Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sirach 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

February 11/12, 2023

I’d like to speak today about something that weighs on the minds and hearts of many.

We are experiencing a mass exodus from the Church, especially by our young. Many others have lost their faith in God and his Church. We ask why?  If you ask those who are leaving, they will tell you two things.

1.  They no longer believe that there is such a thing as truth. “What is truth?” they ask. It is what makes them feel good and fits their personal preferences. Frankly, some clergy ask the same question.

2. Many priests and bishops have abandoned Christ and his people with all the scandals and abuse. That is the second reason they give.

I would like to briefly talk about both, in light of the gospel I just read.

To all those who leave because they do not believe in truth I ask, “Who then is Christ? How do you imagine him?”

We like to imagine Jesus as we see him in the popular paintings, i.e., the smiling Jesus, with long dark hair, clean robes, walking lightly across the countryside and speaking comforting words of love and peace. Jesus who is physically comfortable, and the Jesus who makes us comfortable. The “nice guy” Jesus. The Jesus who died a sanitized death. I remember once telling someone I wanted to give them a crucifix for Christmas. They asked me to not give one that was “too scary, too bloody”. Jesus the Truth for many is found only in feel-good images.

Today’s Gospel leaves me, at least, with another image of Jesus the Truth. In my mind’s eye, I see Jesus about six inches from my own face and looking rather piercingly at my eyes. I imagine him rather dusty and sweaty from the heat of the sun after spending a lot of time on a small mountain. He is exasperated having just come from a testy confrontation with religious authorities. He just preached the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon he not only blessed many people — blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the lowly, and so on — but he also wooed many others — woe to you rich, woe to you are full and now laugh. He probably ran into a buzz saw from the Pharisees who heard him say those things. So after all that, he is looking at me and through me, saying, “They say (referring to the Pharisees)… but I say to you!” over and over again. I imagine him saying to me, “These are big deals! Pay attention! I am speaking the truth!”

Whether he reveals himself as our friend, comforter, and teacher, or as our just Master and Lord, Jesus is always challenging us to greater and greater repentance and perfection. He always brings us closer and closer to his heart, which burns with such love for us that he wants not mediocrity, but greatness; not a mundane existence, but eternal life. The depth of his love for us is so deep that he shows us the full reality of love, the full demands of love, and the full cost of love.

His love for us is so profound that he perfects us. He insists doing so. He is vehement in his efforts. He never gives up. Yeah, even if it requires his life!

To those who leave because of us the clergy, I would like to say what J.R. Tolkien said to his son. Although I quote him, I can make these my words also: “Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even the sins of the Church and its ministers… I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of the clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed and even bad priests.”  I would add, bishops and deacons.

We deacons, priests, and bishops must examine ourselves to see how we have abandoned Jesus the Truth, and the irreparable harm this has caused.  When we abandon Christ, we abandon his people. We clergy need to examine our consciences. We all need to get in line for confession and do penance. We all need to look at how we have contributed to the mass exodus from the Church, especially of our young. To follow Christ will bring dishonor not privilege, poverty not riches, humility not pride, and we must accept this. Too often, we blame the world, and overlook ourselves when explaining the exodus from the Church.

We clergy must not abandon Christ the Truth! We must not abandon God’s people! Perhaps the one thing that hurts me more than all others is to see someone leave the Faith and the Church.

May none of us, laity or clergy, abandon our Lord for demanding a lot, for telling us to look to him for the truth! May we see his challenges for what they are, signs of his infinite love. Let us love him in return.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Sunday, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

February 4/5, 2023

Isaiah 58: 7-10; 1 Cor. 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16

It’s all about God. That is my homily this week. It’s all about God.

One proof that God that exists, it seems to me, is all of you, this parish, this community, and this world in which we live. The most evident proof God exists, perhaps, is all of his creation. “How can you say this” you may ask, “given all the tragic things we hear about each day, given the many sins we commit, given the reality of death and suffering?”

I believe that the “light” we hear about in the Gospel today that we must bring into our darkened world is the message that it is all about God.

Why was Jesus was born, the Son of God becoming man? One answer is what the prophet Isaiah said, that Jesus was to be a light in a dark world. Jesus entered this world so that we could see God, and know what he wants from us, and what he wants to give us.

Why were you were born, an adopted son or daughter of God? One answer is you are to be a light in a dark world. You entered this world as a light so that others can see who God is, what he wants from them, and what he wants to give them in the future.

Do those two reasons sound the same?

Yes, because we are very much like Jesus. The difference is Jesus did it all because he is God, whereas we do the small part because we are only human, adopted children of God. We do what we can; Jesus did everything. So, I have to ask, “What is the small part to which God is calling you? What is the “light” that he wants you to put on a lamp stand for all to see?”

I think you can only answer those questions if you are free: free from fear. Fear keeps us from getting up on a lamp stand and shining. So many fears we have…. Failure, embarrassment, shame, guilt, being exposed and known, on and on…. So we hide under a bushel basket.

Yes, to shine we must be free from fear. We can be free from fear and shine in the darkness if we remember some things.

First, God is God, the one and only God. He always has been, and always will be. We share in his very being. We share in God’s life. Our lives are his. Our lives are not our own. They are God’s. We are all about God. We are his image.

Second, all things exist because God exists, even the rocks, air, soil, and the universe. It’s all about God. God gives life to plants. He gives sensation to animals. He gives understanding and free will to human beings. Your life is all about God. God has made you a temple of the Holy Spirit. God lives in you and through you. You are that sacred. Never forget that!

Third, we cannot escape God, his love, his light, his judgments, or his power. God is everywhere, all the time. We cannot escape the fact that everything that we possess is a pure gift from God. Everything that makes you you is given to you by God. God is love. Love always requires giving, so God gives everything, and he gives it perfectly.

Fourth, God wants us to love him and to love each other because of our love for him. God doesn’t need our love, but he wants us to love him and each other so we can be like him, resemble him, become his light. St. John says that we are liars if we say we love God but hate our brother. What we do is very important. Jesus says in today’s gospel that our light must shine; in other words, our love must be lived, not just talked about under a bushel basket of fear.

All of this is hard for us, and we will be fearful, if we do not believe in God’s presence, his life, and his love which he shares with us. It’s hard to love when we do not believe that it is all about God, that he holds all things in existence, even our very lives, that without him there would be nothing, that we have nothing that God hasn’t first given to us. We will live in fear, under a bushel basket of fear, if we don’t have faith in God’s perfect love. We will be afraid that we will fail, that we will end up with nothing, that we will be emotionally and materially bankrupt. But if we say, “Yes, God you are with me. Yes, God, you love me!” our fears will lessen. Then we will be able to say to him, “Take, Lord, and receive all that I have, all that I am. Do with me as you will, because you always are with me.” If we believe that it’s all about God, then we will gladly, without fear, love each other. We will shine on that lamp stand. We will glorify God that way. We will be like the man in the responsorial psalm today: gracious, merciful, just, without fear, trusting, lavish, and exalted.

If you are afraid, give it to God. Give him the bushel basket you hide under. He wants you to shine in today’s world, to be without fear and on a lamp stand for all to see.  Yes, you are that important! Do not be afraid to shine in your life. It’s all about God in the end. Be about him now in all things and in every way.

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Homily for Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Homily for the Day

Shortly after beginning my ministry at St. Mary’s in Caledonia, a parishioner asked me which book of the Bible was my favorite. I answered, “The First Letter of John.” We hear from that letter today in our first reading.

John writes that the world does not recognize us because it does not recognize Jesus. (1Jn 3:1) He then goes on to say that we are to be children, children of God.

We sometimes wonder why we Catholics are so often misunderstood, ridiculed, even persecuted. We wonder why we are not better known and accepted in our culture. We can start blaming the world for all this. St. John gives us another answer. He says that we are not accepted and recognized because Jesus is not known. Why is Jesus not known and accepted in the world? Because we have not borne good witness to him. We have not made him known by the way we live.

“How can we make him known?” you may ask. Yes, how can we make Jesus known and accepted? The Gospel reading gives us an answer. John the Baptist says twice in the reading “I did not know him” because no one had yet given witness; not until the Holy Spirit witnessed to John, who then pointed him out to the people by saying, “Look! There he is!”

