Saturday, March 17, 2012



The title of my homily for this feast of St. Patrick is, “Gee Geography!”

And I’m not stuttering. And I’m not spelling G, “G”, but “GEE!” as in calm or exited amazement.

Haven’t we all said, “Gee!” when we look around at our surroundings - as in a mountain meadow or we’re in a small boat on a luscious lake or bay or standing midtown in a big city or we’re a visitor at the bottom of Main Street - Annapolis, Maryland and looking up the street on a Sunny Crowded Saturday afternoon, we say, “Gee. Look at all those Red Bricks! Did some mayor own a red brick factory? Gee, look at all the people. Gee, look at the T-shirt and Trinket Shops, Ice Cream Places, restaurants, O’Brien’s and McGarvey’s. Am I in the middle of Ireland? Gee, and I thought there was also a place named Riordan’s around here.”

Turning around 180 degrees, “Gee, look at the water - the yachts, the sails." Looking to our left, “Gee, the Naval Academy for the whole United States.” Turning to our right, “Gee that’s an old, tall, church spire up there: St. Mary’s Annapolis.”


Geography - we’re in it up to our shoe laces - if we’re standing. Geography we’re in it up to the seat of our pants - if we’re sitting. Wherever we are - we’re in geography.

"Geo" - the Greek word for earth, soil, ground….

Gee Geography - having a sense of space and place - sights and sounds - being grounded where we are and where we are from.

How good were you in Geography when you were a kid?

When your brought your report card home to be signed by a parent when you were a kid, did you get an A, B, C, D, E, F or a G - G for Good?

Are we our geography - where we’re from - where our parents are from? Are we nature or nurture or both? Do we have the geography of our parents in our body - in our looks. De we have our dad’s ears, our mom’s nose, our grandparents smile? Do we have the accent or our neighborhood - from our family and from the kids and teachers of our schools? Are we our geography?

Would we be any different if our roots were Switzerland compared to Sligo or Syracuse in Sicily or upstate, New York State?

Would we be different if we were brought up along the waters of Galway Bay - where my mom and dad were brought up in Ireland - and where their brother and sister - who also married each other - raised their children - while their brother and sister went to America and married over here and brought up their children a few blocks from the waters of the Narrows in New York Harbor - in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn New York - at 326-62 Street?

How much are we our geography?


Mark Dorley - a big broad shouldered - Holy Name Society Man - in Lima, Ohio, my last parish before coming to Annapolis, heard I was going to Israel for 13 days in January 2001. He asked, “Every night when I watch the Evening News and they show pictures of Israel, I always see dust and desert, brown and tan earth - and no grass. Well, when you get over there, find out what the sheep eat?”

The plane landed in Tel Aviv in early evening - but I had an aisle seat, so the only geography I saw was the inside of our big plane. By the time we got in the bus, it was dark and so I saw very little geography of Israel on the way to our first hotel - in the north - in the town of Tiberius - on the Lake of Galilee.

The next three days we toured the north - and there was green grass in lots of places - but especially - I could see great green fields and stuff growing as I looked down on the valleys and the plains from up top - on the Mount of the Transfiguration. So when I got back home to Lima, Ohio two weeks later, I was able to tell Mark Dorley, “The sheep are well taken care of, mind you.”

Gee Geography. As I stood there at the Lake of Galilee - as I looked there from bus windows - as I walked there in Nazareth - I kept thinking, “I’m seeing what Jesus saw. I’m seeing what Jesus saw: the birds of the air, the flowers of the fields, the fish of the lake of Galilee and the mountains and hills around and surrounding him.

How much did geography become Jesus? When he got down south to Jerusalem, they noticed the accents of Peter and the disciples and the hint is they looked down on these hillbillies from the north. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” [Cf. John 1:46]

Gee Geography. How much does geography form and mold and sculpt us?

In America, as they say, the first question is, “Where are you from?” or “I noticed your accent. Where are you from?” When asked that I love to answer, “62nd Street, between Toid and Foooorth Avenue, Brooklyn New York. Why do you ask?”

