1 Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John:1-41

Dear Readers:

A couple of years ago, I wrote a brief commentary on a chance happening in my own life. I sent it to two newspapers but did not hear back from them. I thought you might enjoy it:

I am a white man who shopped recently and reluctantly in an unfamiliar supermarket. I came upon a handsomely dressed black man who appeared to be as bewildered as I was. Without thinking, I dashed over to him and, not identifying myself, placed my hand on his shoulder and said, “You look as uncomfortable here as I am.” He smiled broadly and responded, “I don’t belong here. I’m a terrible shopper and can’t wait to go home.” And then he added, “By the way, did I telegraph my feelings so clearly to you?”

I said, “The minute I laid eyes on you, all I could see was a little kid desperate because he had lost his mother in the crowd.”

At that we both laughed, shook hands and said goodbye, assuming that we’d never meet again. But we parted with the happy memory of a chance moment of humor, compassion, and mutual respect that, I was certain, would remain with both of us forever.

(If what you are about to read strikes you as fictional, please understand that I know well one of the persons closest to it and I can testify that every word is literally true.)

After the Rosary and Benediction closing his monthly visit to a home for elderly persons run by a community of Sisters, the priest remained in the chapel praying before his departure. He could not help but notice that in front of a statue of Saint Joseph there was an empty beer can. Upon inquiry, he learned that at a party the Sisters were giving for their residents the following week they wanted to have beer available, especially for the men but they could not afford it.

The priest looked at her with both amusement and disapproval of what looked to him like superstition. He went home as usual, a long journey by train, during which time he read from his prayer book, giving thanks for another day filled with good people and the unfailing presence of the Spirit of God. Every once in a while he’d lower the book to his lap, raise his head and chuckle at the image of the empty beer can in front of a sacred statue.

Across the aisle and one seat back, unknown to him a man had been noticing him laughing to himself as he lifted his eyes from the prayer book. Finally, the stranger simply had to satisfy his curiosity. He tapped the priest on the shoulder and said good-naturedly, “Hey, Father, are prayers all that funny?” The priest turned to him and explained the incident he found to be so amusing. The stranger said, “Maybe a lot more amusing than you realize, Father, I happen to be the president of a local brewery, and if you’ll give me the Sisters’ address I’ll be pleased to send over a shipment of beer for their party tomorrow.”

More skeptical than gullible after hearing such a story, I thought about it over and over and asked myself why we pray for anything like peace in the world or someone’s successful surgery – or beer for a party! — and recalled that Jesus, in what we call the “Our Father”, taught us to pray for even our daily bread.

Maybe prayer, in whatever form it takes, is basically the intention of a person to become ever more aligned with the Creator God in a life of love and goodness and truth. Maybe God works through us even when we are not aware that we have become instruments of grace that flows into the lives of others and into our own lives as well.

There’s more to life than just “getting by” or surviving. We are creatures of a lavishly generous God whose nature is to share with us the riches of the universe. God offers us, not mere existence, but full and satisfying life – life with colorful trimmings and dimensions we may never have imagined.

Our prayers are never in vain, never wasted, because they are directed to God, who is love, and to Jesus, who said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”


Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

It must be a decade already since it was announced that scientists had made a small, but significant, step toward the production of energy here on earth by the same process by which the sun produces energy. It’s called hydrogen fusion. The men and women who have worked on this multi-billion-dollar project remain convinced that it will be perfected within a generation or two, from which time on it will free the human race from its dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. A whole new world!

Having heard and read the good news at the time it broke, I quickly called to mind that chances are that this wonderful new technology will not bring peace and happiness to warring nations, to oppressed peoples, or to the disenfranchised poor of the world. It is in no way guaranteed to make us a more peaceful, more secure people. On the contrary, I had to admit, it will more probably be the cause of even more friction among the nations; it will give rise to a whole new generation of barons who will turn their business expertise to amassing fortunes for themselves with little care for the poor and the rejected of society.

I remembered that neither science nor art nor industry nor government can produce love and respect and mutual compassion among human beings.

