Sunday, December 17, 2017



For a homily today and for a reflection, I would  like to use a homily that I heard on the radio by a Rev. Rosemary Wakeland. She preached it for this Sunday -- the third Sunday in Advent.


She began her homily this way.

She once worked with young people who were handicapped: mentally, physically, etc. She said that every Saturday night they would have a social: games and dances - barn dances, group dancing, etc.

And she said that the kids with Down Syndrome had a good sense of rhythm and enjoyed the beat. They were good dancers and really enjoyed the dancing.

And she said that every once and a while in the midst of the dance, when she was dancing with the kids, in the midst of the joy, and the celebration, the rejoicing, a wave of sadness would come over her. It would wipe her out, because she would begin to think about these kids. Wouldn’t it be great if they were normal? Wouldn’t it be great if they could be out there on the dance floor enjoying life like normal kids? Wouldn’t that be great? If only that one chromosome or whatever it was, was okay. As well as the other handicapped kids. Why do they have to suffer this hell? Couldn’t they be out there enjoying a normal life? That would be heaven.


And then another thing would hit her, perhaps later on in the evening, when she was alone. She would begin to think about people who have everything, especially people who lord it over other people, who step on people, who make life miserable for other people. Then she would say to herself, “You know someday they are going to have to face judgment and they are going to get their hell.” They are going to be judged. Just as these kids will get their heaven. When all will be right. Everything will be righted someday in heaven, while there will be judgment on us.


And then it would hit her, Me? What about me? Look at the ways I cause hell for other people. And there will be judgment on me.


And she said that at that point it would become too much for her. She would then fall into prayer because she knew she wasn’t right. She knew she couldn’t make things right by herself or straighten out the hell and the hurt she had caused in others. Only God could make things right. Only God could save her.

She was feeling and thinking about some powerful thoughts and feelings there.

Well, what she said really hit me.


Then Rosemary tied her thoughts and feelings into today’s readings.

Today is John the Baptist Sunday. She said that John the Baptist saw hell all around him. And he began to proclaim heaven. He wanted to make things right. He preached judgment on his people, the Israelites.  He preached hell and judgment against the Romans. They were living on occupied land. He preached that someone was going to come and make things right. Someone was going to come and make things right. The Messiah.

Then he added, that he, John the Baptist, was not the Messiah. And we’re going to hear the readings this week about John the Baptist, He points to Jesus. That Jesus is the one. He’s the one who is going to redeem Israel and save us.


A few months later John is in prison and everything has gone wrong. And in prison he hears about Jesus and Jesus is not living up to his (John’s) expectations. So he sends messengers to Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we expect someone else?” Someone else who will make it all right.  And we know what Jesus tells the delegates.

Aren’t we like John the Baptist? We want things right now. And in our mind we know the way that things should be. It’s our vision, our scenario, our plan, our model, our dream. That’s the way things should be.

And we think that someone out there can come in here and make things right. If only we had the right person, the right people, we could make this the right community.

What we are doing is picturing the solution to be out there. The messiah is out there, the answer is out there, the plan is out there, the secret is out there.

Rosemary says that if that is our vision and our way then Advent is still taking place for us. Christmas has not taken place yet.

Christmas can have happened already.

Christ was a baby a long time ago.

The kingdom of God has already come.

Heaven is already here.

The kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is in our midst. It’s within.

In our minds.

And Jesus and the whole body of Christ, can make things right according to the plan of Jesus. Not with the love of power, but with the power of love. Not with a power from outside that will come in and make things right, all straightened out with power, no, but with the power of love, which is a horse of a different color. It takes in patience, understanding, hope, prayer, all. The kingdom of heaven is here.


Looking at today’s readings, we are the lowly whom Jesus brings glad tidings to. We are the broken hearted whom Jesus heals. We are the captives who hear the proclamation of liberty.  We are prisoners who are being released. And this year, this moment is a year of favor from the Lord. And when we realize we’re it  Jesus way is it,  then make things right to bring about heaven where there is hell.

Then we can begin to rejoice heartily in the Lord, because God, like Mary, said is the Joy of our soul. And he is clothed us with the robe of salvation wrapped in a mantle of justice. We’re like a bridegroom and bride adorned with jewels and this earth will bring forth its plants and this place here is the garden, springing up and the Lord’s justice and peace will spring up here before all the nations, that we’ll rejoice in the Lord always as Paul says in today’s second reading, without ceasing. We’ll make this real because it’s taking place now. Heaven is here.


