Adapted Homilies & Talks

Christ the King

From a Homily on the Feast of Christ the King

Father Aloysius Schmitt was just finishing the 7am Mass aboard the USS Oklahoma docked at Pearl Harbor when eight torpedoes slammed into the ship's side. Within minutes the ship rolled over and began to sink. The 32-year old Catholic priest immediately began to direct frenzied men through a small porthole to escape the capsizing ship. Bob Burns, who had served at Mass that morning, was one of those sailors who escaped. Burns recalls: “[Father Schmitt] recognized my voice and said, ‘Over here!’ There were two gentleman topside pulling, and he was pushing people through — he pushed me out. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. It was an honor knowing him.”

Father Aloysius SchmittThe priest was being pulled out of the porthole when he heard the voice of other men behind him. He insisted he be dropped to help those still trapped. Father Al died alongside 429 men aboard the Oklahoma. The Catholic priest was the first of any chaplain to die in WWII. The 5th year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood would have been the next day—December 8th.

When the ship was raised from the bottom of the bay 16 months later, the priest's body was not found, but only the chalice he used at Mass. Recognizing the heroic priest's bravery, in 1944 the Navy presented to Fr. Al's hometown in Iowa a crucifix made of wood from the deck of the Oklahoma. The body of Christ on the cross was shaped from the ship's metal. Then, in 1947, a chapel was dedicated to Father Schmitt by Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 75 years later, on December 8, 2016, his remains were at last identified and interred in that Iowa chapel. A true king serves, and Father Schmitt acted like a king. The name of the chapel was, fittingly, Christ the King.


From a Homily on Pentecost

Chicago reinvented itself in the latter half of the 20th century. The city went from an agro-industrial to a "knowledge" economy. Whereas cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh, based on the automobile or steal industry, were unable to recreate themselves when those industries declined, Chicago was able to do so. Gone were the meat-packing plants and warehouses, replaced by skyscrapers offering financial and legal services. Chicago has continued to renew itself, becoming a global economy, and hopefully will continue to do so.

Families renew themselves too. When children move away to college and then out of the house to work and marry, empty-nester parents renew themselves. When a child or young adult can no longer play organized sports, they find other interests to stay engaged.

Today, the Feast of Pentecost, is the great day of renewal. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, they were transformed. They went from a motley group of indecisive and disloyal fisherman to bold proclaimers of the Good News. Even the feast of Pentecost itself was transformed. Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday, occurring 50 days after Passover and meant to celebrate the harvest. Then the Israelites celebrated on this day not so much the harvest but the date when the Torah was given to Moses on Sinai. That, by the way, is why, on Pentecost 33AD, all the different nationalities were gathered in Jerusalem: it was required to make a pilgrimage to the holy city.

Renewal. Seen in the celebration of Pentecost, the apostles, families, and the city of Chicago. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of your live; send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Memorial Day

From a Homily on Memorial Day

At last the woman who had been sobbing outside of the president's office was granted entrance. She explained that her husband, fighting in the war, had gone missing and with it the money he had been sending home. She begged the president to discharge one of her two enlisted sons, as she had no means of support. Abraham Lincoln, staring at the fire, hands behind his back and head bowed low, simply said, as if speaking to himself, “I have two you, you have none.” The president walked over to the desk and wrote a note of discharge.

Several weeks later the same woman appeared in the executive mansion. Upon entrance she explained to Lincoln that she had located her son who was stationed in a small town named Gettysburg, but that she had arrived too late. He was already in the ground. Through tears, the woman asked if the president could write a note for her other son. Similarly as before, with head bowed low facing the fire and hands behind his back, Lincoln stuttered, “I have two, you have none.” He went back to the desk after a pause and wrote a second note. It was said that the woman accompanied him to the desk and “smoothed his thick and disorderly hair with motherly fingers.”

We celebrate with parades and barbecues on Memorial Day, but we ought not forget those who died in service to our country and the families who mourn their deaths. We can show compassion, as Lincoln did. The best way to do so is by prayer; to pray that the deceased are at rest in heaven and that the mourners' anguish may be assuaged. We will be confident, then, that these dead will not have died in vain.

