Saturday, July 28, 2012


Quote for Today  - July 28,  2012

"Only the mind cannot be sent into exile."

Ovid [43 B.C. - A.D. c.18] Epistulae ex Ponto, c. 5

Picture on top: Prisoners in Siberia - 1897


Have you ever been sent into exile? Please explain.

Have you ever felt you were being exiled from your family, from a group, from a church or what have you?

Did your mind still see its freedom?

Friday, July 27, 2012


Quote for Today - July 27, 2012

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs."



Do you sense that you have a sense of humor? 

Have you ever been in a "itchy" or "touchy" or "uh oh!" situation and someone released the tension with a funny comment? Describe more specifically? 

Of those you know and associate with on a regular basis, who has the best sense of humor?

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Quote for Today - July 26,  2012

"One of the great satisfactions of the garden is that you're the priest and attendant through this annual ritual of birth and departure."

Stanley Kunitz - quoted in The New York Times, August 29, 1993

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Quote for Today - July 25,  2012

Be careful of simple words said often.

"Amen" makes demands
like an unrelenting schoolmaster:
fierce attention to all that is said;
no apathy, no preoccupation, 
no prejudice permitted.

"Amen": We are present. We are open.
              We hearken. We understand
              Here we are; we are listening 

              to your word.

"Amen" makes demands
like a signature on a dotted line:
sober bond to all that goes before;
no hesitation, no half-heartedness,
no mental reservation allowed.

"Amen":  We support. We approve.
               We are of one mind. We promise.
               May this come to pass. So be it.

Be  careful when you say "Amen."

Barbara Schmich

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


All of us are writing our own book,
          our own story,
          our autobiography ,
          chapter after chapter.

And the story contains every page
          of our lives,
          our parents,
          our family,
          and all the people and places
          we’ve touched so far.

And the first and most obvious thing
          we all would like to do
          is to rip out certain passages
          of our book,
          stories that sound so stupid,
          stories about broken relationships
          and sex,
          but we know
          we can’t tear out
          anything that is part
          of the pages of our life.

And then there are those sections
          we keep re-reading
          getting angrier each time,
          sections where we we’ve been hurt
          or rejected by parents or lovers
          or accidents that scarred us,
          sections that blur possibilities
          for our tomorrow’s,
          because we can’t forgive
          our yesterdays.

And every once in awhile
          we have to sit back from our desks,
          and ask ourselves
          the significant questions,
          the meaning questions:
What’s the plot?
          Am I doing  all this for myself
          or for others?
          Am I growing older
          but not growing up ?
          Does the God of Love,
          the Lord Jesus,
          appear in the pages of my life?
          Is my story just happening
          or am I making it happen?
          Whom am I writing this book for?

©   Andrew Costello, Listenings, page 76-77

          is here with us,
          at least one other person 



The title of my homily for this 16th Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “Can I Ever Say, ‘I Know You”?

Yesterday, at the funeral for Kellie Thompson Shiley I felt relieved that I didn’t have to give the homily. And I felt that way for several reasons. I didn’t know her. It was too painful a funeral. And there were people there who did know her.

Deacon Leroy Moore preached - he knew Kellie from her marriage preparation and from her time at St. Mary’s. Then a good friend of Kellie’s from the 1st grade onwards and then into their adult life - as well as Kellie’s brother Scott gave the eulogy. I listened to every word. These 3 knew Kellie very well. I read the obituary and write up in the paper and I had wanted to know more about who this person was. I had a wonderful seat. Many people didn’t. This church was packed.  Looking out from up here, I was watching faces and reactions. I studied her parents in the front row. What was that like to lost such a daughter? I watched her husband - praying for him - as he held his son. Tough stuff.

Many of the people in the church knew Kellie. Each of them could have pulled together their take on who the mystery she was.


