Friday, February 21, 2014

Listening to Homilies

Let’s say that I take you to lunch at a really fancy and expensive restaurant.  The bill amounts to $125. I had prepared for the day by saving money for a few weeks.  Now the waiter, supposedly doing his duty, presents the bill after some hesitation.  When he brought the change, it was only $25.  Now, I had given him two $100 bills and so I was willing to do a little math to make sure everything turned out right.  Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and called the waiter over.  I asked him if there was a mistake and he said, “No, Father.  I didn’t think you would mind since most of the time that’s the way I feel after hearing your sermon.  I feel shortchanged.” 

Happily, this is a fictitious story and this has never happened to me - except for one guy who went the grocery store after Sunday Mass.  He was one of those much appreciated and respectful parishioners who always wore a coat and tie, but on this occasion his appearance was a set up.  The checker couldn’t help asking if they had been to Mass.  And with a big grin revealing confirmation to the answer, “Yes, Ma’am.  I never miss a Sunday.”  You would never allow this opportunity to slip by but you did and she had you.  “And what was the sermon about?  Not to be outdone, he fired back.  “Well, I’m not sure but I do know how many pieces of stained glass are in the window over the altar.”

Some wise soul needs to sit down and write a survival guide for getting through the homily.  Actually, there was a time when people made jokes about Catholic homilies.  Things are better now, at least in my estimation but the survival guide might still be a good idea.

My own experience of preaching has a few rough spots.  I used to pride myself as an almost exclusively extemporaneous preacher.  Time has changed things and I can’t do that anymore.  I really love the priest who can shine outside the pulpit.  For me, however, I have had to adopt a new set of rules, to learn a new way of preaching.

Here is a sample of the new rules:
1.    Don’t waste everyone’s precious time.  Spend a little more time preparing.  For every minute in the pulpit, spend an hour in study.
2.    Make it relevant.  Choose as possible subject matter something that will help people live better lives, be better people.
3.    This is important:  The future of the souls of those gathered is at stake.  In other words, heaven or hell is the destination. But it depends on you (and me.)
4.    Start looking at the Gospel (primarily) and the other readings starting Monday morning.
5.    I hope style is not that important,  because I don’t believe that it is.  Don’t be theatrical!
6.    The job or goal of a preacher is to point to Jesus present among us.  You will know that you are successful when the people no longer see you standing there.  The words are God’s Word.

One of the most interesting priests in the diocese was Fr. Mary Philip, a Carmelite.  He would have a hard time answering you when you greeted him because he would have to straighten up a bit.  The first and perhaps the only time I ever heard him preach I had no idea what to expect.  When he opened his mouth I thought immediately of St. John Chrysostom.  “Chrysostom” literally means “golden mouth”.  Fr. Mary Philip, though in appearance and delivery was not attractive, not flashy, with no discernable “style,” when he opened his mouth, he poured out pure Gold.  Substance over style!

Occasionally someone will make their confession by saying that their mind wanders during Mass.  Perhaps that is a small sin when it involves spending more time thinking about someone’s big hat.  If it is an expression of our imagining the scene of the Gospel, it is hardly a sin, at all.  We need to relearn how to listen to homilies with our eyes wide open. 

Here is one final point: 
Arrive for Mass five minutes early.  Pray for the homilist and pray that you will be moved by the homily.  Especially pray just as the homily begins.  Ask that your mind be clear, and free of distractions but ready to hear a message that is meant only for you.  I have a lot of stories about this one point, that what is going on has to do with prayer.  So many times I have had the experience of someone thanking me for what I said when all the time I never mentioned what they had heard.  How humbling!  The preacher is a broken vessel, a leaking wineskin.  The Word of God is the bridge and he waits for us to hear him calling our name in the homily.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Difficulty of Believing

The difficulty of believing is a challenge that is always present in the spiritual journey of the Christian.  At times it is a pronounced difficulty, brought about by tragedy or doubt. 

There are guiding principles that have been established to help the “traveler” maintain course.  These are essential and cannot be dispensed with any more than a map in foreign city can be thrown away.

Before we look carefully at the map, we need first to understand the need for the map.  There is something mysterious about this.  Men have a particular need for navigating without a compass.  Even with unknown guideposts they will press ahead as if they know exactly where they are going.  As we apply this analogy for our Christian religion it becomes a script, a guide to explain our behavior.