I grew up hearing my mom and dad speaking Gaelic to each other at times - and English to us. And the only Gaelic they said to us - especially my mom - were sayings with a smile when she called me an “Amadan” or a “Gom” - or when she’d describe a short, clumsy person, as a “Crabadan”.

How much did their Geography form them?

My mother often said in English to us, “Ireland has nothing!” Then she sometimes added, “When I got back to America after my first visit home to Ireland, I got down and kissed the earth of Boston.” She loved Boston, but she came down to Brooklyn to marry my dad - after working 10 years as a maid and servant in Boston to make money to bring her brothers to America.

I also loved to hear stories about Ireland from my mom and dad - especially on a day like today - St. Patty’s Day - when we’d go over by subway to the big parade - and then visit some relatives in Manhattan - who were also from Ireland. They lived in an apartment that had the smallest kitchen in the United States.

These memories and their comments - plus the photographs - I looked forward to the day I’d get to see where they were from in Ireland.

In 1996 - I finally got the chance to go to Ireland. My mom and dad were both dead many years by then. I went with my two sisters and one brother-in-law. My brother Patrick had also died - from Melanoma - the fair skinned cancer killer - back in 1986.

We get smarter as we get older. This time I had a window seat. Getting closer to Ireland - after coming across the waters from America - the pilot announced - early in the morning, “There she is, down below - the great green fields and hills or Ireland.”

Tears and cheers - but no beers in the morning. I don’t drink - but the beers would come later at my Aunt Nora’s place in Ballynahown, County Galway, a half hour from Galway City - past Salt Hill and Barna on the road along the Sea. On the ground, green, green, hills and earth were everywhere.

When I saw where my mom and dad were from, I realized from the geography what my mother meant when she said, “Ireland has nothing.” I could see poverty and possibility - but the possibility would be elsewhere. My grandmother - on my mother’s side - raised her children with the message, “America!” She had been here, but her father tricked her back home with the words and letters, “I’m sick and I’m going to die soon, so come back.” Guilt, Irish guilt brought her back home to Ireland where she got married off to my grandfather.

That trick by her father got my grandmother to send my mother, her oldest to Boston, to make money, to bring her 3 brothers over. The rest is history - but oops, I’m talking geography here.

In that first trip and my other trip to Ireland in 2008 with Dave and Hilda Alland and some of you, I saw that my mother was wrong. Ireland has riches - wonderful people - beautiful green mountains and hills - and the Celtic Tiger was let loose and was roaring. Right now Ireland has to start rattling in her cage again and get out and get loose again. And of course, if Ireland saved Western Civilization - she can save herself. Her people have plenty of Irish brains and slippery thinking to do just that. I love the story - I never found out if it was told by a graduate of the Blarney Stone or not - that when Irish farmers and shepherds found out that the European Union gave subsidies in  Euro’s based on the number of sheep you have, and they counted them by plane, the Irishman painted lots of rocks down below white!


The title of my homily is, “Gee Geography!”

On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate our roots, our heritage, our stories, and how we got to be where we got to be where we are today.

On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we who are Catholic, American Catholic, Irish Catholic, we come to a sacred place and space like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City or St. Mary’s Annapolis, and we sit and stand and kneel in prayer - prayers of Thanksgiving.

On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we who are Catholic, Irish Catholic, American Catholic, we worry that some of our children, some of our brothers and sisters, have strayed like lost sheep, looking for green grass, and they are not finding it in the geography of church - for various reasons - bad, mediocre, bored, lazy or sinful priests and bishops - whatever or whoever -  or what have you - so we hope and pray, the geography and the people in our church - will roar again - with a renewed faith and hope and charity - and the tiger of Celtic Spirituality will roar again in the geography of our souls. Amen.



Picture on Top - by Jim Malloy - from our Irish Trip in 2008

Picture of Galway Bay by Mary Connolly - Pittsburgh - what my mother saw when she looked out her back door.

Picture of the lake of Galilee in the distance - by someone.


