Thursday, March 14, 2024


Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace.
John 2:13-25 

Like many people I know, I have a tendency to hold onto things until one day I become a slave of my own "stuff." Now that I am retired, I realized that I have too much stuff in my living space and that I have outlived much of its usefulness - clothes, books, files, pictures, nick-nacks, tools, appliances, dishes, picture frames and you-name it! Finally, a day comes when you know you need to "go through it" and "separate the wheat from the chaff" so to speak, but you just can't get motivated. It was then that Marie Kondo's little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, fell into my lap at the beginning of December from God-knows-where?

The first insight that came into focus, as I read the book, was the realization that decluttering would make my life richer, not poorer. Once the clutter is gone, my personal space would be a whole lot easier to clean - meaning less work! The second insight that came into focus was the realization finding what I truly need would be a whole lot easier to find - meaning less wasted time. The third insight that came into focus was the realization that I did not need to own things like 30 pairs of black pants of various waist sizes, 50 outdated old text books and manuals from high school, college and former jobs that I used to have, 150 file folders from the 150 priest retreats I did in 10 countries when I had most of the truly important information in my computer. Then there is the 15 years of weekly clippings of my column in The Record in albums when I have all of them in three fat books. Does one person really need three Crock Pots of various sizes? 

I don't need to belabor the point by listing all of the other categories of clutter that I had in my condo and garage - things like outdated spices in kitchen drawers, outdated pill bottles in the bathroom and duplicate tools and broken things of all sorts that I never got around to fixing in the garage!  I won't mention things like the six boxes of old pictures that I reduced to two that I had not looked at since I took them years ago - many in duplicate and triplicate.  I reduced two three-drawer file cabinets full of paper down to one and got rid of the other file cabinet! 

Reading the book is what motivated me to roll up my sleeves and dig in all during December! Once I got started, I was on a roll! In less than two weeks, between Good Will, the Second Hand Store at St. Thomas More Parish, the condo recycle bins and the dumpster, I have filled no less than three full pick-up truck loads, two recycle bins and probably half a dumpster. I find myself now going through the house actually looking for useless accumulated things to get rid of that I might have missed! It was like getting to your goal in a weight-loss program. I felt great!  

The Church has attempted to do the same. In a moment of great humility, something rare for our church at that time, the bishops of Vatican II admitted that the church is “semper reformanda” — “always in need of reform.” The human side of the church, just as all human organizations, has a tendency to fall into sin and decay and must be called back to fidelity, over and over again, as it moves through history.

In the above reading, which depicts a dramatic and public gesture of outrage, Jesus’ anger boils over. It is very important to remember that the anger of Jesus was not directed at people who sinned or failed in all their everyday ways. His anger was directed at those who controlled religion and used it to abuse simple people.

He had pity and compassion on the outcasts, the sick and sinner, but he was outraged at what had happened at the hands of their leaders to the religion he loved. In some of the most blunt words from the mouth of Jesus ever recorded, he called them “snakes, fakes and frauds.” He called the places of worship “whitewashed tombs … all clean and pretty on the outside, but filled with stench and rot on the inside.”

It is important to note that Jesus was not against organized religion, but what these people had done to organized religion. As this Gospel story tells us, he did not come to tear down the temple; he simply came to clean house. The temple had become a marketplace, and they were making a profit in every corner of it.

It is sad that many people never see beyond the packaging when it comes to religion. They see only the earthenware jar and never the treasure it holds. The purpose of religion is to serve, not be served. The goal of healthy organized religion is the personal transformation of people, not the using of people to serve it!

It is also sad that many people naively assume that organized religion is evil simply because it has gotten off track here and there in history. Jesus was clear that he did not come to destroy organized religion but to lead it back to its original purpose.

Without organized religion, we would not have the sacred Scriptures, we would be split into millions of personal opinions and small little cults, and we would not have a way to offer support to other believers around the world. Yes, the church may need a good “house cleaning” every now and then, but the organization of the church is always needed.

As Kenneth Woodward has pointed out, for the last 30 or 40 years people have operated out of a romantic notion that all the ills of the church reside with the institution — so that if only we could reform it, we ourselves would be better Christians. The truth quite often is the other way around. The institution will get better when each one of us is reformed and transformed.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024



There was a time when bucking the trends was looked upon as pitiful and in desperate need of rejection and even punishment. With our culture going downhill faster than a wagon load of fat kids, I, for one, believe it is past time to reverse that tend! I believe that we need more people who are willing, on a personal level, to deliberately buck some of the present trends. We need more courageous thinking adults with a set of principles that they are willing to live by and even being ready to take some heat to defend. We need principled people who are willing to change themselves to fit the truth rather than more people twisting the truth and manipulating reality to fit the latest cultural trends. 

In short, we need principled people willing to be counter-cultural!  We need more individuals who don't wait till enough people agree with them or even join them! We need more individuals willing to go it alone, if necessary! We need more individuals willing to set an example for even the few to follow, rather than following the example of the herd! We need more individuals who are willing to be the change they wish to see! We need people who are willing to die, if necessary, for truth, honesty, respect, communal values and eternal principles - even if they have to go it alone!  

As I write this, I cannot help but recall the powerful words of President Theodore Roosevelt. His words describe the type of people we need more of today to save our culture, not the mean and nasty "cultural warriors" who make the news every evening these days, people who are not solid and principled themselves, but want a dictator to be strong for them and make others fall in line to be more like themselves! We need real heroes, not angry, loud, personally weak losers and anarchists with no real morals or sound principles. People filled with anger, resentment and hatred are leading us over a cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings!  

Here is the challenge, outlined by President Theodore Roosevelt, that we really need. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Stephen Covey spoke eloquently of the power of a quality individual to effect change for the better when he wrote, "The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people." 

