Today, Jesus tells us about two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector.  It seems like the Pharisee is a real jerk.  His prayer is all about himself.  “Thank God I’m not like the rest of humanity.”  The second guy, a tax collector, someone despised by his fellow Jews stands off in a corner and asks God for forgiveness.  And he needs it.  Tax collectors made their living by over-charging their fellow Jews.  Then they’d send what was really owed to Rome and keep the rest for themselves.  They weren’t the most popular guys in town.  But, that was then.


Admit it, you’re happy to hear Jesus say that the tax collector will go home justified while the Pharisee won’t.  “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  But is that all there is to this story?


Remember, Jesus is the Son of God.  He’s the one who will come back to judge us all.  It’s His right, in fact it’s His job, to judge each of us, including the two men in the story.  What about us?  Are we supposed to judge one another?  I don’t think so.  Yet, but by telling us this parable, it almost seems like He’s encouraging us to pass judgment on the Pharisee too.  But if we judge the Pharisee to be bad, aren’t we just as wrong as he is?  Isn’t part of Jesus’ message that He gets to judge but we don’t?


The first reading, from the book of Sirach says “The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.”  We know that’s true.  He loves all of us equally.  So, even if the Pharisee went home unjustified by his self-centered prayer, he didn’t go home unloved.  God loves him just as much as the tax collector.  And, both men did come to the temple, after all.


It’s kind of like all these pumpkins in front of the altar.  They’re there to signify the fall season.  It’s harvest time.  Time to collect the fruit of the vine and begin to lay up our supplies for the cold winter months.


But they’re also a visible sign of one of the lessons in today’s readings.  They’re all pumpkins (except for the gourd), but they’re all very different.  There are big ones and little ones, pretty ones and not-so-pretty ones.  They’re not all the traditional pumpkin-orange color.  But, we know that inside there’s a pumpkin pie just waiting to be let out.  They look different on the outside, but on the inside they’re all the same……..unless one of them has gone bad.  One of our pumpkins might be rotten on the inside.


But, you and I can’t tell that by looking.  Like you and me, the rottenness, (in people it’s called sin), is on the inside.  The one who looks the best may actually be the worst ………  Person or pumpkin.


Sometimes you can see it.  Someone who publicly supports abortion isn’t hiding their sinfulness on the inside. That’s obvious.  But most sin is more subtle than that and it’s hard for us to see.  Sometimes even the sinner himself doesn’t see it.


Like the Pharisee.  Based on his culture, his upbringing, the actions of his fellow Pharisees, he thought he was righteous.  In fact he thought he was so righteous that he was better than everyone else.


It’s the same with us.  We may all look different, but we’re all people.  We may be big or small, pretty or not-so-pretty.  We may even be different colors, but in God’s eyes we’re all the same.  He loves us and He wants us to be all that we can be.


So, when Jesus points out the problem with the Pharisee’s prayer, He’s not inviting us to pass judgment.  On the contrary, He’s using him as an example for us.  Don’t be self-righteous.  Don’t put yourself above others.  Don’t brag about your faithfulness.


As people of faith, we’re still all fallible human beings.  For many of us our greatest fault is seeing that splinter in someone else’s eyes and ignoring the plank in our own.  Sometimes that splinter that we think we see is just a reflection of our own plank.


The bottom line is that we’re not going to get into heaven by comparing ourselves to others.  That’s just an invitation for us to find fault in our neighbors.  It’s a whole lot easier to take them down than it is to build ourselves up.  What God wants us to do is to be the best WE can be.  We should be comparing where we are in our spiritual life versus where we know we should be.  When we realize that we’re coming up short, that’s when we say to God “Be merciful to me, a sinner” and really mean it.



Saint Augustine on “The Lord’s Prayer”

I know it’s asking a lot for you to listen to me four times in one week, so I thought today we’d hear from Saint Augustine.  This is from a letter he wrote explaining why The Lord’s Prayer is the only prayer we really need.  Everything we can ask for is contained in the prayer that was taught to us by Jesus Himself.  Augustine writes:

For example, when one prays: “Be Thou glorified among all nations as Thou art glorified among us,” and “Let Thy prophets be found faithful,” what else does he ask than, “Hallowed be Thy name “?