Many people have the idea that Faith is merely a matter of opinions.

“About religion, one man’s opinion is as good as another.  Admittedly there are some religious “systems” that do not claim to be anything more than a set of opinions.  Curiously the ancient druids and paganism in general do not offer much in terms of explanation.  They simply examined nature. One of the great scenes of English Church History took place during the period of missionary work in which Jesus was introduced in the teaching of the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxon king: “Coifi, the High Priest, replied without hesitation:  ‘Your Majesty, let us give careful consideration to this new teaching, for I frankly admit that, in my experience, the religion that we have hitherto professed seems valueless and powerless.

Another of the king’s chief men signified his agreement with this prudent argument, and went on to say: ‘Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a lone sparrow through the banquet hall where you sit in the winter months to dine with your thanes and counselors.  Inside there is a comforting fire to warm the room; outside, the wintry storms of snow and rain are rising.  The sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the wintry storms; but for a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the darkness whence he came.
Similarly, man appears on earth for a little while, but we know nothing of what went before this life, or what follows. Therefore if this new teaching can reveal any more certain knowledge it seems only right that we follow it.”

The History of the English Church and People, by the Venerable Bede
(612 AD)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Nature of the Church

One of the hidden truths of our faith concerns how we are imbedded in the discussion concerning the nature of the Church.  This is not an esoteric concern.  Who we are as a community and who we are as individual Catholics is essential to our growth in the Faith.  The principles of the teachings of the Catholic Church are fundamentally dependent on one another.  They fit!  The recognition in the creeds of the “Four Notes” or characteristics of the Church is “basic” to our proclamation.

The Church is “one”
Christ is the head of the Church.  He brings to the Church the gift of unity.  John’s Gospel, chapter 17, verses 22-26 outlines the gift in terms of the Church’s vocation (or call.)  At the center of our life as Catholics is the perfect example of living in community, the Holy Trinity.  Here we can observe the unity of the Holy Trinity in action. The foundation of this “Trinitarian life” is the new commandment to ‘love one another’ as Jesus has loved us.  Love is the foundation of our life.  Again, this “outline” of our beliefs calls us to action.  We are to make a supreme effort in our Christian life to promote the unity of the Church in the world.  All humanity is the target goal of our effort.  The unity of humanity includes all that is necessary to call someone our “brother” or our “sister.”  Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The question that the Pharisee asks is revealing: “And who is my neighbor?”

The Church is “holy” 
We can understand this characteristic from many angles.  The Church is intended by God to be universally holy.  Of course our experience is that this is not the case.  What percentage of the Church is holy makes no difference.  A basketball team includes all imaginable levels of perfection.  The better players act as guides to those who are young or just getting started.  Every sport demonstrates this example - they have to be organized in order to work together and win.  The way in which this is accomplished in the Church is a good deal more dramatic.  Instead of star players, we have saints.  They are truly “stars,” and they lived and continue to live, lives of exemplary service.

They receive the grace of God to accomplish this.  It is not by their hidden strength that they do miraculous things, but the Father who loves us and desires for us to participate in his good work.  We ask for the saints’ help from our vantage point on this earth.  They in turn carry our request to the Father.  Then, the Father allows them to carry his answer back to those who have sought his help.  Some say that God does not need help answering prayers.  I am quite sure that this is the case, and I am also certain that with joy, Jesus sent out disciples in pairs.  Their efforts defeated Satan, whom Jesus said he saw fall like lightning.  Thus we can also understand that the Church is charged with supernatural electricity.  This is why we treat her and everything about her with the greatest respect.  The Church is Holy.

The Church is Catholic

 This is not a common concept, so special care needs to be taken.  The philosophy of life that most people hold has to do with obedience. That is hard for an irreligious person to accept, but it is true.  We are all obedient to something!  It might be things that are not good for us, or even things that hurt us. “Catholic” here means two things: the Catholic Church contains those things that are indeed good for us and those that are not.  Within the family of the Catholic Church there are many characteristics that fit the definition of catholic.  If it is true, then it belongs in the Catholic Church.  If it is false, it does not belong. 