Are our hearts as open to the Holy Spirit as was John’s heart? Are our hearts receptive to God’s voice? What makes us sensitive to God’s voice?

John the Baptist went about baptizing people because he knew they had to be free from sin in order to recognize Jesus, the Messiah. He knew that they had to be as innocent as children if they were going to be able to recognize Jesus, and if they were going to make him known.

What does this have to do with us?

Jesus is not recognized by the world because we have not made him known to the world. Why have we not made him known? It is not because he hasn’t been spoken about, or written about, or painted in pictures, or sculpted in stone. No. We have not made him better known because we have not become as innocent as children. In other words we have not become holy. We don’t look like Jesus. We are not living like Jesus. And why is that? Because of our sins keep us from it.

Our lives will either lead other to Jesus or away from him. If our lives are holy, if we confess our sins, and seek to live lives of virtue, then we can and will make Jesus known in our world. If we avoid confession of our sins, we will lead others away, because they will not see Jesus in us and in our lives.

All of us are called to become holy, to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus. 

We are not recognized by the world because we do not look like Jesus, and Jesus is not recognized because he doesn’t look like us when we are marred by sin. The world will recognize Jesus if we look and live like him, if we become more and more like him, and bear his image. That can only happen if we are free from sin and become children of God, made in his image and in his likeness.

We are that closely united to Jesus. Jesus is that closely united to us. 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

December 31, 2022/January 1, 2023

Humble and bold. Two words we typically do not associate in our minds. Humble and bold…. we find them both in the person of Mary, the Mother of God.

The humble Virgin Mary, docile to God’s will, to God’s Word, yet the most bold of all the witnesses to the Word made flesh, to her Son and Lord, Jesus! Mary, the Mother of God, Theotokos.

No, it was not Peter. No, it was not James or John or Paul who was the boldest yet most humble of all the witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No, it was Mary, theotokos, for it was from her heart that came these words: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.

It was Mary who bore the most humble yet bold witness to her Son. It was Mary who bore the Word of God in her heart and then conceived that Word in her womb. To quote Pope Francis, “The flesh of Christ was knit together in the womb of Mary… The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans.” (Francis, 1-1-15)

Only because of her faith in that Word that had come to her, a Word she nurtured and pondered in her immaculate heart, was she then able to conceive that Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bear the Son of God, her creator and savior, Jesus. Yes, she is “God-bearer”, Theotokos in Greek, as the Church Fathers proclaimed in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

We, God’s people, cannot understand Jesus without his Mother. Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She spent her life contemplating and pondering the World of God that was and is her son, Jesus. Mary in contemplating her son, Jesus, becomes a model for the Church who also reflects on the Incarnation, on the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, “… inseparable are Christ and the Church; the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church…Mary [is] the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood… She, the Mother of God, is also the mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women…” (Ibid)

Yes, Mary kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She said, “Yes!” She said “Fiat!” St. Augustine would write that Mary was more blessed for hearing God’s word and keeping custody of it in her heart than because of the flesh she gave to her divine Son. Since this was true, Mary was able to follow her Son every step of the way. She was able to stand by her Son as he died on the cross, stand by him without staining her immaculate heart. She knew it was by virtue of her faith in the Word of God that she had been able to conceive that Word in her womb, and it was by faith in that Word that she was able to give bold witness to her Son when he gave up his life on the Cross.

Mary, who surpasses all of us in her sanctity and her fidelity, Mary, the Mother of God, remaims like us, a member of the Church, and a member of the Body of Christ, her Son, and a witness to her Son’s life, death, and resurrection.

You too are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. You also carry God’s Word in your hearts and you are to be witnesses to that Word, to Jesus Christ. Just as St. Augustine spoke of Mary, St. Ambrose spoke of us when he wrote: Blessed are you who have heard and believed; every soul that believes conceives and begets the Word of God. May Mary’s soul be in each of us to glorify the Lord. May the spirit of Mary be within each of us to exalt in God. (Commentary on Luke, CCL 14, 39-42)

You will be more blessed and find greater dignity in the Word you nourish in your hearts and profess with your lips than in any office you may bear. You are first, and most importantly, members of the Body of Christ. Never separate yourselves from this Body, from the Church! Never!

You cannot become witnesses to Jesus unless you have first welcomed the Word in your hearts, treasured it, nurtured it, pondered it, obeyed it, followed it, and trusted it. Mary would not have become the Mother of God, Theotokos, had she not first accepted and kept the Word of God in her immaculate heart. You cannot become witnesses to Jesus if you do not first hold in the purity of your hearts the Word entrusted to you. Mary could not have endured the passion and death of her Son had she not first cradled in her heart the Word that had come to her. You will not be able to endure the trials and difficulties of life without first knowing, nurturing, and loving the Word entrusted to you.

Yes, our lives, both individually and together as the Church, are to be modeled after Mary. Ours is a vocation of humble service to God and humanity. We are to give humble yet bold witness to Jesus Christ.

May our lives magnify the Lord, as did Mary’s!

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Homily for Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent

Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent

December 6, 2022

Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14

Comfort…Tenderly proclaim…Fear not…Leading with care.  These are amazingly beautiful words today from the prophet Isaiah, words of God spoken thousands of years ago to his chosen people. What was spoken to the many back then is now spoken to each of us today.

Will we spend some time taking all this in? What comfort will God offer you this Advent? What is he saying, tenderly, to you in your heart? Are we quiet enough to hear him? What fears does he want to remove from our lives?

Where is he leading you? Will you follow?

I am reminded of my favorite pope, John Paul I, and his assertion that God is not so much surprised by our faith because he has left so many signs of his presence that it is foolish not to believe; that God is not so surprised by our love, for he has given us hearts of flesh, not stone, so we are naturally made to love; but God is amazed by our hope! Yes, we are a people of hope, especially in Advent!

We hope to experience God’s promised peace even though we are surrounded by turmoil. We hope in those subtle, almost silent, ways that God is tenderly speaking to us. We hope that he will welcome that one lost sheep — you and me — when it returns. Most of all, we hope for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world this year in powerful ways.

It is because of this hope in the promised Messiah — Jesus — that we carry on, and see in every circumstance of our lives the unfolding of God’s will. God does will every moment of our lives. Nothing escapes him. He makes all things new. He redeems every moment. He is always present.

There is the reason for our hope! God has been with us, is now with us, and will always be with us. Our hope is in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ.

O God, who speaks words of comfort, tenderness, peace, and presence, send us your Son. Speak now your words of comfort. Proclaim tenderly to our wounded souls your words of truth. Give us the peace we so much desire. Lead us carefully and welcome us now as we wait in hope. Amen!

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent, 2022

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

December 3/4, 2022

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12 

The Church challenges us to take four weeks and reflect on the two basic Advent questions: For what kind of Messiah are you looking and how will you know him when he comes?

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people didn’t agree on who the Messiah would be, and they didn’t recognize him when he came. They knew very well what the Scriptures said about him. They knew what the prophet Isaiah said. Our first reading today is such a beautiful description of what God sees for all of us and for all creation, and what the Messiah would accomplish. We would be in harmony with each other. There would be no hatred, no war, no prejudices, no harm or ruin.

The Jewish people knew this Scripture well, but their expectations were their own and not God’s. There had been other messiahs. All of their kings had been considered messiahs who rescued them from political oppression. But now their kings were all dead and they were a defeated nation. They had no more messiahs. They were expecting a new great messiah, but they had been so badly hurt by the world around them that they expected the Messiah to be a king like David who would rescue them from the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel. They thought the Messiah would free them from foreign rulers, someone who would give them back their rights.  Being a conquered nation had blinded them, and this deep wound kept them from recognizing the Messiah God was sending.

We can learn from them. How are we blind? How have we been hurt? Our expectations are colored by our past, and if we are hurting, it can blind us to God’s presence.

Often we hear that the past is the past, and it can never be altered, so just accept it. No point in crying over spilt milk. Pick yourself up and move on. There is truth in that of course. What happened, happened. You shouldn’t deny it.  Whereas it is true we can’t change past events, we can change the past in an important way. We can stop seeing the bad stuff of life from our own perspective and start seeing it from the perspective of God. Our own interpretation on the past and our expectations for the future are often very different from how God sees it!  We can change our past by seeing it from God’s perspective.

