"No matter what the atomic age brings, America will always need sailors and ships and shipborne aircraft to preserve her liberty, her communications with the free world, even her existence. If the deadly missiles with their apocalyptic warheads are ever launched at America, the Navy will still be out on blue water fighting for her, and the nation or alliance that survives will be the one who retains command of the oceans." Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War, 1963 Picture taken today at the end of the graduation of the the Class of 2013 from the Naval Academy here in Annapolis, Maryland. Congratulation to the Class, their teachers, the people who serve the academy - as well as to my grandnephew, Sean Lavelle.
That’s the theme that hit me - when I read the readings, you
the class of 2013, picked for this your Graduation Mass - especially the gospel text you chose for this Mass: Matthew 5: 14-16
“You are the light of the world.
A city built on a hill
cannot be hidden.
No one lights a lamp and then puts
it under a measuring cup.
They set it on the lamp stand
where it gives light
to everyone in the house. In the same way
your light must shine before all,
so that, seeing
the good things you do,
they will give praise
to our heavenly Father.”
“Light and Darkness?”
We’ve all seen t-shirts and maybe even a tattoo or two with ying
and yang on it. In the middle of the white light sliver side of the ying yang circle, there is a belly
button circle of darkness and in the stark dark sliver of the other side
of the ying yang circle there is a white button of brightness in the middle of
There’s a message there in that ying yang circle.
There’s a message there in all the circles and wheels of our
life - in the joy rides - as well as when life is a flat tire.
Life: there is always something else. There’s always the
twist and the turn - as the circle spins. When things look bright, the dark button
sounds its warning signals - if we listen. When things look dark, look for the
light - of hope. There’s always the
light of dawn after the dark of night - and the proverbial light at the end of
To see the light, we need the dark - we need contrast - otherwise we'd be blinded by too much light. But to see the dark, we
don’t need the light. You see: there is always a twist. There’s always a
surprise. There’s always a sunrise. There’s always a sunset. Expect them. There’s
always the expected as well as the unexpected
difference. Expect them.
Light and darkness. Expect them.
Grace and sin. Expect them.
Opportunity and temptation. Expect them.
Mistakes - as I’ve heard Mr. Matt Hogan tell you and your
parents several times. Expect mistakes. Be honest about them. Learn from them. Get
moving again from them.
And that goes for life - not just your life here at St.
STATE PARKWAY AND 27,000 FEET IN THE SKY
When driving at night, there is a curve on the Garden State Parkway
in New Jersey
- somewhere above Exit 105 - when you come up a slight hill and around an easy
curve - and you start to see the light -
lots of light. There is a town sitting
there. There’s people sleeping there - with some lights still on.
When walking at night through Palestine, Jesus came around a bend - or a
curve - and there in the distance - he saw lights - the lots of lights of a town or a city.
And Jesus said to his disciples that night or after sunrise
the next day the words we heard in today’s gospel, “You are the light of the world. A city built
on a mountain cannot be hidden.”
When flying at night in a plane some 27,000 feet or so above
the earth - if you have a window seat - you can look out and down into the
darkness and spot a sort of circle of city with its lights because of the darkness.
THE NEXT 50 TO 60 YEARS
When looking to your future, graduates, the road ahead has ups and downs, curves and twists and turns and you can only
see so far ahead. I’m hearing you have your colleges picked out: AnneArundelCommunity College, Gettysburg,
South Carolina, High Point,
Fordham, Steubenville, PennState, BostonCollege,
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Those are lights in the darkness called the future - that
you already see. You’ve visited those universities and you liked what you saw.
Those are slivers of the known, but who knows - who really knows - what’s around that next curve, and the curve after
that curve, over that next hill and over that next hill after that. Expect
surprises. Expect the unknown. Expect the opposite in the circle of what you’re
expecting. Expect the ying in the yang and yang in the ying. Life is the unexpected. Otherwise: boring,
50 to 60 years from now you’ll be sitting on a porch on a
summer night - and you’ll spot the lights of tiny planes high, high up there in the
night sky and like the passenger 27,000 feet in the sky - in the window seat - you’ll
see the bright lights of your life - from a distance - in the dark.
You’ll also see the times the lights went out - and all went
wrong - and you were plunged into the mystery of life - into the ying and the
yang of life - and by then you should have the hang of life - well at least a tiny bit more
figured out than what you have figured out by
today - May 23, 2013 - as you graduate from this school - because you were in circles of lights and
darkness - from time to time.
Life. Light and darkness.
