September 15: Three Occasional Sermons

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Psalm 95

In the tradition of the great English preachers Cardinal John Henry Newman and Ronald Knox, grace-filled words mark occasions in sermons, sentiments, and memory.

The past week provided me special occasions to preach at three events: a wedding, a Sunday evening Mass, and a weekday “Mass of the Holy Spirit.”

Sept. 9:  Wedding of Claire Elaine Tipton & Frank William Maxwell IV.

Frank and Claire, what a match and what a prize! Here we are at the Mayacama Golf Club, a cathedral of golf!


What an appropriate setting, nearby farms, and vineyards, such scenic beauty this time of year with its “harvest moon.” Cue Neil Young!


I recall Frank, aka “Max” when you were inducted into the ranks of “professional golf.” At the age of 10, you entered the Nike Youth Summer Golf Camp at Pebble Beach and the Robert Louis Stevenson School. I was there for the “induction ceremony” with your Mom, Dad, and Liz. It was not a smooth transition for you.

I believe you maintained your “pro-card” for precisely one week. What with separation anxiety and the like of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler on the horizon, your “pro-career” was cut short.

Instead, you have acceded to Sunday golf at the Olympic Club with your dad and these buddies of yours, the groomsmen, for today’s wedding.

Now, if you had become a golfer on the pro-tour, think of all that prize money!

But you have a more fabulous prize in Claire!

When I met Claire Tipton, a year ago or so, I asked Claire, “By any chance, are you related to John Beresford Tipton?”

“Not that I know, “she replied.

Back in the days of black & white television sets that filled the space of an entire living room, CBS-TV had a half-hour drama entitled “The Millionaire.”

Each week the unseen fictional character, John Beresford Tipton, gave away one million dollars to a worthy, unsuspecting recipient. With that “change in fortune,” the drama unfolded and altered the character’s life.

Of course, one million would be chump change today, what with a recent magi-lottery of 393 million dollars, as well as the platoon of billionaires in the White House.

But you never know how a fortune and grace may change your life.

Together, Claire and Max, you possess another form of treasure in one-another.

You are the perfect match and what a prize! What you do with this prize of yours is the story of your lives and ours.

We are graced and blessed by your love now — and in the treasured future that awaits you!

“It seems we stood and talked like this before. Some things that happened for the first time seem to be happening again. But, who knows where or when.” Of course, these are the words & music of Rogers & Hart.

One year ago, we celebrated Liz and Brad’s wedding; now, they come forward to impart their blessings and wisdom to Frank and Claire.

Liz read a poem written by Frank Maxwell Jr. (Frank’s grandfather) while he was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. The poem was written to their grandmother Kay on the occasion of their first wedding anniversary.

The moon never beams without bringing me dreams —

Of my own, my darling Kay:

And the stars never rise, but I see the bright eyes.

Of my own, my darling Kay

Yeah, the moon and the stars watch over you, dear,

They know we’re partners for life:

And, they know that I was honored a year ago,

When you became my wife


A second poem was a favorite of Frank Maxwell, Jr., entitled “An Odd Conceit” by Nicholas Breton.

Brad Tisdahl read this poem.


Overly kind, and kindly loving —

Such a mind was worth the moving;

Truly fair, and fairly true-

Where are all these, but in you?

Wisely kind, and kindly wise;

Blessed life, where such love lies!

Wise, and kind, and fair, and true-

Lovely live all these in you.

Sweetly dear, and dearly sweet;

Blessed, where these blessings meet!

Sweet, fair, wise, kind, blessed, true-

blessed be all these in you!


Giving voice to the Tipton family, Claire’s brother, Luke Tipton read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” from Dr. Suess.

This tiny bit of whimsy contains wisdom and fun. It reflects Claire’s mom Elaine, an accomplished kindergarten teacher, a “Mary Poppins” herself who taught her kids and countless others for thirty-years.

Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where you go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care. And some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there in the wide-open air. Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.

Wedding Vows:   

Max:   Claire, you are my best friend.  I am the luckiest man in the world that I am blessed to be your husband.  I promise to always be a member of your fan club.  I promise to give you honest feedback on your exquisite outfit choices every morning, even if we’re on outfit #4 and we’re running late.  I promise to kill all the spiders in our apartment.  I promise to go into the crawl space when it’s dark and scary when we need to get the Christmas decorations.  I promise to love your family even if they are all Dodger fans.  I promise to listen when you’re talking, and when I don’t listen, I promise to apologize and kindly ask you to repeat what you said. 

I will always love you, unconditionally. I promise to support your dreams and be by your side through all the ups and downs of our lives. I promise all of these to you, every day for the rest of our lives. 

 Claire:     Frank, today I take you as my husband, partner, teammate, and best friend for life. Four years ago, on that first date, I met my perfect match.  I left that date with a huge smile on my face, and almost four years later, I haven’t stopped smiling. You’ve always been by my side, supporting me. You’ve cared for me in ways I didn’t know I ever needed. Through hardships, broken bones, new jobs, and new challenges, …you have been the rock getting me through it all. There are so many things that I love about you. 

You are a remarkable son, brother, and friend to the people in your life. You have a way of bringing your friends and family together, finding even the smallest thing to celebrate and making it happen. And you do it so selflessly, expecting nothing in return. That is such an amazing gift. 

You are exceptional, because you make the people in your life feel so special. And that is how I feel every day with you—Like the most special person in the world. 

And now you take on this role of husband. I have no doubts, you are going to be the greatest husband and father.  I am so honored to join your family and to build our own together.  

