Saturday, February 11, 2012


February  11,  2012

Quote of the Day - Eleventh Day of Black History Month

"If you don't like Louis Armstrong, you don't know how to love."

Mahalia Jackson [1911-1974]

Photograph of Mahalia Jackson by Carl  Van  Vechten  [1880-1964]

Friday, February 10, 2012



The title of my homily for this 5th Friday in Ordinary Time is, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!”

We have here in Mark 7: 31-37 a wonderful healing story by Jesus - healing someone’s hearing as well as one’s speaking.

The obvious message is to use those words for prayer.

How about keeping  that scene in mind each morning and pray those words. Hear those words from Jesus to help us to hear well this day - to speak well this day.

“Ephphatha! Be Opened!”

“Ephphatha!” is one of those dozen or so Aramaic words - the language Jesus spoke - that can be found in the New Testament [1]

Suggestion: take your hand and touch your ear in gesture prayer, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!” Then touch the other ear praying, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!” Then touch one’s tongue. Touch it and say, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!”


I would assume it’s significance in this story is that it includes both ear and tongue - listening and speaking. Both ….

I would assume that the openness includes not just the mouth but the ears as well - and not just one’s ears and one’s mouth - but to open one’s mind and heart and hands.


In preparing this homily last night I found a quote and an anecdote.

You might have heard this from Father Mahoney - because I got his room and some of his books.

Aesop the famous creator and gatherer of Fables and Anecdotes was asked what was the most useful thing in the world. He answered, “The tongue.” Then when asked what was the most harmful thing in the world, he gave the same answer: “The tongue.”

Then the book I found this in told Aesop's fable about the 3 bulls who were always together. A big lion kept watching them from a distance - hoping they would stray from each other and he’d have one, two or three great meals.

The 3 bulls never separated. What to do? What next? Somehow, it’s sort of contradictory in the story, the lion whispered into the ears of each bull some gossip and bad stories about the other 2. It worked. Jealousy and anger got them to avoid each other and sure enough it was easy pickings for the lion. He had 3 great meals - and that’s a lot of bull.

A community, a family, a group, a marriage, can fall apart when gossip or jealousy starts with little stories and the rest is history. Gossip and jealousy, whisper and whining - need a tongue and at least 4 ears. Gossip and jealousy separate people from people.


Today: today - right now - we’re at the beginning of a new day and we’re using our tongues to pray to God and our ears to listen to God.

Today’s first reading - 1 Kings 11:29-32 - continues telling us of the breakup of the 12 tribes of Israel - when the whole tribal federation of North and South broke apart. They divorced and separated.

The key message in today’s Psalm 81 is to “hear the word of God” and not be “hard of heart”. When folks stop listening to God and listening to each other - when folks stop working and talking with each other - they do this because they have started to listen to false gods and selfish alternatives and individuals, families, tribes and nations fall apart.

Today’s gospel tells us to hear  and then ponder or meditate on the story of the person Jesus healed of hearing and speaking problems. Stop and think. Realize! It could be me!

So once more my suggestion: take one hand and touch one of my ears in gesture prayer, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!” Then  touch the other ear and pray, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!” Then one’s tongue. Touch it and say, “Ephphatha! Be Opened!”

*******       *******     *******

Picture on top: "The Deaf Man of the Decapolis,"  Mark 7: 31-37, Robert T. Barrett - Notice the "do!"

[1] Maranatha, abba, raca, ephphatha, mammon, Eli, eli, lama sabactani, Rabbuni, hosanna, korban, jot, title, sikera, Boanerges, Cephas, Tabitha, Bethesda, Golgotha, Gabbatha, Gethsemani. 

February  10,  2012

Quote for Today - Tenth Day of Black History Month

“We look into mirrors but we only see the effects of our times on us - not our effects on others."

Pearl  Bailey   [1899-1974] 

Thursday, February 9, 2012


February  9,  2012

Quote for Today - Ninth day in Black History Month

"You got to find some way of saying it without saying it." 

Duke Ellington, [1899-1974]


"Mood Indigo"  is the name of the musical piece on top played by Duke Ellington and his band.  The blues ....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012



When we hear this story by Jesus,
the parable of the wicked tenant farmers [Mark 12:1-12],
we hear some terrible things:
people beating other people,
people hurting other people
people stoning other people,
and then people killing other people.


Whenever something terrible happens, especially one person hurting another person, people always ask the question: Why? Why do people do these things? Why do people do bad things to other people? Why?

