Action Follows Being

This homily was given at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Sutherlin, OR on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 14, 2022. The audio is available here.

A dear friend of mine served the Lord for many years in youth ministry.

Her heart was on fire for those kids, to introduce them to the love of God.

But there was a change in leadership, and she was not asked to continue with the ministry.

As she was telling me the whole story recently, my friend said, “It’s like I don’t know who I am anymore without youth ministry.”

Many of us don’t know who we are.

Instead, we define ourselves by what we do, and an unexpected change in our mission can throw everything into question.

Think of a pastor who gets sent to a new parish.

He feels like he’s starting all over again from square one.

“Can I really do this again, Lord?”

Or a young couple who find themselves moving back home, across the country, and putting everything on hold with a baby on the way.

Or the parents of adult children, who look at one another, as the last of the kids goes off to college, and wonder: “What are we going to do now?”

Change is disruptive. 

It can be heart-breaking, especially if we confuse who we are with what we do.

But as she was telling me the story, my friend, the former youth minister, stopped herself and laughed, as she said, “No. I know who I am. I’m a beloved daughter of God. I just don’t know what He wants from me!”

The philosophers have a saying: agere sequitur esse: action follows being.

In other words, our identity comes first, before our mission … and our mission flows from our identity.

Jesus Christ reveals our identity to us.

In Jesus, through the sacrament of Baptism and the grace of divine adoption, we have become sons and daughters of the Most High God.

And that is the most essential fact of who we are.

Nothing we do can ever make God love us less or revoke our status as sons.

Our identity is firm and unshakeable.

Our mission in life flows from that identity.

As God’s son, as God’s daughter, how is He calling me higher to live in His love and share that love with others?

“Lord, what do you want from me?”

The answer to that question will be unique for every one of us.

From all eternity, God has prepared a role for you in his kingdom, some unique work which He wants to entrust to you and no one else.

Most of us will discover that mission only by living into it.

The more we live in the truth of who we are, the more our life’s mission unfolds.

And what may seem at first like a tragedy, a disruption, can be an opportunity, the next step on a path we didn’t know we were on, the opening of a door that we never anticipated.

Think of Jeremiah.

The Lord called him to be a prophet from his youth.

And in the eyes of the world, his mission seemed like a failure.

He was a prophet to a hard-hearted people, who tried to put him to death!

But we do not measure success by worldly standards.

We measure success by our faithfulness as sons and daughters to our Father.

By worldly standards, even the mission of Jesus was a failure, but by the Father’s standards, it is the greatest victory in history.

Jesu gives us the program in today’s Gospel: He comes to bring fire and the sword; not peace, but division; not comfort, but danger and risk.

If we are faithful to our mission as baptized sons and daughters of God, we will cause division simply by being who we are!

We will face opposition, scorn, rejection.

But the reward is commensurate with the risk.

We few, we chosen few, if we are faithful to our life’s mission, we will be happyin this life, even amid persecutions and trials, and we will enjoy the fullness of eternal happiness in the life to come.  

Jeremiah’s faithfulness may have converted few, but it merited eternal glory.

In a famous prayer, Cardinal John Henry Newman writes,

“I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.”

As we live into our mission, unfolding day by day, as faithful sons and daughters of our Father, we find that we are filled with Newman’s trust and confidence in Him, who knows what He is about.

And the desire of Jesus, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, finds its fulfillment in us: 

“Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

Take the Risk of Forgiveness

This homily was given at St. Joseph Parish, Roseburg, OR on the memorial of St. Clare, August 11, 2022. The audio is available here.

We spoke earlier this week about the need to recognize that the Lord has all the money, and all the time, and that we do not.

But when we feel short—when we feel that time is short, perhaps, or our budget is very constrained, and we have very little to give—we take the risk.

We’re the first to step out in faith, giving what little we have and trusting in the Lord, who has it all.

His bank account is infinite; His schedule is completely open!

