Clear Skies

The Epiphany of the Lord – January 6, 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13

Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Since moving to Kentucky back in 2003, I’ve gotten into the sport of hunting. Before I go on, if you are an animal lover and not a fan of hunting, have no fear because rarely are any animals injured on my hunts. Usually it’s just me sitting in a tree stand enjoying nature. My absolute favorite time to go hunting is the early morning before the sun comes up. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet. And with clear skies, I’m amazed at how many stars I can see up above. I can see constellations clearly, planets occasionally and the Milky Way is on full display. The beauty of the sky is nice because it distracts me from how cold my body is feeling.

But as dawn approaches, the rays of the sun peak around the horizon, the stars begin to disappear, the birds awaken and the squirrels begin the jump around in the leaves. My mind turns away from the sky and my focus shifts to waiting for that big buck to come out from hiding. Interestingly, even though I can no longer see the stars, they are still there. But it is only in the still of the darkness when the true beauty of the sky is revealed.

I read somewhere that people during the time of Jesus Christ in the Middle East would often go up on their rooftops and gaze at the stars much like I do from my tree stand in the woods. They didn’t have Netflix, YouTube or Facebook so they had to find other things for entertainment. Gazing at the stars night after night allows one to become very familiar with the patterns that would be seen on any given night. So if something suddenly appeared out of the ordinary, anyone paying attention should have seen it.

We hear in Matthew’s Gospel today that, “Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’” Even though it’s not specifically mentioned in this Gospel, tradition tells us there were three Magi. So of all the people that were gazing at the skies, only three saw something unique… something calling them to leave the comfort of their homes and go on a quest.

Why only three? Maybe everyone else was too distracted, too busy or simply just not willing to remain quiet long enough to notice. Maybe more people saw the star but were too scared to venture out of their comfort zone. God used the star as a sign to announce the birth of His Son. A sign that was available to anyone who had eyes to see it. Three people took up the call, left their comfort zone and eventually found Jesus Christ in the quiet of the night.

I often wonder how many times God is calling us but we are too busy to see or hear it. How many times do we choose the comfort of technology over the quiet of prayer? How many opportunities have we missed to grow our faith because we were too afraid to follow God’s gentle nudge?

What then can we learn from the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel?

We can hear God speak to us when we are less distracted. But unfortunately, our hectic 9-5 schedules often keep us too busy to hear Him. So always remember to take some time to step away from the business of the world, away from the distractions, and look to the light of Christ. Because if we allow the distractions of the world to fade, it is then that we can see God’s light shine the brightest and the clearest.


Three Gifts For God

The Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 7, 2018)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13(11)

Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6

Matthew 2:1-12

Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, according to the world, Christmas ended on December 26. But Catholics actually celebrate Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (which is Monday, Jan 8). And this weekend, we celebrate the Magi visiting the Christ child. Imagine, they had enough faith… that they followed a star to a far off land in search of someone extraordinary. And we all know the story, right? The Magi found the new born King under a star and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold to represent Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense as a symbol of His priestly role. And Myrrh to point towards the suffering Christ will face later in life since this was an aromatic substance used in embalming.

As many of you know, my wife and I have 5 children at home. A number of years ago, back when we only had 3 children, Angie and I discussed how to try and keep the balance between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ during the Christmas season. In our modern world, that is a very tough thing to accomplish for parents. Santa is fun and magical, right? He eats the milk and cookies and, most importantly, brings the gifts! Somehow, during one of our discussions on this topic, one of us brought up this same verse that we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel.

We are told that Jesus received three gifts from the Magi. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. We give each other gifts on Christmas (aka Jesus’ birthday). Do you see where I’m going with this? So it was decided, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus to celebrate His birthday, then three gifts from Santa were good enough for our kids as well! So we sat the boys down and explained our decision. After their eyes got really wide and the shock wore off, we reminded them that they still have grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles that also give them gifts (so don’t feel sorry for them!). We then wrote a letter to good ole St. Nick to explain our request: From now on, just bring three gifts per child on Christmas, just like the Magi did 2,000 years ago.

