Thursday, May 30, 2024


Letter to the Editor from my fellow island missionary friend in Ireland


Tuesday, May 28, 2024



May 20, 2024

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
John 19:25-34

Everybody has a “bucket list” of sorts of things they dream of doing before they die. It may not be an official list, but simply some dream they hold in their hearts of something they would like to do or a place they would like to visit before they die! For me, it was a cruise through the Greek islands! In 1995, for my 25th ordination anniversary, the Cathedral parish gave me that trip. To walk up the very wide main street from the port that St. Paul himself walked, was moving indeed!  Another of the highlights of that stop in Ephesus was a bus trip to the top of the hill where St. John and Mary, the mother of Jesus, is believed to have lived out their final days.

When today’s gospel reading comes up where Jesus basically hands the care of his mother to his beloved disciple, I remember that visit. The tiny community where they are believed to have lived, overlooking the great city of Ephesus, is not that impressive. What is impressive was their fidelity to Jesus as they stood there at the cross to the very end! Their fidelity is much more important than that tiny village overlooking Ephesus. It is their fidelity I want to talk about today, not my trip!  

Fidelity! We have a whole lot of names for it: keeping a promise, carry through, doing what you said you'd do, keep your word, putting your money where your mouth is, putting up and shutting up, being faithful, to name a few.

When I was ordained a priest, 54 years ago last Thursday, I made a promise to remain faithful to my ministry till death, very much like the Sisters, priests and married residents. Let me share with you a few things I have learned about fidelity.

(1) Fidelity is not static, but dynamic. By that, I mean you don't just commit in some ceremony and "puuuf," fidelity is guaranteed. It is always a way of life, rather than a fact of life. Fidelity is something that must be freely and consciously chosen every morning you put your feet to the floor, whether you're a marriage partner, a Sister or a priest. In a day’s time, life offers innumerable opportunities to be faithful or unfaithful. In fact, many of those around us today will actually encourage us and entice us to be unfaithful, rather than faithful. In other words, opportunities for infidelity, as well as some very convincing rhetoric will try to entice us to be unfaithful. Like love, fidelity can often be demandingly harsh, especially when you have to say "no" to things that look good, smell good, taste good and feel good - all for the sake of a higher good.

(2) Those who make commitments to fidelity must count the cost before they make it and be able to pay the price after they make it. In marriage, you must not just be able to remain faithful yourself, you have to marry someone else who has what it takes to remain faithful. One should never make a lifetime commitment without having what it takes to keep it. Before one takes such a serious leap as a life-time commitment, one must be able to take baby steps before big steps. Before one makes a lifetime commitment, it is a good idea to see if one can make small commitments and keep them. If you never keep your word, never follow through on even small promises, always take the latest best offer no matter what you told someone else yesterday, never finish a project, never can be counted on to show up, then you are not ready to be a priest, Sister or get married. 

(3) Fidelity is often presented as a horrible cross to bear with rewards only in the after-life. Very little is said about the payoffs of fidelity. I believe that fidelity has pay-offs similar to regular exercise and a good diet. It's not easy, but it is ultimately good for you and for society.  God knows we have seen the pain that uncommitted partners, infidelity, latest best offers, grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence thinking have inflicted on innocent marriage partners, families and especially children. Fidelity teaches you a lot about yourself. It teaches you to work through problems, rather than run from them. It helps you focus your energy in a more effective way.

(4) One does not just make a promise of fidelity and hope for the best or merely tough it out. One must tend one's garden, pay attention on a daily basis and do all one can to protect one's commitment from compromise and contamination. I have learned one thing from hundreds and hundreds of failed marriages. They were not killed. They simply starved to death, day after day, from lack of care and feeding! 

One of my heroes is Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit and a scientist. Because of his new ideas, he was silenced by Rome in 1926. He was urged by many to leave, not only the Jesuits, but also the Church. He decided rather to "go on to the end and with a smile if possible." Why? He said, "When I took my vows, I committed myself. To break them would be an offense against honor." "One must work from within," he said. "Those who leave no longer have any influence. The ideas now considered revolutionary will be generally accepted...The day will come; there can be no possible doubt about it."

These words of Father de Chardin have always challenged me on my personal journey of fidelity especially the part where he says, "One must work (for change) from within (the Church). Those who leave no longer have any influence.”  How true! How very true!


Sunday, May 26, 2024

Doubt Has ALWAYS Been An Integral Part of Faith


When the eleven disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped
even as they doubted.
Matthew 28:16-20

One of the things that happens when you read the Bible on a regular basis, like I am required to do, is that even familiar passages are always speaking to you in new ways. It happened again a couple of years ago when I read today’s gospel, a text that I have read and preached on many times. That was the first time I noticed the words, “When the eleven remaining disciples (Judas had committed suicide) saw Jesus after his resurrection, they worshiped even as they doubted.”