The celebrated woman at the well in today’s gospel excerpt shows us how limited our aspirations can be and how Jesus offers us so much more than we have the sense to ask for. He invites us to live in the assurance that God’s perfect order has taken root among us and will gradually materialize fully, and that we can live even now in that developing kingdom.

The real Jesus, so filled with the awareness of the ever-present Spirit of God, so obviously the bearer of truth the world had never heard before, asks us to join him in contributing what each of us can to the improvement of every person’s lot in this present life. Of course, no one of us can reach them all, or even many. The task he gives us is to be shared by his millions of followers and all other persons of good will. We are not to do something just for anonymous “humanity”, but rather for individual persons whom we are able to reach. Maybe some of us can influence specific policies and institutions of government to make them more compassionate, more caring of the poor. Scientists, business people, educators, politicians and statesmen can more and more direct their skills and their powerful connections to the eradication of social and economic evils that degrade life for so many millions of persons.

An act of kindness to another person emanates rays of life, springing from genuine concern, contributes significantly to the growth of God’s kingdom on earth. A decision of self-denial made for the good of others is an act of love that, like the sun, emanates rays of life-giving energy and produces incalculable good and joy and beauty.

But even the development of a boundless physical energy source, now in its infancy, cannot of itself accomplish what a single act of human love can.

Jesus’ concern was not to snag this woman as a convert or to save her soul from feared damnation. It was to open up to her a new way of living in this world, a way of life that draws from that wellspring of God’s loving presence in all of us, all the time.

Five husbands and a live-in boyfriend had not made her a happy person. Would she now allow herself to take what Jesus was offering? Not freedom from the daily trudge to the well, but a clear, irresistibly attractive image of God, who has been so misrepresented throughout all of human history.

Lent is a time for us to think more about the foundation of our own lives, about the standard by which we think and speak and act.

If not this Lent, when?


Genesis 12:1-4a; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

One of the stand-out events of my life was my chance viewing of an interview of the concert pianist, Arthur Rubenstein. He was asked, of course, about his musical career, his attitude toward the art in which he excelled, the people for whom he played, and so on. He said, “As I am standing in the wings of the stage getting ready to play before an audience of hundreds, sometimes thousands, my first thought is of all those people I see sitting there. I am amazed that they have come out to hear me – and have paid to hear me! But then I quickly realize that they are distracted, many of them, and perhaps are worried or sad, and are uncomfortable, because they have brought with them, inescapably, so many disturbing matters they are concerned about.

“And then I walk out onto the stage, looking like a mortician in my black suit and tails, and stand before the big piano, which looks like a coffin. At that point I am consumed with just one thought: ‘I must play with such love, such joy, that I will transmit both these happy emotions to them so that they will not be sad any longer but will experience joy and love themselves.’”

By contrast, I read around that same time an interview in the New York Times of an Italian movie director who said that, yes, all of her films do end in tragedy because that is the way that life inevitably ends – tragically: death awaits us all, she said, and no one can escape it.

To her, I assumed, life itself appears to be both the cradle and the coffin. Like children at play, we can make believe for a while that life makes us happy, but eventually it will claim us all for emptiness, nothingness, and annihilation.

The mystical event of Jesus’ Transfiguration we hear about in today’s Gospel is dramatic testimony of the early Church’s certainty that he was no ordinary man and that his unusual life of God-consciousness, of attention to the divine Presence everywhere and in everyone and everything, was proof of his unique oneness with the Creative Spirit we call God.

Of the countless bedside sick calls I have made in the long years of my priesthood, one in particular comes to my mind as I think about how we imagine the God who remains unseen to us here on earth. The woman’s family told me only that she was Catholic, although not a church-goer and had, all on her own, requested the visit of a priest. When we met that day, I invited her to speak first, after which I asked her how she was feeling about the approach of death – what she was expecting or anticipating. And then, I would say something about God being pure, unlimited, passionate, unconditional LOVE.