Now I’m not saying that this is for every parent out there. It was just one way for us as a family to keep Christ in Christmas. But then that got me thinking. Does anyone here remember he telling you in my last homily that every weekend, you have homework to do after attending Mass? Remember? You listen to the readings and the homily and then allow them to challenge you the rest of the week to become more Christ-like. Well, I’ve got another homework assignment for you today. And this assignment will take you just under one year to complete. Sorry….

We just began a new year. 2018. This is traditionally a time when people try to begin new habits. Hopefully good habits since we always want to try and improve our lives from last year, right? But rather than making a “New Year Resolution,” I want you to think of offering three gifts. But these won’t be material gifts. Let me explain. To decide on the three gifts, I challenge you to go to prayer. Find some quiet time, close your eyes, and picture Jesus Christ sitting next to you. For a time, just be present to one another. And after a few minutes, ask Jesus, “What can I do to be more like you?” And then be quiet. Allow your brain to wonder with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I guarantee you that, at some point, you’ll be able to think of at least three areas of your life that can be improved. And whatever those three things happen to be in your case… those are the three gifts you will work on all year.

It could be your health. Maybe you need to take better care of yourself so you can help others. It could be your finances. Wouldn’t it be nice to free up some money so you can donate to those in need? It could be to heal a broken relationship or possibly even to end a harmful relationship. Chances are it’s going to be challenging. Change usually doesn’t come easily. But changing for the better is always worth it in the end. And who doesn’t want to change and become more Christ-like?

Christmas is officially over after this Monday. That means we’ll be right back here celebrating Christmas in 11 ½ months. You and I both realize that it’ll be here in a blink of an eye. It always does. So why not start preparing yourself now to celebrate next Christmas in a richer, fuller way. Decide now on what three gifts you want to offer to Christ NEXT Christmas. You’ll have 11 ½ months to work on them. And how amazing will it be to be able to take all of that hard work and sacrifice, all of that positive change, all of that Christian transformation… and then lay those three gifts down at the manger next Christmas…

I realize it’s a long way away. A lot can happen over the next year. There will be a lot of ups and downs. But be like the Magi… let the star of Christ guide you. And once you reach the Star on December 25, 2018, you will approach the manger as a changed person. And with your head held high… with a rekindled faith… you will kneel down and lay your gifts at the feet of our New Born King!

Our Heavenly Mother

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (January 1, 2015)

Nm 6:22-27

Psalm 67

Gal 4:4-7

Luke 2:16-21

A number of years ago I was in my office talking to a patient. He knew I was Catholic and we’ve had an occasional chat about religion, but nothing very deep. For some reason, he turned to me and said, “You Catholics…you really like that whole ‘Mary thing’ don’t you?” My response was, “Yup. We think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well as you know, I’m Baptist and the only time we ever talk about Mary is during Christmas.” Then the awkward pause started where I could feel him waiting for my next response. I briefly contemplated either changing the subject so I could get to my next patient or if I should go a little deeper about Catholic Marian theology without trying to get into a long, heated debate. My “chiropractor voice” was telling me to zip it and move on to the next patient but apparently my “Catholic deacon voice” was louder. So I went on to explain, “Unfortunately, there’s a TON of misconceptions about what Catholics believe when it comes to Mary. Please understand that we do NOT think she’s God, we do NOT think she’s above God and we do NOT worship her as God. We honor her because, if you think about it, Mary was the first one to say “yes” to Christ. God asked her to accept Christ, not only into her heart, but literally into her womb. Therefore, you could consider her to be the first Christian. And since God chose her to carry His only Son in her womb, I’d say that means we should give her our respect.” My friend’s reply was simply, “Wow. I never thought her in that way…but you’re right.”

So, in honor of today’s Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, I thought we could all use a little refresher as to why Mary’s “pretty cool”.


First of all, Mary’s “yes” to God is something that we can all learn from. In the first chapter of Luke, an angel appeared to Mary and told her she was to conceive the Son of God in her womb. Mary didn’t understand how this could happen since she was a virgin…but she didn’t let that hold her back. Instead she had enough faith to say, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” It takes faith to be willing to take a leap like that.

Have you ever doubted God’s plan? Have you ever been afraid to say “yes” to God calling you down a path that seemed scary?