But people should also ask the opposite question: Why do people do good things to other people? Why? Why? Why? [1]


And the answer at the bottom of all the wondering is that people have freedom of choice. We all have the power to do good or evil.


We can help or hurt.

We can construct or destruct.

We can build or tear down.

We can love or hate.

We can praise or blame.

We can light a candle or curse the darkness.

We can do good or evil.

We have the power of choice.

We can gossip, curse, blame, ruin another’s reputation or we can compliment and expression our appreciation of one another.


We can use a knife to cut bread or cut someone.

We can use words to say to another, “Hey that was a neat thing you did yesterday for Charlie?” Or we can say, “You were really showing off when you drove Charlie to the mall yesterday.”

Words can lift or knock down.

We can use sticks and stones to build a home or to break windows and hurt the inhabitants.


It’s like we have two rooms. The first room is filled with light and the other is filled with darkness.

We have the choice of whatever room we want to live in or dwell in most of the time.


I remember a  Peanuts cartoon that went something like this. Lucy draws a big heart on a fence. Then she draws a line right down the middle of the heart to divide in two. She fills in one side with chalk. Then pointing to her drawing she says, “This is the human heart. One half of our heart is always fighting the other half.”


The American Indians used to say we have two dogs within us. One is a good dog; the other is bad dog. And they are always fighting each other.And then when a kid asked the teacher, "Which dog wins?" And the teacher says, "The one we feed."


The choice is always ours.


Let me conclude with one of my poems. It’s called, “The Two Hands.”


I am a fist,
a sign of fear,
a sign of anger,
a sign of greed,
a sign of tension

I can pound a desk,
I can hoard money,
I can try to scare you,
I can punch you
in the mouth.

I am a fist.

What do you think of me?

I am an open hand,
a sign of calm,
a sign of ease,
a sign of peace,
a sign of relaxation.

I can dial a phone,
I can shake a hand,
I can change the diapers,
I can play cards,
I can break the bread,
I can heal the hurt,
I can write the poem.

I am an open hand.

What do you think of me? [2]



[1] Jacques Maritain [1882-1973] used to answer the Problem of Evil with the Problem of Good.

[2] Listenings, The Thomas More Association, Chicago, Illinois, (c)   Andrew Costello, 1980, p. 107



The title of my homily for this 5th Wednesday in Ordinary Time is, “Off On: The Within.”

Jesus was off on many things.  Every once and a while it would be worth it to sit by oneself and ask, “What was Jesus off on?”

It would also be worth while to reflect on what people are off on.

We’re all off on various things: neatness, exactness, The Golden Rule, be calm, relax, be kind, no gossip, be on time.

If you have the courage, ask those who know you, one to one, “What do you see me being off on?”

Be ready for surprises.

On some things others know us better than we know ourselves.

You’ve heard us priests here at St. Mary’s. You know what we’re off on by now. People sit there at homily time and ask, “Okay, what’s he saying today?” You listen and then you say, “Okay today he’s off on …………….”


Back to Jesus …. What was Jesus off on?

Sacrifice. Humility. Freedom. Truth. Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength - and love your neighbor as yourself. Visit the sick. Feed the hungry. Don’t block children from your life - they’ll show you what the kingdom of God is like. Don’t throw stones. Go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Put an end to any string of violence by stuffing it - even if it kills you. Don’t throw rocks. Forgive 70 x 7 times. Give your body. Give your blood. Give your time. Give your life for others. Etc. etc. etc.


When we hear the gospel for the day [Mark 7: 24-30], we can ask, “Okay, what is Jesus off on today?” 

That’s how I prepare a homily.  I read the gospel and ask that question. Or I read the first reading and ask, “What’s this reading getting at?”

Yet I know: just as two people looked out prison bars, one saw mud the other saw stars. So I know: two people read a bible text. One sees mud the other sees stars.

I quoted that “Two people looked out prison bars….” quote yesterday to a lady I was talking to and asked her which person was she like. She had been seeing mostly negative things in her family. She paused and said, “I see stars in the muddy puddle!” Then she laughed a great laugh. Then she smiled a great smile.

So what I hear Jesus off on today is the importance of the within.


Go within.

You’ve heard the quote: "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with that first step."

Sometimes the longest journey is the journey within.

That’s where we can meet the real me.

Bringing in today’s first reading [1 Kings 10:1-10] - we can ask who was the real Solomon? Who was the real Queen of Sheba? In today’s first reading, Sheba arrives with lots of gifts and lots of praise.  Don’t we hesitate when someone is pouring on the cream and covering us with butter. When someone gives us all kinds of praise and all kinds of gifts, don’t we wonder:  what does this person really want? What are they after?  And the writer of this first reading today accolades Solomon to death. Who was he really? Ask his wife? Smile. First Kings 11: 4 says he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Did anyone really know the real Solomon or the real Sheba?