Then comes my question and the title of my homily: “Can I Ever Say, “I Know You?”  The point I’m trying to make is the mysterious reality of how much do we know the other person? I didn’t read the book on President JFK entitled, Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye - Memories of  John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but I’ve often said that about people who surprised me. “____ I hardly knew you.”

When some priests I thought I knew left the priesthood - or when a marriage broke up - or someone got caught in a crime or what have you - I have been surprised and I’m sure you have too. I found myself, saying, “X we hardly knew you.”

Someone once said to me about another priest: “You’re one of the two guys who know him. You were one of his only friends.”  That comment totally took me by surprise. I said to myself afterwards - and only to myself, “Well, if I’m one of his only friends, he doesn’t have any friends.” I thought that, because I knew I really didn’t know him. Nice guy, but I knew I didn’t know him. That scared me.

And so I’m asking, “Who knows us?” “Who knows this other person?” “Do we know this other person?”

Often we know the other person’s interests.  We know their stories? We know their look. But do we really know the other person?

I’m pondering in this sermon basic human questions: transparency, friendship, intimacy, relationships, talking to each other, openness?

Have you ever picked up a book - and you opened it - and surprise there are a bunch of pages that are uncut - not opened - and obviously nobody ever read this book?  Is that me? Whom do I let into the pages of my life? Who reads me like a book? [1]

I used to write obituaries for Redemptorists who had died. When I had no clue who the guy was, it was difficult. I’d ask around, “Who knew the guy?” Then I would call those guys. I’d listen. With ballpoint pen and paper at hand, I’d jot down what I would hear.  One time as someone who knew a guy who had died, I was given the name of a guy named Ed Jackson. Ed was very insightful. He was the best. So after that - I’d call Ed first - and jot down his ideas and stories. Surprise guys who read an obituary of a Redemptorist who had died, would tell me that I really captured the person who died. I’d say every time: “It wasn’t me. Thank Ed Jackson.”

From that experience I decided that some people are much better than others in knowing and reading and capturing who the other person is. Are women better than men in this? I don’t know. Do long married people know each other?  Is there every a final date - when someone can say, “I know you”?


Now why did I bring all this up?

I did - because if it takes time to get to know who another is -  how about knowing God?

As priest I have heard lots of people give me their take - their understandings - their perceptions -  of God. Sometimes I think to myself, “That’s interesting. That’s intriguing. That’s different. That’s helpful.” At other times, I say to myself, “That’s interesting, but I don’t agree with you.”

Being at all these Masses, we hear a lot of scripture readings. As a result we hear a lot of takes on God in the Bible. There are many. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wince when I read a sort of off handish God wiping out thousands and thousands. [2] Then in another text or verse, God grants kings and cities of sin - forgiveness and double figure years to come. Then I hear in other texts - God basically saying, “I don’t do these killings. It’s your fault.”

It seems to me that the Bible is like all of us. The writers are gradually sifting through God Talk and coming up with a composite picture of God that is more and more nuanced - and not just human projections on what God is like. So what I’m saying here is that this is a long process in getting to know who God is. Moreover, some takes are very different than others.

I have my preferences on takes. I like Luke more than Matthew. When it comes to Saints and their take on God,  I’ll take St. Philip Neri and St. Vincent de Paul - more than some tough birds who were Saints.

You’ve heard priests and their take on God.  I’m sure some of you disagree with takes on God and what a scripture text means from the pulpit.

I used to work with a Father Alfred Rush and he would often say, “I don’t think God wanted it to be that difficult.”

I’ll take that take on God.


In today’s first reading listen to Micah’s understanding of who and what God is like. God removes guilt. God pardons sin. God gets angry, but doesn’t stay angry forever - better God delights in clemency. God has compassion on us. God steps and stomps on our guilt.  Isn’t that a great image - like someone trying to disintegrate with one’s foot an old cigarette butt on the sidewalk. God casts all our sins in the depths of the sea. God shows faithfulness and grace. Nice.