When one says: “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved,” what else is he saying than, “Let Thy kingdom come “?

When one says: “Order my steps in Thy word, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me,” what else is he saying than, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven “?

When one says: “Give me ne, neither poverty nor riches,” what else is this than, Give us this day our daily bread “?

When one says: “Lord, remember David, and all his compassion,” or, “O Lord, if I have done this, if there be iniquity in my hands, if I have rewarded evil to them that did evil to me,” what else is this than, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors “?

When one says: “Take away from me the lusts of the appetite, and let not sensual desire take hold on me,” what else is this than, “Lead us not into temptation”?

When one says: “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God; defend me from them that rise up against me,” what else is this than, “Deliver us from evil “?

And if you go over all the words of holy prayers, you will, I believe, find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Wherefore, in praying, we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things; in this we have no choice.

A Pair of Parables

It wasn’t easy to be a disciple in the first century just as it isn’t easy today.  In today’s Gospel (Lk 12:39-48), Jesus has given the disciples a parable when Peter asks the question.

Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”

How does Jesus answer him?  With another parable.  We know that Jesus later explains his use of stories, but in this scene, Peter must have been left scratching his head.

Isn’t it the same today.  When we ask Jesus a question, he rarely gives us a direct answer.  It’s all about free will.  You and I have it.  It’s a gift from God. He never makes us do anything.  We always have a choice.  It’s our choices that help determine our eternal destiny.

But, if He tells us what to do, as believers, we have no choice.  If we pay attention, He will give us clues; bits and pieces of an answer.  But it’s our free will that will ultimately decide.  If we value our freedom, then we don’t want God to tell us what to do.

Another problem that many of us have is that we spend a few minutes in prayer, telling God how to be God (Give me this.  Fix that. Lord, give me patience.  Do it now!) and asking Him for guidance (Lord what do you want me to do?) then we plug in the iPod, or turn on the television and we wonder why He doesn’t speak to us.

Guess what?  He’s speaking to us all the time.  We’re not listening!

Most civilized people would never ask someone a question then turn and walk away before he has a chance to answer.  Shouldn’t we give God the same consideration?

Congratulations Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke

Our prayers and best wishes go out to Raymond Leo Burke who will join the College of Cardinals on November 20.  The Cardinal-designate was the Archbishop of Saint Louis from 2004-2008.  I had the privledge of serving on the altar with him when he was here, both at the Cathedral Basilica and at parish confirmations.  He’s a gentle, humble man who always seemed to enjoy interacting with the people.

In spite of the efforts of the local press to paint him as some kind of tyrant, nothing could be further from the truth.  As one of 250 deacons in the Archdiocese, I was always impressed and a little amazed that whenever I met him, he knew who I was.  He was always focused on the person he was talking to.

Speaking of media, I realize that midwesterners always feel we’re being slighted by the national press.  Here in “flyover country” we expect to be ignored and usually are.  The major winter storm that buries Saint Louis in snow  is a footnote on the national news.  But, when it hits the east coast, it suddenly turns into the biggest event of the century.

Case in point:  Todays Washington Times story on the new Cardinals.  Of course the focus of the Times story is Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington.  That’s cool.  No problem with that.  But the Times story includes the following:

The new cardinals include Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former La Crosse, Wis., bishop who now leads the Vatican’s supreme court.

No offense intended to the good folks in La Crosse, but Archbishop Burke’s most recent American assignment was as Archbishop of Saint Louis.  The Gateway City, sometimes referred to as the Rome of the West is substantially larger than La Crosse and is an ARCHdiocese, and not just because of that big shiny monument on the river front.

I know, it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but by ignoring Abp. Burke’s four years in Saint Louis is either a major oversight, or a deliberate slight.  Either way, it’s not good journalism.

That’s my rant for today.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for another post later today.


29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I don’t normally post on Sundays when I don’t preach, but my pastor made a couple of good points this morning that I’d like to share.  First, prayer doesn’t change God.  Prayer changes us.