The real Jesus seems to be off on the inner room stuff. Who am I when I’m alone?  Who am I when I’m in my tabernacle? Who am I when I’m on my own cross - and nobody else is down below or next to me on either side on my Calvary.


I learned from St. Alphonsus - in that aloneness - invite Jesus into our inner room - or enter into that inner room of Jesus.

And surprise what happens next. Alphonsus, who could be very testy at times or all scruples at times discovered the love of Jesus Christ - to love Jesus and feel his love for us. The Introduction to his classic 1768 book: The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, with this statement which I end my homily with: “The whole sanctity and perfection of a soul consists in loving Jesus Christ, our God, our sovereign good, and our Redeemer.”

February  8,  2012

Quote for Today - Eight Day of Black History Month

"No two men can be half an hour together but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other."

Samuel Johnson [1709-1784], combating the theory that all men are equal. [James Boswell [1740-1795], Life of Johnson, 1776

Tuesday, February 7, 2012



The title of my homily for this 5th Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “Inside and Underneath The Words and the Prayers.”


In today’s first reading, (1 First Kings 8:22-23, 27-30) Solomon is in the temple that he helped build. He stands there before the altar of the Lord - praying out loud in the presence of all the people.

We can picture the scene. We can hear his prayer. Our first reading gives us the words Solomon prayed.

The same thing happens here in church. We can see each other praying. We can also see a priest praying up front at an altar - saying words and prayers out loud in front of the people.

The title of my homily is, “Inside and Underneath The Words and the Prayers.”

I’m sure you have heard some of us priests voicing our frustration with this new translation. Some might have said it out loud - and some of you might have seen it in our faces.

I have various thoughts and questions - some of which I am still trying to figure out for myself. The outside of many of these prayers are tongue twisters with words that are foreign to my ear. However, the words and prayers are now set - so I hope as time goes by we somehow get used to these prayers - so we can pray the prayers and not just read them - or fumble through them.


Today’s gospel (Mark 7:1-13) has a central issue that Jesus is off on: not being a Pharisee, not being a hypocrite, not being an actor - not just being muttering words with our lips while our heart is in a far country.

Have you seen the TV commercial where a guy is sitting down with his wife or girlfriend at a table in a restaurant. It’s a romantic moment. A woman and a man at a small table. He’s looking down and she says, “Were you just looking at your phone to get the scores?” And the guy lies and says, “No, well, no, no, no…” or something like that. The ad is for buying some new kind of great fast cell phone or gadget.

We’ve all seen priests in the middle of a prayer or a sermon look at his watch. We were taught in the sermon classes is deadly dumb.

How good are you at reading minds - or understanding another’s motives?

Women are supposed to be better than men in multi-tasking. Can someone have their mind on two or four things they are doing at the same time? Can a wife be kissing her husband while watching the boiling water on a stove - shaking a lid? Is a kiss just a kiss - a word just a word - or is much more or less. “As Time Goes By” the truth from underneath will finally boil over.

I remember going to see a matinee of a musical on Broadway. We got some seats in one of those small balcony boxes just up the side aisle. We couldn’t see the whole stage - but we could see the orchestra pit below. It was very interesting watching a play for the whole musical. I began noticing that a violinist had on his music stand a copy of the New York Daily News and he read from the newspaper the whole matinee.

I remember hearing priest gossip about so and so somewhere who was always looking over people’s shoulders as he scanned and worked the room - as he was supposedly talking to someone up close and personal?

Where are we when we’re talking to each other? Where are we when we are praying? Sometimes - as we all know - we are not where we are.

I preached about distractions being part of prayer on Sunday.

However, I found myself thinking afterwards a corrective. Is prayer also an attempt to say to God, “I’m giving you my undivided attention and then trying to do just that?”

In doing that - does that better help us to give each other our undivided attention all day and vice versa?

Tricky stuff. We’ve all heard each other’s stories many, many times. We’ve all said our prayers many many times.

So maybe there is a crazy value to all these prayers in the new translation. We have to stop and think more about what is really being said. Time will tell.


Where are we this morning - right now - in this temple - at this Mass right now.

Where are dental hygienists when they are in someone’s mouth? I don’t know, but I hope they are not with the gunk between in between my far back lower teeth. I have a cleaning this Thursday morning at this time. I’ll have to ask.

