"Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us." As the Church concludes its Jubilee of Mercy, let us ask ourselves, what sort of mercy do we crave? Are we looking for something in the here and now, as was the first criminal? Or can we see the bigger picture, as did the second one? Of course we should want our siblings to have peace and justice in this life. But we should also recognize that such things are ultimately nothing more than dust in the wind. How many Sauls and Davids have come and gone, yet the world remains a mess. How many wannabe Sauls and Davids will vie for our attention, yet the world will continue to remain a mess. Our Brother did not come here to be a Saul or a David, as much as we wanted him to be. No, our Parent became one of us so that we might see the royal inheritance to which we can rightfully lay claim. And such a treasure is something that no king, president, or even pope can ever hope to produce. So what shall we seek: true mercy or a cheap substitute?
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Once again, our readings are appropriate for the moment in which we find ourselves. Not because the apocalypse is imminent, but rather because we desperately need to be reminded that our world is only transitory. Politics and culture are merely games. Yes, they are ones with the power to make our stay on this little rock more or less pleasant, but they are not the life and death struggles we think them to be. No, our hope is in a kingdom far grander than any dog and pony show we can invent. And the best news is that this realm is even now rising in our midst; all we need is the faith to see it.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
How many of us listen to the first reading and think to ourselves: just eat the pork. It seems like such a small thing to die for. God will understand. God will forgive. Just eat the pork.
It is fitting that we hear this story on the final Sunday before Election Day, because many of us have been bombarded by that sentiment for quite some time. Vote for Clinton. Vote for Trump. Just eat the pork. Ignore the lies, the corruption, and the sleaze. Better her than him; or him than her. Just eat the damn pork. Yes, it can seem like such a small thing to object to. One of them is going to win after all. So yes, perhaps it is better him than her; or her than him. And perhaps it is understandable if some of us give in and eat the pork. But at what cost? How much of one's soul is tainted by affirming a person who does not deserve that affirmation? Yes, of course our Parent will forgive, but some stains cannot be erased. So vote however you choose on Tuesday; just understand the consequences.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Today I celebrate my friend, Fr. Gregory Coiro, OFM Cap. He was a good priest; the best I have ever known. And while I cannot imagine him getting canonized, I am quite certain of his holiness. He gave so much in the hope that we, his brothers and sisters, might "ascend the mountain of the LORD". And I know that even now he is doing everything within his power to help us find our way into our Parent's "holy place". Yes, blessed are we. So with joy and love I say, Brother Greg, pray for us!
Sunday, October 30, 2016
"You love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made." None of us is ever truly lost. We wander through swamps and deserts. We deserve the warnings and rebukings that come our way. But not a single one of us is ever so deplorable as to find themselves abandoned by our Parent. Each and every being on this planet is a beloved child of our one God. May this truth pierce your heart and soul in these final days of our presidential contest, that you too might loathe as your Creator loathes.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
"The Lord hears the cry of the poor." But do we? Do we truly listen to them, or are we too busy turning them into objects for the fulfillment of our own needs and desires? The poor are not here to provide us with wisdom or opportunities for self-improvement. Such endeavors might allow us to feel better about our privilege, but let us never confuse them with justice. Life is a cosmic lottery. Some of us win, and some of us lose. One way or another, our Parent will take care of the latter. The rest of us have some choices to make: Will we recognize our good fortune? Will we freely and generously share that bounty with our neighbors? Will we humble ourselves before our family, or must God do it for us?