We can look back with faith and see how God was present in every moment of our lives, even in the bad times. With faith, we can see how much God has loved us. Faith is light that illuminates the presence of God in the darkest moments of our lives. Faith is a light that heals. Faith is a light that lets us see the Messiah when he comes.

I pray we throw away our misperceptions and distorted ways we see the past, and see it as God sees it. This is one way of preparing for the Messiah. Change our perspective! This can happen through prayer, and the sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist.

Isaiah saw as God sees, i.e., a world healed of all divisions, where natural enemies are at peace, where justice and truth prevail. We can expect this if we are healed of our wounds and see through God’s eyes.

Jesus is our Messiah, and he comes to heal the sick, rescue the lost, strengthen the weak, render justice to the oppressed, give sight to the blind and open the ears of the deaf. In other words, he comes to heal you and me!

Where are you blind? Where are you weak? Where are you deaf? Where are you unjust with others? Pray about that. Ask God to make known where you need healing. Then, after he tells you give it back to him. Receive the Sacrament of Penance, tell God about it, and be healed.

You see, God wants to heal you. He wants to remove all the obstacles that stand in the way of you being in a good relationship with him. One of the most common obstacles in our way is the lie that God will love me only if I am fixed and made perfect. No! God loves you now! God doesn’t want to “fix” you, BUT he wants to heal you and come into your life. He wants you to know him, see him, and accept him. He will take away every obstacle that keeps you from accepting him. 

Open wide your hearts to Christ! Be healed this Advent! Confess your sins and open your eyes. He is coming very soon. Don’t wait! Don’t fall asleep! God wants to heal you now! The Church and our parish are giving you many opportunities to do so!

Maranatha! Come, O Jesus, come.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

November 5/6, 2022

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thes 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38

The first reading today is a rather harrowing account of a mother witnessing the torture and death of her seven sons, all of whom refused to deny their faith. The Greeks had taken over Jerusalem and the countryside, and were trying to violently force the Jews to sacrifice to idols. Many refused, and many died.

This is reminiscent of the violence against Jesus on Calvary and the witness of his mother, Mary, to his death. It brings to mind the many early Christians who experienced horrible violence against them because of their faith. It reminds me of the many men and women even today who experience intense violence against them because they are Christian. It reminds me of how so many seem to think violence is the way to get one’s way.

I only have to look at a news source, any day of the week, and I will find descriptions of violence in our world. War, terrorism, bombings, murders, child abuse, domestic violence, and more.

I am sick of it. It angers me that we as individuals and as a society have apparently learned that we can get our way through violence. It pains me to see children, both born and unborn, dying by violence. It scares me to know that elderly and infirm people face the threat of death through euthanasia. (Yes, euthanasia is an act of violence, not love.) It frustrates me that so many men act violently against their wives and children, that politics has become violent, that horrible verbal attacks are launched against one another in the Church.

I know there are families in every parish that are experiencing domestic violence. I know that in every community there are violent crimes being committed. I know too well that war is raging between nations. I spent 35 years in the clinic listening to the violent hearts of men and women.

In the name of God, I say, “Enough!”

Violence is the work of the devil. It is Satan’s work. It is evil. It is sinful. Our eternal destiny is at risk if we do not stop, if we do not reject all forms of violence.

When we were baptized, either we or our parents in our name, rejected Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. We didn’t promise to “resist” him, we promised to reject him. Violence is evil. We must reject it. We must not compromise with evil.

In the name of Jesus, reject all forms of violence.

We are divided, and we are wounded. Not only are we divided and wounded, but we are dividing and wounding others. All of us are affected. All of us must admit this.

Too many of us resort to violence when we have been wounded by others. Too many of us are using violent methods to get what we want or need. Too many of us — yes we individuals and we as whole communities and nations — buy into Satan’s lie that solutions lay in power, control, and domination of others.

All of us are affected by our violent world. Maybe for us it is some form of abuse or neglect. Maybe all this violence in the news is doing harm to us, just reading about it. Maybe someone at work is mistreating you. What will you do? Will you act out with a desire to do harm or will you beg God for the grace of healing? Can and will you forgive?

We must be healed!

To preach this takes courage. To hear it requires humility. To act on it requires faith…. Great faith.

Have you ever wondered how our Blessed Mother could stand at the foot of the Cross and witness the death of her son without resorting to some act of violence toward his executioners? I am pretty certain that if I were to witness someone trying to kill one of my children, I would take that person out before they could kill my child. I would resort to violence. But Mary didn’t. How could she do that? Mary was able to see God’s plan unfolding before her, even in the death of Jesus. She had tremendous faith in God. She knew that God could and would make something indescribably beautiful and true happen even out of the death of Jesus. The mother in the first reading today had similar faith.

Do we have faith like that when someone hurts us? Do we see that even in the wounds of our lives an unfolding of God’s plan for the world? When bad things happen to us, do we see it as the beginning of something much better than what was, or do we see it as the end of the story? In other words, do we really believe that the Resurrection comes after the Cross?

So I repeat, in the name of Jesus, no more violence. Stop it! Enough! Violence is evil. It is a sin. Our eternal destiny is at stake. Love one another. Forgive you enemies. Forgive them, and seek healing for your wounds. If you must, move away from anything or anyone who is violent. You don’t have to live with it.  Reject Satan and all his works, and all his empty promises.

For God’s sake, do so.

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Homily to Retreatants

Wednesday, 30th Week in Ordinary Time

October 26, 2022

To Deacons and Wives on Retreat

Ephesians 6:1-9; Luke 13:22-30

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Luke 13:23

Brothers and sisters, the narrow gate opens to the Cross and the tomb. Many a deacon has striven to enter, only to find he is not strong enough, weakened by his wounds.

Look beyond the Cross, beyond the ugliness of Golgotha, beyond the darkness of the tomb. Look to the glory and light that follows. Yes, God allows the Cross and the tomb for us all, but he wills for us the resurrection. God allows our wounds and weakness, but he redeems them and heals us.

The Cross is the narrow gate, through which we must pass. It opens to the darkness of the tomb with its purification. From it we pass to newness of life. The Cross is the gate, the tomb is the wait, and the resurrection is the healing. Pope Francis said, “The Cross is the door to the resurrection.” At Compline every Thursday we pray, “Grant, O Lord, that we may be united in faith to the death and burial of your Son to rise with him to new life.”

Whoever accompanies Jesus through it all, as we have attempted to do during this retreat, will triumph with him.

Brothers, go to the Cross! Stand there listen. Suffer the coming of the Word of the Father into your lives. Suffer the Gospel of which you are heralds. This is the narrow gate. Let Jesus, the Word of the Father, possess you brothers! Accompany him into the darkness of the tomb, and find him and healing Easter morning.

We must listen, which means we must accompany Jesus. We must accompany and listen even unto death. Healing requires pressing our wounds into the wounds of Jesus, and this is a great martyrdom for us all! Pressing our wounds into his wounds brings us healing. Pressing our wounds into his wounds enables us to accompany the people to whom we are sent to serve. By pressing our wounds into the wounds of Jesus we see the unique way God has planned to reveal his Son through us.

Brothers and sisters, what is your Cross? What are your wounds? Beg for the grace of healing. Herald the Gospel in that way.

Maybe it is some form of abuse or neglect. Maybe it is a serious health concern. Maybe it is an addiction to food, alcohol, chemicals, or pornography. Maybe it is having witnessed the abuse of others. Maybe it is combat trauma, or vicarious trauma in your secular profession. Whatever it is, name it, be specific, surrender it, beg for the grace of healing, and then do whatever he tells you to do.

Now is the time to embrace the Cross. Now is the time to heal. Now is the time to do the small necessary things that bring about change. Now is the time to never lose hope in the healing God wills for you. Now is the time. Do not wait.

All of us want to change external things but not many of us want to go through the process of internal change and healing. Letting go of unhealthy self-preservation strategies, and accompanying Jesus can be difficult. Letting go of well-known attitudes, behaviors, sins, or lifestyles we have developed, i.e., our self-preservation strategies, can be difficult. We need to continually do small things over and over again that bring about change. We must never lose hope and never tire of  begging God for healing.