“They worshiped Jesus even when they doubted?” That’s pretty much the opposite of what we do. When we doubt, we quit worshiping. We assume that worshiping is only for believers. People, in our experience, who doubt quit worshiping! So why would these disciples worship Jesus, if they had doubts about Jesus? Why would the writer even include their doubts in the story?

The first thing many people assume about faith is that doubt is the opposite of faith. Not true! Honest doubt is not the opposite of faith. There is faith even in honest doubt.  Honest doubt is actually an integral part of faith. When Matthew tells us that the disciples “worshipped even when they doubted,” he wants us to know this basic principle: honest doubt was part of the faith, even for those who were closest to Jesus. The Easter stories, we have been reading, are a mixture of faith and doubt. The disciples are presented as very skeptical about Mary Magdalen’s report about seeing Jesus alive on that first Easter Sunday. Thomas, flat-out refused to believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes and touched Jesus with his own hands.  On the road to Emmaus, other disciples were astounded by the report of Jesus being seen alive and did not recognize him walking right beside them on the road. Even after many reports, even after having seen him themselves, they worshipped, even as they doubted. Yes, the message is simple: faith is never black and white, all or nothing, but always mixed with a good measure of healthy doubt.  Doubt does not necessarily mean you don’t have faith. Doubt probably means you do have faith!

“They worshiped, even as they doubted.”  The bigger question than whether doubt is part of faith, is what do you do when you doubt? Many, when they doubt, think they should absent themselves from prayer and worship until faith returns or becomes strong again. They say to themselves, “It is hypocritical for me to pretend to believe when I really don’t believe. When I start believing again, when my faith is strong again, then it will make sense for me to start praying and worshipping again.” That may sound good, even reasonable, but that’s not how it works! The story of the doubting St. Thomas has a lot to teach us. Thomas did was pretty much the opposite of what we do when we have doubts. When we doubt, we quit joining the community. We assume that joining the faith community is only for those who believe, for those without doubt. People, in our experience, who doubt quit joining the worshiping community! Not St. Thomas! He kept joining them, even when he doubted, until he believed!

As the doubting disciples teach us today, what really works is for us to worship even when we doubt, to worship until we believe.  Like a coal, pulled away from a heap of burning coals, that soon loses its heat, a doubter separated from the community of believers soon loses even more of his faith. A faith community strengthens faith and a doubting community strengthens doubt.

“They worshipped, even as they doubted.”  This may be yet another version of the great truth: “fake it till you make it.” Even though Alcoholics Anonymous made that idea famous, it actually goes back to the ancient Roman poet, Ovid who said, “Pretend to what is not, and then you’ll become in truth, what you are pretending to be.”  The great philosopher William James put it this way, “Act as if and the mind will produce your desire.” The idea is, if you take something that feels impossible, or at least completely unnatural, and pretend that it is the easiest, most natural things on the world for you to be doing, eventually, it will become as easy as you have been pretending it to be!

I practice this often in my own life. (1) As many of you know from me talking about my history, I grew up pretty much crippled by bashfulness. Bashful people find it painful to be in public situations. To cope, they are driven to avoid public situations as much as possible. This is a sure way to keep bashfulness going. The solution is to get out in public as much as possible, faking confidence, until one day you wake up and find out that you are no longer bashful.  The only way out of the fear of public speaking is to “fake it till you make it,” to do public speaking until you are no longer afraid to speak in front of crowds.  You cannot think your way out of bashfulness, you have to act your way out of bashfulness. (2) When I was sent to southeastern Kentucky as a newly ordained priest, against my will, somehow I was able to open my mind to “faking it till I made it.” I decided, since I did not get what I wanted, I would act as if I wanted what I got until I was able to really want what I got. It worked. Those ten years were wonderful years in many, many ways. I “acted as if” it was a great assignment until it actually became a great assignment.        

‘They worshiped, even as they doubted.”  My friends, all of us have a good measure of doubt, even as we believe. The secret to making sure that the scales do not tip too far to the doubt side, is to act as if we believe until we believe, to pray our way out of doubt, to worship until we feel like worshiping. So, when you are tempted to drop out because “I don’t get anything out of it” or “I’m not into it today,” that is when you really need to get into it, that is when you really need to act as if you are getting something out of it until you get something out of it.  Yes, even believers sometimes have to “fake it till they make it.”