Second, prayer isn’t something you do.  Prayer is a way of life.

Have a great Sunday!

Baby Feet

Is there anything cuter than babies’ feet?  In the last week or so, my baby granddaughters have both had pictures of their feet posted on facebook.  (Actually Morgan’s picture is of only one foot.)  Anyway, here they are.  Enjoy!


Oh No! I Forgot my iPod

Monday and Wednesday are my usual bike-riding days.  I assisted at a funeral this morning so I left the house dressed for a funeral with my bike on the back of the car and my riding clothes either under my deacon outfit or on the front seat of the car.  I changed after the funeral mass and was off to the trail by 11:00.  In my hurry to get everything ready, I forgot my iPod.

I always ride with the iPod because it passes the time (I thought) and because it makes exercise time learning time as well.  I listen to podcasts, either from Catholic sources or from other educational web sites.  I realized that I was iPodless when I got to the trail head of the Grant’s Trail.

At first I panicked and debated about going home to retrieve the device, but as I thought about it I realized that I just came back from retreat a couple of weeks ago where I spent the better part of four days in silence.  Then there was this other thing, which means I’m going to have to digress just a bit.  (You know I never do that!)

While I was on retreat I discovered two audio programs from Matthew Kelly.  If you don’t know Kelly, and you should, he’s a Catholic author and speaker.  One of his suggestions that I’ve been following for the last few weeks is that you should take a journal with you to mass.  You should record in your journal one thing that you learn at mass that will help you be a better version of yourself the following week.  Obviously, this does two things.  First and foremost, it makes you pay attention to the mass.  God speaks to us in the liturgy but we’re not always paying attention.  Second, at the end of one year you’ll have a journal of 52 things that will make you better.

Like I said, I’ve been doing this since I returned from retreat.  The very first thing I wrote in my journal, the very first week was “The real value can be in what isn’t said.  Respect the silence.”  I thought about that this morning and decided that leaving the iPod at home wasn’t such a bad thing.

For almost three hours I road the same trail I’ve been riding for four years and saw things I’ve never seen before.  I really looked at the woods that line the trail on both sides and thought about all the life that exists there.  Right in the middle of the Saint Louis suburbs there are deer and turkey and who knows what other kinds of wild life that live their lives surrounded by homes and businesses.  I noticed that the leaves have started changing and how beautiful the colors are already.  God’s creation is truly amazing!

I actually looked at the other people on the trail, bikers, runners, roller bladers, and people just walking.  I smiled at them and wondered what they were thinking about.  I talked to God, especially thanking Him for this beautiful day and for all the blessings in my life.

I learned more today than I would ever have learned listening to the mp3 player.  And the time passed very quickly.

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with sounds.  Some we can avoid.  Some we can’t.  Some we subject ourselves to, thinking that we just can’t get along without some kind of soundtrack to our lives.  It’s just not true.  The real value can be in what isn’t said.

Try it.  You may be surprised in what youi’ll learn, about your environment and about yourself.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time-Thank You

I gave this homily today at my home parish.  I’d like to add a big THANK YOU to you for following DeaconCast.

We’ve just gone through the part of the year where we’ve been focused on stewardship.  You’ve heard a lot of homilies that included the words “time, talent, and treasure.”  Now we’ve moved into what some of us call “second collection season.”  It seems like there’s an extra envelope for some cause or other almost every week.  That’s partly because no one wants their collection during the summer when people are off on vacation.  Once school starts up, that’s prime time.


Guess what!  I’m not going to ask you to contribute to anything today.  What I do want to do is to say “thank you.”  Thank you for your generous gifts of your time, talent, and treasure.  Thank you for your kind contributions to last week’s collection for my brother deacons in formation.  These men are grateful for your help.


Thank you for your support of all the other second collections.   Jesus calls us to help one another and you never fail to do just that.


Thank you for your weekly support of our parish.  Jan and I visit other parishes occasionally and I always check the bulletin to see what kind of support those parishioners are giving their church.  Very seldom do I see a parish that’s proportionally more generous than you are.