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Have we not remained faithful? Have we not been persistent? So where is our speedy justice? Where is our divine assistance? Despondency is easy when life is viewed through the eyes of the world. But we are called to see things through the truth of love. And from that vantage point, grace surrounds us: in the form of enemies ripe for transformation into friends; in the form of siblings standing shoulder to shoulder with us in solidarity; in the form of nature reminding us that our family is much bigger than a tribe of talking monkeys; in countless forms of wonder and beauty we can barely comprehend but who leave their marks on our hearts and souls. This is the help our Parent provides. And while it might not satisfy worldly demands or desires, it does guard what matters most, now and forever.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
"Master! Have pity on us!" One way or another, we Americans are soon to get the president we dearly deserve. Pride. Greed. Envy. Anger. Lust. Gluttony. Sloth. We created a culture that revels in each of the seven deadly sins. And in just about a month, we shall reap what we have sown. We are unclean: our nation, our leaders, ourselves. Will we wallow in that muck; gleefully, mournfully, apathetically? Or will we be bold enough to reject false deities and to cry out to our Parent for healing? And if cleansing comes, can we remain faithful, or must we return to the delusion of the saving power of politics? Yes, let us "sing to the LORD a new song", for we are in desperate need of their "wondrous deeds".
Sunday, October 2, 2016
"Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord." Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As long as we are human, we will give birth to ruin and misery. Sometimes, this is the product of greed and envy. But oftentimes, it is the result of a lack of patience in our Parent's vision; for in our rashness to help the kingdom along, we inevitably replace God's plan with one of our own. We are neither masters, nor builders, but merely servants, and unprofitable ones at that. And therein lies our greatest freedom: our Parent does not expect us to end evil and suffering; that is their work, not ours. No, our obligation is to love our siblings as best we can, no more, no less; and then to trust God to do wonderful things with that love. That is a faith that sings joyfully. That is a faith that moves mountains in hardened hearts. That is a faith that brings forth eternal life.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
"Woe to the complacent in Zion!" It is doubtful that anyone reading this actually identifies with the rich man. We are people of God, not Pharisees. We "pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness." We would never knowingly ignore Lazarus or his kin. But none of that lets us off the hook, for we are just as susceptible to complacency as are the gluttons and the hedonists. There will always be more oppression and hunger than we can ever possibly satisfy. We know better than most that our Parent is the only one who can meet our siblings' needs. So it is easy to convince ourselves that we are giving enough, helping enough, doing enough. But an ivory bed is an ivory bed, no matter how well-meaning its occupant. Let us challenge ourselves ruthlessly, so that when we meet Lazarus and his kin, we can honestly tell them that we did our best to be good brothers and sisters.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
"Never will I forget a thing they have done!" Let these words burn into your soul, that they might haunt you both in the voting booth and long after election day is over. Ask yourself honestly, "Whom will my candidate serve?" And if the answer is something other than our Parent and our family, then what? A retreat into the comforting arms of "lesser of two evils" logic, "chicken or fish" rationalizations, and/or "best of bad options" strategies? Or a step down the painful path of voting one's conscience? No, the politics of mammon will not be altered by a single vote, but your soul can certainly be transformed, for better or for worse. So examine your ballot and ask yourself honestly, "Whom will I serve?"
Sunday, September 11, 2016
These are probably not the readings we would like to hear this day, but perhaps they are the ones that we need. They set a mirror in front of our souls and dare us to be honest about what we see. Have we been faithful to our Parent and our siblings these past fifteen years, truly faithful? Or have we become a collective version of the Prodigal One, full of arrogant certainty that we know better than the Divine? How has that worked out for us, or for our family? Is it everything we dreamed it would be as we cried ourselves to sleep at the end of that September day? Or have we woken up to find ourselves sitting in the muck like the swine? How can we rise up unless we admit that we have fallen down? Is today the day for truth, or do we need another decade? Yes, it is good news that God is very patient.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
God first. That is the path of discipleship. To those enamored of the empire of the here and now, such a request is cruel and unusual. But to we who seek our refuge in the kingdom, how could we exist any other way? How could we not hate the timid human notions of family? How could we not renounce the burdensome weight of mammon? Yes, we are hypocrites and failures, who remain ever ignorant of our Parent's intentions. But we hunger for our cross, and that has made all the difference.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
"The one who humbles himself will be exalted." Once more, we return to trust, a trust that challenges me viciously, particularly now as I contemplate the coming death of my friend Fr. Greg. My fear is not of death itself, but about the possibility of being forgotten; not me personally, but rather this work, this calling. Perhaps because he is a Capuchin, my mind keeps comparing Greg's situation to the death of St. Francis. I do not expect that Greg's brothers will strip him naked and lay him out on the floor of his hospital room. But I do know that my friend's final days have been just as sublime of a prayer as were Francis', and our Brother Jesus' for that matter. Their deaths exalted their vocations. Will I share such a fate? Or will my fears come true: a pointless death for a forgettable prophet.