Jesus saw on the road - that his road would graduate. It
would gradually head towards Jerusalem
- a city on a hill - and he would confront darkness and evil - even more -
big time - and he would lose - that day
- some Bad Friday in the distance. The darkness would crush him on the cross on
Calvary - but he trusted that the darkness would not win in the long run - that
those who got that message - the message that’s what we all are called to do in life -
to confront darkness and be the light - and turn Bad Fridays - Bad Days - to
Good Fridays - to Good Days - because we are here.
Jesus knew darkness. Jesus knew light. Jesus knew people.
Jesus knew life.
Jesus spoke about being the Light of the World. Jesus called
his disciples to be the Light of the world.
That’s the plan of St. Mary’s - that you would go forth from
here and bring light to our world - to bring the lights that you have - that will
overcome the darkness.
The plan is that you will leave St. Mary’s and bring you - a
better you - to other schools - to other cities and countries - that you will
improve media, meetings, marriages, messes - our world - that needs your light.
The plan is that you will not self destruct - that you won’t
have to rip up or throw away your wedding photos - or delete the scenes of your
life from your cell phones that show wrong moves and wrong relationships - but you live in the light and bring Christ’s light
into our world.
That’s the plan - that Jeremiah - spoke about in the first
reading we heard today read by Brad
Beard. [Cf. Jeremiah 29: 11-14]
When young we think that plan by God is carved in cement or
in a Bible or some book somewhere - out there - and it's up to us to find it.
When middle aged - we laugh - because we will have discovered that life is not
a plan of what we’re supposed to do with our life - and who we’re going to
marry - what’s going to happen in those marriages - and that God is the author
of our autobiography. Hopefully, we will see the light. We will know we are the
author of our life. Hopefully, we’ll also know the Lord is with us. Hopefully
we will have learned and experienced what Saint
Paul said in his letter to the Philippians [Cf. 4:13-19] which
Meghan Norwood read for us today:
“I have the strength for
through him who empowers me.”
That’s the plan.
Graduates - and here comes the graduation day stuff.
Some days will be bright. Some days will be dark. Some days
will be sunny. Some days will be funny. Some days will be sad. Some days will be rain or storm - but we hope
not all day - not till the graduation or the picnic or the game or one’s life
Some days we will need to be challenged. Some days we
will have to speak up - challenge our family - our church - our world - ourselves. That
means sometimes we’ll have to be the whistle
blower. Some days we’ll have to shine our light into the darkness of a job situation
when selfishness and evil is running the show.
Some days we’ll step back. We’ll walk alone on some early
morning beach - at OceanCity or Hawaii - and we’ll realize that the morning sunlight
- is always there. We just have to be there to see it rising. We will have
learned how life is learning how to start again over and over again. And on
that beach, hopefully we’ll meet Jesus
and have the humility to admit that too often we were fishing in the wrong
places and we’ll hear him tell us where to cast our nets in the right places
and our nets will be filled to breaking point.
God’s plan is that we experience abundance - not of stuff -
but of love and joy and giving. God’s plan is that God is with us as we love and serve -
as we give without counting the cost - that we give our life for our family and
for a better world - that our life is a life of light and we take away some of
the darkness each day.
The title of my homily for this 7th Tuesday in
Ordinary Time is, “Commencement Addresses.”
I like this time of every year - because the New York Times and various newspapers -
yes newspapers - they are still around - they feature best excerpts from commencement
addresses from around the country. C-Span - if I can catch them - also offers
various commencement addresses from around the country as well. I try to catch them as well. And you don’t
have to be out in the sun - on a hard chair to listen to them. And I listen
with ballpoint pen and paper in hand.
Today’s readings triggered this topic. A commencement
speaker could use both of today’s readings for advice giving to graduates.
Today’s first reading from the wisdom book called, “Sirach”
begins with this statement:
when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.
I would assume that most graduates from college expect that
after college they will get a job - and get going. They might not use the word
“to serve” - unless they are graduates of our service academies - but many students
hope to get into the service industry - which is a major base or jobs in our
Then Sirach goes on to tell his audience to expect tough times - trials - and
he then gives various one liners - clips of thought - about attitude: “Be
sincere of heart and steadfast…. Wait on God, with patience …. Accept what
befalls you…. When sorrowful be
steadfast….” and on and on and on.
Today’s gospel from Mark has Jesus also telling his disciples that there are
tough times ahead - that he Jesus is actually headed for Jerusalem where he
will be killed.
Imagine a commencement address speaker telling his audience that. Imagine a
commencement address speaker saying that many people go forward in life with
the goal in mind to become the greatest - but Jesus tells his followers - it’s
service - it’s being the least important person in the room - it’s being as
simple as a child. It’s gradual - meaning step by step - but that’s the goal.
