Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Great Apostasy


"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Harsh words from our Lord today.  But the Gospels never relay Jesus telling a joke.  We need to take Him at His Word.


There are 80 million Catholics in the United States.  A recent study found that 5% of the 80 million US Catholics

1) Come to Mass every weekend unless they are sick or caring for someone who is sick

2) And confess their sins at least once a year


Apostasy is defined as an abandonment of one’s faith, and I can’t imagine an Apostasy getting much worse than this one.  Again, 95% of US Catholics are not practicing at the most fundamental level.  Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians there will be a great apostasy as a direct precursor to the coming of the Antichrist.  It is hard to imagine this apostasy getting any worse.

The Catechism makes it clear “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds" for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.”

And elsewhere “Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith.”   And elsewhere “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.”

Today our American and larger western culture is the most toxic culture in the history of the world; as we hear in our 2nd reading today, the rich will be consumed by fire.  And our culture is saturated in $.  God does not hate money, but He acknowledges that it starts to corrupt us if we are not careful. 

We will be recognizing all of our volunteer catechists and mentors who help provide the support here for what is first and foremost the duty of parents.  It is a partnership between the parish and the parents, but the children can’t come unless the parents bring them, and they won’t get anything out of it when they come if they don’t see it lived at home.

I spoke at a home school conference in one of the first years of my priesthood.  I said something that I got a lot of positive feedback on, I said “you have to regularly tell your children WHY you are bringing them to Mass, and catechizing them, you have to regularly remind them that is because Jesus Christ has a plan for their life, and that plan iw beyond amazing – you have to do the hard work of raising them in the Faith but also remind them why you are doing it on a regular basis.  It will not instantly produce perfect little cherubs who rejoice at getting up to come to Mass, but they will remember it down the road.

I will end with one final quote from the Catechism which makes total sense to me: “By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them”  I think that is such good advice.   If you have failed in any way, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that to your children as well.

There is a mass exodus that has been going on for generations.  If we are to see it turn around, the turnaround will need to start in the family.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Saint James' Turnaround

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, September 18-19, 2021

“Where selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every sort of foul practice”


Jesus, in today’s Gospel, is traveling with his Apostles and is trying to communicate that He will be put to death soon.  And what are they doing…arguing about who of them is the greatest.  That had to be gut-wrenching for Jesus.


After His resurrection, He appears to his Apostles, and they can’t believe it is really him and I am sure He was tempted to say “I told you on three different occasions, I laid it all out, but you were arguing about which of you was the greatest!”


Our 2nd reading today was written by one of those Apostles who was arguing about who is the greatest.  Let me repeat, our 2nd reading is written by one of the Apostles who was arguing about who was the greatest.  But now, in this post resurrection version of Saint James, he is able to warn “Where selfish ambition exists, there is disorder and every foul practice.”  He could have added on “I know, because while Jesus was still with us, we would waste time arguing over who was the greatest.


So what accounts for the conversion of Saint James and the other Apostles?  Certainly seeing Jesus’ resurrected body and seeing Jesus ascend into Heaven could not have hurt.  But the Apostles, even after the Ascension, still go back to the upper room and continue to hide for another 10 days.


The deep conversion of Saint James and his brother Apostles takes place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon them.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives the Apostles (and also all of us who have been confirmed) the power and authority and strength to go forth – when a person authentically encounters the Holy Spirit, they are never the same.


The Sacrament of Confirmation is our own individual Pentecost.  If you have not been confirmed yet, do whatever it takes to get confirmed.  The time is RIGHT NOW for more disciples of Jesus, saintly witnesses willing to defend Christ and His Church, even laying down their lives if necessary.  The Holy Spirit through Confirmation gives you the power, if you just cooperate with it, to do a 180 like James the Apostle did.


Do not let selfish ambition get in the way of your pursuit of holiness through confirmation, do not worry about your place in the story of salvation, some are called to be small.  Would you be content if the Holy Spirit calls you to smallness, if the Holy Spirit put it on your heart like The Spirit did with Saint John the Baptist?  Through our cooperation with the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to say “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease”

Thinking not as God does but as human beings do

 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”

Jesus makes sure his Apostles see and hear him rebuke Peter with failing to think as God does.  And often that is a rebuke.  We struggle with thinking like fallen human beings.  It is the sin of pride.  And Peter falls into that trap in today’s Gospel.

But I know that there is also a flip side to this “mind of God” vs. “mind of man” struggle.  The positive side of this is that we could never, in our smallness, get our minds completely wrapped around how much God loves us.  