The Church is Apostolic

The final of the four notes has to do with the mission of the Church.  The great plaza in front of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica is formed by two symmetrical arms of colonnades. It looks as if the arms are inviting the whole world to come in.  This is a proper description of the Apostolic nature of the Church.  We need to pause this reflection and begin to find the way that we can as a parish or as individuals make our world catholic.  Not catholic here - meaning that it is the “right Church”.  How can we make it catholic in terms of actions, caring for those in need? Jesus told the disciples that soon they would have to take their place in the long line of those holy ones whose voices can still be heard.

I like the story about St. Francis, whose missionary method seems right for our time.  I believe many want what the Catholic Church has to offer, and yet they do not know how to ask for it.  So, we must ask for them.  When St. Francis would enter a new village he would always greet the people with “Good morning good people.”  He would sing and soon slip into a proclamation of the Gospel without the people even knowing that the subject had changed.  His was a joyful heart.  May ours be, as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Reasons for Faithful Stewardship

The following is an older article from the Good Steward. Hopefully it still has some value.

We are called to support our parish, to provide the resources that are needed to carry out its mission. To be faithful means to be obedient. This is a challenge but as we move more and more toward following the Savior we find a sense of real purpose in our lives. Faithful stewardship means growing spiritually. It means becoming compassionate and merciful and God is compassionate and merciful to us. It means adopting generosity as a rule of our life.

The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and works of charity and for the decent sustenance of ministers.  (Canon Law of the Catholic Church 222 section 1)

Giving to the parish keeps things going. Perhaps this reason is attractive because it brings about visible results: everything from the comforts of a modern building, the education of our children and youth to our efforts to assist those in need. The list of amenities and good works is very long and while paying the electric bill is not a glamorous reason to give, without our financial support all of what we see around us would suddenly disappear. As we increase our giving our gifts translate into action. We have dedicated our parish to a policy of spending our parish’s contributions in a way that is directly tied to the Catholic Mission, to spread the Good News and assist our brothers and sisters in need.

11 Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. (Romans 12:11-13)

Good stewardship helps us become good managers of our money. That may sound like a surprising motive or even so disjointed that it can’t make sense. But think about it this way: when we set a compelling financial goal we begin to organize our expenses to support that goal. We can take pencil to paper and try to discover how we can give responsibly, how we need to reorient our budget or create a budget for the first time. The parish budget can be a good example to us. Our finance council works to create overarching goals for our finances and our parish business office scrutinizes every expenditure. We do this because we are responsible to you and our God. Such desire helps us get organized to be a real part of our efforts in the parish.

11 You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, 12 for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11 – 12)


A strong church is the building block of a strong nation, a strong world. Our support of our parish is a part of constructing a just, moral and peaceful society. When our church is weak, floundering, confused or unable to gather the needed resources, our nation is weakened and so is the whole world. One of the greatest tools for spreading the truth is the strength of our parish, its program and its community life. Our contributions are a principal resource for living this witness. Every parish community should see itself as a primary agent to create and maintain justice, moral fidelity and peace. We do that primarily by the example of our life, our care for one another, our growth in the truth of Christ and the peaceful community of the many and diverse people that make up our parish.

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and joy. Mother Teresa


God calls us to be faithful stewards. We have received a great gift. We have a faith so powerful that nothing, no experiences, trouble or temptations is of its own power able to defeat our hope. This gift is intended to be shared. We do this by our actions and by our gift of support to our parish. We all strive to do what is proclaimed by God’s Word and the teachings of the Catholic Church to be true and morally correct. Our stewardship is part of that obedience.

Every person should walk unhesitatingly according to their own personal gifts and duties in the path of a living faith which arouses hopes and works through charity. 
(Vatican Council II Lumen Gentium 41)

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Bishop’s Capital Campaign

Dear Parish Family,

Congratulations to our parish for achieving our Capital Campaign and Endowment goal for the Diocese of Dallas.  Your generosity is extraordinary. 

Before I give you the details of the current report I want to especially thank those on our Campaign Committee who worked tirelessly to make this a reality.  There are those who, seemingly with great ease, give of their time and sacrifice their plans to make all this so.  You are like stars in the crown of the Blessed Mother.

Perhaps we have learned a few things of importance concerning how we do fund raising in the Church.  One of the characteristics of this campaign was that the Pastor and others spent time contacting parishioners and discussing their giving.  This was so foreign to me that it was uncomfortable at first. Discussing how much people should or could give was not easy.  This is one of those areas of Church life that is usually off limits.