Second, Mary models to us how important prayer can be to a person. Today’s Gospel passage from Luke chapter 2 describes when the shepherds went to the stable to visit the Christ Child. They told Mary and Joseph the message they received from the angels about how their child was to be the long awaited Messiah. Mary didn’t blow them off or turn to Joseph and say, “I think they’ve been out in the field a little too long.” No, instead it is written that she, “Kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” She turned to prayer.

Have you even been quick to judge someone because they sounded a little crazy or perhaps overly passionate? Do you take time to stop and pray before deciding your next move in life?


Third, Mary knows what it means to suffer. When Mary and Joseph took their infant son to the Temple to present him to the Lord, Simeon told Mary that “a sword would pierce her.” This foretold the pain and agony she would go through when her newborn baby would one day grow into a man and be tortured and killed for our sake. She did not fight it, she did not run from it. Mary’s obedience shows us there is always a better way when it comes to following God’s path, even in the face of evil.

How many of us run when our faith is challenged? How many of us question God when we have to endure pain and suffering?



The last point I want to make regarding Mary’s “coolness” is simply this, she is not only the mother of Jesus, who is God but she is also your heavenly mother. Let that sink in…you and I share the same mother as God. You see God wanted to become flesh so that He could save us all. He also wanted to do it in the normal way, which meant he needed to be born of a woman. Of all the women in all of eternity, He chose Mary to be the vessel for the Word to become flesh. Since we believe that Jesus is both man and God, this would make Mary the mother of God. Some non-Catholics get hung up here and assume we mean that Mary existed before God if we call her the Mother of God. We are not implying this at all. We are merely reinforcing the belief that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. With that in mind, remember the Gospel of John chapter 19 where Jesus was hanging on the cross while Mary and John the Apostle were at His feet. Just before He died, Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he turned to John and said, “Behold your mother.” This command has always been understood by the Church as an act of entrusting the whole Church to Mary. Thus, since we are part of the Church, Mary is our mother also!


Before I became Catholic in 1999, I really had no concept of who Mary really was. Like my Baptist friend I mentioned earlier, if I heard her name, I immediately pictured a nativity scene but that’s about it. After becoming Catholic, I’ve had the joy of deepening my relationship with my heavenly Mother by learning more about her. And this has lead me to the ultimate reason why Mary is so incredibly cool…every time I learn something about Mary, it has lead me closer to her Son. You see, Mary is NOT God. She is, however, the Mother of God. And like any good mother, she points us, not to herself, but to her Son. Recall the wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Meaning, “Listen to my Son and He will restore what is missing.”


At some point in time, you have asked a friend or family member to pray for you. So the next time you have doubts or are afraid to say yes to God, the next time something or someone sounds crazy, the next time you are enduring pain or suffering or your faith is challenged…in addition to turning to God in prayer, don’t be afraid to ask His mother to pray for you as well.

Family Life Struggles

Feast of the Holy Family (December 28, 2014)

Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3

Psalm 105

Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19

Luke 2:22-40

Today I wanted to preach on family life since every single one of you are either a parent, a spouse, someone’s son or daughter plus you are part of a church family.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They are the model to which other families should strive to imitate. Whether we are referring to a biological family, extended family, adopted family or simply friends that you consider family. The Holy Family show us what it looks like to have faith, obedience, and love…both to each other, to those around us and to God.


So my goal this weekend is to inspire everyone in the church to somehow be more like the Holy Family. But I didn’t want just to say, “Pray more” or “be nicer.” I wanted to give some concrete suggestions using the Scriptures we read today. So I did what any good, analytical thinker would do…I turned to Facebook! I updated my status to say, “Needing help! I’m working on my next homily and wanted to know what you think is the biggest challenge or threat to family life currently.” I figured I couldn’t inspire you if I didn’t know what was holding you back. The responses I got were eye-opening:

Being too busy with worldly commitments like work and sports. Putting things other than family before family. Not spending time together for meals. Not keeping everything balanced. Lack of time for one another. Busyness influenced by television, technology and electronics. Adults on their phones oblivious to their spouse or kids. Our failure to speak face to face. Facebook (ironic since that’s how I got this list!). Accessibility and use of pornography. The lack of understanding that love is a choice not an emotion. Not having God as our anchor. Individualism fed by the disconnect of the media. Other family members and their addictions. Relativism. Distractions. Lack of discipline. When your husband lives in another city most of the time (oh wait, that was my Wife’s response). Parents being friends with their kids rather than being a parent first. Having a lack of closeness when everyone is pulled away in so many different directions.