The rest I would leave to her and to God. I don’t recall the words that were spoken; I remember only her beautiful smile as she closed her eyes for the last time. What happens posthumously we cannot know. But we can put our firm and entire trust in him, who assures us that God is pure, unconditional love. We die into that love remembering that love loves to surprise the beloved!


Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Do you remember Sister Wendy Beckett? She was that fully habited nun we’d see frequently on TV several years ago. Her field of expertise was the art of painting, and she would take us through the history and the meaning of some of the greatest paintings in the world, once in a while innocently shocking some viewers with her rather blunt descriptions! She was a good, if not professional, theologian. I’ve held on to something that she either said or wrote way back then which had to do with Lent. I’m so glad I did that and that I found it again to share with you today.

Sister Wendy said Lent is the time for working out what you are meant to be doing and what in your life gets in the way. You may realize with a jolt that you are basically indifferent to God…Whatever it is that needs to be changed in your life, now is the time to find out what it is and to summon the courage to address it. The penances of Lent are not meant to destroy our innocent pleasures, but to keep us aware of God.

That sums it up very well, I’d say. Lent is a kind of time-out for us to work at interior conversion, isolating the attitudes that produce the words and the actions that cause hurt and pain in the lives of others, most often the persons who are the closest to us. And then, facing up more squarely to who we really are, we can strategize regarding what first small steps in behavior modification we will take toward a happier relationship. As I see it, nothing outranks a plan like this for a really productive Lenten personal program. It’s built on Jesus’ teaching that the greatest commandment is love: love of God and love of other humans.

Last Wednesday many of us wore ashes on our foreheads, a custom that goes back just a little over a thousand years, when Pope Urban II ordered that all Christians wear the ashes, which he said represented the ”three pillars” of the 40-day penitential season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He urged the people of his time to be willing to accept the ashes and be willing to display them on that first day of Lent as a sign that they were serious about looking deeply into themselves and going about the difficult task of changing what needed to be changed so that they would conform more to the values that Jesus taught and lived.

By natural extension, that intention of reform has also to do with our attitudes toward, and our treatment of, the environment, the globe that we regard as our mother, this wonderful Planet Earth, both out of respect for it and for all the people, our sisters, and brothers, who live on it.

Over the centuries since Lent began, many persons have seen other levels of meaning in the ashes. One of my favorites came to me from a young, female, Protestant minister in my hometown of Clifton, NJ. She, the Rev. Cari Keith, wrote: “The ashes are an acknowledgement of our pain, our woundedness, our sins, our mistakes, our guilt, our ‘I wish I hads’ or ‘I wish I hadn’ts’ When we begin to acknowledge the burned-out, dried up, guilt-ridden places of our spirit, then we also begin to open to the breath of God that brings renewal to those places, the places where we hurt and fear and are just plain worn out…The ashes not only acknowledge that the body, mind and spirit hurt, but also claim the promise of hope and possibility that there is nothing so dead or so wounded with us that God cannot breathe in new life.”

Is there a person anywhere who can look at self and find no “burnt-out, dried-up” places? How many of us there are who have given up hope that this or that in our lives can ever be changed for the better. And so, we pretend to “solve” the matter by launching into constant activity, distraction, evasion. Lent cries out to us all to stop the foolishness and believe that the Spirit of God within and around us can make all the difference in the world if we but open the door even just a crack.


Isaiah 19:1-2, 17,18 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 Matthew 5:38-49

A priest friend of mine used to suggest that the men who made the opening in the roof to lower the paralytic down to Jesus must have said to him words like, “Do you think we went to all this trouble just to hear you give this poor guy a blessing? Anyone can do that! What he’s asking for is to be made whole again. For God’s sake, man, cure him — if you can!”

And to give them some little idea of the power behind his assurance that the man’s sins are forgiven, Jesus does the easier thing also: he enables the paralyzed man to walk again. He is performing a sacrament, an exterior, visible sign of an inner, invisible grace.