The Lord has it all.

And so we trust that He will provide for us when we step out in faith.

That is poverty of spirit.

It’s accepting the limitations that we have as human beings.

We’re very finite.

We’re very limited.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s very little that we can do.

But the Lord calls us to step out and do our little bit, trusting that He will provide the rest.

Now, one area that we human beings are very, very limited indeed is our capacity to forgive.

And the Lord knows that.

Our human hearts, since the time of our first parents, Adam and Eve, are very inclined to hold a grudge—towards resenting, holding on to the bitterness of past wounds and past hurts that have been inflicted upon us and desiring to seek some kind of vengeance.

Or even just by holding that wound in the heart, somehow, to avenge ourselves upon the person who’s wounded us in the past.

What the Lord says in today’s Gospel are very serious words indeed.

“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless you forgive your brother or your sister from your heart.”

It’s not that God will avenge Himself upon us, but our holding onto that grudge is itself the precondition of vengeance.

They say that if you hold onto a grudge, you drink the poison and you expect the other person to die.

So the Lord calls us to step out in forgiveness, to be the first to take the risk.

Although our capacity is very little, we find that when we step out, desiring to forgive, the Lord provides what our human nature does not possess in itself.

God is all forgiving, all merciful.

He is the one who forgives us our sins and our transgressions.

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive the Lord in Holy Communion, I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to each and every one of us one person in our lives whom we need to forgive.

It may be a past abuser, or someone who has done great harm to us.

For some of you, it may be God.

And for some of us, it may be ourselves.

There can be a real need to forgive ourselves for our past sins or for the past things that we’ve done wrong.

So whoever it is, Holy Spirit, we ask you to reveal that to every person here present.

I’ll invite you, in a time of brief silence after this homily, to call to mind the ways that you’ve been wounded by that person.

Like the master in today’s Gospel, give an accounting of the debt that’s owed, and then offer that up to the Lord.

Read out the list of transgressions, the list of wounds, the ways you’ve been hurt, here in the presence of the Lord.

And then, as we receive Holy Communion today, ask Jesus to forgive that person.

If you like, you can use the words of Jesus from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In doing so, we become the first to take the risk of forgiveness.

And as Jesus forgives first, we too can unite ourselves to Him and say:

“Father, with you and with your Son, I forgive this person.”

“You know my capacity is limited, but my desire is there, my will is there, to forgive as you forgive.”

“And, Lord, I ask you to bless this person.”

“Bless them in the ways that they wounded me.”

“Bless them in the same ways.”

Then, together, as one family in Christ, with Our Lord Jesus and Our Lady, with St. Clare and all the saints, we will come together in heaven to rejoice in the forgiveness and love of our all-merciful God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

A Life of Risk

This homily was given at St. Joseph Parish, Roseburg, OR on the feast of St. Lawrence, August 10, 2022. The audio is available here.

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Everyone is sparing with what is rare, with a scanty resource, with something that’s limited.

If we feel that our time is a limited commodity, how likely are we going to be to burn up an hour in prayer or in service for someone in need?

And likewise, when we feel the pinch of a very limited budget, how likely are we going to be to give generously to someone who comes to us, asking for a donation?

Yet the divine logic that the Lord is proposing today in the Gospel, and that St. Paul is teaching us in this letter, is that God is the one who has all the money in the world.

God is the one who has all the time.

After all, He exists outside of it, and he created it for our good.

Indeed, St. Paul says, God is the one who is able to “make every grace abundant for you,” so that, having all you need—like good measure, pressed down and overflowing, a cup overflowing with bounty—you will be able to give freely and lavishly, generously, cheerfully, not meting out a little bit from what’s left over, but pouring forth out of the abundance of what the Lord gives, knowing that there is plenty to provide for ourselves and for the needs of those who come to us.

What the Lord is proposing to us today, dear friends, is a life of risk, whereby we give, maybe not knowing that there will be enough left over, but stepping out in faith, trusting that the Lord will provide.