Good Friday in Nuremberg

From a Homily on Good Friday

Befehl ist Befehl. Translated: ‘I was only following orders.’ That is the plea known as the "Nuremberg Defense," used by the Nazi officers convicted of crimes during the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946. Hermann Goering and others claimed they were only following orders; they did not know of the atrocities that were occurring within the Reich. The Final Solution was all the work of Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels, they argued. The judgment of the International Tribunal upon the ex-Nazis? Guilty.

Shirking responsibility did not occur only at Nuremberg. It occurred in Jerusalem. We could label it the "Good Friday Defense."

  • Judas, the Jews, the religious leaders, Pilate, and the Romans all attempted to offload their responsibility, and they are all guilty. Judas gives the 30 pieces of silver back. He commits suicide instead of facing a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • The Sanhedrin refuse to take Judas' money and buy a plot of land with it. Then they refuse to execute Jesus themselves, but send him instead to the Romans. Finally they too refuse to believe in a resurrected Christ. Guilty.
  • Herod refuses to execute the condemned man, under the grounds that Jesus is crazy, and returns him Pilate. Herod could have freed Jesus himself. Guilty. Pontius Pilate is convinced of Christ's innocence, yet scourges him, issues the decree of execution, and then wipes his hands clean. Guilty.

No one on Good Friday wanted to be responsible. Befehl ist Befehl, they all say. It is in their cowardice that they are all guilty.

Not owning up to one's sins and seeking forgiveness is one of the great crimes of Good Friday; one of the great crimes of today. If we cannot acknowledge that we have crucified Jesus, then our story will end on Good Friday instead of two days from now.

Irish Mass

From a Homily on the Saint Juliana Irish Mass

William Francis Meagher (pronounced "Mar") was born in Waterford, Ireland in the 1820s. Identified by the British as a threat early into his adulthood, he was arrested and exiled to the penal colony in Tasmania. Meagher would escape, sail to New York City, and rise through the political ranks, eventually ending his career as the governor of Montana. His political success was owed to his leadership of the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, of which Robert E. Lee said “I have never seen men so brave.” The unit of Irishman performed admirably in many battles–Bull Run, The Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville—so much so that President Lincoln elevated Meagher to Brigadier General. From this position of authority, Meagher had the War Department create green Irish flags with a harp symbol. The men carried this flag into battle, and in the event that the men were separated from the flag, or the flag was destroyed, the Irish soldiers could be identified by a green sprig in their cap, for which Meagher also gained permission. Two other allowances Meagher provided that endeared him to his men: the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and the presence of a Catholic priest for every regiment.

To be proudly Irish is to rejoice in the things of the earth: the color green, corned beef and cabbage, Guinness, the drone of bagpipes. Celebrating the goodness of our human nature is to celebrate God, for he redeemed all of humanity. Meagher picked up on this, and he utilized the goodness of creation to rally the Irish and further their cause in America. We celebrate and thank God for the Irish at Mass in an American church this evening. We owe a toast to William Meagher and many other Irish Americans for making that possible.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Adapted from a homily.

The Beatitudes are Jesus' way of describing himself. He is meek, merciful, a peacemaker, and so on. Being called to be these eight characteristics means we are, in effect, being called to be like Jesus. How do we be like Jesus? By being friends with him. Friends resemble one another. If we're friends with Jesus, which we can be by talking to him, we will be happy and blessed.

Today is the start of Catholic Schools Week. Students at a Catholic school are made friends with Jesus. This is the most important objective, in my opinion, a Catholic education achieves. Our school kids are introduced to Jesus and start a friendship that will last their entire lives. They become like Jesus and live out the Beatitudes, and ultimately experience happiness.

During our school's monthly Catholic identity assemblies we play, as kids walk into the gym, "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles, since our theme is "Let Your Light Shine." I'd like to propose we also play a song by Bob Dylan called "All I Really Wanna Do." The song is about friendship. Here are a few lines:

I ain't lookin' to compete with you
Beat or cheat or mistreat you
Simplify you, classify you
Deny, defy or crucify you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you

Listen to the song and imagine Jesus is singing it to you. My point is not that Dylan's voice is heavenly. Ha! My point is that all Jesus really wants to do is be friends with you. Every Saint Juliana student has a best Friend.