So to return to the original story, when Rev. Rosemary in a moment of joy saw sorrow, so too we in the moment of sadness, can see joy. Heaven in hell. In moments of wanting power, to straighten it all out there to see Jesus in the dance, the dirge, of hell, glimpses of God in the sadness, the Kingdom of God is here. The one who can make it right is here. His way not our way.

Here is her homily:


3 Sunday Advent B

Some years ago I worked with mentally handicapped young people.

Once a week we had a social evening. We shared, friends and staff, with the young people. It was great fun. We played games, but mainly we danced: country dances, group dances, square dances, and barn dancing.

A lot of young people had Down Syndrome. They usually loved music and had a good sense of rhythm. So it was good to dance with them.

I had my favorite partners and got to know some of them fairly well, especially in the dancing when they often or not were knocking me in the knee.

Sometimes, when I looked at them, I would get a certain vision of what it would be like if they had not had that extra chromosome.

It used to make me catch my breath and fall away in anger.

They should be so disfigured.

But that was usually followed by an irrational thought that one day it would be all right. They would appear as they should be.

I suppose I was caught up in the common human experience of believing that something better is coming, that one day wrongs will be righted, that there is some sort of justice at the heart of things.

My hope of seeing them as they should be was all mixed up with thoughts of heaven, a belief in a time or an another world when all ills will be healed and at last we shall be whole.

And mixed up with that is the hope that people who deliberately make other people live in hell should at least be caught up with and that is when it starts to get uncomfortable, because I knew that there had been times when I’ve made life hell for other people.

And if there is justice for them, there will be for me too.


This is the Sunday in Advent when we remember John the Baptist.

The Jews believed that tomorrow could be different.

It was not just wishful thinking, but firmly based in the promises of God.

And the promises included the coming of a special person, who would establish God’s rule of righteousness on earth.

John came to get things ready for the coming of this special person, who was going to get life right, the way as God meant it to be.

John was quite uncompromising.

Everyone had gotten it wrong.

Everyone must repent or it was going to be the worst for them.

The coming one was coming in judgment with God’s full authority to sort the good from the bad.

So the expectation was high.

The trespassers, like the Roman occupying force, were going to get their come uppance.

And there was  a general drive to get one’s house in order to escape the coming judgment.

So it all seemed a bit odd that it was only a few months after Jesus had appeared on the scene and John had recognized him as God’s special person that John is in prison.

Shortly to be executed and he is sending messages to Jesus asking him if he really was the right one.

The problem was that Jesus had not come up to expectations.

Those people hoped for someone who would reestablish Jewish sovereignty and get rid of the Romans.

John possibly had in mind a high profile judgmental person, who would wade into sinful humanity, stamping out sin and promoting the righteous.

Instead they got Jesus who had his own ideas.

He certainly had no doubt that things could be better, that the sick could be healed, that the prisoners could be released, that sins could be forgiven, that the sinner could start again.

And that all this was not some far off day, but now. God’s kingdom was already happening right there in an occupied territory of the Roman empire without a sword being drawn.

The new kingdom was not about the love of power but the power of love.

Human behavior and reactions have not changed much through the centuries. Millions pay lip service to the Gospel of Jesus,  but actually trusting the power of love and risking the suffering that might follow is too risky. Usually we prefer the bomb and the bullet. Trusting the power of love means being vulnerable. That’s hard. People in Jesus day couldn’t cope with it any more than we can today.

Plenty have risked it individually and in groups but never at institutional level. The gospel story is the end of the beginning. The kingdom is within you. If not, Advent is still the time of hope. 



The title of my comments for today is, “The First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.”

Instead of a homily for this Sunday’s readings for the Third Sunday of Advent [B], I just want to say about 10 things regarding today’s second reading - something about Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians - from which we get a section for our second reading: Chapter 5,  verses 16-24. 


The Old Testament  has 46 books - none of which is a letter. We only get letters in the New Testament.  However, there are mention of letters in the Old Testament and parts of letters.  Moreover there are in museums and libraries and archives around the world, lots of letters of all sorts from B.C. For example in Egypt there are thousands of Greek letters and parts of letters. Human beings send letters, e-mail, faxes, twitter, etc. etc. to communicate information to each other. [Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 769 #4.] 

The New Testament consists of 27 books. Different from the Old Testament, it has 19 letters.  Paul has the most 13, but there are letters from John, Peter, James, Jude.

The Old Testament is in Hebrew. The New Testament is in Greek.