But if I and my message are forgettable, is it because that reality is exactly what God desires? Every scheme to make this work go viral has failed. Was that because I did not try hard enough or because that outcome is contrary to our Parent's plan? Personally, I lean towards the latter, because they are really good at telling me no. Should I take this revelation and start a new church/religion? NO. Should I go out and find me some disciples? NO. Should I package and sell it like every other wannabe guru? NO. Should I do any of the things that sensible people do when they are trying to spread a message? I think you get the answer by now. The memo they keep sending says, "Take your place at the wrong end of the table and trust us to do our thing as we see fit." Alleluia! Alleluia!
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Earlier this week, I found out that a friend of mine is dying. I met Father Gregory Coiro in 2002. It was my first full year of teaching high school religion and he was returning home from a parish assignment to be the campus chaplain. I invited him to speak to my classes about his life as a priest, but instead he opened our eyes to a good news that is both wildly messy and intensely beautiful.
Greg's spirituality is delightfully complex. He has an earthy sense of humor and a gift for storytelling, which made him a perfect fit for an all-boys school. His annual talk on appropriate behavior at school dances was everything you might imagine it to be. No question was off-limits. And despite students' best efforts, nothing seemed to embarrass him. Yet when Congressman David Drier visited one year to talk to the senior class, Greg boycotted the assembly because he considered Drier's voting record to be insufficiently pro-life. Similarly, he recounted without apology his refusal to attend weddings that did not take place in the Catholic Church. He believed that a priest was always a representative of the Church, and he did not want his presence to convey a false sense of approval of things he knew to be contrary to Catholic teaching; that outcome would have been too scandalous.
Needless to say, Greg is too contradictory for some people. But I always saw a logic to the madness: he actually believes everything the Church teaches. He embraces "the discipline of the Lord" and the truth of "the narrow gate." But he also heeds our Parent's call to bring everyone, "all you nations … all you peoples," through that very same gate. With the use of clowning and crudeness, Greg teaches us that even when we feel damaged and dirty, God continues to move within us. Because if God is love, then our Parent will never leave our side. And Greg truly believes that God is love.
I have so many fond memories of my friend, but I will end with the end. I phoned Greg in the hospital after learning of his present condition. I asked him how he was doing, and with an amused tone in his voice he simply said, "Dying." He then went on to say that the hardest thing was knowing the pain his decision to stop dialysis was creating for those who loved him. Yes, the last are truly first in the eyes of grace. I am going to miss Greg terribly, but I also know that he is going home. Soon he will join the communion of saints, and their prayers on our behalf will get a lot more interesting. (I can almost hear God's chuckling already.) So farewell, dear friend … until we meet again.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Truth is divisive. Partly because we are so bad at recognizing it, but mostly because we are so good at rejecting it. Either way, truth brings conflict. The problem, however, is that too many of us are more terrified of conflict than of dishonoring truth. Yes, listening is as noble as evangelizing. And humility is as necessary as conviction. But enabling ignorance does not promote peace, no matter how blissful it might feel. Nor are capitulation and appeasement manifestations of loving our enemies. The prophets of tolerance and diversity have good intentions, but minimizing truth will not make hatred and tribalism go away. No, the only way out of the swamp is the kingdom, in all its uncomfortable glory.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Sunday, July 31, 2016
"All things are vanity!" Once more, truth slaps us in the face. Money. Power. Fame. Every marker we use to define success is nothing more than chaff. Love is the treasure that matters to our Parent. Not our freedoms. Not our tribes. Not our institutions. Only love. Only love lasts. Only love will linger after we, and this entire planet for that matter, are turned "back to dust." So let go of the lusts and the lies, and instead let love be "the work of our hands." Only then shall we know true glory.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
"Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." We pray, but do not receive peace. We march, but do not find justice. Is our Parent failing to live up to their end of the bargain? Or are we refusing to step through the door that has been offered? The enemy in need of empathy. The stranger in need of mercy. The friend in need of truth. These are the opportunities for grace for which we have pleaded. These are the solutions to the chaos and confusion surrounding us, not programs or politics. Family is what we need, and it is waiting just beyond the open door.