In the meanwhile, let’s mean what we say and sing what we sing - and enjoy the presence of our God with each other.

“Play it again Sam.” “As time goes by.”

February  7,  2011

Quote for Today - the Seventh Day of Black History Month

"One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he [Sammy Davis Jr.] was asked what his handicap was. 'Handicap?' Talk about handicap - I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew. Do I need anything else'?"

This story is referred to in the Wikipedia article on Sammy Davis Jr. [1925-1990]

Monday, February 6, 2012


February  6,  2012

Quote for Today - Sixth Day in Black History Month

"Words mean more than what is set down on paper.  It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning."

Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, 1970

Sunday, February 5, 2012



The title of my homily for this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B - is, “Glass Floors.”


In Capernaum, a town and a tourist place in Israel, there is a church you can enter which the tour guides and archeologists say is built on top of Simon [Peter] and Andrew’s house - the house mentioned in the opening sentence of today’s gospel.

A first house - which some conjecture that Simon Peter and Andrew lived in - is dated from the 2nd century B.C. to late 1st century A.D.

Archeologists also think that house became a community gathering space as early as the 3rd quarter of the 1st century A.D.

As time moved on various changes took place. Walls were built which then separated that house a bit from the surrounding homes - because it became a house church. Graffiti, words in various languages, found on broken pieces of broken walls - indicate that it had become a church that was visited by folks from all over - hence the various languages on the graffiti.

So it moved from being a regular home to becoming a Christian gathering place to becomnig a church house in those early centuries. Then an octagonal Byzantine church was built on top of all that in the 2nd half of the 5th century.

Today a visitor walks up about 15 steps into a round - octagonal modern church - dedicated June 29th, 1990. It was built on huge pillars - over the old ruins. Surprise, there is a section in the center of this new church where there is a glass floor. A visitor can look down into the archeological ruins of Simon Peter and Andrew’s house below.

I was there during my one visit to Israel - January 2000. The glass floor was a neat surprise because it showed the dusty ruins of a house from long ago.

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon - but before they built a deck called - “the Skywalk”. It’s 70 feet out over the canyon. It has a glass floor. You can stand there and look down 4000 feet below. If you’ve been to the Governor Calvert House here in Annapolis, there is a tiny section off to the side after the lobby that has a glass floor. It shows a tiny, tiny, old, underneath section of the building from way back. It’s nothing like the glass floor over the Grand Canyon or the glass floor in the church in Capernaum - but I hope it would help with what I want to talk about today.


Okay, that’s my opening image for this homily.

My main comment or homily thought would be the following. If someone could see into our home through a glass roof, or glass walls or floors, what would they see? It’s basically the fly on the wall image.

What would they see? What would they see going on inside of us?

Next if our skull was made of glass, and someone could see our thoughts and feelings, our dreams and our nightmares, our joys and our sorrows - what would they see and hear?

That’s a basic clear question. That’s my homily thought.

There is one person who can do just that: me, myself and I.

We believe God can do as well.

We would also hope that would be an ingredient in a great marriage - symbolized my nakedness - people seeing through each other - people getting to know each other. It is the value of transparency - which is very essential for marriage. It’s also essential for healthy relationships. Of course there is an “It all depends” in all this - as a notice on the side of label of the container called me. It all depends what kind of relationship we're dealing with. We don’t have to reveal all to all - unless we’re running for president - and investigators are hired to find out everything - otherwise ….


Today’s 3 readings let us look with our imagination through glass walls, floors, ceilings, doors, into the inner life of various people.

In the first reading we’re watching and hearing a play - a story - about Job. It’s one of most long running plays in history - the story of Job.

In today’s first reading we hear what Job is thinking.

Job, a wealthy man, loses everything - ten children, cattle, reputation. He gets leprosy or some kind of skin disease. The story, the play, tackles the question of suffering and God and how we deal with life - especially when horror comes. Does evil happen because of our sins? Well what about a just person - when he or she suffers? Do we scream at God?

Today’s first reading gives a tiny piece of one of the speeches by Job. Since we heard the New American Bible translation, I’ll use the Jewish Study Bible translation right now and put in verse 5 that has been cut out of our reading - maybe to avoid something that might see gross. We’re not eating right now.

               “Truly man has a term of service on earth;
                 His days are like those of a hireling -
                 Like a slave who longs for [evening’s] shadows,
                 Like a hireling who waits for his wage.
                 So have I been allotted months of futility;
                 Nights of misery have been apportioned to me.
                 When I lie down, I think,
                 “When shall I rise?’
                 Night drags on.
                 And I am sated with tossings till morning twilight.
                My flesh is covered with maggots and clods of earth;
                skin is broken and festering.
                My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle,
                And come to an end without hope.
                Consider that my life is but wind;
                 I shall never see happiness again."