March  17,  2012

Quote for Today - St. Patrick's Day

 “This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.” 

Sigmund Freud (about the Irish)

Friday, March 16, 2012



The title of my homily for this 3rd Friday in Ordinary Time is, “Questionnaire: Kingdom, Church or World?”  

My homily for today is a question: "Which of these 3 would you put first, second and third: Kingdom, Church and World?" 


Jesus says to the scribe in today’s gospel, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Then the closing line in today’s gospel follows: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Well, here are a few more questions and they can be asked in  prayer, “Jesus, where do you see me? Am I in the kingdom? Am I close or am I far from being in the kingdom?” 


Are there 3 types of people: those who put the Kingdom first, those who put the Church first, or those who put the World first? Then what people put second would bring out nuances amongst those who are clear on their first choice. 

When I used to do lots of Kids Retreats, I would ask the whole group on retreat to get up and stand in the middle of a big room or auditorium. Then to get kids used to making choices and to be able to say why they are saying, “Yes” to one thing and “No” to another thing, I’d say, “Look on the wall down there. I have a piece of paper with “1” on it. Now look at the wall on the opposite side, I have a piece of paper with a “2” on it. I’m about to give you 3 choices. 1, 2, or you can choose to stand still in the middle. That’s a third choice.” 

Then I’d say, “You are hungry, would you rather go to McDonald’s - that’s # 1 or would you rather go to Wendy’s - that’s #2 or if you don’t want to choose either, just stand in the middle - that’s #3.” I noticed that kids sometimes look to see what their friends are choosing - and really don’t choose for themselves. I would tell them this - and tell them this is a chance to think for yourselves - walk on their own - and choose for yourselves. 

Then I would do about 15 of these choices - always giving them the opportunity to stay in the middle. The choices would continue to get tougher. “Someone has bad breath. You would go and tell them - that’s #1. You would write them a note. That’s #2. And # 3 is to think of an alternative or you’ll do nothing.” Then I’d invite those who moved to either side back to the middle. “You have bad breath, would you ….” “It’s Sunday and ….” “You find a wallet and ….” [1]


So if I asked all of you to move to the center aisle and then said, “All those who would put Church first - stand up here in the sanctuary. All those who would put establishing the Kingdom first - go out into the lobby or narthex. And all those who would put World first go outside. It’s a beautiful day. And if you don’t want to make a choice or you’re not sure, stay where you are.” 

Wait that’s four choices! Correct. I’d do 4 choice exercises as well. 

Now there are Christian thinkers who say that Jesus didn’t mainly come to start a Church. Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom. 

Others would say, “The Kingdom yes, but you need a Church first to be the proclaimers of the vision of Jesus and a Church to help keep the dream coming.

Others would say, “Jesus’ first mission was to come to this World - to save the World and to bring all people together as one.” 

I would hope people would stand in the middle because they would ask, “Tell me more!” Or they are not sure just what I’m talking about. To be honest, I’m not sure about what I’m trying to figure out in this homily. It’s a first draft - and I’m trying to get my hands on this for years now. 


If you listen to the Gospels you hear Jesus talking about the World and the Church - and you also hear him talking about the Kingdom. “The Kingdom of God is like this…. The Kingdom of Heaven is like that…. It’s like a farmer who…. It’s like a king …. It’s like a merchant….” 

For years I’ve also tried to come up with a modern word for “Kingdom”. Would it be: “the Vision of Jesus?” Or the “Dream of Jesus?” Or “the Plan of God?” 

The person who sees Kingdom first can be any denomination Christian or even outside those categories. Matthew 25: 31-46 might be their favorite text. “I was hungry…. I was thirsty …. I was sick …. I was in prison and you visited me…. 

The Feast of Christ the King might be their favorite feast day - which has in the preface of its Mass. “As king he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” 


Jesus talks about his Church - the “EKKLESIA.” That’s Greek for “the gathering”. 

Jesus gathered disciples and said, “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name….” 