This week here in Annapolis there are two
graduations that I know of: St. Mary’s High School on Thursday and the NavalAcademy
on Friday. I’m going to go to both of them with my grandnephew Brian graduating
from the NavalAcademy. The commencement address
speaker at St. Mary’s H.S. graduation is going to be Camille Brown - Associate
Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Baltimore; President Barack Obama will be speaking at the
Navy Stadium. I’ll be listening with
ballpoint pen and paper in hand.
Last week Professor James Schmaus from ColumbiaUniversity in New
York City spoke at the
graduation at St. John’sCollege here in Annapolis.
I didn’t hear or read it. The title was, “Commencement Speeches and Community
Acts.” Perhaps he spoke about the impact
on lives between words and actions. Perhaps he spoke of the rejections and protests
in the past few years about commencement speakers - based on their
pronouncements - their actions - whether they are liberal or conservative - or
what have you.
I gave 3 commencement addresses in my life - one for a
grammar school, one for a high school, and one for a small college.
Commencement address speakers often use the message in Abraham
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address - people will not remember what was said here -
but all will remember what happened here.
address was remembered.
Commencement speakers - like preachers - know their speeches or sermons will not be remembered.
However, I assume they also know that they serve the purpose of being part of
the pomp and circumstance. I assume they know they are like the table holding
up the food. I hope they know that the key thing is not get in the way, but
remind the graduates to thank their parents, guardians, grandparents, teachers,
janitors, maintenance people - and all those people sitting there who are grateful
that they have made it. I assume that
all know that his is not a eulogy - but a commencement - not an ending but a
beginning. Hopefully it sounds like that
- that the talk is not deadening - but a beginning - that these kids are ready
to get out there and get a job and get moving.
I assume that’s what Sirach and Jesus were getting at in
their comments - which we heard in today’s readings. Amen.
The title of my homily for this 7th Monday in Ordinary Time is, “How
Long? Since Childhood!”
I love Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel: Mark
9:14-29. Jesus asks the father of the boy who has convulsions - who throws
himself into fires and into the water, “How long has this been happening to
The father answers, “Since childhood.” Then the father adds,
“It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him.”
I have been always been fascinated by this text - Mark 9:21. How long? Well, not since my
childhood, but since my 20’s. I can
picture Jesus standing there - seeing this boy going into convulsions - falling
to the ground - rolling around on the ground - and foaming at the mouth. I can
see Jesus face - his amazement at the scene. I would be doing the same thing. I
assume all of us would.
I’m sure we’ve seen scenes in restaurants - or church - or
at the park - when someone has a seizure - or starts to shake. We get scared - and sweat - maybe even shake
ourselves. We panic a bit - as well as wonder - “What’s going on?” We wonder how long has this person had this
problem - this condition. And maybe they have had it since childhood.
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER
The one verse - 21 - can stand on its own for reflection. It can lead to seeing the human side of Jesus.
It also can lead to the need for faith - and prayer - praying for people and
their parents - and their care takers - who are struggling with family members
who have issues or psychic troubles and tremors.
As I was preparing this little homily this morning, the question
Jesus asked, “How long has this been going on?” intrigued me. That’s where the
title of this homily came from: “How Long? Since Childhood!”
I have always been fascinated with people’s peculiarities -
people’s particulars - people’s mannerisms - people’s patterns.
Do parents pick up on their kid’s uniqueness - and do they
see their kid doing the same thing over and over and over and déjà vu again and
How about some self examination - seeing ourselves - our
patterns and idiosyncrasies?
What are the things we’re still doing that we did as kids?
I know I hated it when we got chance books in grammar school
and we were expected to sell the whole book - all 10 chances - and then bring
the dollar and the stubs back to school.
I hated that . If possible I tried to come up with my own dollar so as
to get it done. In the seminary, we were asked to get subscriptions to our
school magazine. I failed miserably at doing that. In both instances - I was
amazed at kids in grammar school who could sell $70 dollars worth of raffle
tickets - or 100 subscriptions to our seminary magazine. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I hated that. Still do. I am very, very,
very, very happy to never have been a pastor. I don’t like money raising things
in parishes or what have you.
So how long have I been doing this? Since I was a kid.
I also thought about another thing I’ve been doing since I
was a child. We once made a film to promote weekend retreats at the retreat
house where I worked. We made the film and then I had to go out and show the
film all over New Jersey
- to various parish groups. I saw that movie 75 times at least and every time I
saw myself on film walking down the aisle - with my feet going out wide - and I
would say every time, “Oh my God, I walk funny.” Still do. Then I saw some pictures of me as a
kid. My feet point to the left and the right - not forwards. Then I saw some
photographs of my dad. He too stood there with his feet shooting sideways.