When time is short and when we are the first to take the risk, spending it on God, what we find is that the Lord provides plenty of time to get everything else done as well.

And when we feel, perhaps, that our money or our goods are too short to provide for the needs of others, well, when we step out first, and we take the first risk in order to give away what little we have, we find that the Lord provides tenfold to provide for us and others.

But we have to be the first to take the risk.

We have to be the first to step out in faith, trusting that the Lord will provide the rest.

And St. Lawrence, whom we celebrate today—

You know, St. Lawrence is a great hero of our Christian faith.

One of the first deacons, the pride of the diaconate.

In the Roman Church, when the emperor Valerian was persecuting the Christians, St. Lawrence was entrusted with administering all the goods, all the riches of the church of Rome.

He was placed in charge of it all.

And Valerian knew this.

So he came to Lawrence and said, “Lawrence, give me all the goods of the church. Give me all the riches, all the gold I know you have stored.”

And so St. Lawrence went out to the streets of Rome and gathered all the poor, all the sick, all the suffering, and he brought them back like this great procession into the emperor’s palace and said, “Behold, here are the goods of the church. Here’s everything we have.”

Likewise, the Lord calls us to give Him everything we have, and maybe it’s not much.

But if we offer him everything, the Lord promises, He will make every grace abundant for us.

He is the one who scatters abroad, giving to the poor.

He doesn’t mete out a little bit.

He has all the seed, and He scatters it abroad in the field.

And we have been the recipient of His abundance.

And so, today, at this Holy Mass, let us, too, respond to the Lord who has been so generous with us, with a generosity of heart, trying to match our love for His love, our generosity for His generosity.

Lord, we promise today to pour our lives out for you, to make an abundant return for all that you have given us.

And as we receive you, Jesus, in Holy Communion, we ask for the grace to always return love for love, to lay down our lives for you and for another, in hope of the eternal reward that you promise to those who live as you lived and who love as you love.

You Shall Not Taste Death

This homily was given at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Salem, OR on the Eighteenth Friday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2022.

It was a woman in a garden who first tasted death.

The serpent promised her life: if she would only take and eat that one fruit that God had forbidden, she would become like God and enjoy the fullness of life without end.

But when she bit into that fruit, she tasted the bitterness of death.

And we, poor, banished children of Eve, know that taste all too well.

Death, in this world, comes wrapped in the trappings of life.

The serpent whispers, “If you want to live to the full, seize life for yourself.”

“Come on. Grab on to what you can get: this relationship, that vacation time, this new car, that big project at work…”

But the serpent is a liar.

And all our attempts to procure life for ourselves turn to dust and ashes in our mouth, and only leave us feeling emptier than before.

Life, true, everlasting life, comes to us in disguise … as death.

Jesus’ life was a constant death, from the wood of the manger to the cross.

Rather than grasping, He poured Himself out, giving Himself away out of love, reckless of the cost, to his last breath, to his last drop of blood.

And He, whose battered, broken body would have been death’s greatest prize … rose from the tomb, the conqueror of death.

The dark kingdom could not contain such abundant life, any more than a shadow can swallow up the sun. 

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive the Body of Jesus, the Bread of Life, ask Him to share with us the secret of that life, of giving ourselves away.

As we follow Jesus in His way of living by dying, we no longer taste the bitter taste of death, but the sweetness of life without end. 

The Seed that is Scattered

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Seventeenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2022. The audio is available here.

It takes time for a seed to grow, to mature.

When the plant grows tall and strong, it bears seeds of its own.

And the wind, without disturbing the plant, scatters its seed far and wide.

What began as a single seed, multiplies and fills the field with beauty and life.

The seed is the word of God, the truth and the beauty of our faith, which, at the end of a lifetime of growth, bears its sweetest fruit: eternal life.