Jesus named Peter the head - the rock - upon which he would build his Church. The person who puts this first might stress the Pope, the structure, the organization first. 

They might put the Mass, praying together - but a lot more first. The Acts of the Apostles would be very important - especially those early chapters where the Gathering was coming together and growing day by day. [Cf. for example, Acts of the Apostles 2:47]


What about the World? Would anyone put this first? 

In the mid-1970’s I became part of the Better World Movement - started by the Jesuit, Father Ricardo Lombardi, in response to Pope Pius XII’s radio address known as his “Proclamation for a Better World.” 

Of all the retreats and programs I have made, their material had the most substance and insights that I have ever become part of. 

The goal was to reach out to the Whole World and try to see all people in the net of the Trinity. It was a movement from the I to the We, from the Me to the Community. 

It’s a long story. I'll just say that much - in case you think of World in a negative sense - and if you read the scriptures and theology - there is that negative take on the world - as in avoiding the World, the Flesh and the Devil. [Cf. for example, John 8:23; John 15:9; Romans 3:19; James 1:27; 2 Peter 2:20; 1 John 2:15]

If you read the Gospels you’ll notice that Jesus leaves home and starts to walk the roads of our world and visit its villages. Jesus talks about seeing and serving one’s neighbor who is beaten up on the road. Jesus notices the lady in the market place who touches just the edge of his cloak to be healed. Jesus says to see the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Jesus feeds the 5000 and heals the sick. 

The person who puts this first might be concerned about an end to racism, a spirit of welcome for all people, an end to division. 

There is the hope for fresh air, good water, a wonderful atmosphere for all. 

There is the call for all to work towards a world where justice is for all - and our structures are for community and for the common good. 

Preaching this attitude might be the royal road for reaching and reaching out to those who have problems with Church if they see it as self serving and insular and protecting itself - and lording it over others. “Oh,” they might realize, “the Pope is called to be the Servant of the Servants of God. Oh that’s what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I have come to serve and not be served.’” 

People with this attitude might like the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation where the words are, “May he make your Church a sign of unity and an instrument of your peace among all peoples….” Then in the next section - where there are prayers for those who have died, we pray for our brothers and sisters and those of every race and tongue who have died in your friendship. Listen to the words, “Bring us to share with the them the unending banquet of unity in a new heaven and a new earth, where the fullness of your peace will shine forth in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 


Would this be seen as an exercise in futility? 

Would this be seen as a silly children’s game? 

Would it get everyone to remain in the middle and talk to each other? 

Would we begin to see what Father Avery Dulles, another Jesuit, discovered with his classic study that there are different Models of the Church - and we need to listen to understand each other? I once witnessed a parish group studying Dulles' 5 Models of the Church - and then being asked to stand in one of 5 places in a big room. I don't remember if they were given a 6th option - to stand still in a neutral place. [2]

Would all this challenge us to get off our sedentary thinking to see what we’re thinking - to get us to see where our faith and hope and charity are resting - that we might love the Lord our God with our all our heart, soul, mind and strength - and love our neighbor as ourselves - as we heard in today’s gospel - so that we might help our Church help make “Thy Kingdom Come” on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


[1]  Check out Values Clarifications - A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students by Sidney B. Simon, Leland W. Howe, Howard Kirschenbaum, Hart Publishing Company, Inc. New York, 1972

[2] Avery Dulles, Models of the Church, Doubleday, 1974


March  16,  2012

Quote for Today

"When people seek counseling, they don't really want advice as much as for you to listen."


Thursday, March 15, 2012


March  15,  2012

Quote for Today - Feast of St. Clement Hofbauer

"Today I'll preach a sermon so simple that even the most stupid of you and even little children can understand."

St. Clement Hofbauer - according to a policeman who sat in the benches whose job it was to report what Clement said in his sermons. A police report also said, "It is absolutely frightening the way people are running after Hofbauer."

You Tube on top: Archbishop Joseph Tobin - former Redemptorist Superior General - and now Archbishop and Secretary of the Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life - Rome.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012


 The title of my homily for this 3rd Wednesday in Lent is, “Show Me Your Rules And I’ll Tell You Who You Are?”