With you, I want to create a home and a family that is filled with laughter, learning, and compassion. I promise I will work at it every day because you and I are complete partners through the good, the bad, the gross, the funny, the sad. Life is so much better with you. And since these are vows… I thought I should throw some in…

I vow to:
To support your dreams and celebrate your triumphs. To be at your side and hold your hand, as life tests our courage. To laugh at your jokes, even if I’ve already heard them a hundred times before. To embrace life with you and share with you all of its difficulties and all of its joys. To be honest and true to you.
…That includes helping you decide which shirt/tie combo you should wear …as well as be honest about how long it will take me to get ready. To give you full TV rights over the Master’s Weekend. To laugh with you in times of joy, and to cry with you in times of sorrow. To love you and care for you all the days of my life.

Today my heart is so full of love and joy, and it’s because you have truly made me the happiest. I feel so lucky to be your wife. I love you.

Mayacama Country Club, Santa Rosa, CA.


Sept. 10: A Song of Summer’s Ending (23 A)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” the psalmist tells us.

Our lives require careful listening to the promptings of God. We should not shut ourselves off from God’s voice in our lives.

We should listen to what God is telling us. We know Jesus is this prophet, healer, and teacher.

As prophets, both Jesus and Ezekiel were appointed “Watchmen,” looking out for our spiritual longings.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What a bold statement!

Lastly, the Gospel reminds us that where two or three gathers. Jesus says: “there I am!” Thus, he is never far from any of us gathered in his name, and in this assembly of faith.

All of these experiences of faith require carefully listening to his voice – as subtle as the crickets, but you have to listen mighty carefully.


Listen to this lovely passage; it comes from the great author E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web.”

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song.

“Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”

The crickets felt it is was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.

Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Jesus, too, is telling us that to love our neighbor as ourselves – we also must change to attain an “eternal life” – that is summer without end!

Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.


Sept. 13: “Precious as Rubies, ” A Mass of the Holy Spirit.

A Mass of the Holy Spirit or the so-called “Red Mass” is an invocation to the Spirit that prompts inspiration, creativity, and wisdom to our efforts as students, teachers, artists, athletes, scientists, musicians, and actors.

Going back to the Twelfth century and the great European universities in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford, this celebration marks the start of the academic year for students and faculties of law, medicine, philosophy, and theology.

Today we pray for the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” seeking wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe before God, the source of all truth.

We listen to readings such as the prophet Joel who reminds us that we are all “dreamers” capable of visions in which God will pour out his Spirit and do wonders with us.

Saint Paul tells us that we have different gifts but the same Spirit that makes up the “body of Christ.”

The gospel reading from Matthew, and the core teaching of Jesus in his “Sermon on the Mount,” again emphasizes Jesus as a teacher who opens us the this “invisible kingdom of the heart” in which our actions of peace and justice serve people most in need.

Nine years ago, in June of 2008, I happened to be in the right place. Namely, I was lucky enough to attend the Harvard University Commencement ceremony. At the time I heard what to my mind was the single best commencement speech by the author J.K. Rowling, the creator and author of the Harry Potter series of children’s books.

Her speech deeply touched me so much so that I require all of my students to read it or watch her address on YouTube; to grasp Rowling’s take on what it means to be a student and the long-term goals of education. After all, Harry was a wizard, and we are all capable of performing magic with our lives.

J.K. Rowling entitled her remarks “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” in which she recounted her life as a college student at the University of Edinburgh.

She tells us that she was the first in her family to attend a university, and her parents wanted her to study business or accounting with the promise of a sound job offer after college. Does this sound familiar? Instead, she told them she was majoring in foreign languages, when, in fact, she majored in the Classical languages of Greek and Latin — not exactly a secure choice for job prospects!

All so suddenly, she found herself a single mother, living on a very meager and poverty income, and in cold winters staying for long hours in heated coffee shops with her baby, and writing what would be the first of the Harry Potter stories.

Today, Rowling is the second wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom, next to Queen Elizabeth. Keep in mind that the first Potter novel faced rejection by twelve publishers. Finally, a publisher-provided her with a small advance of 1,500 pounds with only 1,000 copies of the first printing.

In 1998 with the publication by Scholastic Press of “Harry Potter & the Sorcerers Stone,” Rowling experienced a reversal of fortune, worldwide acclaim; now, there are 400 million copies of the books of Potter series in print in multiple languages, and, of course, on film.

Rowling reminded the Harvard graduates: “Failure was not fun!” But it helped strip away the inessentials and reveal that life can be difficult, complicated, and beyond one’s total control.

To secure her writer’s life and to earn income, she took a job as a typist for Amnesty International, transcribing the accounts of people who had been tortured in Africa.

It was life-changing for her and sparked her imagination, realizing how fortunate she was.

She recounted:

“Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow human beings, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard, and read. And yet, I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known.”

For her conclusion, she passed along three pieces of advice.

Quoting from the Greek author Plutarch, Rowling stated: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Each of us can use our gifts of the learning to bring comfort, healing in service projects in the community, and in our future careers as teachers, physicians, scientists, and lawyers or later as moms and dads.

Rowling added: “Raise your voice for those who have no voice.” Each of us can speak up for justice and peace in a world, and in our nearby neighborhoods torn with the brutality of gang violence.

Lastly, she valued the friends she made in college, still close to her, and actually used their names in her books. She remarked that, to this date, none had sued her for any copyright violations.

Till this day, these friends of hers are as “precious are rubies.”

So it is, as we begin this new academic year, and call upon the Spirit, that we too will value our friendships; and with grateful hearts for this opportunity of learning that will fill an entire year of thankfulness at Santa Catalina!

Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.







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