Jesus knew that healing would be difficult for us. Jesus knew the Cross and the tomb would be difficult places for us to go. He knew the gate is narrow. He gives us his Spirit to strengthen and encourage us.

We will not be healed, cleansed, and renewed until we pass through the Cross and into the tomb. We will not be healed until we have stood at the foot of the Cross and remained with the Lord in the tomb. From those places we rise to new life.

Accompany me all the way to Calvary, all the way to the tomb, all the way to the resurrection, and all the way to heaven, Jesus says.

During this retreat, we have attempted to accompany our Lord. We have attempted to remain faithful at the foot of the Cross, in the darkness of the tomb, and with Mary Magdalene on Resurrection Day.

I leave you with this admonition from St. John Paul II who said, “Non avete paura! Spalancate le porte a Cristo!” which translated means, “Do not be afraid! Open wide your hearts to Christ!”

Yes, my brothers and sisters, do not be afraid! Open your hearts and souls to Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2022

We are remembering today all those unnamed saints in heaven, men and women just as much saints as the canonized ones we remember during the year. In doing so, we should burn with a certain desire to one day be with them in heaven, and enjoy their company as we together will be with God forever.

Yes, we are called to be saints, every one of us!

You see, there comes will come a moment for each of us when we will realize something or someone greater than us exists. This moment may come in early-life, mid-life, late-life, or even at the moment before death. Then we will realize that life is eternal, and death is certain. It will be a moment of understanding and decision. We will make a choice, either to accept or reject God’s presence for eternity, to accept or reject being with all the saints in heaven. To accept will mean joy in heaven; to reject will mean eternal darkness and loneliness in hell. It will be a moment of conversion, the conversion of which Father Wagner spoke last Sunday.

Every saint in heaven faced the same decision during their lives, and they said “yes” to God.

You too can be a saint. You too were created for just that reason. You must simply choose God and then remain faithful for the rest of your life, however long that may be. You too will be given the grace to say “yes”, but the choice is ours.

It is difficult to imagine why any of us would choose eternal darkness and loneliness, to deny ourselves the presence of God, yet many seem to do just that. It is equally difficult to imagine why any of us would struggle to accept God’s presence and the gift of eternal life, yet we all, if we are honest with ourselves, struggle with it.

Conversion is always difficult, but converted we all must be!

The best example of this struggle, and this choice for God, is the love seen at the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Jesus said if that he is lifted up on the cross and buried like a seed in the ground, then the entire world will be saved. Jesus showed the whole world that he loves his Father, and his Father loves him, and God love us, and wants us to be like him. Life is given to us through his death. He tells us no one is denied a share in the victory of the cross, all can be saints, if they only say “yes” to God.

Yes, the struggle is certain. If Jesus in his human nature struggled to accept his death, so will we, but if Jesus called his crucifixion a moment of glory, if he called his struggle a holy struggle, so can we.

There is a great temptation to see the struggle as a sign of God’s absence. We often see in our difficulties signs of his non-existence, or his failure to love. There is a great temptation to see our conversion struggle as never ending. It is not. It is earth-bound. It does not exist in heaven. Life with God is eternal. The struggle is only a door, a curtain, a passageway leading either to our glory as saints in heaven, if we accept and remain in communion with God, or to separation from God and his glory, if we have abandoned him.

All this requires great faith. To preach it demands great faith and to hear it requires great faith, which is a way of saying it requires belief in Jesus Christ.  Jesus in the Church and in the Eucharist is the way to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” He said, “I am with you always,” referring to the Church he established. He said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no life within you.” Nothing else, no one else, will get us there — only our faith, our communion with Jesus in the Church. Jesus has told us clearly how to be a saint. Follow him. Choose him. Be faithful. Eat his body and drink his blood. Every saint in heaven realized this and accepted it. It is our way to sainthood also.

The choice is ours. Do you want to be a saint? Do you want to truly honor all those men and women who have gone before us to be with God in heaven? Shall we be converted? Shall we turn to God, accept God and remain with him, or shall we turn away? The choice is always ours to make, but we must choose.

Choose God. Remain with him. Desire him. Stay close to him. Receive the sacraments. Love God and you will be the saint you were created to be.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless you!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

October 1/2, 2022

Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Some say it is a discouraging world in which we live. There seems to be destruction and violence before us always, strife and clamorous discord, as the prophet Habakkuk says. This is what seems to be the case if we believe the media nowadays. We put a lot of “faith” in such reports; many people believe them to be true. What we believe has almost become a political matter. How unfortunate this is!

In whom do you place your faith? To whom do you listen? Whom do you obey?

We put a lot of “faith” in what the world reports. This is interesting to me. Unless we have actually seen something with our own eyes, or heard it with our own ears, we simply trust what someone else says they saw or heard. When it comes to things of this world, we seem to put a lot of faith in worldly witnesses to worldly things. Yet, how much faith do we put in those who witness to us about things of God? Too little, I am afraid! Why is this? We are like doubting Thomas when it comes to things of God and faith, and we are like unthinking fools when it comes to things of the world.

Most of us have never seen Australia, but we believe it exists; better said, we know it exists. Why? Because someone whom we find credible told us that they were there and they described it to us. Many people have seen Australia; even though each has a slightly different description of the place, they all agree that the continent exists. They all insist that it isn’t a fiction or a fairy tale.  This is interesting because the Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — each have a slightly different description of what they saw and heard, but they all agree that Jesus was the Son of God who came into this world, suffered, died, rose again and ascended into heaven, and the Holy Spirit has come down upon us. So, again, the question: Why do we believe people telling us about Australia even if they differ on details, but we don’t believe people telling us about things of God?

Habakkuk says that God has a vision. He tells us that God has revealed this plan. Habakkuk says this plan, this vision, can be read easily and he urges us to be patient.

St. Paul tells us that we should accept his testimony and the testimony of the twelve Apostles with an attitude of faith. He and the other Apostles described what they had seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched in Jesus. All those who have come after the original Apostles, i.e., all bishops, priests, and deacons, have continued to bear witness to what happened in Jesus and is happening now in the hearts and souls of men and women. They have done this faithfully, faithful to what the Apostles taught. That is why we preach. This is what is called in the Catholic Church Tradition, with a capital “T”. They continued to hand on to us what Jesus did, is doing, and will do for all of us. They did so because they found credible, believable, what those original Apostles taught. We who preach the Gospel take the Apostles at their word. Although we never have seen Jesus in the flesh, although we have never shook hands with the Lord or ate a meal with him, we know Jesus came into the world, lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended for us, and we believe in how he told us we should live, i.e., the moral life.

If we don’t believe this we should not be preaching! No bishop, priest, or deacon is perfect. We are sinners in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace, but when it comes to matters of faith and morals, we bear witness to the truths of the faith.

St. Luke in the Gospel today reminds us that even the Apostles had to beg God for an increase of faith. I certainly must every day. Jesus reminds us that we need only faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. If only we could admit that God is our Master who loves us deeply, and that we are his servants! If only we would be humble enough! Maybe we should examine our consciences and see where we put our faith. We don’t need to see with our physical eyes the truths of God to know they are true. We just need to decide who it is in whom we will place our trust. Who do we find credible? Whom will we believe?

Way too many people nowadays believe in things told to them by the media (which may or may not be credible sources of information), but don’t really believe in what bishops, priests, and deacons proclaim. Too many have faith in the dishonest witness of the world and lack faith in the honest witness of God. Why is this the case? Because we are listening to the wrong sources of information.

He to whom we listen is he whom we will obey. To whom will you listen?

I believe the Apostles. I believe they taught the truth.  I find them credible and because of that I give my life to proclaiming and preaching to you the truths of God. I have made a fundamental decision, a decision of faith, that God is more credible than the world, that the Gospel of Jesus is true, and has been faithfully handed on to us by the Church over the centuries. I was not there; I did not see, hear, taste, or touch Jesus, but I know as certainly as I know Australia exists, that God lives, that he sent his son to redeem us, and that he and the Holy Spirit now live among us — right here and now. I am convinced that Jesus taught us how to live, what to do and what not to do to get to heaven. I have been persuaded and I testify to it before you today!