So how long have I been doing this? Since I was a kid.
These are mannerisms, these are peculiarities. How about
Here are some questions that could possibly raise issues:
Does the person who is lazy as a kid, remain lazy for life?
Does the person who cheats in the classroom, cheat for life?
Does the person who compares herself or himself to brothers
or sisters or others do that for life?
Do short people or people who feel inferior feel that way - because
they were picked on for being short or what have you since they were kids?
Do people who overeat, overeat to compensate - and if they
are overcompensating - is it because they were put down by parents, siblings,
coaches, teaches, bullies, buddies, classmates - what have you?
Today’s gospel story is a story of hope. The boy is healed. It takes faith and
prayer, but the boy is healed - by Jesus
The title of my homily is, “How Long? Since Childhood!”
When we see our patterns, when we realize our patterns, our
attitudes, if they are self-destructive - we can hope for healing and years
later when people who knew us back when, see a marvelous change in us, if they
ask, “How long have you been so peaceful and loving?” our answer can be, “Since
Christ - since my healing by Jesus Christ.”
The title of my homily for this feast of Pentecost is, “Forgiveness for Dummies.”
I want to preach on the last line in today’s gospel, “Whose
sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
That’s John 20:23.
That’s “Forgiveness for Dummies.”
Simply put: we have the power to forgive and we have the
power to retain - to let go of or to
hold onto hurts, mistakes, disasters, dumb moves in our past - whether we did
them or they were done to us.
Come Holy Spirit. Don’t let us be dumb - refusing to accept
forgiveness and to forgive each other - as we pray in the Our Father each day.
John 20:23 has been understood in various ways down through
the centuries. For starters Jesus is telling his apostles in that Upper Room
that he is bringing peace and forgiveness and healing to them. Then he is sending
them out to do the same thing to others. They are to bring peace to those
outside that room - to bring peace to our world. He is telling them to receive
the Holy Spirit - especially the Spirit of forgiveness from God and from others.
The apostles and disciples had locked themselves up in that
Upper Room. They had run from Jesus. They were filled with fear. And into that
mess - into that death - into that chaos of losing their leader and their hope
- who was crucified - the Risen Lord
Jesus came back from the dead. He comes into their center - into that shut room
- and breathes new life into them.
This is a post- resurrection story. As St. Paul will put it, if Christ didn’t rise
from the dead, we’re still dead in our sins. [Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:17]
Just as Jesus had died - so too the disciples had died in
their own way. Jesus comes and does what God the Creator did in Genesis: remolded, reshaped, refashioned
them, breathing new life into them.
This story in The
Gospel of John mirrors the scene in the first book of the Bible, Genesis - when God creates Adam out of
the clay and the mud of the earth - and breathes life into him.
Both moments are a new beginning in human evolution - told
in Biblical ways.
This story in The
Gospel of John also mirrors the second book of the Bible, Exodus, when the Israelites escape,
exit, run, leave their lives as slaves in Egypt and head down the road towards
the waters - to escape through those waters to the other side - to become a new
people - heading towards the Promised Land - getting past their past. It’s a Passover. [Cf. Exodus
13: 17 to 15:21.]
So too the apostles in that Upper Room escape - head out of
there - make an exit from Jerusalem - and start new communities - called
Christians - people renewed from their
past by the waters of Baptism and
working towards making this world a Promised Land for all.
Many people get stuck in the past - in personal tragedies.
Christianity is about the promise of a new life - to Passover the Past - over
and over and over again - and live a new Promise.
And one of the keys is the ability to forgiven and accept
So the disciples did just that: bringing forgiveness to
It started with Baptism - the ritual washing - cleansing -
of people - from their past. If any of you have received the Sacrament of
Baptism as adults, you know you heard that Baptism washes and cleans us of our
sins - all the sins of our past - and we don’t have to go to confession for
You have also learned what Catholics know - we have the
powerful Sacrament of Penance - the Sacrament of Reconciliation - when people
can be forgiven - cleansed of mistakes - after Baptism.
Don’t we all? Don’t we all? Don’t we all? Don’t we all make
mistakes and commit sins after our baptism?
Different Christian Communities accept the sacrament of Baptism
but they have had problems with the Catholic Church’s teaching about the
Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation. 
Where are you with your Sacraments of Baptism and
Reconciliation? What are your needs? What’s in your wallet? What’s in your
past? Where do you need to be washed and showered with forgiveness? What do you
want your future to look like? What do you want to see as promising?