Thanks to all of you who donate your time to further our mission.  I won’t try to  name all the ministries here, because if I do I’m sure to miss someone.  But I want you to know that we appreciate everything that you all do to support our parish family.


Last, but not least, I want to thank all of you for your spiritual support.  I know I’ve told this story before, but when Jan and I first moved into this parish, thirty-five years ago, people told us we should go to mass somewhere else because Saint Bernadette wasn’t going to be around much longer.  And, we definitely shouldn’t send our kids to school here.


All four of our kids did go to school here, right up until the school did close in 1999, 24 years later and only after a lot of other “strong” schools had already closed.  Thirty five years later the parish is going strong, getting new members virtually every week.


Personally, I appreciate the fact that you sit there patiently in the pews, enduring my preaching.  Your faith brings you to church.  You hope that I’ll say something at least half-way intelligent.  And your kind words and encouragement are definitely an act of charity.  Thank you for that.


Believe me, what I’ve just said is absolutely sincere.  I thank God that I’m assigned to my home parish, the only parish I’ve really ever belonged to.  I may or may not be here a year from now.  I may not be here next week.  That’s for God and the deacon personnel board to decide, but I’m truly grateful to all of you.  But, I’ve also said these things to make a point.


Isn’t it nice when somebody says “thank you”.  Those two words have great power.  In today’s Gospel, only one of the ten lepers who were cleansed came back to Jesus to say “thank you.”  Only one out of ten!  And he was a Samaritan!  Remember that Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  But “this foreigner” as Jesus called him, took the time to come back to thank the Jewish Messiah.


He didn’t just stroll up to Jesus and say, “Hey, thanks, man.  I appreciate it.”  “He returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.”


I don’t know what the other nine were thinking.  There’s no way to know.  Were they all Jews?  We don’t know, but Jesus’ words seem to indicate that at least some of the others were Jews, if not all of them.  Maybe, because they WERE Jews, the “chosen people” they felt like they were entitled to be cleansed.


Maybe they were just following Jesus’ instructions to go show themselves to the priests.  Maybe they came back later.  We don’t know.


But here’s what we DO know.  The Samaritan leper, the one who came back, was saved.  Jesus said “your faith has saved YOU.”  In other words, gratitude and faith are two sides of the same coin.  If you have faith in God you have to be grateful to God.  Isn’t that why we’re really here.  To give Him thanks and praise.  The very word, Eucharist, means “thanksgiving”.  The second half of our liturgy, the part after I finally stop talking, is called the liturgy of the Eucharist; the liturgy of thanksgiving.


It’s something we all know we’re supposed to do.  When we were little, what did mom ask us when someone did something nice for us?  “What do you say?”  And, hopefully we’d say “thank you.”


Our prayer should be the same.  There’s nothing wrong with asking God for the things we need.  We’re going to do that together in just a few minutes.  But when our prayers are answered, the next logical step is to do what that Samaritan leper did.


Even God, the almighty Creator of the universe needs our thanks.  He craves it just as much as we do.  Jesus answered all ten lepers’ prayers by healing them of their physical illness.  But He only saved one of them.  The one who took the time to say “thank you.”




A House Divided

Homily for October 8, 2010

abraham lincolnIf we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

That was Abraham Lincoln speaking on June 16, 1858 about slavery in the United States.

Two years later, Lincoln would be elected President and the southern states would have begun succeeding from the Union.  Three years later, in 1861, Confederate forces would fire on Fort Sumpter and the Civil War would begin. As Lincoln predicted, it would take a great crisis to bring us together.  We would be united again, but only after much bloodshed and the loss of thousands of American lives on both sides.

Lincoln’s reference to a “house divided” comes from the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, which I just read.  Anything divided against itself doesn’t have much chance of surviving, whether it’s a family, a country, a church, or even Satan himself as Jesus points out.

We should take Jesus’ words and Lincoln’s words to heart when we look at what’s going on in the world today.  Have you ever seen more division?  In our own Church there are so-called Liberal Catholics and Conservative Catholics pulling the Church first one way then another.  But in reality, there’s only one Church.  This pendulum has been swinging back and forth for more than 2,000 years.