O yes, faith is needed, but only faith in the size of a mustard seed. Perfection is not yet required just an attitude faith, and willingness to listen and obey. Yes, a fundamental decision must eventually be made: To whom will I listen and who will I believe? I pray we all decide well!

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Funeral Homily

Funeral Homily

St. Patrick Catholic Church

September 16, 2022

As most of you know, I am Deacon Bob Yerhot, and John and Betty are parishioners of St. Patrick’s. About six or seven years ago, I was assigned to St. Patrick’s and one of the privileges I have had was getting to know them. In fact, last week I shared a meal with them at Saxon Hall. It will be a lasting memory.

I was there at their home shortly after his death. I saw their love and affection for John. I saw their faith. I listened to Betty and their children describe John. I heard things like: happy, family leader, story-teller, honest and forthright, grandpa, dad, wonderful husband, a man of faith, fiercely Irish, prayer leader, a man who insisted the family attending Mass, and getting lost in Savannah, Georgia, trying to get his family to a Catholic church on Sunday. I understand he had an Irish buckle that had some mysterious powers! Certainly, my own experience of John confirms his strong Catholic faith. He inspired me to a deeper faith in God and greater service to St. Patrick’s parish.

Here is how I, in a spiritual sense, experienced John: he was a gift-giver. He gave gifts to others and then supported those to whom he had given the gifts.  He willed the good of others, which is the real definition of love. Once John gave a gift, he never took it back, but nourished it as best he could. He sustained the lives of his wife and their children. He knew God had given them life, and he sustained it.  He was like God in that way.

The gift of life, once given by God, is not taken back. God is not the author of death. He transforms death into life. Indeed, though it may seem absent to us, snatched from our very midst, taken from us someday, and taken from those whom we love and admire, we believe that the mortality of human flesh in this world is only a veil, a portal, through which we must pass. Death is only the onset of renewed life in heaven for those who remain faithful to the Lord’s call, accepting of his grace, and attentive to his presence in the world.

God never takes back his gifts or his call. He does not take our lives for once given, God makes permanent the life he wills and gives. God’s call and his gifts are irrevocable. Not only irrevocable, but he sustains those gifts, especially the gift of life. He always, without ceasing, holds our lives in his hands, conceiving us over and over again by his will, over and over again saying, “I give you life. I give you my Spirit. I desire you.  I will you to live. I will you into life.” Over and over again, without ceasing. This is God’s plan, his ultimate desire for us, i.e., for us to live with him, be in relationship with him, see him. God wills it.

Yes, the effects of sin and the deception of Satan undoubtedly have brought sickness and death into our world and into our lives. It is a stain on God’s original plan, and this stain’s effects are experienced by each of us, all of humanity, indeed the whole of creation, but God has broken the back of Satan, shattered his chains, the chains of death, and destroyed the grip of evil. God says to Satan and death, “You will never have the last word, for I have given all men and women the freedom to choose, to speak, and to live. They have the last say. I offer them life and happiness and peace, I offer them joy. You, O Death, offer only darkness, despair, loneliness, selfishness, and separation.”

We struggle with the mystery of life and death at times like today, when someone deeply loved by us suffers and dies. We struggle to understand, we ask, “Why? Why does a good man die?” Without our faith, we could easily conclude that it is all just terribly unfair, that death has the last word and is the final destination for all.

Yet, we experience life! We know that we live. We know that from nothing we became living breathing human beings. We witness the death of others but we live and experience life directly. We cannot deny our lives, which life is ours and we cannot deny the lives of others. This is a great temptation in our world today, i.e., to take life from people rather than giving and sustaining life in them.

The choice is ours when faced with the mystery. God gives us life and he will not take it from us even when we experience the mortality of our human flesh in this world.

Bill chose well, and may God in his mercy bless him abundantly.

My friends, today is a day when our faith in the resurrection and our hope for eternal life become so important. Of one thing I am completely persuaded, and to which I testify — Death never has the last say, for Jesus has conquered all things, even death, and his victory will be experienced by us also if we remain faithful. I am convinced that new life has been promised and will be given to all the hopeful.

We have every reason to believe that God’s love and mercy has been richly poured out on John. We have every reason to hope that with an equal abundance of divine mercy and love poured into our lives, we will one day see John again. That day we will be in communion with all the saints of heaven in adoration of God. We believe and we hope for that day of resurrection, eternal life, and the communion of saints.

This is the Christian message. We all long to hear it, to believe it, to hope for it. Life is eternal, death is momentary; sin is forgiven with repentance, and life in relationship with God and each other is stronger than any suffering or illness. God’s love is limitless and eternal.

Although I only knew John partially in this life, I believe I will know him fully in the life to come. I have hope in the resurrection and its glory. I think you do also.

I would like to close by praying with you the closing verses of Psalm 16.

I bless the Lord who counsels me;

Even in the night my heart exhorts me.

I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.

Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices

My body too abides in confidence;

Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,

Nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.

You will show me the path to life,

Fullness of joys in your presence

The delights at your right hand forever.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Tuesday, 23rd Week of Ordinary Time 2022

All of us, I am sure, know someone in our family or in our close friendship network who has left the practice of the faith. It hurts us. We feel pain when we see this happen. All too often, in our pain, we try to numb it by telling ourselves such things as “At least they believe in God.” At times we cheapen the gift that had been that has been given by saying things such as “There really is no big difference between religions.”

Saint Paul was not like this. He was a man very zealous for the faith. We hear this in today’s first reading. He had gone to Corinth, a city that was a seaport, and in that city formed and established a church. As most seaports are, it was a mixture of many faiths, traditions, and standards of conduct. From those people he preached the gospel and they were baptized and began to follow Jesus Christ. He left that church in good hands and went on to other cities to preach the gospel and establish more churches. Word got back to him that the dear people of Corinth had begun to fall from the practice of the faith. They began even to sue one another in civil courts. They began to go back to practices of sexual immorality and other sinful ways of life. Paul was very hurt and upset and writes the letter that we hear today. He was zealous for the faith because he knew that a great gift that had been given to them in baptism. He pleaded with them to return to the faith and the unity of the church.

We too, like Paul, with zeal and enthusiasm, we can call back to the practice of the faith and unity of the church all those who have left. There are so many in our immediate communities! We too can make a priority in our lives a new evangelization of the people who once heard the gospel message and have left us. We too, each day in some way can do this. We too with zeal like Paul can call back to the faith all those who have strayed. What would the church look like in one year if every deacon, priest, and bishop of the church would make it a priority each time they preach to in someway call back to the faith those who have strayed? What would the church look like in one year if you the laity in some concerted way on a regular basis would do similarly?

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Pope John Paul I Beatified

(Two days ago, Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, was beatified by Pope Francis. As many know, he is my favorite pope. Sadly, few know of him now. Back in1978, nearly everyone did know him, and loved him. I had a unique encounter, I believe, with his holiness. The story below was written by me a number of years ago, and I would like to share it with all you.)

I have never written about my experience with Pope John Paul I, and my special devotion to him. I have though told the story in conversation with family and friends numerous times.

I was in Oslo, Norway when I saw a newspaper with Pope Paul VI’s picture on the front page. The Norwegian word for “dead” was printed next to it.  I asked a passerby what it said, and he told me the pope had died.  So rather than going to Bergen and seeing the fiords as I had planned, I hopped the next train to Rome.  It was a long ride, much of it on my feet or sleeping on the floors and the train was very crowded. 

As the conclave of August, 1978 began, I was back in my room on the Janiculum Hill only about a 15 minute walk from St. Peter’s. I knew that there would probably be a couple of votes that first day, and I was able to surmise fairly accurately when the smoke would come billowing out of the makeshift chimney on the Sistine Chapel.  So I imposed upon the “Suore tedesche” (the German Sisters) who lived literally a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s to allow me to sit on the roof of their home, drinking limonata and having a clear view of the piazza below. None of us really expected the conclave to end the first day, but I was wary enough not to be absent from anything going on at the time. The smoke was an unusual color the times we saw it, so I wasn’t sure whether I should run to the piazza or not, but I did. There really weren’t all that many people in the piazza that day. When the loggia doors opened and the tapestry was unfurled over the balcony, we finally  knew a new pope had been elected. He was announced to be Albino Luciani, who was an unknown to me at that moment.  His name of Giovanni Paolo Primo was a complete surprise too. Yes, it was announced as Ioannes Paulus Primus, so I am pretty sure that was the exact name he had chosen for himself, not simply Giovanni Paolo.