Today’s second reading gives some thoughts from Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He’s telling us his motives for preaching - which are invisible to outsiders. He says things like, “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”

In this Sunday’s gospel, we hear of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law at the house I began this homily with. Then the whole town was at the door and Jesus healed many who were sick - as well as driving out many demons. Then we read about Jesus sneaking out to find a deserted place - to find some time and place for prayer. Then the search is on to find Jesus. Simon comes with others and finds Jesus in prayer and says, “Everyone is looking for you.” And Jesus says, “Let us go on to nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”


Today’s 3 readings get us inside people’s minds and hearts - to see what they thinking and what their motives are.

In the Book of Job, the devil argues with God about people’s motives.

Suggestion: attend the play called “Job”. Be with those who down through the centuries have found a quiet place to read the Book of Job. It’s a classic. Better suggestion: do this with another or others. Read out loud and ponder, discuss, and think out loud with each other the Book of Job.

Next, look up on line or find a copy of the play, "JB" by Archibald MacLeish - and read that out loud.

As you know, a good play is like sitting there looking through a glass wall and getting inside people’s minds. Shakespeare - as well as good movie - or plays of folks like Arthur Miller - do the same.

Brian Friel’s 1964 play, Philadelphia, Here I Come, was a great play for me. The scene I remember the most had a family saying the rosary together - something we did all through our childhood. I never enjoyed that - 15 minutes felt like 15 hours. And in Friel’s play, we see on on stage the family praying together and then on  stage the light goes on and we see scenes about what the different people in the family saying the rosary were thinking during the rosary.

Talk about distractions in prayer ....

In time I found out: that is one of the most important parts of prayer. It is to see through the glass - watching and learning from one’s distractions.

Yet people still confess having distractions during prayer. I preach that we ought to become more and more aware of our specific distractions during prayer, during Mass. See them as if you’re watching a play - and you’ll be seeing through a glass floor down deep into what’s going on in your soul.

The key is to get to motives.

Today’s second reading and gospel challenge me this weekend about why I’m preaching - and how I preach. It asks me about my motives. My goal is that nobody notices me in the pulpit - that nobody hears me - but they only see and hear themselves and what’s going on in their inner life - what their motives are.

Where do these readings take you this weekend? Why do you do what you do?

I’ve said in a dozen sermons that my favorite poem has just two words in it - and it rhymes - and it’s very easy to memorize.


And then I like to add, and it usually gets a smile and a tiny chuckle,  that I wrote the world’s second shortest poem . It also has two has two words and it too rhymes.


In this homily my stress is on me, myself and I - the I Why question.

Relationship questions is another sermon - the You Who Question.


Coming to church is a time to close our eyes and look down through our glass floor and see our “why’s”. Sometimes it's like looking through "a glass darkly" - the old translation of an image in First Corinthians 13:12 - but in time hopefully our motives become clearer.

Coming to church is a time to close our eyes in prayer and look down through our glass floors and see who we really are.

Coming to church is a time to close our eyes in prayer and look down through our glass floor and see all the people in our life - our mother-in-law, our brother, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, neighbors, all those people on the stage of our life all week - and see how we’re treating each other.

Coming to church is a time to close our eyes in prayer and look through our glass floor and see if there is anyone in our life we are hiding from - and they are looking for us - like Simon went looking for Jesus in today’s gospel.

Coming to church is a time to close our eyes in prayer and look through our glass floor and see how we might be like Job and we need patience in dealing with life’s horrors: deaths, loss of jobs and stuff, etc. and how God is not just looking at us from afar - as it seems to be happening in Job and many people’s lives - but then there is Jesus who is looking for us to heal us where we need healing. Amen.



On top: Picture of interior of church above Peter and Andrew's home.

Next picture: picture of 1990 church above the ruins. Notice glass floor.

Next picture: Skywalk Grand Canyon.

February 5, 2012,

Quote for Today - Fifth Day of Black History Month

“If Rosa Parks had not refused to move to the back of the bus, you and I might never have heard of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Ramsey Clark, on effectiveness of individual protests, New York Times, April 14,  1987.

Picture on top: Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, February 4, 1013 - October 24, 2005. The picture is dated 1955 with Martin Luther King Jr. in the background.

Have you ever publically protested for or against anything?