To Parents About First Communion

Adapted from a talk to parents about First Communion.

I did not play golf as a kid. I thought the game was too hard and that it was boring. I regret this. Why? Well, forming good habits and muscle memory is easier as a child than it is as an adult. I play golf now and if I had played it at a younger age I would be a lot better at it–at least that's what I tell myself–and would enjoy it even more.

It's similar to attending Mass. If a young person goes to Mass now, though he may have excuses for why he should not (it is boring, he has travel sports) he will be grateful when he is older. He will be comfortable in church and will be able to enter into the beautiful intricacies of prayer and the Mass. Like anything in life, whether it be playing a sport or an instrument, Mass has a beginner's, intermediate, and advanced level. The beginner's level is always difficult, but if we can persevere, we will be rewarded as we move into the more advanced levels.

If that is not enough to convince you, then know going to Mass can be an act of service. A young person or a family's presence at Mass enhances the experience for everyone, especially elderly people. Back to golf: it would have been a nice gift to my dad to play with him as a child, and to my mom–to get me out of the house. What is important in life is not always what you get out of something, but what you give to it. So, please, be patient and generous, and play golf...I mean, attend Sunday Mass.

Christmas Mass

Adapted from the homily.

There are three "reasons" God became man. I'd like to discuss these, using Christmas gifts from my past to help illustrate.

1) Redemption. Jesus was born to redeem mankind. “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The separation between man and God due to the Fall could only be restored by God becoming man. My "saving" Christmas gift from childhood was snow pants. The gift was lame, I thought at first, but it allowed me to play in the snow and have fun without getting cold or wet.

2) Revelation. Jesus was born to reveal more about God. “The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him” (Jn 1:18). Jesus showed us that God is not just some generic force, but is a Trinity. God is relational, which means we can talk to him. A "revealing" Christmas gift from my past was a bunch of wood and tools. I went through a phase in high school were I thought I wanted to be a wood worker. By the end of January, having failed to make things, I realized this wasn't meant to be.

3) Righteousness. Jesus was born to show us how to live well. “For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). Loving one another as yourself and loving God is the key to happiness. The Christmas gift that brought me a lot of happiness was the video game MarioKart. It was fun to play individually and it brought people together, since you could play each other in battle mode.

If you open a gift this year that has a redeeming, revealing, or righteous quality to it, give thanks to Jesus.

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Adapted from the homily.

When General George Washington asked the Abenaki Native American tribe to support the colonists in the American Revolutionary War, they agreed on one condition: Washington send them a Catholic priest to live with and minister to them. Washington happily obliged. The tribe in Maine received their priest and the Americans received their allies.

The Abenaki had a history with Catholicism. It began in 1689 with Fr. Sebastian Rale. This priest had labored for two years among the Illinois Indians and would go on to spend 35 years ministering to his New England flock, providing them medicine, giving them the sacraments, composing a dictionary for them in the native tongue, and teaching them about Jesus. This brave Catholic priest even fought alongside his indians. In fact, that is how his ministry came to an end. In a British and Mohawk raid on the Abenaki village Rale was shot. The story has it that he crawled to a cross in the center of the village to draw attention away from his Abenaki flock so they could escape. The pastor was tomahawked, dying literally at the foot of the cross.

The Abenaki Indians had experienced the goodness of Catholicism's priests and so they wanted another one with them 52 years later. Washington likewise experienced the goodness of Catholicism, which is why, after the victory at Yorktown, he had the Continental Congress gather at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church in Philadelphia to sing the Te Deum, a hymn of praise to God. Interestingly, the British called the Congress "papists" and declared the American victory a “triumph of popery.” The United States of America owes a lot to Catholicism. And that's why Thanksgiving is a very natural holy day for American Catholics.

Grandparents' Day Mass

Adapted from the homily.