This seed of faith is sown in us by Christ, and by his servants in the Church.

And in time, the seed of faith reaches maturity and bears seeds of its own.

The wind, which is the Holy Spirit, gathers up the seeds of our faith and scatters them throughout the field, the whole world, planting new seedlings of the faith in hearts near and far.

You who have children and grandchildren of your own have a very special role to play in this ecosystem of grace.

Like Saints Joachim and Anna, you must take care to nurture your own faith to full maturity, so as to bear abundant seed for the Holy Spirit to scatter in the hearts of your own families.

Our Lady learned to love God and give everything joyfully to Him from the teaching and example of her holy parents.

And the boy Jesus received from them, too, the gift of their faith: in their words, their prayers together, their whole manner of life.

Their faith was not perfect, maybe.

But it was mature, secure and solid.

Today, at this Holy Mass, ask the Lord to increase our faith to full maturity, so that we may bear seeds, and that the seeds may take root and produce fruit in the lives of our families, for the growth of the Kingdom of God.

Crying in the Dishwater

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24, 2022. The audio is available here.

A husband comes home one night to find his wife there in the kitchen.

She’s turned away from him, washing up the dishes.

As he comes closer for a kiss, he’s startled to see her crying in the dishwater.  

“Honey, what’s wrong?” 

“Nothing,” she cries, wiping away the tears with the back of her hand. “I’m fine.”

Sometimes, we all put on a false front.

Like an actor wearing a mask, we cover our own struggles, our fears, and our longings with a carefully constructed image of respectability.

Over many years, we learn the difficult art of maintaining this image, keeping the mask in place no matter what.

We learn early on that if we allow it to slip, and someone glimpses the truth beneath the mask—that we are weak, and scared, and wounded—more than likely, they’re just going to hurt us even more.

Our fear, founded on experience, of being rejected, being misunderstood, being taken advantage of or abused, as well as the shame of being told “that’s not a big deal,” “get over it,” all keep the mask firmly in place.

And like the wife, crying in the dishwater, when our hearts are broken and everything in life seems to be going wrong, we find ourselves saying the world’s most common lie: “I’m fine.” 

But deep down, we long to be known in the truth of who we are.

We sense that we are made for it: for love, for communion.

The more we hide, the stronger grows that ache in the heart.

Back in the kitchen, the husband gently turns off the faucet and puts his arm around his wife.

Without saying a word, he leans in, resting his head against hers.

And he whispers: “I love you. I’m here.”

She falls apart, sobbing uncontrollably.

At last, the mask has fallen off.

And as he holds her, and she gradually runs out of tears, she begins to tell him the whole story.

Like the husband, God is near us when we are broken-hearted.

He is not fooled by our false fronts.

He knows our deepest longings and struggles, the pain of our hearts that we strive to keep hidden, as well as our often-sinful attempts to deal with it.

God had no need to go down to Sodom to learn about their sins; he only goes to teach Abraham a lesson, not to prejudge others before seeing the evidence himself.

But God, who knows our hearts, also will not force us to take off our masks.

Instead, like the husband, he abides with us, covering us with his love, and waiting patiently for us to tell him ourselves.

Because what matters most is not the particular problem of the day…

It’s that we trust him enough to tell him about that problem and let him help. 

Vulnerability, the choice to set our masks aside and reveal our hearts to another,sets us free from the self-made prison of shame and fear.

In fact, trust and vulnerability are the essential foundation of any close relationship, whether between spouses in a marriage, close friends, or the spiritual life between God and man.

And where trust is lacking or difficult, the choice on our part to risk vulnerability is what begins to build it up.

Today, at this Holy Mass, dare to be vulnerable.

Dare to ask for what you really need from God.

As we pray the Eucharistic Prayer, lift up your hearts to the Father along with the bread on the altar, which is first broken and then transformed. 

As we pray the Our Father, asking him to “give us our daily bread,” ask him in your hearts for what you most deeply long for.

