Saturday, September 17, 2011


Quote for Today  September 17, 2011

"The food is cooked in a pot and the plate gets the honor."

"Shpeiz kocht men in top un koved krigt der teller."

Yiddish Saying. Found on page 135 in 1001 Yiddish Proverbs, Fred Kogos, First Carol Publishing Group Edition, 1990

Friday, September 16, 2011



The title of my homily for this 24 Friday in Ordinary Time is, “Contentment.”


In today’s first reading - from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy - Chapter 6, verses 2c to 12,  he talks about being content.

It sounds like some folks in one of those Early Church communities were not content.

Discontent shows up in meals, marriages, and church - as well as in traffic, politics, and the ways people line up while waiting in restaurants.

On a scale of 1 to 10 - ten being the highest are your content with your life - your age - your weight - your look - your neighbors - your family - this parish - church - world.

In this first reading Paul challenges those with an itch to complain.

It seems there is a lot disagreement going on - arguments and verbal disputes.

Folks have morbid dispositions - as Paul says.

I have never examined my life on that one.

Paul continues: there is envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction.

Then comes the word - “autarkeias” - which most translators turn into the English word, “contentment”.

We’re familiar with the prefix - “aut(o)” - meaning “self” - and then part two is “arkey” - meaning “sufficient”

So do I have A S - auto sufficiency?


Today’s gospel has Jesus calling people to discipleship. Notice the mention of Mary Magdalene - who is described as having 7 demons cast out of her.

I checked out today’s first reading again to see if I could find 7 demons there - that are the opposite of contentment. I found:  “envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions” - that’s 4.

Could I find 3 more? Love of money, using religion for gain (prestige, position, robes, recognition, priest, pope) and I was stuck for one more. Or should I be content with just 6?

Nope. I needed a 7th.

The 7th demon would be: not being satisfied with what I have.

That could embrace weather, wages, where someone is sitting - my seat - etc.


Let us be content with today. It seems pretty neat till now.

Here are seven quotes in case you’re not content with my sermon.

1. Bake with the flour you have.

2. Plough with the oxen you have.

3. Gnaw the bone which is fallen to your lot.

4. If you cannot get bacon, be content with cabbage. Danish Proverb

5. If you have a great seat, don’t go to the bathroom. [Mine]

6. If you're poor and you're content, you’re rich.

7. Contentment lodges more often in cottages than palaces.

September  16,  2011

Quote for Today

"The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self,  a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim's sympathies."

Henry Adams [1838-1918], The Education of Henry Adams, 1907

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Quote for Today  September 15, 2011

“… anecdote trumps facts every time.”

Full quote: “… look, if you’re doing advocacy, the fact of the matter is anecdotes trumps facts every time.”

Steve Liss in an interview with Michele Norris on NPR Radio program, All Things Considered - entitled, “Photographers Capture Evolving Face of Poverty,” September 13, 2011


I stand under the cross
wishing I could hear
Jesus’ words to Mary and John
addressed to me,
“Woman, this is your son.”
and “This is your Mother.”

I stand under the cross,
wishing I could say
what the centurion said,
“Truly this was the Son of God.”

I stand under the cross
watching the scene between
the Good Thief and the Bad,
but their voices about saving oneself
and being saved and robbing
paradise at the last minute
aren’t my scene either.

I stand under the cross wishing I could say,
“I am thirsty!” wishing my faith
was thirstier, but it’s not.

I stand under the cross in the dark
seeing the spit and the blood
on the ground,
wondering down deep if the echo
of curses in the air still being thrown at Jesus
are my inner sounds. I hope not. No. Never.

I stand under the cross and hear,
“Father forgive them because
they don’t know what they are doing.”

I stand under the cross saying and praying
“That’s me. You know me!
Into your hands O God,
I hand over my spirit. Amen.”

© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011



The title of my homily is, “In 25 Words or Less: What Does the Cross Mean to You?”

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. If someone asked you to explain to them what the cross means to you - what would your words be? Could you answer that in 25 words or less?

If someone saw that you had a cross around your neck or had a cross as a lapel pin on a suit or a jacket or outfit - or on a wall in your home and asked, “What does that mean?” What would you answer?