 Today’s two readings both talk about rules and regulations, statutes and decrees laws and parts of laws. The speaker in Deuteronomy is saying, “Look at our rules and you’ll see how great we are.”


 Once upon a time I was in on making the rules. I had a job called “Novice Master.” Myself and another priest, Gil Enderle, had to come up with a rule book. We had General Statutes from Rome and Provincial Statutes from our province to guide us. We had to come up with particular laws - for our particular situation.

The first thing we did was to come up with other people’s rules books. We read them out loud to get the feel of them.

That was the first time I came up with the title of this homily, without really knowing it at first. “Show Me Your Rules And I’ll Tell You Who You Are.”

You could get a flavor of the author or authors every time. One Rule book from one of our European provinces was quite picky and particular. It was extremely specific - naming names on whom you could talk to or what have you. It had lots and lots of iddy biddy die picky, picky rules. So we came up with our own rule book and it was revised every year. “Show Me Your Rules And I’ll Tell You Who You Are?”

By looking at rules and regulations, laws and decrees, you can know an awful lot about a group or a people or the lawmaker.


The next realization I discovered is that there are rules and regulations everywhere.

If you check into a hotel, check the fine print rules behind the door in your room.

To get on an airplane, you can’t have this or that in your carry-on bag. Once inside the plane, right at the beginning of the flight we always hear, “No smoking!” and “No tampering with the smoke detector in the bathrooms under pain of a fine.”

Rules… rules … rules…. There are rules about drinking and driving and there are the rules of the highway. Every school, college, bar, has rules.

 Then there are house rules - the rules of the house. They are unwritten but listen carefully when you stay overnight in someone’s home.

 I was at a retirement of a Navy Captain a few weeks back over at the Naval Academy. The guy in his talk - with his mom present - the mother of 10 or 11 kids - described his mom this way: There are two kinds of mothers - helicopter mothers and B-52 bomb mothers. Helicopter mothers hover over their kids and B-52 bomb mothers drop their kids off from a distance and let them land and learn on their own. Our mom was a B-52 bomber mother.

 There it was 2 different personality types. I would assume the helicopter mom or dad would have a lot more rules and regulations for their kids than the B-52 bomber mom or dad.

As I thought about all this, sure enough everyone has rules and regulations for life. They are called assumptions and expectations and what have you. Two people date. There are expectations and rules and regulations - whether articulated or not.


We all have a whole list of commandments in our skulls. Everyone does. It’s our expectations on what makes a good Mass, sermon, meal, conversation, etc. etc. etc.

If somehow we could jot them down, like Moses did before coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments - could we say what the Book of Deuteronomy says today - that our rules are the best.

In fact, wouldn't we be embarrassed? Wouldn't some of our personal rules be rather selfish or what have you?

Listen carefully to  little kids. If someone gets a hug or the ice cream or the toy first, they let everyone in their surrounding sound area or arena know that they are angry and resent being #2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. Isn't the # 1 rule for many people, "Me, Me, Me First!"

Listen carefully to people - and not just parents to their kids. Their first commandment seems to be, “I want what I want when I want it.” 

Listen carefully to parents give counter commandments. “Share you toys with Jonathan.”  Dig deep into that command. Isn't that parents  trying to get kids to learn the Golden Rule - in just one more version, “How would you like it, if someone did to you, what you just did to your sister.”


 And on and on.

So the title of my homily is, “Show Me Your Rules And I’ll Tell You Who You Are?”

I’m saying that if we discover the rule book that is written on our heart, we’ll could learn a lot about ourselves.

So be honest. Be humble. Write. Look at. Share. Compare. Then rewrite and keep revising your own personal rules for life. Amen.


March  14,  2012

Quote for Today

"It seems to me 
that any one
who has a series of intolerable positions
to put up with
must have been responsible for them
to some extent ...
they have contributed to it
by impatience or intolerance,
or brusqueness -
or some provocation."