Friday, July 22, 2016
"My soul is thirsting for you," the One "whom my heart loves." Oh how I struggle to do your will, to tell your story. I do such a piss poor job of it, but you refuse to release me from my burden, you refuse to take back this gift. Thank you. Thank you for the honor of this particular cross. I am ready to bear its weight once more. And with the help of Sister Mary and all our kin, it shall not crush me.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Today is our annual reminder that the Divine is not the rational and reasonable object we wish them to be. God is strange, in so many ways. We can try to explain away such truth. Or we can accept it. We can embrace it. And then we will come to know someone wonderful, someone far more wonderful than any consumer-friendly version peddled by corporate religion. Yes, God is strange! Alleluia!
Sunday, May 15, 2016
"Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth." What image did you hold in your mind as you sung these words today? Are you waiting for a miracle, of either divine or political origin, to get us there? Or are you willing to be an instrument of the Spirit right here and right now? All our Parent asks of us is that we acknowledge our neighbors as our family, then allow grace to take over our hearts. It is the only renewal we need. And also the only one with even the slightest chance of success.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Or perhaps the disciples said it like this: "Jesus, now are you going to make Israel great again?" And perhaps they stood there "looking at the sky" because they were disappointed in our Brother's answer. Yes, we have always longed for the sort of savior who pledges to "restore the kingdom" according to our image. But will such a person, be they man or woman, left, right, or socialist, ever provide us with what we truly need? If the Ascension teaches us anything, it is that we have a very bad habit of looking in all the wrong places.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
"Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." How are we to do this, surrounded as we are by pain and anger? Trust. We are called to trust in our Parent's love, to trust that the Spirit will be with us when we need her, to trust that they will return for us when the time comes. Yes, such trust is a tall order. Yes, we would much prefer a plan to eliminate the sources of our troubles and fear. But our Brother did not leave us with one of those. No, he left us something better: hope. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Sunday, April 24, 2016
The "old order" is a way of power and tribalism, and we cling to it like a life preserver. We do not trust love, because we know where it leads. We are not blind. We see what happens to those who obey our Brother's new commandment. We hear the wailing. And we want no part of this cross.
But what if we chose to be brave? What might it look like if we loved one another as our Parent loves us? What would it mean to love the grouchy, the annoying, the misfit, the lunatic, the enemy? What if we let privilege go unchecked, trusting in the grace of encounter to wash away prejudice, knowing that such a process will take generations upon generations? What if we refuse to build walls that keep out the stranger, trusting in the grace of hospitality to bridge the deepest chasms, knowing that some will take advantage and do us harm? What if we listen, really listen, to the voices we most want to ignore, knowing that we might have to choose between our agenda and the hope of friendship?
So what about you? Will you choose boldness or safety? Will you trust in the promise of Easter? Will you trust in the grace of love? Or will you put your faith in human kings and kingdoms?
Sunday, April 17, 2016
It is easy to get overwhelmed by life, to be consumed by the demands of this, that, and the other. But we do not belong to such demands, nor to the society that creates them. No, we belong to our Parent, and to our Parent alone. Remember that truth the next time human dictates threaten to grind your soul into despair. Then shake the dust from your feet and be "filled with joy and the Holy Spirit."