Would the best sermon idea for this feast be to have in our church benches, paper and those tiny church pencils - golf pencils that don’t have erasers - and ask folks to use the 3 or 4 minutes for weekday homily time to answer that question: “In 25 Words or Less: What Does the Cross Mean to You?”

Or what would it be like to ask all of you to go to one other person here in this church and tell that person in 25 words or less, what the cross means to you - and then that person does the same to you?

Today I ask all of you to jot down for yourself - sometime today - on this the feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross - what the cross means to you.


In Barnes and Noble and in any Borders book stores that are still alive - as well as Amazon or books on line, you can find a whole series of Books for Dummies. Is there a book, “The Cross for Dummies”?

I don’t think so, but I sat down this morning and came up with 10 short, quick comments on what such a book might contain - or what you might find in CliffsNotes on the Cross. [Cliff was Cliff Hillegass who started summary notes in Nebraska in 1958. It’s spelled, “CliffsNotes” and it’s one word.]

1) The Cross is the symbol for the Christian - the wood on which Christ died for us - to save us. [21 words]

2) Life has many crosses. I plan life to go this way - and something cuts across it every time. It’s called the Cross - especially when what cuts across our life changes everything: suffering, sickness, death, disaster. [37 words]

3) The Star of David is the symbol of Judaism for many Jews. The Crescent Moon is the symbol of Islam for many Muslims. The moon and the stars are in the sky. Christians believe that one person in the Trinity of God came down from on high to earth and became one of us - became a baby - a human being who lived and died as one of us. So the Christian symbol, the cross, is of the earth - not the skies - but reaching to the high heavens. In the night look up at the moon and the stars. They are beautiful - but they don’t have words coming from them like Christ on the Cross. [119 words]

4) The cross with the figure of Christ on it can be found in many Catholic Churches - perhaps few with so conspicuous a cross as we have here at St. John Neumann. It has great meaning. People when here look up to this mighty cross for help from Christ. This cross might seem too big till someone has a very big and very heavy cross to carry.  [65 words]

5) The cross is a gigantic bloody red  STOP  sign - announcing to the world: "STOP  killing each other." This is the same basic message of the Snake on the Pole that Moses saw. See and stop what’s killing you. [39 words]

6) “Greater love than this no one has - that they lay down their lives for their friends.” [17 words]

7) The cross is a gigantic tree - and sometimes when people sit under trees and ponder - apples fall on them and they discover the Law of Gravity - or  like the Buddha under the Bodhi tree they discover that desire is a fire that burns us every time - or like Mary and John under the tree of the cross,  they hear from Jesus on the Cross that the secret of life is not me - but the other - that we take care of each other. [86 words]

8) The cross is both the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - and the tree of life as found in Genesis.  Seeing the fruit of this tree the message is: "Take and eat!" [34 words]

9) Accepting and picking up one's cross - is a message from Jesus - that  follwing him means to do just that. [19 words]

10) The cross is mystery - never running out of meaning. [9 words]


So that’s homework and heartwork for today: “In 25 Words or Less: What Does the Cross Mean to You?”

[772  words]

Painting on top by Duccio di Buoninsegna [c. 1255 - c. 1319]

Picture above # 4 - St. John Neumann Church, Bestgate Road Annapolis, Maryland

Photo of Buddha Under a Tree by Dolores Monti - found on line.

Quote for Today - September 14,  2011

"People never disclose their own character so clearly as when they describe another's."

Jean Paul Richter [1763-1825]

Tuesday, September 13, 2011



The title of my homily for this feast of St. John Chrysostom is, “On a Pedestal.”

It struck me last night that I see two kinds of saints: those whom I put on a pedestal and those who can walk with us on our level.

I don’t know if that is true - but that is what hit me last night as I prepared this homily thinking about the saint for today: St. John Chrysostom. Tomorrow or next week I might revise my thoughts about two ways of looking at saints.
I put this out there - for your consideration: how do you see the Saints you know about? Do you see some of them up on a pedestal - way up there - and some of them sitting and walking and talking with you?

I put those saints I can’t identify with on a pedestal.


I'd put St. John Neumann and Blessed Seelos on street level.