Let’s admit that we are a lot like those attendants: we are mostly concerned about our physical and mental ailments, which, in the final analysis, are actually not very important at all. We cry out to God with our troubles, our needs, our wants – and often we do not see that there are far more serious disorders deep within us. The person who pleads for a miraculous recovery from a terminal illness, for example, may he far sicker with untreated hatred toward someone else. Which is the easier to cure? Which disease is really fatal? After all, one has the power, at most, only to end a period of earthly life; but the other can corrupt a person’s soul.

“Your sins are forgiven.” These are words of creation. Through them, out of the chaos and ugliness of a diseased human spirit, a renewed person emerges. Next to the “Let it be” of our conception, no more powerful words are ever spoken to us than “Your sins are forgiven.”

(From my long-ago days as a hospital chaplain, I recall having heard the confession of a very large, middle-aged man who was to undergo major surgery the next day. He got out of bed, gave me a bear hug, and said, “Now I know why I’m here!”

Was the paralytic disappointed with Jesus’ first response? I think not, if only for the reason that he must have wanted to be forgiven his sins, even apart from his hope that he might be cured of his paralysis. No one can be forgiven, by God or another human being, who has not first undergone a change of heart and who has not expressed in some way the desire to be forgiven and to start again. We may be offered forgiveness, but it cannot be forced upon us without our at least willing it.

Was it the mere sight of Jesus that touched the paralytic’s heart? Or was it, on the other hand, that he had reordered the priorities of his life as he came into contact with this powerful man of God and then asked finally for the more important thing, as if he could make only one request? Who knows? All we can be sure of is that he had first to want what Jesus gave: the healing of his sick and hurting spirit.

This Gospel passage calls us to examine again our own priorities and to discern whether or not our first concern is to grow into the fullest possible maturity in Christ. We may, and we should, of course, strive for and ask God’s help in attaining every reasonable human need – but only when we have first pursued and disposed ourselves toward that greatest of human needs: freedom from the sins by which we contaminate ourselves and become destructive to those whose lives we touch.

There are millions among us who, literally or figuratively, will never in this life pick up their mats and walk again, but there is not one of us, not anyone anywhere, who is not meant and destined to enjoy the resurrection of the inner person. Our sins are forgiven! We are alive and free!

As I write these words, I think of the persons I have known and ministered to who will never pick up their mats and walk again but who radiate to others peace and joy and hope. I call that a miracle!


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

A couple of months ago, a neighbor gave me a plant bulb, about the size of a small potato, covered with soil in a clay pot. She said that if I watered it faithfully and exposed it to sunlight, when possible, it would produce gorgeous flowers. I gratefully accepted the gift and assured her that I would take good care of it.

Well, what I looked at today is a one-inch-wide stalk, 17 inches tall, and what are unmistakably large flowers forming at the top, their color not yet revealed!

Which leads me to admit that what you are reading here is not going to be a homily, properly so called, because it is not a commentary on the Scripture readings for the day.

That apologetically said, I move on to say that the gift I received into my home was a miracle of our Creator God, one of countless trillions of them occurring all the time and all around us. But the God I was introduced to and whom I have served as a priest for the past 65 years has had more to do with laws and rules and regulations than with the joy and the beauty of miracles.

I find in these later years of my life that prayer is less and less a formula, memorized or read, and more and more an on-going conversation with the ever-present God and Christ. How easily and quickly do the words “Thank you” come to my mind, and almost always to my lips, as my troublesome computer, for example, recovers from its bad behavior. Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not imagining that the infinite Creator of the world made an invisible house call to service my computer. No, I am simply allowing that stroke of good fortune (which probably occurred because I pulled the power cord out of its socket and then put it back) to represent all the other “good things” that fill my every day. I want my God to hear me say that I am happy and grateful for the gift of life and for its countless gifts to me.

But then there are those gray days – even darker? — when a fear or a worry or a disturbing word enters the scene and won’t go away, making restful sleep impossible. At such times, not infrequently, after failing again and again to discipline myself, I turn to Jesus and ask him to take control of the situation. It has never failed me that he has done exactly that. I wake to the next day with new hope that the disturbing problem has a solution and can be resolved. And, indeed, it is resolved in due time.