I remember being somewhat disappointed. The names we were bantering about in the days previous were other names. Then the new pope came out and gave his first blessing. His voice was so weak, fragile, almost feminine.Again, I was disappointed. I was actually afraid. I thought, “We need a strong man!” The final disappointment that afternoon was that he didn’t address us in the crowd. He just smiled and waved stiffly. He appeared so fragile, retreating back into the basilica.

I lingered in the piazza afterward, not really knowing if something more would happen. Sure enough, it wasn’t long and a couple of paperboys walked in, carrying bundles of Extra editions of the Osservatore Romano with Luciani’s face on the front page.  The cost was to have been 200 lire, but those poor boys were literally engulfed by people, reaching and grabbing for a copy.  The boys dropped their loads and ran away, and I had a free copy. (I still have it in storage to this day.) It is obvious the publisher did not anticipate a Luciani election. The eight to ten pages of the edition contains only a few columns about Luciani; the rest is general stuff about the papacy.

I went back to my room, knowing I was privileged to have been in a witness to all of this, but strangely disappointed too. The piazza hadn’t been filled; the pope’s voice was fragile; he was an unknown to most of us; the smoke was deceptive; and the conclave was so short.

Little did I know what was to come.

The day after Luciani’s election was a Sunday, so as was my custom, I hiked down to St. Peter’s for the noon Angelus and to hear the new pope speak.  I was standing in the crowd as he began that famous, and it would seem, extemporaneous discourse which began, “Ieri mattina, io sono andato alla Sistina a votare, tranquillamente. Mai avrei imaginato che cose stava per succedere!” For the first time, I was anything but disappointed in our new Holy Father. You couldn’t help but like him. He spoke like a father to his children. He spoke simply, honestly, and personally. Anyone who knew Italian, regardless of age, could understand him and we got a glimpse into his heart. And his voice….. still rather high in pitch, but with a strength not heard before. Whereas the day before he seemed deferential to Msgr. Noe on others around him in the loggia, that day he was asserting himself. (Watch the video of this talk, and how he was focused on the crowd, not the men around him.)

I was happy. He conveyed happiness.

The next few days were busy getting ready to go to Mannheim, Germany and the U.S. Army base there. I had made a commitment to Lt. Colonel Joseph Graves, who was the post chaplain, that I would assist him throughout the month of  September. I was to report by September 1, and had every intention to do so.

Our house received a message from Msgr. Virgilio Noe, the master of ceremonies for papal events. He wanted four Americans to serve as acolytes for what at the time we thought would be the Mass in which Luciani would be enthroned and given the tiara. Other colleges throughout the city were being asked to volunteer a man or two also. This caused quite a stir among us. Who would go? We eventually put our names in a hat and drew out 4 slips of paper. My name was on one of them.

The date for the Mass was September 3rd. I knew I was going to be late for the Army. I called Fr. Graves and told him I wouldn’t be showing up until September 5. He was not pleased. You don’t not show up on time for an Army assignment. It is called being AWOL if you are an enlisted man. I wasn’t though, so I pled my case knowing that regardless of his reaction, I was going to serve this pope’s Mass. I more or less told him so, and he agreed to pick me up at the train station on the 5th. He never brought it up to me again.

I had to go out and buy a black clerical shirt. In the 70s, seminarians seldom wore the collar until ordination to the diaconate. It is different now, as it seems to be the house dress at the North American College. But I knew that if I were to have anything to do with a Vatican ceremony, the Roman collar is needed. It gets you into the confines of the Vatican walls.  The Swiss Guards will salute as you enter, not stop and question you. And I wanted to make a good impression on Msgr. Noe, who was clearly in charge of the arrangements for the Mass.

The day for rehearsal came. The four of us Americans hustled on down to St. Peter’s and reported to the location to which we were instructed to present ourselves. Msgr. Noe took us out to the front of the basilica, off to the right as you face the entrance. I was surprised at the informality of the practice.  Noe was not the most affable man, at least not outwardly. He first asked if we spoke Italian, to which we all responded emphatically, “Si!” Then he sized us up from head to toe, silently. He then walked up to me and said, “Padre, Lei e’ il piu alto. Allora, portera’ la croce.” (You are the tallest; you will bear the cross.) “Carry the cross?” I thought. “My God, I am going to be next to him, the Pope, as he is crowned,” because we still assumed that John Paul would accept the papal tiara and it was the custom in previous enthronements for the acolyte bearing the cross to accompany the pope during that segment of the ceremony. It was, I was told, done from the main loggia of the basilica, right above the main doors.

Noe then took us into the basilica and we walked through the entrance procession that was to occur. I would lead the entire column of priests, bishops, cardinals and finally the Pope. I was to be the first out of the basilica and into the light of the outdoor Mass. 

Noe showed me my route.  “Walk slowly, make good angled turns, process directly to the altar constructed out from the main doors, place the cross in the base located at the left side of the altar, then descend down the steps to the far end of the first row of chairs and walk slowly between the first and second rows which will be empty as the bishops will follow later and occupy them. Don’t pay obvious attention to the heads of state that would be seated to the right in front of you.  You will be walking within inches of their faces. When you get to the end of the row, nearest the basilica, proceed across the back of the altar and occupy your chair to the right. All of this was will occur before the bishops descend to reverence the altar; the priests will precede them and be moving to the right to take their seats.”

“Easy enough”, I thought. “But what about the tiara?” 

It dawned on me something different was going to happen. He never mentioned the tiara.

When I got back to my room, I was told that the new Pope had elected to not be crowned or enthroned.

He was to be installed.

September 3, 1978 arrived. I went again to St. Peter’s and entered through the main doors. Back then, there was no visible security save a few Swiss Guards standing around. 

Inside the basilica that day were tables set up with vestments arranged for all the clergy who were to participate in the Pope’s installation. Men from all over the world were milling about. Short men, tall men, men from Africa, men from Europe, men from the Mideast and the Far East. I had already met the American cardinals and bishops present in Rome for the event, as they were roomed at the North American College and had given a press conference on our front lawn. The one person that still stands out in my memory, and I can still see him clearly in my mind’s eye, was the archbishop of Hanoi, North Vietnam. I believe his name was Archbishop Joseph Marie Trinh-nhu-Khuê. He was short of stature; perhaps 4 foot 10 inches tall. I had to ask who he was and was told he somehow was given permission from the Communist government to attend. He was very old, and he had a priest attending him. I couldn’t help but be struck by the universality of the Church so evidently displayed that day in that place.

I vested and was shown the processional cross. It was heavy. It also was old and the cross and corpus were loose. It tended to wiggle back and forth when I walked with it. “Can’t the Vatican afford a better one?” I thought. I don’t recall seeing Msgr. Noe that day; at least he paid no attention to me if he were there. There were several other men who were directing everyone, eventually forming a semblance of a double line. The basilica was rather dark; the light dim.

I stood at the head of the line, not being able to forget about how loose the cross felt attached to the pole on which it sat. “I hope it doesn’t fall off,” I thought.  After a considerable length of time, I was told it was time to start.

The doors opened onto the piazza. I stood there momentarily, stunned by the sight. Thousands of people in the piazza. The sun shining  brightly in the sky. The light was almost was blinding at first as my eyes struggled to adjust to the difference. I collected myself and began to walk into the light, just as I had practiced.

The cross held up. So did I.

I approached the altar, made a sharp left turn and placed the cross in the base. I made a decision on the spot to turn the cross slightly so the Pope would be able to see the corpus fully as he said Mass. Thus, it was put at a 45 degree angle. I descended the steps, went to the end of the empty chairs and began to walk between the first and second rows. To my immediate right were the King and Queen of Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark too I believe. Various other heads of state. I tried to not pay obvious attention, but I couldn’t help but realize that I would never again have a chance to be with so many so close to me.