And one of my favorites, “Conversations turn to texting. Emotions turn into emoticons. Love turns to lust. The world is at a person’s fingertips and it draws us away from each other and from God.” That one was written by a teenager. Pretty insightful.

What do you think? Are our families struggling? It sure seems to me! Based on these responses, family life does not seem to be an easy path. And since every one of us belongs to a family of some sort, we are all on this path together. I sincerely believe that today’s Scripture readings give us some insight as to how we can make this path more bearable in spite of all the challenges we experience to family life in today’s modern age. It boils down to two words, ACTIVE FAITH. Anyone can have faith, but it takes deliberate intention to have active faith in God.

Let me explain. Today’s reading from Hebrews refers to Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice to God. We all know the story. Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac, when they were advanced in age. A son they both desperately wanted but they pretty much gave up on the idea of having children due to their apparent infertility. Abraham didn’t understand, but his God asked something of him and he followed. Thankfully the story had a happy ending as God intervened at the last minute and Isaac was spared. God did this to test Abraham’s faith. His ACTIVE faith.

The Gospel passage tells us about Mary and Joseph taking their son, Jesus, to the temple to offer sacrifice according to the law of the Lord. We know that they were a poor family since they offered the sacrifice of birds instead of a larger animal like a lamb. So this poor family made the trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, by foot and with a newborn child, because their faith demanded it from them. They had an ACTIVE faith.

What is the difference then between these two families and many of our modern families? For this, I will return to my very scientific “Facebook research” one more time. A mom of three wrote, “I don’t think families pray together much anymore. Not just meal time prayers, but earnest, on your knees, seeking God together. Parents rely almost exclusively on the church to train their children instead of making time to model the study of His word. All the comments about technology (being a distraction) are true, but I think they reflect a deeper issue. We use technology as an escape. We escape instead of living intentionally, instead of being in the moment.” I believe what she is saying here is that many of us do not have a strong ACTIVE faith.

The best place to start living an active faith is within our own families. Could you imagine what the world would be like if all Christian families did this? It may seem impossible or overwhelming at first glance. But if we all did our part, family by family, we can slowly convert our towns, our states, our country and eventually our entire world. And yes, I am fully aware of how busy we are and how precious our time is…but isn’t that all the more reason why we need to use our time wisely? So my advice to you is from Nike shoes, “Just Do It!” Seriously. Pray together on your knees as a family. Study your faith together. Seek God together. Put down your phones. Put family first. Eat together as much as possible. Turn off the TV on occasion and instead, fill it with face to face conversation with the people you love.

Pope Francis recently said that, “The family is a community of love where each of us learns to relate to others and to the world around us.” Let us grow this love by getting rid of the unnecessary distractions the world has to offer and instead, ACTIVELY pursue an intimate relationship with the God who created you and your family.

The Ultramarathon of Life

Feast of the Holy Family (December 29, 2013)

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14

Psalm 128

Col 3:12-21

Mathew 2:13-15, 19-23

I recently read a book by Sherry Weddell titled, “Forming Intentional Disciples.” At the very end, she describes an ultramarathon called the Leadville Trail 100 held in Colorado every year. It is nicknamed, “The Race Across the Sky” because the runners have to compete in elevations ranging between 9,200 – 12,620 feet up in the mountains. Leadville-Trail-100-Trail-LogoIt’s a grueling 50-mile out and 50-mile back struggle that begins on a Saturday at 4am. In order to successfully complete the race, the runners need to cross the finish line before the gun goes off at 10am the next day. If you expect to beat the gun, you really don’t have much time for sleep or resting. You have to stay in constant motion all day and night going up and down icy trails.  Roughly 500 people sign up every year to temp their fate and push their bodies to the limit.