Sunday, April 10, 2016
What shall we be fed? And whom do we trust to feed us? Those seem like questions worth pondering, especially in a presidential election year. It is easy to get drawn into the drama of human intrigue. And it is even easier to forget that the realm we inhabit is much larger than the piece of dirt upon which we walk. Yes, we must pay attention to practical things. But we must also remember that no politician or party can ever rescue us in a way that truly matters. So discern well for whom you will vote. And then discern even more vigorously on whom you will follow and whom you will obey.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
"Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." Such wisdom applies to our faith in mercy as much as our faith in the resurrection. Where is the evidence for this delightful grace that "endures forever"? God's children are still mired in pettiness, greed, and violence. And the most faithful among us are often the worst off. Where are our "signs and wonders"? Yes, there are moments when we feel mercy's touch. But when will it linger upon our hearts and souls? Must we die first? No, faith will never be as rational as we would like. But should that stop us from choosing to embrace it?
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Today we are called to rise alongside our Brother. So let us step out of our tombs, open our eyes, and see, really see, perhaps for the first time in our lives. Let us see what is true. And let us see what are just the games we play down here "on earth." And once we have seen, let us seek.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
It has been a strange Lent for me. I have spent almost all of it recovering from minor maladies. I have been unfocused and unproductive, particularly where my calling is concerned. But perhaps our Parent knew better than I about what I needed during these forty days: a reminder that I serve their plan, not mine. And today, we are all reminded just what that plan looks like: messy, frightening, and gloriously wonderful. Yes, the cross lies in front of each one of us. The question you and I face as we enter this holy week is whether or not to embrace it, in all its chaos and beauty. So what say you?
Sunday, March 13, 2016
"Go, and from now on do not sin any more." Do better next time. That is mercy. No hand wringing and reluctant pardons. No pretending that sin is not sin. Just the expectation that we are "straining forward to what lies ahead." Yes, our Parent does wonderful things for us. They allow us umpteen chances to do right by love and truth. So let us accept their generosity, and spend these dwindling Lenten days in joyful conversation with our hearts and souls about our many opportunities to do better.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Do we love the elder son as much as we love his prodigal brother? Do we acknowledge the legitimacy of the former's grievances? Are we comfortable with the righteousness of his anger? Do we truly listen to him? Or do we write him off as a stubborn fool, or worse, who's getting in the way of progress? It is easy to taste and see beauty in the prodigal's repentance and the father's forgiveness. But what about the elder one? What is his beauty? More importantly, do we care enough to seek it?
I keep coming back to such questions as I ponder our current presidential contest, most especially as I consider those fellow citizens who have gravitated to Donald Trump. Are they really troglodytes bent on ruining our happy endings? Or are they good people, who have done their best to live the American Dream, only to find themselves swamped by "new things" that never seem to stop coming? It is not a perfect analogy, but I just cannot stop hearing a bit of that elder child in their voices. For their wounds are real. And their anger is not as bizarre or incomprehensible as we want to believe.
And so I restate my initial question: do we love them? Do we love these elder brothers and sisters as much as those whose beauty is easier for us to taste and see? Yes, we have some choices to make, and not just for whom to vote. Will we leave our comfort zones and plead with our elder siblings to join us at table? Or are we content to leave them standing outside in the darkness?