There is neither magic nor self-delusion at work here; it is simply the logical result of conversation with Jesus, who is always present to us, always listening to us, always eager to help us when our own resources seem inadequate.

I am no expert in the field of Christian spirituality; I speak to you as a brother Christian who happens to be a priest, sharing what has been my experience of prayer and how it is developing even into my present old age. You have given me the honor of listening to me; now I ask you to give yourself the gift of trusting more in the Christ who loves you beyond all imagining and is ready to respond to your request for help. Be patient on your way to the miracle of new hope!


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

I once tried a different barber shop, which employed a huge staff and provided every service from pedicures to mudpacks. Accustomed to my usual one-room, one-barber, seven-dollar haircuts, I felt more than a little out of place. The man assigned to me told me proudly that his scissors cost over 200 dollars each. I asked him if they were made of an exotic space-age metal, and he answered, no, just a high-grade steel that would hold their sharpness forever.

Well, the haircut turned out pretty well, but my experience there (my first and only, need I tell you?) did highlight a principle that has remained with me ever since: The quality of the instrument is nowhere near as important as the skill and power of the one who holds and directs it. A person with great ability can make a product of magnificent beauty even with an inferior instrument; but a person who lacks talent and skill will produce nothing of real value.

The point here is that people of faith are “instruments,” and the indwelling Spirit of God is the infinitely talented artisan who accomplishes works of surpassing value through them. The instrument —- the human being — can be worn, weak, scarred, partly broken; but no matter, as long as he or she is willing to be used in the hand of the artist.

Saint Paul was one of those instruments. Bright and articulate that he was, he nonetheless recognized the limitations of his human powers. Beyond that, he knew that he had sinned against the Spirit of God by attacking and trying to extinguish the Spirit’s works that had been done by believers in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

Paul became a different person when he realized the Spirit had chosen him, of all people, to be God’s spokesperson, God’s extension, in a world that was desperately in need of healing, in need of God’s life-giving word. He became aware that his shabbiness did not disqualify him at all. He recognized that he had become what disciples later on would name a wounded healer. Willingness, faith, trust, and humility were all that the Lord God was asking of him.

In our own personal lives we are inclined to discount ourselves for some task of a sensitive or volatile nature because we feel unworthy or disqualified. Without doubt, of course, sometimes our demurral will be a prudent decision; but more often, I suspect, fear and reluctance indicate a lack of faith in the One who has chosen us and that we should really have said yes. If all signs point to the rightness of my being there and doing –- whatever, then I should go to it, confident that I am the Spirit’s chosen instrument, and that God will use me effectively despite my weakness and my perceived unsuitability for the task.

I am not aware of a more beautiful example of such surrender than that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., about whom Jesuit Father Joseph A. Brown wrote, “He was more than reluctant to take on the mantle of Elijah. As he became clearer in his understanding of his prophetic destiny, he became more isolated, more driven, more certain of the inevitability of his own violent death. His bouts with depression and his reliance on alcohol and promiscuous sexual encounters grew more intense as the years passed and the pressures increased…(He) became a more and more permanent resident in the Garden of Gethsemane…a man of great humility and perseverance …a man who balanced all the conflicts and confusions of life into an act of faith…a beacon for those of us who see the same forces of darkness crowding our spirit and our faith today.”

By God’s favor, the sinful St. Paul said, I am what I am! So be it!


Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a

When I was in my short-lived but illustrious bread-baking period a few decades ago, I learned from close-up experience how relatively small is the quantity of yeast that makes the whole loaf rise. I vividly recall the one time that I failed to add the yeast at all and therefore produced a Belgian block that not even the birds wanted to nibble on!