I keep St. Alphonsus - who is up there on a pedestal above - here at St. Mary’s -  still on his pedestal. He was a strong character - and I picture him as tough to live with. I’ve read 5 biographies of him. I found him someone who was amazing - driven - a hard worker - someone who didn’t want to waste a minute of time - someone who could be very challenging.

Neumann and Seelos - both Redemptorists - were both hard workers - but different from Alphonsus. Seelos is sitting on a bench here in our Marian Garden - waiting for people to talk to him. Neumann, the quieter of the two, is on a pedestal in the courtyard at our St. John Neumann Church. I don’t want to take him off his pedestal, especially because he was only 5 foot tall. I wouldn’t mind living and working with both of them - on the same level.

St. Teresa of Avila - I picture her more down to earth. So I might take her down from her pedestal - up here on our high altar at St. Mary’s. If I had to "restatuize" her to bring her down to our level, I don’t know yet how I would imagine that.

St. John Chrysostom: he’s on a pedestal - a high pedestal -- one of the 8 Fathers of the Early Church. He was a great preacher. Some of his sermons went for 2 hours - and they still clapped. He challenged those in power in both church and state - as well as clergy. He wasn’t scared of anyone. As a result he had enemies and was exiled twice.


St. John Chrysostom wasn’t married - but he fits the description of how St. Paul pictures bishops should be - as described in today’s first reading.

Today’s first reading also gives a description of how a deacon should be. We have examples in the literature on how John Chrysostom was as a deacon: preaching, feeding the poor, helping the stuck, writing. That was at Antioch. When John Chrysostom was bishop in Constantinople, he removed two deacons from the clergy - one because he murdered someone -  the other because of adultery. Interesting….

Today’s first reading also talks about how women should act and be. Paul says they “should be dignified, not slanderers, but temperate and faithful in everything.” If you read about St. John Chrysostom you’ll read that he challenged some women - especially those of the court - on how they dressed and showed up for parties. When a silver statue of the Empress - Eudoxia - was put on a pedestal outside of the main church in Constantinople - everyone was praising it. Not John Chrysostom. When the Empress cheated a widow out of a vineyard, he spoke up and publicly criticized her. They were no longer cordial  to each other after that - and she wanted him out.

John Chrysostom tried to live simply, under budget, and get others - especially the clergy to live their calling. He made enemies - especially in the uppity up circles.

I can’t see myself doing any of that. So I’m a wimp - preferring the spoonful of honey gets more flies than a barrelful of vinegar approach to life. It also keeps one safe. John Chrysostom was more courageous than cautious, so that’s another reason why I put him up on a pedestal. Obviously, my approach - covering my hide -  is a self-centered approach to being a priest.


Who are your favorite saints?

Do you lump them all together?

What do you think of my division: those on the pedestal and those on street level?

This is just my opinion.

In the meanwhile,  I like the Blessed Seelos on a bench bronze statue in our Marian Garden. I like the bronze statue of St. John Neumann - in our church on Bestgate. Yet, if I had my choice I’d sculpt him walking - with a pack. There is a neat statue of him in our church in the Bronx, sitting with kids. I’d go with the walking theme because he was a great walker and died at the age of 49 on the streets of Philadelphia walking back home from the Post Office.


Images on this blog: Top - St. John Chrysostom in Glory. Middle: St. Alphonsus statue in St. Mary's Church High Altar. Seelos Bench in the Marian Garden her at St. Mary's Annapolis.  Bronze statue of John Neumann at St. John Neumann Church Annapolis. St. Mary's High Altar at St. Mary's.


September  13,  2011

Quote for Today

"Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgiveable?"

John D. MacDonald

Question: what is unforgiveable?

Monday, September 12, 2011


Quote for Today  September 12,  2011

"Religion is not an opiate,  for religion does not help people to forget, but to remember.  It does not dull people.  It does not say Take, but Give."

Bede Jarrett  [1881-1934], The Catholic Mother, 1956

Sunday, September 11, 2011



The title of my homily for this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time A is, “Hugs!”

I don’t know if I ever preached on the topic or theme of hugs, but the first sentence in today’s first reading jumped out and off the page from moment one - as I sat down to prepare this homily.

Here’s the sentence: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” [Sirach 27:30.]

Hear that sentence again: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” [Sirach 27:30.]