The Catholic Bible - has both the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, These are the so called, Old Testament and New Testament. The Catholic Old Testament has more books than the Protestant and the Jewish Bible's Old Testament.  46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books was the standard number for the Bible till the Protestant Reformation.  Reason: Way back before Christ the Jews in Alexandria - which was Greek speaking for starters - chose more books to be in the Bible than the Hebrew Collection in Israel. Broadly speaking that Greek text from Alexandria was translated into Latin and it became the so called Vulgate. At the time of the Protestant Reformation the King James folks chose the Hebrew text to translate into English and the Roman Catholics chose the Greek and then the Latin Vulgate text.


A goal in the last 150 or so years among Christians was to come up with the best Greek text as opposed to force a text to say something that would support a theological position. Catholic and main stream Protestant communities have for the most part come up with an agreed upon Greek text.  Within this century some believe Jews, Catholics and Protestants will have come up with an agreed upon common Hebrew Text. 

In time - mistakes were made in copying the scriptures for the next generation - that is before the printing press. Scholars by studying all the texts that they could look at - as well as texts that quote the bible - can come up with an agreed upon common text.  Then we work together to come up with the best translations - into the various languages. Translations differ because of different styles and word selections.

As already mentioned the New Testament has 21 letters. The rest of the New Testament is the 4 gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Then there is the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation.


The oldest New Testament document is Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. That’s some 20 years earlier than Mark, the earliest of the Gospels.


Scholars like to make a distinction between a letter and an epistle. I heard this after we finished our scripture studies. A letter is more like a personal letter we would write.  An epistle is more polished, more worked out, more like an essay or a magazine article than a letter.

I would put Hebrews in this category. It’s been called a letter - but if it’s a letter, it’s certainly a different kind of  letter than the other New Testament documents. I was taught it’s more a sermon - a long sermon.  Others say that James and a few others are more epistles than letters. [Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 771, #16.]


Letters have formats. Then there are business letters, love letters, personal letters, etc. etc. etc.

We put an address or letter head on top of some letters. Then we put the date. Then we put Dear John or Mary or whoever.

Then we give the purpose of the letter or what have you.

My sister Mary recently handed me a plastic bag of all my letters home from the seminary.  I looked at them. They are all almost the same. “Dear Mom and Dad, How are you. I am fine. Hope you are fine as well. Weather is cold. We had 6 inches of snow. All is well. Your loving son, Andy.”

We were told we had to write home every week.  Recently a marine told me said that they were handed a post card every week and told to write home.

I don’t know if they offer guided tours of the U.S. Military Archives in Carlisle Pa, but that would be interesting.

Well, New Testament times letters had a different format.



Letters were self written, dictated, given to someone else to compose but with the content from the author, or have given to someone else to even come up with the content.  [Cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 771, #19.]

Letters were also cut and paste at times.

13 letters are attributed to Paul - but there are arguments about that - based on research. Computers catch plagiarism in term papers in college - so we know now, this section of an ancient letter could not have been written by the person who wrote another section of that same letter.


The Old Testament has 929 chapters and the New Testament has 260 chapters. In other words the Bible is 2/3 Jewish Scriptures and 1/3 Christian Scriptures.

As you know chapter and verse were not put into the Bible till way after the Bible was together.

Chapters were put in by the Archbishop of Canterbury around 1227.

Verses for the Jewish OT were put in by Rabbi Nathan around 1448.

Verses for the New Testament were put in by Robert Estienne in 1555.


Some people start reading the Bible from page 1, Genesis 1: 1 - which begins “In the beginning” - Hebrew for Genesis and go from there.

I suggest you do a book at a time - starting with the Letters - and I would always suggest the Letter of James.  If something in there, doesn’t grab you, forget it.

Or just play Bible Bingo, just turn to a page and read and ponder.

Or read the scripture readings in the Missalette for the Sunday. Today’s reading from 1st Thessalonians might get you praying about prayer, joy, gratitude, don’t quench the Spirit, test everything, do good and avoid evil.

Pick - like at a smorgasbord. Pick and choose and pick and chew and then digest.


Many Bibles have color maps.

Check them out.

Study where places are and who’s from where, and all that.

For example, Thessalonica is a port city north of modern Greece. It was also on a main Roman Road across  the Balkans. It was founded in 315 BC by Cassander - one of Alexander the Great’s generals - who named the city after his wife, the half-sister of Alexander.  It had a synagogue, something Paul looked for while traveling, but the Christian community there were mostly Gentiles.


The catholic approach is that we don’t take the Bible literally. It’s a library with all kinds of different types of literature.