Robert Hugh Benson [1871-1914]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012



The title of my homily is, “It’s A Long Road from Forgiveness to Trust.”


Last night Father Harrison and I were watching some TV show. I missed the beginning of it - so I’m not sure what it was. Two guys who worked together had a fight. One guy was trying to get back into the other guy’s good graces. The guy who was being asked to forgive said to the other guy, “It’s a long road from forgiveness to trust.”

Hearing that I said to Father Harrison, “That’s a great line for a sermon: “It’s a long road from forgiveness to trust.”


Then last night I read today’s gospel to come up with a homily. Surprise! It’s all about forgiveness. It talks about forgiving over and over and over again.

I’ve always said to folks that forgiveness is a choice. It does not mean that we put a hurt out of our mind. In fact, we might feel the hurt for the rest of our life.

I’ve also said, “Forgetting is dementia.”

Moreover, it's my experience - for us old folks - long term memory is better than short term memory.

I’ve also said, “Sometimes by forgiving, the memory of a hurt, can fade a bit - perhaps because we chosen to forgive another and we have made an effort to stop rehashing and rehearsing the hurt over and over and over again.” Or as Marlene Dietrich said, “Once a woman has forgiven a man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”

So for starters there are two steps here: forgiving and forgetting.

Forgiveness has to do with the will.

Forgetting has to do with our memory - and when it comes to memory, there is nothing wrong with remembering. I believe that people need to hear that.

In fact, people like Thomas Szasz, who can be controversial as well as wise, says, “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive, but do not forget.”


I think this last quote has the issue of “trust” underneath it.

If someone hurts us big time, it’s wise to forgive them, because hurts need to scar - but if the other is into repeat performances - then why get hurt again?

Has this ever happened to you? We’re driving along and someone out of nowhere makes a left turn or a move and we brake - but if we didn’t brake, we might have hit them - right where there is in the other car - a big dent. And we say to ourselves: “This person will never learn.”

If any of you studied the 8 Stages of Life according to Erik Erikson in college, you know that the first stage is,  “Basic Trust vs. Basic Non-Trust”. The key developmental skill the little child needs to learn is to trust his mommy and daddy. Just watch little kids. When nervous their hand goes to their mouth - food is comfort and security - or they look for their mom or dad to run and cling to. If kids cry out for love and help and presence in the night or the day and nobody appears, uh oh, they can end up being in trouble for life. I was taught in pastoral counseling the following axiom: the bigger the problem, the earlier the problem. And the way I understand Erikson's last stage of life: “Ego Integrity vs. Despair” is this: at the end of my life, I look at my life and if it makes sense, great. Even though their were bumps and big potholes and crashes at times - along the road of life, I trust myself enough to say, “It was good!” If I look at my life and it was a disaster, then I could despair - or turn to God. That's why so many love the story of the Good Thief who stole heaven at the last hour. Good move!


The title of my homily is, “It’s A Long Road from Forgiveness to Trust.”

To get started, we need to begin to forgive others as well as ourselves. How many times: “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” - or as many times as it takes.

We make mistakes. Others make mistakes towards us. These mistakes don’t have to erase us - or reduce us to nothing or put us to shame as today’s first reading puts it.

So I assume the secret is get on the road and move along it from forgiveness to trust - step by step by step. Amen.


March  13,  2012

Quote for Today

"Listening brings wisdom; 
speaking brings repentance."

Italian Proverb

Monday, March 12, 2012


March  12,  2012

Quote for Today

"Years ago, I tried to top everyone, but I don't anymore.  I realized it was killing conversation.  When you're always trying for a topper,  you really aren't listening. It ruins communication."

Groucho Marx, The Groucho Phile, 1976

Sunday, March 11, 2012



The title of my homily for this Third Sunday in Lent - Year B -  is, “Is Anything Sacred?”

That’s the question that hit me as I reflected on today’s readings - especially today’s gospel.