Great - interesting - imaginative - translation from the Greek by the New American Bible. It’s the translation we use at Mass. I checked out 7 other translations. None used the word “hug.” The New Revised Standard Version, which has the reputation for one of the best in accuracy, has, “a sinner holds onto to them.” I like “hugs”. I think it has a good hug on what the author is getting at.


I live with 9 other priests here at St. Mary’s in Annapolis and about 5 times this past week guys were asking each other at table, “Are you going to preach on September 11?”

By the time Friday rolled around, someone said, “The readings are very challenging. They talk about forgiveness. Imagine forgiveness as a theme for September 11th - forgiving not 7 times, but 77 times.”

Television, the newspapers, radio, magazines - the talk shows - are giving some powerful reflections and remembrances by all sorts of people about how September 11th changed the United States - how it changed the world - how it changed our lives.

I picked up that the question is not, “Where were you on September 11th? But: how did September 11th change you and change our life?”

I was wondering if that will happen with the earthquake question. It’s still, “Where were you when the earthquake happened?” Will the question become, “Did it change our lives?” I don’t think so, but I do think the recent 9.0 March 15, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan will continue to earthquake many of the lives of the people there.


Is one of life’s most important learnings: I am not in control?

We can learn that from all the rain - the hurricanes - the weather - fires - the earthquake - nature in all its power and surprises.

We can learn that from each other. I can’t control my kids - especially once they are in college and after college - and whom they are living with - and whether they go to church or what have you.

We’ve all  heard horror stories of a spouse saying to a spouse: “I’m out of here!”

We can also learn this from when the surprise of cancer or any heavy duty health problem or disaster that surprises us.


Once more the first reading begins: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”

The most basic reaction to horrendous happenings like storms or fire or rain or earthquake or divorce or death or what have you is: anger, wrath, hate, fear, fury, rage.

I hate it when I can’t control it.

And do we stand there hugging ourselves like this - [self-hug gesture] - because we’re so angry or so powerless - or so frustrated.

And do some people who are burnt, earthquaked, ruined, washed out, flooded, destroyed, hug their anger and wrath against God or life or others - for the rest of their lives?

Bitter is not better. Better is better. Best is when the power comes back.

I remember being stationed at a retreat house in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania from 1976 till 1984. People came on retreat who still hadn’t gotten over the 1972 hurricane Agnes. That one was a big wipeout of many people in the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. This all came back to me as I watched the evening news the other night. People in West Pittston, Wilkes Barre, Forty Fort, Pennsylvania were shown staring at their flooded homes.

I think of all those who lost loved ones in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center Towers in New York.

Today - this past week - this coming week - the future - how are all the families who lost loved ones doing with so many reminders?

I hope people have been hugging each other and holding onto each other - as well as helping each other to start again and again and again.

That September 11th, 2001 a lot of people screamed, ran, panicked, as well as hugged each other - total strangers needing help from total strangers.

Down deep we all know the truth of the 1964 song, “People.” "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world."

I hope people who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan are also helping and hugging each other - to give each other strength and support in dealing with the horror of decisions and the circumstances of war. If September 11th hadn’t happened, many would still be alive. If September 11th hadn't happened, what would our economy look like now? If September 11th hadn’t happened, what would our world look like now?

Anniversaries trigger “if questions”.

September 11 happened. Decisions were made. People were killed.

I was at a non-church wedding in New York City a year before September 11th. It was a cousin’s kid and she and the guy she was marrying didn’t want any religion etc. in the wedding ceremony. We went. The seats were taken in the row my sisters were in, so I sat in the row in front of them. Surprise. I notice a priest is sitting there too. I found out that he was my cousins’ sponsor in AA or vice versa. I introduced myself - but I don’t remember names.

At the end of the ceremony he leaned over with a smile and made one comment to me. The only Bible reading they picked for their ceremony had the word “God” in it, Most translations of that Bible text don’t have the word God in it - because it’s not in the Greek - but the one they selected did. It was the Love is patient, love is kind, text from 1st Corinthians 13. This priest whispered to me, “God sneaks in every time.”

It was a great line and I used it for a homily title and message for a big school Mass here on our lawn the following week.

Just after September 11, a year later, my sister calls and tells me that Father Mychal Judge was killed. Then she adds, “He was the guy who sat next to you at Ann’s wedding.”