So we don’t take some of the types of literature in the Bible literally, just as we don’t take little kids books literally. Snakes and donkeys talk, but in real life they don’t, but the stories have great messages.  Be careful of snakes in the grass.

There’s a lot more  that all of the above - besides how to interpret the Bible. There are different translations, geography, customs,  but that’s enough for a start.

Do self-study. Take courses. Deacon Tony Norcio gave a short course here. So too Father Joe Krastel. There is a bible study group at St. John Neumann on Monday night and I think Monday morning. Check out google and go from there. 
December 17, 2017


Do you really want a straight,
flat highway from here to there?
Do you want life to be that easy?

Think about the consequences.
No mountains. No valleys. No twists
and turns. No snow. No ice. No winter.

Okay, you’ll accept some surprises.
Okay, you’ll accept bumps and potholes.
But you won’t accept accidents or tie-ups. Sorry.

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 16, 2017


Feet - as necessary - as important as hands….
Feet - washed by Jesus, who had the same
experience of having his feet washed and
then dried by a woman’s hair.  "Oooh nice!"

Feet - taking us everywhere along the
roads of our Palestine and the streets of our
Jericho and Jerusalem - and sometimes
we wish we could walk on water….

Feet - sometimes we’re unaware of our feet.
We stub our toes. And sometimes we’re
unaware of those who do the footwork
in our life: mail carriers, nurses, police….

Feet - sometimes we feel nailed down - 
like Jesus on the cross. We're stuck, feeling
abandoned - and we can't walk away.
We can only say, "Father forgive them...."

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15, 2017


Hard, cold, cemetery earth,
especially in winter wind,
makes the resurrection so
much easier to believe.

Who would want to spend
earth’s eternity underground
surrounded by cement, ashes,
decaying casket and bone?

Who wouldn’t want to grab
Christ’s hand and join heaven’s
dance, the Perichoresis, with
Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Amen.

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017
Perichoreis - the ancient Greek
word - that pictures God as the
God of the Dance - harmony,

music and togetherness. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017



After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 

But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 

Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. It was night.


The title of my homily is, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross [1542-1591]

He is famous for that phrase: “The Dark Night of the Soul.” 

It's the title of his treatise  [c.1583] based on his poem: Songs of the Soul Which Rejoices at Having Reached Union with God by the road of Spiritual Negation [c. 1578]

Theologians, poets, psychologists, and spiritual writers often talk about “The Dark Night of the Soul."

Napoleon talked about, “Two o’clock in the morning courage: I mean unprepared courage.” This can be found in the Memories of Napoleon written down by Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonne from the island of Saint Helene - where Napoleon was held captive. [Cf. his journal writings from December 4, 5, 1815 - in Las Cases, Memorial de Ste-Helene 1843.

Henry David Thoreau wrote about, "The Three o'clock in the morning courage, which Bonaparte thought was the rarest." That's n Walden [1854] chapter 4, Sounds.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his book, The Crack Up, "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning." [1936]


So in psychology - many times in talking about depression - people feel like they are in a dark night. They can’t sleep or they are sleeping too much.

So in prayer - many people in talking about praying and spirituality - they talk about feeling bored, empty, dry, feeling like they are in a desert or having been deserted by God.

John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila - who knew each other as Carmelites - and friends - often talked about the Dark Night.

A key word one reads is, “Nada!”

They are feeling nothing when they pray - and then bringing that into her spirituality - Teresa will say, “Nada” - let nothing disturb you.

When it comes to God, they feel nothing at times. Nada. They feel like they are in the dark.


I picked the gospel text I read for today from the gospel of St. John.

I was going to pick just the last 3 words, “It was night” as the reading - but I thought that could be a distraction.

John the Poet - very different from Matthew, Mark and Luke - plays on the theme of sin as darkness.

Judas by his betrayal of Jesus entered into the night - into the dark night of sin - into the dark night of the soul.

When we sin - when we betray our spouse - when we cheat - it’s hard to look the other in the eye. “It is night!”  We have eaten, bit in into the sour bread of sin - and we can’t be in communion with each other.

Paul - especially in Romans - talks about sin as darkness.

Thieves wear masks.  People going into court hide behind a coat or newspaper.


We’re heading for Christmas - the great feast of Light - especially in the Northern Hemisphere - where Christmas comes in the Darkest time of the Year.

Yet isn’t it neat to see so many lights on trees and houses - and in windows - and light in people’s eyes - as they are shopping for gifts to express their love and appreciation for the people in their lives.