When I arrived at the end of the row, I wanted to cross over to the opposite side of the altar to take my assigned seat, about 15 feet from the Pope’s chair. When I got to the end of the row, though, the bishops and others were steadily streaming toward the altar. “How am I to cross to the other side?” I wondered. I stood there paralyzed, knowing that cameras were rolling from all over filming this and I didn’t want to look as foolish as I was feeling at the moment.  I must have stood there 2 minutes when I heard an Italian whisper, “Che cosa stai facendo?” I noticed one of the men in cassock and surplus had leaned his head over next to mine.  I leaned my head over to his and said, “Devo andare lá” (I have to go over there.) gesturing ever so slightly with my head to my seat on the other side of the altar. “Non puoi farlo. Va dentro la basilica, vi passa, e poi prendi il tuo posto.” (You can’t do that. Go inside the basilica, pass through it and then take you place on the other side.)

And thus I did. I am convinced today that God wanted me to be in that predicament, for he was about to give me a papal experience I would never have had, should I have been able to follow the previous plan. An experience which I cannot forget.

I as inconspicuously as possible turned to my right and made a fairly large loop around the Swiss Guard, the cameramen and various others who were standing to the right of the basilica. I was able to enter into the section of St. Peter’s that precedes the Porta Sancta and wanted to speed into the beginnings of the interior of the basilica. After having escaped any area that I knew would be televised or filmed, I was intent on running, if necessary to the far door, out the other end of St. Peter’s and somehow get by the Swiss Guard and the scores of vested priests now seated in their places, and take up my post.

When, though, I entered the first area, before the Porta Sancta, I suddenly stopped. There was the pope. With mitre and crosier, he too had stopped. I could have run into him. 

He was smiling. There was a light all of a sudden, a bright light. In the darkness of the basilica, a light was penetrating the darkness and shining on the pope. The light came from the outside, from the crowd, from the Church gathered, waiting for him. It engulfed him. It was as if a spotlight had suddenly been switched on. He, again, was smiling, but the smile seemed one of acceptance if not reluctance…. perhaps not joy. After a minute or so, he bowed his head, moved his crosier forward one length and took a step toward the people assembled and waiting for him.

I was stunned and motionless. I suppose many will give a rational explanation, but I believe God was allowing me to see something no one else that day saw. It was just me, and him. No one else was there, save the two cardinals flanking him who were outside of the light.

I do not recall exactly what happened next.  I do remember him going out, giving me the opportunity of move across and eventually getting my chair.

The Mass of Installation began. My memory of all the rest is incomplete. I do recall Papa Luciani beginning his homily in Latin. I thought, “Will he take the Church back to the Latin?” His mitre was very tall and ornate, I remember, which reinforced in my mind that maybe Luciani would be a conservative pope. After a couple of minutes though, he switched to Italian, which I could understand for the most part. I sat there, looking and watching. Bishop after bishop, cardinal after cardinal came up, knelt before him and kissed his ring. It took a very long time, yet he seemed genuinely happy to see them. The choir kept up the refrain, “Tu es Petrus, et superam petram aedificabo, ecclesiam meam!” Over and over again. I recall the deacon for the Mass too.  A bearded man of an Eastern Rite Church, bringing the Book of the Gospels after proclaiming it to the people to the pope for him to reverence.  The deacon kissed the pope’s hands as he gave him the Gospels, and Luciani blessed us with it.

As the Mass continued, the light began to diminish. It was getting dark. Those in charge switched on the spotlights ringing the piazza, but it was still rather dim. Those spotlights were not even a tenth of the brilliance of the light that I had seen surround the pope before he exited the basilica. It was getting difficult to see. I remember thinking, “How strange. Has the Mass gone longer than they anticipated? Had no one thought ahead about adequate illumination? Surely, they were aware of the time of sunset.”

At the end of the Mass, after processing out, I and many others were told to gather around for the pope would come to greet us. He did just that. He stood in the midst of us, obviously tired, exhausted looking actually, but smiling, and gave us his blessing. We applauded him warmly.  He quickly exited. That was to be the last time I saw him alive. (If you go to the Vatican’s website, click on Pope John Paul I’s history and then go to the page of photographs of him, you will find a picture of him blessing us after the Mass. A few weeks after his death, I went from photography shop to photography shop in Rome, sorting through loose photos they had taken that day.  I found two that I bought. One is of me, standing at the end of the row of empty chairs with my head cocked toward the priest who had his head leaned over to mine and saying, “What are you doing?” The photo was taken at that moment. The second is of me and other sitting in our chairs during the Mass.)

Finally, as a token of thanks from Msgr. Noe, we were allowed to enter behind the protective glass surrounding the Pietá and touch Mary’s hand and the body of Jesus. 

I went home that night, very tired and knowing I had to jump a train early the next day to Germany and the US Army.  Little did I know that within a month, I would be coming back for Luciani’s funeral.

My time as a civilian employee of the US Army was uneventful. I was stationed at the base at Wiesbaden and worked with the local Catholic chaplain there. I gave my first homily there, and my last in Wiesbaden was about Papa Luciani. I spoke of my having seen his election and installation.

One of the local American families telephoned me early on September 28, to inform me Luciani had died. As so many others, it was a complete surprise. Luckily, my time with the Army was only two days from completion, and the trip back to Rome was only a day’s travel by train, so I knew I was able to get back for his funeral. I had already seen Pope Paul VI lay in state at St. Peter’s and attended his funeral Mass, so I knew what it would all entail.

No irreverance is meant by this, but whoever prepared Paul VI’s body did a terrible job. His death occurred in August which meant his body lay in state for mourners during the hottest days of the year in Rome, days in which most citizens escaped the city for the cool of the mountains or the ocean. As I and others filed by Paul VI’s body, we could scarcely endure the stench. His body had changed to an ugly greenish color. I have no idea how the Swiss Guard were able to stand at attention for hours at length. I know at least one of them had to leave to keep from fainting. There were big fans blowing, trying to cool things a bit and disperse the stench.

As I was anticipating Papa Luciani’s funeral rites, I hoped things would be different. They were in fact better. He looked like Pope John Paul I.

I attended his funeral, this time in the crowd with the people. If I recall correctly, the weather wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the best either. The Mass was held in the Piazza di San Pietro, and well attended.

When I returned to my dorm, I remember Fr. Enrico Garzelli walking in to the refectory and making a simple comment on how our pope had been like a bright star in the sky that cheered us ever so briefly. I was later amazed when I read Cardinal John Wright’s eulogy of Luciani, and his use of the image of a comet shooting through the sky which stuns and amazes us for a brief period of time. I sometimes wonder if Cardinal Wright didn’t get his image from Garzelli’s comment that day. I believe Garzelli quickly wrote a song about Luciani which included this image, although I do not have a copy of it. We sang it at the college at Mass soon after, if my memory serves me right.

Since those days, Papa Luciani has been for me a saint whom I was privileged to have encountered. The only other one is Mother Teresa, whom I met twice in the early 1970s. Perhaps John Paul II will also someday be declared a saint. It is my fervent hope that Papa Luciani cause for canonization will quickly be concluded and his name added to the official roster of canonized saints of the Church.

Papa Luciani, pray for us.

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Deacon Bob’s homily for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Wisdom 9:13-28b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

September 3-4, 2022

If I were to give a title to my homily today, I guess it would be Cheap Faith. This is an adaptation of the phrase cheap grace, coined by Dietrich Bonheoffer, a Lutheran minister who was killed by the Nazis for opposing Hitler during World War II.

I especially direct my remarks to all the young people. I am thinking about all of you who are in your twenties and thirties. I am now in my late sixties. I have never lost his faith in God or in the Church, but for decades I settled for cheap faith, and I would like to spare you all those years of mediocrity before beginning to live a costly faith and meaningful lives. It took me until I was about 55 years old to do so.

For those of you older, like me, it is never too late to start.

Imagine three young men standing before God. All three are good men. All three have faith. They believe in God and want to live a good life and go to heaven after death. Each of them is blessed. They have good wives and children. They live in a free country. They enjoy fairly good health. They have decent incomes, and so on. But each feels a certain burden on his shoulders. Each feels a responsibility for all those people and to make good use of their gifts. Each realizes that in order to leave this world in peace and enter heaven in glory, he has to leave everything behind someday and this bothers him because he is attached to all his blessings and gifts. So each makes a decision, but each man responds differently.