I also found out that the husband of another cousin’s kid - whose marriage I had done in a church - was one of the firemen who carried Father Mychal Judge’s body to St. Peter’s Catholic Church and put it on the altar. I also found out that Shawn Edward Bowman of Cantor Fitzgerald, age 28, the grandson of my god-father, Ernest, died that day.

I didn’t know these people that well - yet I wonder like everyone else - how well have all the living of those who lost loved ones that day doing? How well have they learn to deal with the horror stories of life?


The theme in today’s first reading and gospel is forgiveness.

Did the servant in today’s gospel hug his master when he forgave him his huge debt? The gospel only says he did him homage.

He might not have hugged his master - because the gospel for today says he went out and didn’t forgive a fellow servant who owed him a tiny bit in comparison.. He didn’t do what his master had done for him. He had the guy who owed him money put in prison till he got his money back.

And you heard and you know the kick in the teeth in this story.

The community screamed about injustice and told the master about what this guy did. And Jesus tells us in this story that the master reneged on the forgiveness and lowered the boom on the unforgiving servant.

And the obvious message is that we can be like that man - having our trespasses forgiven - but not forgiving when we are trespassed against. We can go through life holding onto hurts and memories - hugging lots of stuff - anger, wrath, greed, envy, unforgiveness, selfishness.

And the obvious message for our world is that we need to forgive those who hurt us - including extremists.

This doesn’t mean we don’t stay vigilant and take off our shoes at the airport - and report suspicious stuff. But it does mean that our world needs to do what the world did that week and month or so after September 11, 2001. We were talking turkey together with Russia and China about working together to try to stop this from happening again. Then we went back to old divisions. We were in a world where the Berlin Wall had come down - and a new world division went up - with Muslims - a wall not made out of brick - but made of suspicion, lack of trust - fear - war - terrorism.


I better conclude. I better try to bring home something practical for you this morning.

Bring what?

When someone comes to me as priest with a problem - or what have you - I usually tell folks something I learned from a Sister Maureen McCann in a talk she gave many, many years ago. She is Sister of Mercy from Dallas, Pennsylvania. She said life has 3 steps: Illusion, Disillusionment and Decision.

The dinner we choose at the restaurant looks great on the menu - some menus even show a picture. Then the plate is placed before us.

Sometimes it’s not what we expected. It’s not how we pictured it. It was an illusion. As we cut it up and chew, it might have gristle, etc. We’re disillusioned. Everyone around us chose better. It’s decision time. Am I going to fold my arms in anger and frustration and want to send it back or send a message to the waitress with my face or grunts, so she’ll tell the chef that there is a customer on table 13 that is steamed? Or do we make a decision to enjoy or make the most of with what’s on our plate.

The person we married isn’t all that they cracked up to be. It was an illusion. Life has disillusionment. He or she might be better than expected - but sometimes couples tell me they had to go through a tough period there. And they had to make a decision. Hey in our vows we promised each other to each other for life - for better for worse .... And surprise, sometimes they discover the second decision, renewed and revisited vows to make their marriage work, makes it work.

What we think of life, how it was going to work for us, was an illusion. When we find ourselves disillusioned, then we need to make some big decisions.

What we think of Islam, what they think of us, is an illusion.

What we think preachers ought to say on September 11th is our illusion. Sermons can be a disillusion. Hopefully, the sermon contains something that will challenge those who are listening to it to make some decisions.

As preacher I know it's an illusion to think that everyone is listening. I know I'm often somewhere else. However, my hope, my fantasy, is that a lot of people are talking to each other today - about their take on all this - where they need to forgive others or understand others better - give each other a good hug and then move on to the next step in one's life - together.  Amen.


Photo on Top: Getty Images - "NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Nancy Gregory, hugs her sons Carl, left, and Gregory as they pay their respects to her husband firefighter Ken Kumpel at the National 9/11 Memorial during the tenth anniversary ceremonies of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade...."  I copied both picture and text from the Internet.

Quote for Today - September 11,  2011

"Out of the dusk a shadow,
           Then a spark;
Out of the clouds a silence,
           Then a lark,
Out of the heart a rapture,
          Then a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
           Life again."

John Bannister Tabb  [1845-1909], Evolution