Have you ever found yourself saying, “Is Anything Sacred?” or “Isn’t Anything Sacred Anymore?”

What was the situation? 

Was it something that happened in the park or on a train or bus - or even in a church?

Was it something said in a song or a scene in a movie?

Was it the tone in political discourse - in debate - in talk shows - in conversation with coffee?  November the 6th is a long way off.

Why do we talk differently when we talk about people when they are absent compared to when they are right there in our presence?

I think our everyday situations - can be looked at - in the light of Jesus’ everyday situations.

So what are the situations that get you to say, “Is Anything Sacred?”

What happened?

What was going on?

What triggered the feeling - the mismatch - the something’s wrong here reaction - the ugly anger in the moment or the situation because we didn’t expect what was happening to be happening?


In today’s gospel Jesus walks into the temple area in Jerusalem. It’s near the feast of the Passover. The place is filled with buying and selling. Something’s wrong. There’s a discord. Jesus makes a whip out of cords and drives all the animals out of the temple area. He turns the tables on the money changers. Coins and doves go flying. Jesus yells out his motive: “Take these out of here. Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Uproar results. Want to know why they crucified Jesus - as mentioned in today’s Second Reading? Here’s one reason. Here’s one scene.

What causes you uproar and agita?

What pushes your buttons?

What does your list of beefs look like?

Abuse of children? Offensive language? Going to a movie with kids and there’s a scene you didn’t expect? Noise in libraries? People who write in library books? People late for the play or the symphony and they come down the aisle rug in the semi-darkness  and their seats are is in Aisle C - numbers 11 and 12 - right in the center middle? Or a similar moment happens  at Mass. The reader is proclaiming the Second Reading.  Someone walks down the main aisle heading for a seat close to the front - and the person in that seat doesn’t  move in because they are going to give out communion or they like the aisle seat and the whole center of the church is watching - and missing the whole Second Reading?


What’s going on here is the issue of “awe”.

Where and when do we learn a style of courtesy?

What do we find awesome?

What do we find awful?

What demands our respect?

What do we reverence?

Answers: persons, places and things.

Today’s First Reading gives us a list of commandments - which have as their underneath bottom line: the sacredness of God, the Sabbath, each other, marriage, children, neighbor, aliens, animals, property.

When I was at my first assignment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1960’s, someone started a movement to clean our streets and improve our neighborhood. So on Saturday mornings in the Spring people came from all over the city to a street - say, “East Fourth Street from Avenue D all the way up to  2nd  Avenue.” With plastic bags and brooms, shovels and trucks, an army of cleaners cleaned the street.

Then there was a lot - the lot with lots of stuff. I often walked down a certain street and there was this small lot in the middle of that street where a building once stood. It was filled with bathtubs, sinks, shopping carts with 3 wheels, mattresses, bottles, newspapers, garbage bags ripped with insides spilling out, etc. etc. etc. It was a place where you dumped what you wanted to dump and get rid of.

This lot was more difficult to clean than to clean a whole street. Some folks took the time to find out who owned the property. They got permissions. They got dump trucks and front end loaders. They went to work on that lot. Volunteers cleaned it all out. They made brick  paths. They got topsoil. They planted grass and flowers. They built a fenced in area for dogs. They put in some cement tables - with nice benches.

It took a lot of Saturday mornings, but folks made it happen. Walking down that street after that - seeing old men playing cards or chess - seeing grandmothers with little children - going by that open space that once was a dump, a different feeling would hit me.

Awe was my reaction. “Oooh!” was my sound. If someone videoed my face when I went by the dump and compared it to my face when it was a space and place of beauty, I’m sure you could see a vast difference.

Everyone has the ability to feel awe. This is the major proposition of this homily.

What do you find awesome?

The teenage boy with the skateboard - and a buddy with a video camera - going down banisters and steps - when looking at a replay goes, “Awesome!”  Homeowners and those in charge of maintenance at schools go crazy at scraped paint off banisters caused by skateboarders.

Some people like Beethoven; some people like Bach; some people close their eyes and sway back and forth during a Taylor Swift concert.