Gentleman number one can’t seem to let go. He intends to build that tower someday. He intends to fight that battle. He just doesn’t get around to it. It is a rather daunting idea, and it seems like something difficult. Isn’t on the priority list. He has a lot of other things to do with life and responsibilities. He holds on to wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life… all the good gifts given to him. “They are mine after all. I possess them,” he thinks. “Maybe someday I will have to let them go, but not now.”  This man has Cheap Faith.

Gentleman number two does get around to it, he thinks. He puts a plan together. He sees in those gifts a call to advance the Gospel and God’s glory. He realizes those gifts are meant to give honor and glory to God by improving humanity. So he makes a blueprint to build his tower; he draws up a battle plan to fight the battle. His plan!  He is going to implement his blueprint and his battle plan and he expects God to approve his plan. This man builds and fights in an admirable way, but in a way which enables him to retain control of the blessings and gifts that have been given to him. He wants to manage his wife and his family, his home and his assets. “They are mine after all. I possess them. I have worked hard for them” he thinks. “God will certainly approve of my admirable plans.” This man too has Cheap Faith.

Gentleman number three recognizes all the blessings and good things that have been given to him are meant to bring God greater honor and glory, and he is grateful for them. He realizes they were given to him to be enjoyed in this life, and to be relinquished, if necessary, to bring about God’s greater honor and glory. So he decides he will give them all up, or he will retain them, whatever God wants; whichever way brings about greater honor and glory to God. Keeping or letting go are both fine as long as it is fine with God. He is willing to keep them or let them go, whatever is necessary to bring about God’s plan for him, and them, and for the world. So he asks God to show him the blueprints for the tower, to show him the battle plan God has in mind. His plan will be God’s plan. All this man wants to know is the plan. He knows that in this way, he and his wife and children, his parents and relatives will share in God’s glory and honor when they entered eternal life. He does not cling to his blessings and gifts. He is a free man. He does whatever God wants. He even carries a cross. This man has Costly Faith.

Which of these three men are you? Which will you become? Which approach are you taking in your life? Do you have cheap faith or costly faith? How is your tower to be built and battle fought? We want to fight the battle or build the tower —we are good people and well-intentioned after all— but are we too attached to our gifts? Sometimes we even reject and abuse the gifts given to us. We don’t want to carry a cross. We want cheap faith.  We try to get God and others to agree with our construction plan or battle strategy that will allow us to hang on to what we have, telling God and others to make the investment for us so we can control our assets. We want a cheap faith, not a costly faith. We think we possess our wives, children, and parents rather than seeing them as God’s people and we mere custodians.

The point is we must come to where we let go and let God. The point is not to give away everything we have in some rash plan; rather it is to follow God’s plan for our lives and the people He has put into our lives. We let go when we must, and retain when asked. We need to let God be in charge. We need to be willing to let everything be in God’s hands. In that way we need to pay the high price of faith and live in gratitude.

We can have a sort of holy indifference if we believe in God. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about our families or responsibilities. It means we realize we don’t own them and we can see in our wives and families the glory of God in this life. Guys, have you ever looked at your wives and families that way? We don’t own our wives or our children. Ultimately, all that is good is God’s, gifts from God. Our blueprints and our battle plans and those of God must be in alignment. We must let go and let God.

In the very end, cheap faith will cost us everything, only in ways we do not want. Costly faith will give us everything. Choose costly faith now. Do not wait. Trust in God. Enjoy what God has given to you, but be ready to let go when He asks.

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19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 2022

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless you all!

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C

Wis 18: 6-9; Heb 11: 1-2, 8-19; Lk 12: 32-48

August 6/7, 2022

You know, I am feeling a little like Lazarus in recent days. You know about Lazarus, the friend of Jesus who died and Jesus didn’t make the funeral. He came four days late, and he wept. Then he called out rather forcefully, “Lazarus! Come out!” He raised him from the dead. Lazarus was all bound up though. Burial clothes. I can imagine Lazarus hearing the voice of his friend, waking up and trying to “come forth” only to stumble around because he was bound. “Here I come. Can’t move though. Burial clothes binding me.” “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus repeated. “I’m trying! But I am bound up. Pretty scary in this tomb and not being able to get out.” “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus says a third time. Now Lazarus is scared. Can’t move. Can’t respond. Then he hears Jesus say the words he needs. “Get rid of that stone that blocks his way. Unbind him and set him free!”

We too get all anxious and scared when we cannot move freely. We get scared when we hear God calling us and we can’t seem to get off first base.

That is why today’s Gospel is so important, I think. Jesus says to us today: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

Similar words were proclaimed that day in October, 1978 by now St. John Paul II in his homily for his Installation Mass. I know. I was there. I heard it with my own ears. He said, in Italian, “Non avete paura! Spalancate le porte a Cristo!” which in English means, “Do not fear! Open wide the doors to Christ!”  He implied what Jesus said, i.e., “Come out of the tomb. Get rid of the stone door. Unbind him. Set him free!”

These are words our world desperately needs to hear, a world so bound up by fear. God is telling us not to fear any longer what we have feared for so long, because He is giving us his Kingdom, no less!

What role does fear play in your life? Some say it is fear that binds us and keeps us from the Kingdom. For example: Some say that fear activates all the vices and sins in life. We fear getting caught, therefore we lie. We fear not having something, so we steal it. We fear loneliness, so we commit adultery. We fear the future, so we become stingy and lacking in charity. We fear what people have done to us and others in the past, so we lose hope in humankind. And on and on…

One thing is for sure: Fear binds us, and Jesus frees us!

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we have no need to fear, that he will provide all we need if we trust him. In fact, he will wait on us in our need! He is reminding us that whereas fear gives rise to sin —as we hear in the last verses of today’s Gospel— faith gives rise to all virtues —as we hear in the first verses.

For example: We speak the truth because we believe truth is from God. We love because we have faith in love’s power to redeem. We are generous with others because we have faith in God’s providence, in his care for us. We are patient with others because we believe all things work together in God’s will. We have hope because we trust God’s promises.

It is faith which unbinds us and overcomes our fear.  It is only when we banish fear from our lives can we with hopeful, faithful expectation be prepared to immediately open the doors of our lives and come forth when He calls us. When we are rid of the fear that binds us we will be able to avoid the sins that fear generates in our lives, sins against God’s will that are described in today’s Gospel.

So I ask you, do you believe? Do you have faith, or are you bound up with fear? Do you truly believe that God loves you so much that He has given you his Kingdom, and nothing less? 

What is God’s Kingdom? God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of peace. It is a kingdom of justice. It is a kingdom where there is Jew and Greek, slave and free. It is a kingdom where all are one and share in the same Holy Spirit. It is a kingdom of joy, a kingdom of love, a kingdom of hope. It is an everlasting kingdom.

Where is God’s kingdom? Gods’ kingdom is here and now. It is present on earth and in heaven. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is present everywhere where God’s will is done. It is present deep within you if you are in a state of grace. It is present in sacramental marriages, in your families, in this parish, in our diocese, indeed in our Church.

Who is God’s Kingdom? God’s Kingdom is Jesus. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Kingdom, the full revelation of the Father on earth. He is the full expression of God’s will, the full expression of God’s love for each and every one of us. When we listen to and see Jesus, we listen to and see everything that God the Father wishes to reveal to us this side of heaven. Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is the way to heaven where we will see God face to face in all his glory and splendor, in an unveiled manner, in a brilliant and unimaginable way. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the Kingdom of God now present to us, given us by God the Father for our salvation.
Do you believe this?

Only with faith will we be free to, as the Gospel tells us we must do, place our real treasure in heaven and not in things of this world. Only if we come to believe that the Kingdom of God is among us and is immensely richer than anything we now have, will we be prepared to do his will and act with mercy toward others, especially those who are most difficult to love. Only if we believe that it is in Jesus Christ and in his Church that we find grace, mercy and salvation, will we dispel all our fears. Only if we come to know that Jesus is the Christ and the Church is his faithful true witness will we find peace.

“Fear not little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”
Yes, with faith we cast out all our fears and we grow in virtue. Without faith, without virtue, without Jesus, without the Church we succumb to sin.

Do not fear. Live in the presence of God all the days of your lives, and in peace confidently look to the future when we hope to be in the presence of God and all his angels and saints in heaven.

Posted in General Interest, homilies, Popes | Comments Off on 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 2022