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Nativity Catholic Church

6309 El Apajo Road, Rancho Santa Fe

Membership: 1000 families

Pastor: Monsignor Lawrence Purcell

Age: 70

Born: Indio, California

Formation: University of San Diego–St. Francis Seminary, San Diego; Pontifical North American College, Rome, Italy

Years Ordained: 45

San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermon?

Monsignor Lawrence Purcell: Most of my time is spent trying to keep it short. It sounds curious, but the short homily — which is about eight to ten minutes — requires the most time to prepare. There’s a direct correlation in my experience with the time spent in preparing and the length of the homily. The less time you spend preparing the longer the sermon and vice versa. So I try to keep it brief.

SDR: Can you think of a time when you gave a homily that completely flopped?

MP: If anyone ever compliments me and says, “Gee, that was a good homily,” I learned a long time ago never to ask them why because I get so depressed. I worked so hard on this and I expect them to say, “Gee, that was a good insight, a good story…” but they all say the same thing. When I ask them why it was good, they say, “Because I could hear it.”

SDR: What is your main worry as a member of the clergy?

MP: As every Catholic priest is, I’m so sensitive to this embarrassment of the sex-abuse thing, and ultimately it’s for the good, I’m sure, because there’s a purification. If nature does that, when you clip back a rose bush, it grows much better. We all know that intellectually, but at the feeling level, it’s painful to go through.… The world will be a better place in the Church and for priests, but in the meantime, it’s no fun.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

MP: Jesus used an expression in which He spoke about the Kingdom. He didn’t mean to imply that it was a place. People look at the afterlife as a place. I don’t look at it that way at all; I look upon it as thinking, loving and acting the way God does. That’s what Jesus meant by the Kingdom. So, I don’t look at it as a place we go to. I try to live very much in the moment. I just heard this one — the two most important days of the week are yesterday and tomorrow and you don’t live your life yesterday or tomorrow, you live your life today. So, I’m not obsessed with sins of the past, nor am I obsessed with rewards in the future.

SDR: Is there a doctrine in the Catholic Church that states there is a heaven and a hell?

MP: Oh, sure, and I believe that doctrine. Jesus says that, too…it does matter greatly what I do and don’t do in this life. It affects me forever. That’s what we believe. But it’s just not a physical thing. If I’m a liar in this life, I’m going to be a liar and everything that goes with that forever…. I believe what the Catholic Church teaches, but I also believe that what is waiting for us is far beyond anything we could every imagine. I think that’s wonderful.

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