I read about this just shaking my head wondering what sane person would want to do this! I get winded after 5 minutes of playing soccer with my kids for crying out loud. I could never do this race. Then I read more about the race and found the secret to reaching the finish line. No one runs alone. pacerEvery runner has a minimum of two volunteers. There are checkpoints throughout the course where volunteers hand out water, hot soup and other snacks. Aid stations are also available for runners to warm up, get weighed, change clothes and get checked out to make sure it’s safe for them to continue. Many of the runners have friends, called pacers, who take turns running beside them for miles at a time to help them keep the pace. Throughout the night, these running companions encourage, challenge and make sure their friends competing are hydrated and don’t get lost.

Sherry Weddell got to experience the beauty of the finish line a few years ago and also described it in her book. She was standing at the finish line one hour before the final gun was scheduled to go off and noticed a large support team of people wearing matching scarlet T-shirts. The front of the shirts read, “In loving memory of Greg.” Twenty-five year old Greg had drowned in a river the year before and his wife Beth was running the Leadville 100 in his memory. The mass of scarlet T-shirts were buzzing with excitement as word spread that Beth was only two miles away from the finish line with one hour left in the race. Immediately her army of supporters ran off to meet her. Sherry remained at the finish line watching grown men break down in tears as they crossed the line while moms were being cheered on to victory by their husbands and children. Then she saw it, up on the horizon…a sea of scarlet T-shirts in the distance surrounding a young woman, cheering her on as she limped towards the finish line. Beth’s pacer was by her side encouraging her, as all her friends and family carried her gear and ran beside her that last never-ending mile. In Sherry’s own words, “Beth was limping, but her face was radiant as she crossed the (finish) line eighteen minutes before the final gun went off.”

finish line 2

What an incredible accomplishment…to finish a one hundred mile ultramarathon, surrounded by your family and friends. If you think that’s neat, I have another ultramarathon to tell you about. It involves an older man and his very young wife. They took a 300-mile cross-country trek in a hot desert climate with their newborn son. However, this ultramarathon didn’t have people at checkpoints handing out food and water or offering them a change of clothes along the way. Nobody was there to help keep them hydrated or make sure they didn’t get lost. Plus they weren’t doing it for fun; they were doing it to save their son’s life because someone wanted him dead. They completed the ultramarathon and two years later, this family of three decided to do it all over again. This time they did it so that their son could fulfill his destiny and save all of us.

We can learn a lot from both of these marathons about what it means to be family. The first one teaches us that we need to surround ourselves with encouraging people and help each other out, especially when we are going through the up and down struggles of life. If you see someone you care about struggling, don’t just stand there and clap from a distance, go out and run beside them and help them to the finish line. So many people in today’s world are struggling with addictions, money problems, unemployment, marriage trouble, have challenges with raising children, have unfulfilling jobs or struggle to grow spiritually. We all could use a little encouraging.

The second marathon shows us that it doesn’t matter how large or small your family is, what matters is following God’s plan for your life. If you were paying attention to today’s Gospel, you should have caught on that the family who did this second marathon was Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We refer to them as the Holy Family for obvious reasons. Mary and Joseph were obedient to God. God’s angel asked Mary to be the Mother of God…she said YES. God’s angel asked Joseph to protect Jesus with his life…he said YES. They were parents of action. God spoke, they acted. I’d say that makes this a family we should take note of and try to imitate in our own families.


I know some out there are thinking that it’s impossible to live up to those standards. I think all too often we look at Mary and Joseph and immediately give up because we view their holiness as unattainable. We view them as perfect and perfection is too hard to achieve. But listen closely to what I’m about to say…God doesn’t call perfect people; rather he calls sinners to change their hearts. That’s good news for us because we aren’t perfect. We’re sinners. He’s calling us. He wants us to change our hearts. So rather than throwing in the towel, do me a favor…stop trying to be perfect and work instead on being holy. The best place to start is with your own family. Ask God to give you the grace every day to be a role model for them. Pray for and with them. Show them it’s OK to forgive those who have wronged you. Be an encourager as your family goes through the ups and downs in the marathon of life and strives to cross that finish line. Surround yourselves with people of integrity. Try to live each day a little better than yesterday. Do these little things each day to become more holy and you too can one day experience the beauty of the finish line in heaven.