Alexis de Tocqueville may have said it even better, about the need for strong individuals, than I can when he said, “It would seem as if the rulers of our time sought only to use men in order to make things great; I wish that they would try a little more to make great men; that they would set less value on the work and more upon the workman; that they would never forget that a nation cannot long remain strong when every man belonging to it is individually weak; and that no form or combination of social polity has yet been devised to make an energetic people out of a community of pusillanimous and enfeebled citizens.”

It seems to me that our country, our parishes, our communities and our families will get stronger one principled person at a time or, without a significant number of such principled persons, those groups will self-destruct as communities! There are no short-cuts or quick fixes! No one can save us from us, but us! 


Sunday, March 10, 2024


So far, we have been to the desert, the mountain and the well. Today, Jesus invites us to admit that we either can’t see or won’t see and invites us to go to the eye-doctor to have our eyes “checked.”

Tyler Perry is a successful African-American playwright, actor and screenwriter. Perry attributes his success to what he calls “spiritual progress,” especially the “spiritual progress” that resulted in making peace with his own father. One of his profound insights was around learning that “parents do what they know how.” He finally realized that he could not change his history with his father, but he could change the way he wanted to remember it! “My life changed,” he said, “once things changed in me!”

I, too, had to learn how resentment can keep you stuck and how you can free yourself by going to an “eye doctor” and have your eyes opened. The ability to see in a new way is like being let out of prison, having your chains  and throwing off a heavy load of stinking garbage. Like Tyler Perry, it was only when I chose to “see my past in a new way” that I was no longer a victim of it.

We cannot do anything about our pasts, but we can choose whether we want to be victims of it. Once I began to understand that my own father “did what he knew how,” I was able to move from anger to compassion. I constantly thank God that I was able to bury all that resentment, even before I buried him!

“Seeing in a new way” is exactly the conclusion Jesus came to in his search for clarity during his forty days in the desert. Coming out of the desert, he began to preach “conversion.” That conversion is summed up in the Greek word “metanoia.” “Metanoiete” means “you, change the way you see!” Change the way you look at things and heaven will open up to you. Once things change in you, things around you will look very different.” The devil tried to get Jesus to change things. Jesus resisted that temptation. Instead, Jesus called for an internal change within people, believing that if people would change inside, things outside them would also change. A new life begins with having your eyes opened!

Today we have a wonderful story about a bunch of blind people: one who can’t see and others who won’t see. All of them need Jesus in order to be able to “see.” In this wonderful story, Jesus uses the occasion of healing physical blindness to tell us something about the healing of spiritual blindness.

The man born blind, not only regains his physical sight, but step-by-step he begins to see Jesus in a new way. At first, he says he tells people he doesn’t know who this Jesus is who healed him. As the story unfolds, he calls Jesus a “prophet” and finally “Lord.”

The Pharisees and his parents can see physically, but they are spiritually blind and refuse “to see in a new way.” The Pharisees are blinded by their own rigid religious structures. They can’t see the beauty of this great healing, a blind man getting his sight. All they can see is that this healing took place on the Sabbath day and healing was illegal on the Sabbath. The parents are blinded by their fear of being ostracized by neighbors, friends and organized religion if they admitted to this healing. They conveniently choose not to know and not to see. “Ask him,” they say, “he is old enough to speak for himself.” Both Pharisees and parents are afraid of “seeing in a new way” because it would mean their cozy little routines would be disrupted. It was convenient for them not to see and so remain stuck in their chosen blindness.

I am amazed when I talk to “stuck” people. I believe that most people who are stuck are basically people who are blinded by “the way they see,” by their inability to “see in a new way.” They whine and cry and wait to be rescued, but they cannot change their minds and look at their situations from a new angle. They can’t “let go” of their old way of thinking and seeing, and so remain stuck in their blindness. They are like the monkeys I read about several years ago. To catch these monkeys for the zoo, people would cut a hole in a tree, just small enough for a monkey to his hand into. Then they fill it with peanuts. When the monkey sticks his hand into the hole and grabs the peanuts, he cannot pull his hand back out. Instead of letting go of the peanuts, they howl and cry till someone comes and hauls them off to the zoo. All they had to do was to let go of their grip on the peanuts. People are a lot like that! They cannot let go of the way they see things and so remain trapped, whining and crying all the while. 

Some people simply cannot “let go” of the way they see things. They clutch at beliefs like: life ought to be fair, parents ought to be perfect, spouses should not let each other down, the church ought to be perfect, things ought to make sense and people ought to respect you, love you and meet your needs. And, of course, when life isn’t fair, when parents and churches aren’t perfect, when spouses let them down, when things don’t make sense and when people do not meet their needs, they fall apart and remain stuck in their belief that if they just don’t like it enough, it will go away. All they would have to do to free themselves is to “let go” of their old beliefs and “see things in a new way.”

Jesus was right, “If you were physically blind, there is no sin in that, but when you choose to be blind, your sin remains, you keep your own suffering going.” Tyler Perry is right, too, when he says, “My life changed once things changed in me.”

What about you? What situations do you need to “look at” in a new way? What people do you need to “look at” in a new way? Is the way you have been “looking at” these situations and people still causing you pain? Maybe it's an old relationship that didn't work out, someone who did something to hurt you in the past, a business partner who stole from you, a relative who cheated you, a change in the church you didn't like or a child or sibling  who disappointed you! If so, ask God for healing! Ask God for a new set of eyes! Once things change in you, life around you will change for the better for you! Sometimes, all you have to do is to "let go" of those "peanuts" you are holding onto by "choosing to change the way you look at the grip you have on them!"