other special days like Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Speak to them with respect even if they become tedious and demanding. Do whatever is possible and legal to protect them from criminal online predators and the risks of driving if it is no longer feasible for them. That will also protect others from the harm they can inflict in an automobile accident. Help them, or find someone who can, navigate the complicated legal paper work and medical appointments that are almost all done online these days! Most importantly, talk to them! Talk to them and try to honor as many of their wishes as possible rather than ramming things down their throats because it would be easier for you! Last of all, pray with them once in a while! Help them get to church! Go with them! Make it a family day for them when possible!  Take them to breakfast afterwards even if it is only once a month! Take turns with your siblings if necessary!  Your presence and attention will bring them great comfort! 

In closing, let me say this. You owe them a lot and the care and attention you show them will bring God's abundant blessings and forgiveness to you in the process! Your honor and respect for them will be "firmly planted against the debt of your sins," as the reading at the top puts it! 

Sunday, March 3, 2024


Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.
John 4:14

On the first Sunday of Lent, Jesus invited us to conversion of life by going to the desert. The desert is a place devoid of distractions, a place to gain insight into ourselves. On the second Sunday of Lent, Jesus invited us to go up the mountain with him. Mountains are places where we can go to gain perspective, to get the "big picture." From a mountaintop one can see into the distance – where they have been, where they are now and where they are headed. On this third Sunday of Lent, Jesus invites us to go to the well, a place one goes to quench one’s thirst.

In many ways, people today are thirsty, restless and looking for meaning. The Prophet Haggai, about 520 years before Christ, described our culture quite well when he wrote, “You have sown much, but have brought in little; you have eaten, but have not been satisfied; you have drunk, but not been exhilarated; have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed; and you have earned wages for a bag with holes in it.” We “have it all” on one hand and yet we are still not satisfied on the other. We are constantly “craving” for more!

It has been suggested that our consumer culture has spawned a new climate of thirstiness and restlessness. The experts call it ‘churn,’ using the word to describe our short attention span and our ‘what’s next’ attitude. This restlessness is seen in a consuming lust for endless distractions and amusements. This restlessness is being fed, some believe, by the overstimulation and excessive exposure to violent movies, fast-paced videos, computers and cell-phones, loud hard-wired music and over-scheduling. All these together exacerbate agitation, restlessness and hyperactivity.

What the world seems to be craving right now is what Jesus called “rest for one’s soul.” He said on one occasion, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus offers “rest” to those who are “worn out” in their search for “meaning.” 

In this gospel, we meet a wonderful woman who is an example of all that! Jesus meets this woman at a well. She is tired - tired to the bone. She is physically tired - tired of being thirsty and having to constantly draw water and carry it long distances. She lived a half mile away and the well was over 100 feet deep. She was emotionally tired - tired of trying to find satisfying relationships in her life. She had been “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the country song goes. She had been married five times. She was tired of being discriminated against by others. Jews hated Samaritans like her and women in general were considered socially inferior. She was spiritually tired – tired of a burdensome religion that was not really satisfying. At the well, she meets Jesus and pours out her heart to him and he, in turn, gives her “living water” and “rest for her soul” in the form of respect, acceptance and love.

Fellow seekers, all of us are like this woman in some degree. We all have a void in our lives that we try to fill. Some of us strive frantically our whole lives to fill that void by gaining material things, gaining stature, gaining status, gaining fame, finding the perfect relationship and on and on. The fact of the matter is we will never fill that void with “things or stuff” because that void was put there for a specific purpose. We have a built-in missing piece – a missing piece given to us by God himself.

What is the purpose of that void? What is that missing piece? It is the place where God belongs! Only God can fill that hole. Saint Augustine of Hippo described it best when he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you!”

It’s as if we are all running around with a hole in our souls that we are desperately trying to fill. The truth of the matter is that only God can fill it, and yet we try our best to fill it with unsatisfying distractions, amusements, relationships and material things. Lent is a time to stop by the “well” for “living waters” and find “rest” in God.

The best meditation for this gospel could be Francis Thompson’s famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” where God is pictured as a hound pursuing us throughout our lives that we are trying to run away from! “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him…”

I have always loved the words of Celie in the movie “The Color Purple.” Celie feels that there is a great big a hole in her life. She is more than a bit aggravated by the feeling of God’s absence in her life – what she refers to as God “just sitting up there glorifying in being deef.” She speaks for many people today when she says, “It ain’t easy trying to do without God. Even if you know he ain’t there trying to do without him is a strain.” Those who experience the strain of trying to “do without God” will no doubt feel a hole in their souls, a hunger and thirst that nothing seems to satisfy. Yes! Lent is good time to re-connect with God after "trying to do without him.”

So far this Lent, Jesus has taken us to the desert, to the mountain and to the well so that he might lead us to conversion of life, a life that is full and satisfying, a life that includes him!