IF NOBODY ELSE
WOULD FORGIVE ME
When we were studying the Sacrament of Confession in the
seminary I was struck by an insight our Dogmatic Theology professor gave us one
day. He said, “It’s important, it’s wonderful, if we could go up to each other
and say, ‘I’m sorry! I made a mistake!’ And we confess our sins to each other
and it would be great if the other forgives us.” [Cf. James 5: 16]
Then he added: “What happens if the other won’t forgive
us? What happens if we told the other
what we did and it would destroy everything? It’s in situations like that, that the
Sacrament of Reconciliation - Confession - is really, wonderfully, powerful.”
I heard that in a classroom before I became a priest. Then as
priest I have discovered that to be very true.
As priest I have heard people in confession breathe out a sign of relief
- after confessing a sin. I’ve also heard them repeat that breath of fresh air
when they hear the words of absolution - as their sins are forgiven.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost. Today - or any day -
breathe. Pull fresh air into your being, into your upper room. Take in the Spirit,
the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Courage, the Holy Spirit of forgiveness. Call
to the Spirit for a rush of air, resuscitation, resurrection, and peace.
As we heard today’s gospel and in today’s readings, we heard how the Holy
Spirit is the one who brings forgiveness of sins and connections and
The Spirit gets us talking to each other - no matter how
divided we are - no matter what language we speak. We’re all in this together. We’re all parts of one body - so we all need
to work together to make this life work.
Come Holy Spirit.
Pause. Breathe. Feel the Fresh Air of God in your life.
Meditate on breathing - a practice very much part of many
The word for the “Spirit” in Hebrew is
“RUAH”. It’s the rush of the Spirit - into our life. It’s one of those
onomatopoeic words. Remember those from
English literature classes - words that sound like what they suggest - words like hiss - splash - crash. So too the
Hebrew word, “RUAH.” Hear the sound of breath - wind - and air in that word.
Have you ever been at the beach in the summer and someone
has been pulled out of the waters - almost drowned. You see life guards or
paramedics pushing down on that person’s lungs - trying to get them to breathe
again - giving them mouth to mouth resuscitation - trying to bring them back to
When you want God to forgive you, lay there on your bed and picture God leaning over you - pushing you.
Picture God putting His lips to yours and giving you spiritual resuscitation.
That image is not far fetched. It’s a powerful Biblical
image from Genesis with God forming
us from the beginning - as well as the great scene of resurrection and a new
beginning in the Book of Ezekiel -
Chapter 37 - in the great vision of the
field of dead bones being called back to life.
The title of my homily is, “Forgiveness for Dummies.”
Pentecost is a call for forgiveness - for new life.
The priest, the Church, all are called to scream out over
the people of this planet who are often like a valley of dead bones, “Dry
bones, hear the word of the Lord. The
Lord God says over these bones: I am now
going to make the breath enter you, and you will live.” And the whole valley of
the dead bones come back to life.
Isn’t that also the message of today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians when Paul sees everyone
separated? He then calls upon the One Spirit - to help all the parts of the
Body of Christ to see their connection - through baptism - becoming one Body -
no matter where Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to
drink of one Spirit.
The title of my homily is, “Forgiveness for Dummies.”
I want to go one step deeper to something that is more
fundamental - something more primal. It’s something we all know very well.
We’ve experienced it right here in our upper
room - called our skull, called our mind. [POINT
TO SKULL] We can be stuck in here.
As today’s gospel puts it - we can be all blocked up with fear - all locked up
- because of failures. It’s in here where Jesus comes and says to us, “Peace”.
It’s in here that Jesus can breathe his Holy Spirit into us.
Come Holy Spirit.
Each of us can go to confession 100 times - each of us can
forgive another 1000 times - or be forgiven by another 1000 times.
Then surprise, hasn’t this happened to all of us. Something
happens. Someone says the wrong thing. Someone
pushes the wrong button - and we discover the other hasn’t really forgiven us.
Or more significant, I have noticed this in myself many times - and I’ve also noticed it in listening to
others as a priest - we don’t forgive
ourselves. We really don’t believe God could forgive us. We hold onto our side
of the trapeze and we can’t fly through the air to the next bar of our lives.
We’re dummies. We hold onto our dumb mistakes - our sins - the ways we’ve been hurt - and holding onto that
stuff - retaining that stuff weighs us down.
Today - this Pentecost Sunday - take off those retainers.
Every kid who wears retainers - knows the day those retainers come off - today -
this Pentecost Sunday - take off those retainers - those restrainers - and be
 Raymond Brown, The Anchor Bible, The Gospel According to
John XIII-XXI, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New York, 1970, page 1041 Picture on top: From on line