Sunday, February 28, 2016
"Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall." Our Parent's kindness and mercy is nothing to be taken for granted. Of course, that does not stop us from trying. How often do we treat grace like a bottomless cookie jar or a "get out of jail free" card? But if our brother Moses was denied entry to the Promised Land for his sin, can we really assume that the Landlord will keep giving us one more year indefinitely? No, we need to find a sense of urgency when it comes to repentance. And we should probably devote a few of these forty days to the acquisition of gardening skills.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Do you truly long to know our Parent's face? Do not answer now. Let that question steep in your heart for the remainder of these forty days, because it is not one to be taken lightly. God is not a cuddly pet or a drinking buddy. Our ancestors knew the wisdom of awe. They understood what they were dealing with. Do you? So pray hard this Lent. Because some things just cannot be unseen.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Our Parent promises to be there with you whenever you are in distress. Just call upon them, and you shall know deliverance and glory. But do you trust them? How long will you wait to be brought "out of Egypt" before turning to some other god for assistance? And how long will you cling to faith once you get that first glimpse of your cross? Yes, these forty days are about recognizing that deliverance and glory come on God's time and terms. Not the easiest of lessons, but always a beautiful one.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
"Return to me with your whole heart." That is our invitation and our challenge for these forty days: to turn away from power and money and all our worldly concerns, and to turn towards our Parent and our siblings and the kingdom we all share. It is our annual opportunity to remember why we were created and to whom we will return. Lent is a gift. Let us welcome it with open arms and hearts.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?'" It feels arrogant to claim such words. Perhaps that is why God chooses to deliver them to the unclean. I know my sin, and so I also know that my calling is not a reward. Call it a gift, a duty, a glorious burden, but never a reward. I am lowly, the least of their servants. But by their grace, I have been made useful. Wherever our Parent needs me, I will go. And whoever the audience, I will sing their praises.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
We are surrounded by prophets singing of salvation. But do they have love? Not the faux version sold by pop culture, comfort food for the soul sort of stuff, but the real thing. The kind that gets you run out of town for daring to rejoice with the truth. The kind that brings joy to your heart as you gird your loins, because you know what is coming and who has your back when it arrives. Does your favored prophet have that kind of love? And if not, why give them your vote, let alone your allegiance?
Sunday, January 24, 2016
"Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Yet two millennia later, our world is still full of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Was our Brother delusional? Or have we been ignorant? And what do our answers mean during this new "year acceptable to the Lord" proclaimed by our bishops? Yes, we should bring wealth, health, and freedom to those brothers and sisters who lack them. But an even greater act of mercy would be to share the good news that such things are already ours, even if we refuse to see or feel them. So do not be sad when your efforts fail to fix the problems of the world. And do not weep for utopias that were never meant to be. No, rejoice today, for I bring to you glad tidings: the kingdom is here; the kingdom is now; the kingdom is yours for the taking.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
"As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." But do we rejoice in our God? Do we honor them during the hard times? Do we love them in sickness and in death? Do we believe in them after the wine is long gone, along with the food and the water, and no miracle is in sight? Or are we just glorified gold diggers, holding onto our praise until we get some "marvelous deeds"? Yes, your Lover is offering you their hand and their kingdom. So what kind of spouse will you be?
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Violence. Disease. Poverty. Natural Disasters. We have good reason to be anxious and afraid. And it is understandable that we seek comfort in practical solutions, in acts of mercy and social justice. But such "solutions" bring only fleeting peace, for the comfort we need cannot be produced, not even with rituals of water and oil. No, we need the Spirit and the fire she brings. A fire that burns into our hearts, consuming all the lies we tell ourselves about life. A fire that opens our eyes to something wonderful, something we previously might have mistaken for trash. A fire that showers us with sparks every day of our lives, if only we are willing to see. And if we do, we shall know comfort beyond measure, for we shall know hope. So let us bless the Spirit, dear souls, for she is great indeed!
Sunday, January 3, 2016
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. The words are American, but the truth they speak of is ancient. It is the same truth as was revealed to the magi, Paul, and countless others down the ages: we are one people, one family. But will we choose to embrace this truth or fight against it? The voices of tribalism are legion: left, right, and center; champions of nativism and diversity alike. So many, too many, urge us to stay in our corners, our bubbles. Whether from fear of contamination or assimilation, we cling to superficial distinctions, while ignoring shared grace. These actions might suit the needs of the powers that be, of all sides, but they do not serve our family, no matter how much we pretty them up with the latest buzzwords. At the end of the day, we have a choice to make, just as the magi did. So what will ours be? Herod and his ilk or our Parent and theirs? Tribe or family? Many or one?