The very first meeting I had with parishioners was one of the most fruitful.  Thereafter, I felt completely at home.  I was not able to make as many of the visits as I came to hope, but those that I did have turned out to be a real source of joy. 
I am trying now to find a way to make this a continued part of our parish life: to visit with parishioners having the simple goal of spending 30 minutes or so to get to know each other better.  If this is interesting to you, call the parish office and speak to Mary Boyle (Adult Formation) 972.727.1177, ext. 2213 or Sara Walsh (Pastoral Center Receptionist) 972.727.1177, ext. 0.

The “numbers” of those who contributed were 460 pledges which is only about 10% of the parish.  The total given so far is $2,496,696.  Actually, even though we have made our goal, we hope that everyone in the parish will still contribute, as from this point on, St. Jude will receive 70% of all monies pledged.  Remember that we were part of the five parishes that were used to test the campaign plans.  This fall, the other parishes will take up the efforts.  We can use their timeline to continue to pledge to the effort. 

Remember the greatest significance of our support is to the children of the diocese and for those in need.

Again, thank you for your support.
In Christ,

Fr. Tim

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Boy Scouts

Almost every page on the internet was seemingly devoted to the flap over admitting openly declared homosexual children to the Boy Scout program.  There are things about this decision that I believe are not within the goal and purpose of the Boy Scouts. 

Our Bishop joins all of us who are sponsoring agencies to see if there is a way that we can continue to sponsor the Boy Scout Troop.  To withdraw is a serious matter.  We are, at this point maintaining vigilance and listening for our Bishop’s guidance. 

I would ask everyone involved in the Scouting program to join in this effort by “staying the course”.  I can assure you that whatever program we will use to guide our young people, it will be recognizably Catholic.  I also urge you not to withdraw your support and participation.  If the Church bowed to every whim of society we would be unable to guide our people.  We will always stand firm in our resolve to teach and live the Catholic faith.

Capital Campaign
We have reached our goal of $2,375,000.  Thanks to all of you who participated and gave so faithfully and generously.  The actual amount pledged to date is $2,430,085 , or $55,085, (102%) over the goal.

One of the features of our capital campaign is the incentive to give that involves the whole parish.  Getting to this point and achieving the goal has been like an 880 sprint.  At end we race are able to realize the value of our gifts.  For every $100 given $70 come back to the parish.  This allows us to have a greater share in supporting the diocese but also allows us to find a way to satisfy our needs. 

After a period of time we will begin investigating some secondary goals to see if they fit well.  I would encourage you to consider being a part of our campaign.  That alone should inspire us, to know that we have a real share in the parish’s work.

Kitchen Work
The demolishing of the old kitchen has begun.  Although concerns for safety necessitate that we will have to avoid the old parish hall and kitchen, you can be assured that we are making progress.  We likely will be finished sometime in August.   The space that we are creating with this project is very useful and should be very efficient. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

What Difference Does it Make?

Our Bishop has described this time in the history of our diocese as an “historic” moment. The homily for today will have more to say about this. As you read this in the pew or at home, I encourage you to reflect more deeply on this description. It is historic, not just because of the amounts of money that we are trying to raise, but also because it is a moment of faith. In this “year of faith” we are being given another point of reflection to aid us in our consideration. A decision is wrapped into this act of faith. That is what we need to consider.

In the duration of my priesthood there have been too many times when I find myself fretting about the parish. Will we meet our goal? Is it even possible? It is not merely about an artificial or man-made finish line. It is about making a choice in favor of the Church and the work we do. Will we choose the Church? Will we choose help to take the church in a new direction?

Many times we have re-called this “new direction” and now our recollection brings us to this catharsis. Now we have to choose. Life is filled with these moments. The painful ones either have to do with our personal comfort or with money. But all choices should be motivated by the knowledge of God’s love for us. We make this choice, and basing it on love we most certainly have a better opportunity to be successful.

I suppose everyone has a favored Bible reading. I have a few. This is one that helped to guide me as I became Catholic.
Isaiah 2:1
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In days to come, The mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us go up to the LORD's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. 5 House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
 Together let us build a new day, a new direction.