The conversion of a family member.

The healing of a loved one.

Or maybe just to feel His love for you.

Whatever you may need.

And as we receive Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, who makes Himself our true “daily bread,” trust in the Father, who gave us His Only Son, to give us everything else we need along with Him.

As we pray boldly, with trust and vulnerability, we begin to learn the truth:

That our Father is trustworthy.  

That He gives us what we need.

That “everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

And on the last day, as the doors of Heaven open to receive us, we shall enter into that communion of love, of which this life is only a foretaste and a preparation, with our faces unmasked and our hearts wide open, to know Our God as we have been known by Him, and to love as we have been loved, by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, world without end. 

How to Achieve the Goal

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Sixteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2022. The audio is available here.

I try to start every day with 3 priorities I plan to accomplish.

“Write this homily; make that phone call; pick up the groceries.”

It’s good and prudent to plan ahead.

But every day also brings unexpected demands.

The knock at the door, the urgent message, that thing that only you can fix…

The little things can build up and get in the way of achieving our goals.

When that happens, we might get frustrated with these surprise interruptions.

Many of us have a “performance mentality,” an inner voice which says:

 “I’m OK, I’m valuable, only if I’m productive, if I perform well.”

But that voice is not the voice of the Father.

And our single-minded striving to achieve our goals, even good ones, can be an ultimately selfish pursuit, more about “feeling OK” than serving God.

Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will do my Father’s will.”

And our Father’s will includes the “interruptions” He places in our path.

Today, as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, ask Him to teach us the secret of doing our Father’s will in all things, putting our own priorities on the back burner in favor of the Father’s often unexpected preferences.

“If you have God as the center of all your actions, then you will achieve the goal,” the one thing necessary above all other priorities: the will of God.

As we respond generously to God’s interruptions, we find our peace of soul, our confidence and effectiveness are greater than ever, because our identity no longer depends on what we do, but on who He says we are.

“Whoever does my Father’s will is my brother, my sister, and our Father will love you, and we will come to you and remain with you.” 

The One Thing He’s After

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Fifteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2022. The audio is available here.

Everywhere He went, in everything He did, the Lord was after one thing.


Another word for faith is trust: trusting that Jesus is who he says is, the Son of God, and trusting in Him to save us from our sins. 

All His healings and miracles were intended to inspire a response of faith.

Today, Jesus grieves over the many people of his own nation who have seen Him and known Him … and still do not believe.

It’s true that faith is a gift of God.

Believing is possible only by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit.

But those who are given this gift still have a choice.

To believe, or not.

To trust Him … or not.

We who have received the Lord, who have seen His mighty deeds and heard His words of power, have been given the gift of faith.

Every day, we are witnesses to the greatest of miracles here on this altar!

He comes even closer to us than the people of Capharnaum and Bethsaida.

They received Him into their homes; we receive Him into our bodies.

Today, as we receive Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, make an act of faith in Him, in His presence and His power to save.

Ask Him to help our unbelief and increase our faith.

As our faith grows firm, we will find that we have the strength to stand firm.

We remain calm, courageous, unshaken, whatever trials may come.

And on the day of judgment, our Lord will not say, “Woe to you, Ashland,” but “Blessed are you, for you have loved me and kept my words.”

The Wound in the Heart

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 10, 2022. The audio is available here.

Sometimes, the most painful wounds leave no mark on the body.

Take this man, for example, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

They beat him up, stripped him, robbed him blind, and left him for dead by the side of the road.

But as he lay there in the dirt, drifting in and out of consciousness, exposed, helpless…

He was aware of strangers passing by, one by one.

He heard their footsteps as they went about their business.

One after another, going up to Jerusalem.

They might have looked at him curiously.

The pious surely said a prayer for him or offered a berakah, a Jewish blessing.

But not one stopped to help.

The opposite of love is not hatred…

It’s indifference.