Which makes me think that it could not have been a spur-of-the-moment reference that Jesus made when he said that his disciples would be to the world what yeast is to the bread. That statement of his has led some contemporary theologians to suspect that Jesus never envisioned that his followers would become a huge institution, a massive, world-wide organization made up of countless millions of members. No, they think rather that Jesus intended his disciples to be the yeast, not the flour, small in quantity but powerful in action and influence.

In the long section of Matthew’s Gospel from which today’s reading is taken, Jesus is instructing his first followers on what he is asking of them. Early on, he tells them that they are to be the salt for everyone on earth and light for the whole world; nowhere does he speak of converting everyone to a particular church — to be Catholics, as we would put it today. Instead, he speaks of simple moral values, of faithfulness to God, and of love for one another. Elsewhere, he stresses that the followers he is looking for are those who will be willing to be the yeast that makes the whole loaf rise. I thought the “loaf” was the Church, but I understand now that what Jesus meant by the loaf was the entire world of any religion or none.

How different that is from what I learned from my earliest days as a young Catholic when I thought the goal was for us to go about the work of converting everyone we could to our Catholic Church. I do not believe that now. I think back to the wives I have known who grieved over the deaths of their good husbands who never converted to our faith. I think of my own father who loved his four children deeply, gently, and generously, but rarely was seen in church with our devout mother and us. He always said that he “had made Mass” before the break of dawn somewhere!

When I was a young man, I was so proud of the great numbers of people that crowded our Catholic churches, especially in vacation areas, and I thought of it as a sign of weakness on the part of other churches that their congregations were so small. I assumed that bigness was our goal and that the higher our Catholic census climbed the more authentically were we being shown to be the one, true, faithful church of Christ. But even in the Jewish religion before and during Jesus’ time, that was neither the idea nor the objective. Faithful Jews felt that by God’s design, they were meant to be in the minority. They believed that God would do great things through them, modest in number though they were.

I am writing this homily in the wake of another Mass killing, this one of 11 innocent people in California, a reminder of the troubled world in which we live. All people of sound mind and good heart, religious or not, must bring their lives ever closer together in mutual respect and love to assure that justice and peace will soon and forever triumph.



Isaiah 8:23-9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17; Matthew 4:12-23

A long-time past, a dear friend of mine, an elderly nun, had a grandnephew who is a paraplegic, married but unable to father a child. By a method forbidden by our Catholic Church, his wife conceived and bore a beautiful baby boy. Along with a photo of the child at eighteen months, I saved the note that Sister sent me. She wrote, “Who could ever deny life to this child or the tremendous joy he has brought to his parents, especially his quadriplegic father? If you know anyone who has difficulty conceiving and is concerned about the Church’s ruling, show them this picture.”

Remarkable! This is from a highly intelligent, life-long Catholic nun. We mustn’t pretend that this sort of thing is not happening. It is happening all the time and all around us. And it is not a form of rebellion or apostasy or malicious disobedience. It is simply that good and faithful Catholics faced with difficult moral situations are turning to every resource they know of in their attempt to arrive at a decision in good conscience. They hear openly and they respect deeply the official teaching of the Church, and they want to comply. They listen to other voices of responsible persons, voices that bear the marks of reason and goodwill. They consult, they read, they agonize, and they pray – and finally, they reach a conclusion that forms their conscientious decision.

I am well aware such talk as this can be upsetting to Catholics who believe that what is expected of us as disciples of Jesus is unquestioning obedience to every law and teaching of the official Catholic Church. But that cannot be so. The church itself, at even the highest level of its authority, teaches that each of us must be guided ultimately by our own individual conscience. We have the duty, she makes clear, to work at developing a conscience that is as correct, as good, as we can humanly make it to be. And then we must make a courageous leap of faith, trusting that what we have determined to be the right thing to do is in fact precisely that.