We can certainly grow in that understanding, particularly through prayer nourished by frequent reception of the Sacraments and seeking the face of God in the poor, but our minds literally are not able to process how much God loves us.

And I would like to finish with a story from this week.  I received a letter earlier in the week from my niece and goddaughter Lucy who is 8.  Her note read “Dear Father John.  How are you doing?  I love you with my whole heart!  I hope to see you soon.  Maybe this Fall?  P.S. would you like to go to the apple orchard with me?”  Needless to say, It was immediately arranged and 2 days ago I met lots of my nieces and nephews and siblings and their spouses for an awesome gathering at an apple orchard.

Lucy and my nieces and nephews simply cannot fathom how much I love them.  It is the same for us and God.  We cannot fathom how much God loves us, but we can pray that we can grow in our comprehension of that love, and indeed in some ways prayer is precisely THINKING about how we cannot fathom God’s love, and being content with just sitting and basking in that love.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fear not!

Homily for September 4th/5th – Fear Not!

“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” 

Fear is thick in the air right now.  Fear about the coronavirus.  Fear about inflation.  Fear about Afghanistan.  Fear about potential lockdowns.  Fear at the grocery stores, fear at the schools, fear at Church and on and on.


And God breaks into our day and says to us whose hearts are frightened: “BE STRONG, FEAR NOT!”


“How could He possibly say that?” we might ask.  And it is here I’d like to give a brief medical update.  My tumor surgery went well but they had to leave about 20% of the tumor in there.  The type of tumor I have is considered curable with radiation and chemo, but the infection that I suffered from the first surgery delayed radiation and chemo for about 2 months, and so the radiation and chemo did not make much of a dent in the tumor at all.  And I have decided that if the tumor ever starts to grow back, I will let nature take its course.  It some ways I feel like chemo therapy on your brain is worse than death.  Also, I have prayed that if it is God’s Will, that I might be allowed to make the ultimate sacrifice for the victims of clergy sexual abuse and harassment and assault – I have asked that God might allow me to offer my life up completely, but with the caveat that makes all the difference…”not my will but Yours, Lord, be done.”

And here is the thing: I am at total peace.  I could be miraculously healed, I could live another 10 years, or I could only have 1 year left, or Christ could return tomorrow.  When I first got word at Mayo Clinic about my tumor, I knew the tumor was an answer to a prayer that I had made to be able to suffer for clergy sex abuse/harassment/assault victims.  But as I’ve moved through the last two years, I’ve realized there may be another benefit – to get to show people how to die without fear.  How to face down the very real prospect of death and not blink, but rather be thankful to God for all his blessings!  The blessings that have come about these last 2 years have been TREMENDOUS and almost too many to count. 

1) I got away from social media, which I can’t recommend enough. The whole playing field of social media is slanted, not against a particular political party or ideology so much as it is slanted against REALITY! And Catholicism is meant to be lived in community, not lived online.

2) In stepping away from the parishes, I got a fresh view of my priesthood.  I have put things back in their proper order, started praying with purpose again, seeking the Face of the Lord with all my being, maybe for the first time,

3) cutting out TV, and movies and the radio…

4) I downgraded to a dumb phone. 

All these changes have given me enough space to breathe and I am actually able to answer the phone sometimes at the parishes. In a word I am more at peace now than I have ever been.


I would also like to say here that the Catholic Church teaches that there is no salvation outside the Church.  Modern theologians have debated about what exactly that means.  Instead of arguing exactly how expansive the pool of the Church is, and whether or not a person with one pinky toe in the shallow end of the pool is in the Church, I would like to refocus the discussion on the need to dive into the deep end of the Church.  If you have fallen away from the Church, come back and go to Mass every weekend unless you are sick.  Confess your sins at least once a year.  If you aren’t Catholic yet, become Catholic.  The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and it pointed me, in college, away from a lukewarm Catholicism and allowed me to hear the Call to become a priest.  But I would not have the strength to face death down without the Sacraments of the Church. 

And I want everyone to know that strength. 


The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,

the unbelievable freedom that comes from confessing your sins to a priest,

the anointing of the sick. 

I have prayed throughout that if it be God’s will, I have a priest praying the Apostolic Pardon over me as I lay dying. 

Become Catholic.  Whether you have fallen away from the Church or are not Catholic yet, do not let the sins of others stop you from knowing what I know swimming in the deep end of the Church. 


The fact is any of us could die tomorrow, and we need to be ready.  There is no room for fear in the heart of a true follower of Jesus and the Church He established as His Bride.  Our knees may buckle briefly at the prospect of dying, but we need to carry on without fear.  As God says through Isaiah – “Fear not!  Here is your God.  He comes with vindication to save YOU!”