And no beating or cut from a sword can cut so deeply as the wound in the heart: the conviction … that no one cares.

Faced with the indifference of others toward our suffering, some of us choose to toughen up, make ourselves self-reliant.

We pick ourselves up, stagger onward, and learn never to be taken advantage of that way again.

Sooner or later, the bruises heal and the cuts turn into scars.

But the wound in the heart remains.

We take care never to be in need, because we know we can’t trust anyone else to be there for us when it counts.

One day, we pass by someone else lying half-dead on the side of the road.

And though we feel a stirring of mercy, our habits of self-protection have become too deeply embedded.

The walls around our hearts have become too strong.

“If I try and help him, I could get hurt.”

“What will people think of me?”

“I don’t have time.”

“I can’t afford it.” 

“Let him pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

“Nobody ever helped me.”

Friends, I have been that man by the side of the road.

And I have been the man who passes by.

The Church Fathers say that man is Adam.

He’s all of us.

Wounded by sin and the casual cruelty of others, and powerless to overcome our own hardness of heart.

But there is one who cares enough about suffering to do something about it.

As Jesus sees a man suffering and alone, abandoned on life’s journey, he does not pass by on the other side of the road.

He comes down from Heaven to heal us, His mercy attracted by our misery.

And if we allow Him to approach, Jesus lovingly washes and bandages our wounds.

Then, like the Good Samaritan, he brings us to an inn and pays well for our stay, saying to the innkeeper: “Take care of him, my beloved one.”

That inn is the Church.

We are here because Jesus has rescued us and brought us here.

Now, as we are healed by His mercy, Jesus asks us to take care of others.

We who call this inn our home are to become innkeepers ourselves.

Jesus brings us His beloved poor, the sick, the suffering, the depressed, the abandoned.

It might be a family member with cancer.

It might be a friend struggling with depression, or a stranger on the street.

Every person who comes into our lives is our neighbor, and Jesus, the Good Samaritan, entrusts them to our care.

Today, at this Holy Mass, ask Jesus for the grace to be good neighbors.

We are good neighbors when we dare to approach someone in need, putting to death our habits of self-protection and reaching out to them.

We are good neighbors when we pay a visit or make a phone call to a suffering friend and really listen, giving them our loving care and attention, and doing what we can to provide for their needs.

As we receive the Body of Christ, the sacrament of love, we pray to love others as we have been loved by Him.

For it is by loving that we repay the gift of love, which heals our wounds.

Jesus promises, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

And on the last day, when the dead are raised, and death and illness and suffering are no more, we shall hear Him say:

“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Take With You Words

This homily was given at Our Lady of the Mountain Parish, Ashland, OR on the Fourteenth Friday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2022. The audio is available here.

They say that actions speak louder than words.

But when Hosea calls Israel to repentance, he says, “Take with you words, and return to the Lord.”

The words we use are important.

A husband might send his wife flowers, but if he doesn’t apologize and admit he was wrong, the pretty bouquet is going straight to the compost heap!

The Lord calls us to return to him often with our words in prayer.

And as in any relationship, our prayer begins with the formulas of love.

“Good morning. Hello. How are you? I love you.”

With God, the formulas are “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” “Glory Be…”

Formulas allow us to make a connection with people.

If you can’t do anything else, you can always repeat the formulas.

But prayer is meant to progress beyond these formulas into conversation.

You and God begin to speak together in your own words, face to face.

Then there is the realm of sighs, tears, and groans, where conversation give way to the deep things of the heart that words cannot express.

And after many years, there’s not a lot left to say. 

It’s enough just to be in the presence of the beloved.

So at last, even sighs and tears give way to silence, and prayer becomes constant communion, a partnership of peace and love.

Now, let us each return to the Lord with the words of our hearts.

If you don’t know what to say, ask the Holy Spirit, who “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for speech,” to “give you what you are to say.” 

Come, Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son, and teach us how to pray.