Even in the earliest years, there was division in the Church.  Paul alludes to it in the first reading.  Some early Christians thought that they had to adhere strictly to Jewish law and some thought Jewish law was abolished with the new covenant.  It became a big issue when Paul and others started converting gentiles.  Did a gentile have to be circumcised to become a Christian?  Did he or she have to follow Jewish dietary laws?  It took the first Church Council, held in Jerusalem in the first century to settle the issue.

What about our country?  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the United States is more divided today than it was even in Lincoln’s time.  There is no civil discourse.  Conservatives and Liberals would rather shout one another down than work to achieve any meaningful solutions.  Meanwhile, our economy is in the dumpster and we live in constant fear of terrorist attacks.  Many people of faith are more concerned with the things that separate us than with the things that bring us together.

So, you and I, as Christian Catholics are left to do what we do best and that’s PRAY!  Pray for peace.  Pray for a return to economic prosperity, not just for the United States but for all the world.  And pray that our country wakes up to the fact that we’ve been blessed by God in ways our forefathers never dreamed of.  We have a beautiful country and abundant natural resources.  We have an attitude, or at least we used to, that with God anything is possible.  But many of our brothers and sisters have turned away from God.  It’s up to us to pray those people back into the fold.

It’s up us to not let the atheists take away our rights to pray, to worship God, and to make our country, one nation, under God, once again.

Top 10 Reasons for Being a Hospital Minister

I was asked to give a 10 minute talk today on hospital ministry to a group of deacons.  My first idea was to present a “Top 10 List” of reasons for being a hospital minister.  But, on further review, I decided that the format wasn’t right for the gathering.  But I do think it might have some value here, so I’m going to go ahead and post it for your reading enjoyment.  Feel free to comment below on either the content or the format.

P.S.  You don’t have to be a deacon to be a hospital minister.


10.  It feels good. I always leave the hospital feeling better than I felt when I got there.  Some nights I see ten or twelve people.  Some nights I only see one or two, but the people I visit inspire me to be a better person.  I’ve seen miracles happen at the hospital and I’m pretty sure I’ve met angels.

9.  There are five types of patients.  Catholics; fallen-away Catholics; non-Catholic Christians; religious non-Christians; and non-religious.  Each one really offers a unique ministry, not just a healing ministry, but also an educational ministry.  A lot of the people I see, even Catholics, have no idea what a deacon is.

8.  As much as Catholics need to come to church, the Church needs to come to them. By offering them prayer and the sacraments, hospital ministers make Catholic patients feel comforted and part of a larger community.  (communion, Sos)

7.  Fallen-away Catholics might just come back if they feel like the Church still cares about them.  Sadly, sometimes they’ve been away a long time because of something someone said or did.  (Pt this week who “couldn’t get” an annulment.

6.  Depending on their particular denomination, our separated brothers and sisters may tolerate Catholics, be indifferent to Catholics, or hate Catholics.  By treating them with respect and providing them with comfort and prayer, I may be able to break down some walls and leave them feeling better about us and our Church.

5.  When people are in need, they need and appreciate prayer.  Even non-Christians can be comforted by our prayers.   It’s a way to build bridges. I once had a Hindu lady chase me down the hall begging me to come and pray for her mother.  I did and you can’t imagine how grateful she was and how good I felt.  Remember Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

4. There are no atheists in fox holes.” I don’t think there are any atheists on the gurney on the way to the cardiac operating room either.  Non-religious types, when they’re in trouble, usually don’t mind hedging their bets.  I’ve never had anyone tell me, actually there have been two in ten years, but that’s another story, not to pray for them. Our presence as Catholic ministers may just be the push they need to reconsider God and their relationship with them.

3.  We get free parking and a discount in the cafeteria.  Plus, we get a swell Christmas gift every year.

2.  As deacons, we’re called to serve. Each of us has his own calling.  Some of us just haven’t figured out what it is yet.  Hospital ministry is just one type of service.  Some may love it.  Some may hate it.  But you never know until you try.  Remember, I hated it when I was in formation.

1.  The number one reason to practice hospital ministry:  It makes Jesus happy and making Jesus happy makes me happy.