Paul Revere was a Son of Liberty, a militia officer, a silversmith, and, rarely mentioned, a grandfather. As most grandparents do, Revere passed several qualities onto his grandson, Joseph Warren Revere. Joseph was likewise an American patriot. He served first in the Navy during the Mexican-American War before switching to the Union Army in the Civil War, where he fought in many battles. Paul's bravery served his grandson well.

Grandparents have a tremendous influence on their grandchildren. They are Christ-like figures because of this effect. A grandparent's faith or virtue will inspire a child to the same. Even a trade or hobby can be picked up by a grandchild. Grandparents also assure us that we are loved and liked–again, another divine act. We could even call ourselves grandchildren of God because of this reality.

Paul Revere had courage. It obviously was bold and daring to ride through the night warning colonists that the British army was advancing. This courage was imbued in his grandson. Though not quite the same, Joseph had his own version of a midnight ride. While on furlough during the war in October of 1862, Joseph walked into a Catholic Church to pray. He was struck by the church and particularly by the priest with whom he spoke in that church. Shortly thereafter, Joseph was baptized and received into the Catholic Church–a courageous act. He finished the war as a brigadier general and remained a practicing Catholic until his death in 1880.

As mentioned above, Paul was a silversmith, and thus an artisan of sorts. Well, this craftsmanship was passed onto his grandson. Joseph, after his conversion, painted The Espousal of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, which hung in his home parish as a gift. I'm sure Paul would have been proud.

Wedding on November 12

Adapted from the homily.

As we sit here in St. Clement's in Lincoln Park–a very circular church, mind you–it's fitting I mention our bride and groom's shared interest: the Daytona 500.

NASCAR seems to be simply a group of rednecks driving in a circle all day. Likewise, marriage, from an outside view, seems boring. But from what I'm told, NASCAR is anything but dull. There is an incredible energy from the racing cars in a stadium holding hundreds of thousands of spectators—where, by the way, you can bring in your own beer and food. Just like the Wedding of Cana we heard about, I doubt there is ever a shortage of drink at Daytona Speedway. It's a fascinating place to "people watch" and meet new types of individuals, and the event, contrary to appearance, gets more interesting as it progresses. The final 20 laps are the most thrilling.

There's a certain energy unleashed upon a man and woman united in God's eyes in a church. This energy, or grace, will make your life, Mary and Joe, fun. Though life will seem dull at times–trips to IKEA, changing diapers, paying college tuition–it won't be because you do these things together, and with the Lord. Your marriage, and particularly when you have children, will bring you into contact with new people. There will be some blowups, but crashes in racing are the most exciting part, right? And as you grow old together, your love will deepen and be even more satisfying. So, let's put those round rings on you and drop the flag on what will be the best race of your life.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Adapted from the homily.

In 1966 a young Catholic pilot was shot down over Than Haon, North Vietnam. For almost eight years Jeremiah Denton was tortured, spending much of his time in solitary confinement in a cell the size of a refrigerator. He survived though. He was released and would go on to serve as commander of the Armed Forces Staff College and then as a US Senator for Alabama, the first Catholic elected to office in that state. Denton attributed his perseverance to two things. First, he said continuously, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give myself to you.” Second, he prayed the rosary. The Blessed Mother gave this POW the strength to persevere.

This is more of a motivational homily I offer you today, as the readings are all about perseverance. Moses persevered in keeping his arms raised during the battle with the Amelekites. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to persevere in preaching the Good News and maintaining the truth. And the widow from the Gospel persevered in exhorting the dishonest judge to render her a just decision. Moses, Timothy, and the widow all had good reasons to quit, but they didn't. They were rewarded for their perseverance.

It's tempting for us to to give up. We could quit on our country because of our presidential candidates, on our city because of the violence and economy, on the Cubs because they haven't won in 108 years. Please don't quit, especially on the Church. Because we will be victorious–Christ assures us of that.

If you feel tempted to give up, turn to the Blessed Mother. Mary will infuse in you the grace to persevere, as she did Commander Denton. Say a Hail Mary. Then when the victory comes you'll be around to celebrate.