It’s in us - the possibility of awesomeness as well as reactions to the gross and the awful - whether it’s graffiti or people talking in the middle of a great scene in a movie - and we’re crying or emotionally caught up in the story.

Respect is called for. Consideration of others is called for. Reverence is necessary.


Problems result when there are differences of how we see what we see or don’t see - compared to what others see and how they see.

My face twisted. My mouth said, “Ooooooh!” I winced when someone showed me their brand new blue car that was keyed by somebody in a Mall parking lot. Someone scratched it along the side from the front door to the gas cap.

If the culprit who did this - could be caught - what would they say - if anything? Would it be cruel and unusual punishment to put such a person in stocks in the city square - like the Dutch did in colonial American times - with the description of their crime listed next to them? Would they or their parents have the cash to pay for the restoration? Could their trinkets be sold for the cost of restoration? How could they be helped to grasp the golden rule?

When it comes to just dumping paper or plastic coffee or milk shake cups and cardboard wrappers on our parking lot here at St. Mary’s it seems better to me than in the past. How do we get people to have reverence not just for their living room floor - but the living room floor of a parking lot? Do we give a specific class in the school the job of cleaning a street or parking lot - and surprise, they get the message?

This past week we went with some high school juniors and seniors to a 4 day retreat in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Mr. Matt Martelli - a wonderful teacher at St. Mary’s high school - announces before and after we get started: “Keep this bus clean. There is a plastic garbage bag up here. Put your trash in it!”

The team asked that the kids have the same respect and reverence for the retreat house. I sense that people treat rented cars and rooms and places with less reverence and care than their own stuff.

Is reverence and a sense of the sacred innate or earned or learned?


How do we gain respect, reverence, a sense of awe?

A few weeks ago, out in the corridor here at St. Mary’s, I bumped into a couple visiting from somewhere. They dropped into St. Mary’s as part of a self tour of Annapolis. First or second graders had been in the church for a kids’ prayer service. The lady said, “It brought back memories and tears to my eyes when I saw the little kids walk into church with hands folded.”

Does reverence, respect, awe, come from practice, practice, practice?

Does the reverence kids who making their First Communion depend upon their parents? How much does the reverence teachers who prepare kids for communion effect what the kids pick up? If they are told to make a throne to receive the king of kings with their hands - would that excite and insight their being when they receive Jesus for the first time in communion?

I like to drop into the space of this church - when it’s empty - quiet - and just imagine the sacredness and history of this place. I think of the prayers said in this space during the Civil War, World War I, II, the Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars. I close my eyes and think of all those baptized, married, and buried from here. I think of the priests from here serving the Naval Academy and the Naval Academy people coming up the hill to worship and pray here.  Just as these benches have gum under the seats - maybe over 100 years old because chewing gum goes well back into the 1800’s - so too these benches have history sticking to them. I like to sit in here and read Robert Worden’s book on the History of Saint Mary’s Church. I sense the Jesuits who came here in the early 1700’s and said Mass at the Carroll House on the top floor next door - and on and on and on. Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos preached and prayed in this church.  Do we, do visitors to St. Mary’s, feel the same awe folks feel when they enter or are at  sacred spaces - like St. Peter’s in Rome, the Grand Canyon, Chartres Cathedral or Lourdes in France, the Lake of Galilee or the Wailing Wall in Israel? 

Would growing in reverence by being in this sacred space effect and affect how we receive Holy Communion, how we treat each other, how we visit folks in nursing homes, how we look at baby pictures by overwhelmed grandparents who meet us at a Lenten Soup Supper, how we feel when we drive by a cemetery or a funeral hearse and a stream of 25 cars in procession.


Is anything sacred?

The answer is, “Yes!”

Rearranging just two letters in the word "sacred" we have the word, “scared” - and I would hope we would be scared when we and our families and our society lose our sense of the sacred.


March 11,  2012

Quote for Today

"The first duty of love is to listen."

Paul Tillich, recalled at his death, October 22, 1965