In today’s second reading, the short excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the newly baptized converts in the Greek city of Corinth, he expresses the hope that there will be no divisions among them, but that they will remain united in one mind and in one purpose. He says he is disturbed by the rivalries that he’s been hearing about. But the rivalries are based on by whom they were instructed and formed for their commitment to the new way of Christ– some by Paul himself, others by Apollos, and still others by Cephas. This situation of an almost cultic loyalty to the person who led them into the reform movement started by Jesus and his apostles gave the impression that their allegiance was not primarily to Christ but to the messenger who introduced them to his way of life. And Paul says, in effect, Hold on there! Remember that it wasn’t I or any of the other missionaries who died for you – it was Jesus!

Thus, the centrality of Jesus and his gospel. Paul insists there must be absolute unity. But that cannot mean that disagreements concerning what Jesus taught and what he meant must never occur. It cannot mean that in areas that Jesus never spoke about all must be of one conviction. Quite the opposite, the infant church starts out with a verbal brawl between a couple of the apostles and the chief of them all, Peter, over a major requirement for prospective converts and whether it should stand or not. Peter, the one we think of as the first pope, took the conservative side, but soon enough became convinced that he was wrong, that he had misunderstood the mind of Christ and of the Spirit of God, and willingly, even eagerly, gave in to his opponents.

Trained as we Catholics are to be obedient, the very notion of such freedom can be unsettling to some of us. But the truth is that Christian discipleship – being a faithful follower of Jesus as a member of the Catholic Church – does not demand that we abandon our God-given capacity to reason and to decide. Quite the opposite, while we must listen with an open and receptive mind to the official position of the church, we have also to weigh the options before us carefully and with much prayer. We have the duty to consult broadly in every way possible to us. And then we must finally make a decision and live with it in peace. We remain firmly united with the Christian community, especially through our weekly Eucharist, where we can always be of one heart, though never totally of one mind.


Isaiah 49:3,5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

I learned rather late in life that I was not a good listener. But at some point along the way beyond that, I discovered that listening intently with an open mind is very important in the development and maintenance of good human relationships.

Forty or so years ago, spending a typical evening with my widowed mother, I would at the same time read TIME Magazine, talk on the phone, and “listen” to family news that Mother was sharing with me from across the room. That often ended with, “Dick, dear, I know you didn’t hear a word I said, but that’s alright; I‘ll tell you again later.”

And then, long after, I realized that, if we did to our computers and word processors what we do to our minds, they would be of no use to us. We foolishly take in information from a half-dozen sources and think we can adequately process it and store it securely, while the truth is that we can’t. 

When we don’t really listen, when we don’t turn to the person who is speaking to us and give our undivided attention (the way TV’s David Frost used to do – remember him?), we are depriving ourselves of the gift that person is offering and hurting him or her with the response that we don’t consider the message worth our time or energy.

One of the most precious gifts we can give to persons in our lives is simply to listen to them and to give clear signs that we are eager to hear and to understand what they are saying, to let them know that we very much want to receive their message. If you think of the persons that make you feel better about yourself, I believe that you will find that they are all good listeners.

Prayer is primarily listening to the Spirit of God. 

Great people from every station in life listen with their whole hearts and minds to God.

They ask for wisdom and understanding.  And then they listen.

They ask for direction and faith.  And then they listen.

They ask for a loving, forgiving heart.  And then they listen.

They build that listening into their lives by taking some time each day to be alone and more conscious of the presence of God in them. The aloneness can be in the cocoon of one’s car, or of an empty room at home, or virtually any quiet place. They learn not to forget or to ignore the constant presence of the Divine Spirit within them wherever they are, whatever they are doing.

The readings of today’s liturgy are an excellent case in point. In the first, a young man, David by name, is told that he will be a powerful instrument of God for the good of the people; however, he must first learn to discern the divine message and be prepared to listen to it.

And in the Gospel, we heard about the beginnings of Christian discipleship: young people, rugged people of the earth and the sea, called by Jesus and daring to listen to this man who will turn their lives upside down and assure them that in return they will gain far more than what they are asked to give.

It is actually quite simple. But living as we do in a sandstorm of words and images that seem never to stop or to slow down, we – maybe more than people at any other time in history – have to commit ourselves, with firm intention and determination, to become good listeners.