In today’s second reading, the Gospel, Jesus tells us he knows us and sees us. Someone in a crowd said, “Your mother and brothers are outside and they want to talk to you.”  Jesus looks around and asks, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? It’s all and anyone who does the will of my heavenly father.”

I love Jesus’ words in the Gospel  where he says to Philip. “See me, you’re seeing the Father.” I use that as a guiding text on what and how God the Father is. I watch Jesus.  Jesus is telling us how God the Father thinks and sees. God knows us as family: we are all brothers and sisters and God is Our Father.


[1] Cf. my next blog piece entitled "Autobiography," from my book, Listenings - page.76

[2] Ezechiel 32; Revelation 19: 11-21.


Quote for Today  -  July 24,  2012

"Husband and wife are like two wheels in the cart of life;  and vainly will one try to pull it without the help of the other."

Lakshmi Bai Tilak

Monday, July 23, 2012



The title of my homily for this 16th Monday in Ordinary time is, “Micah’s Three Commandments.”

In today’s first reading we have Micah’s three commandments.


If we study Jewish theology, one of the things we would learn is that different prophets and people in the Jewish scriptures came up with different answers to the question: “How do you sum up the Law?”

There are 613 commandments revealed to Moses. Some are positive commandments and some are negative commandments. In other words, “Do’s and Don’ts.”  If we knew Jewish theology, we would know that there were 365 negative commandments - one for each day of the year. There are also 248 positive commandments - one for each part of the body [based on one count of one’s body parts].

Next Jewish theology and Rabbi’s like to present a list of how different prophets and Biblical characters narrowed down the 613 Commandments to make them more manageable. For example, here is a short listing:

·        David had 11 principles; [Cf. Psalm 15]
·        Isaiah had 6 principles; [Cf. Isaiah 33:15-16]
·        Habakkuk had 1 principle [Cf. Habakkuk 2:4]
·        Micah had 3 principles or commandments; [Cf. Micah 6:8]


It would be wise for us to reflect once and a while on what principles, no no’s and do do’s - that guide our lives.

It would be wise to jot down what we come up with. Then compare them with other people’s lists.

At the big funeral at St. Mary’s this morning, the brother of Kellie Shiley said he received a poem at St. Mary’s - a long list of guidelines for life. Then he added that he gave them to his sister who taped it on her door. Then she put them into practice. I don’t have a copy of what the list was, but a few would be these - depending on how good my memory was. “If you think you can’t, you probably won’t. If you think you can, you probably will.” “Do it today, because you might not have a tomorrow.”


Today’s gospel talks about how people look for signs.  Has that been your experience? People often want signs from God. They look to the heavens. They look to the waters. They look to prayer and they light candles looking for light.

In today’s New York Times there is an article about a tree in West New York, New Jersey. Some people are seeing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the tree trunk. Some think this is bunk or crazy or idolatry and some swear by it. Whatever, the article says it’s costing the police $1,000 a day.  I think the cost of a similar happening in Conyers, Georgia was costing the area a lot of money because of traffic and the crowds. [1]

Every once and a while you’ll notice the same story of people seeing Jesus or the Virgin Mary in doors, barns, donuts and vegetables.

When I was a kid I remember going with lots of people to a church about 20 blocks away. It was supposed to have an image of Mary on the wall.  In time it was a water stain on the wall that looked like an image of Mary.

When it comes to these kinds of events and signs, I would hope people would see God and Christ in us. I would hope we would be a sign of the presence of God and his love.


How do we do that. That brings us back to our way of doing our life - what commandments, what principles, what plan we’re following. We know that Jesus was asked to sum up the Law and the Prophets and he gave the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength - and then to love our neighbor as ourselves [Confer Luke 10:25-28]

Another answer would be Micah’s Three Commandments - the title of this homily - the message he gives at the end of today’s first reading - the famous Micah 6:8 quote. His words are translated in various ways. I prefer to list his 3 commandments this way:

1) To do life justly - to be fair with one another;
2) To love mercy - to do the works of mercy each day;
3) To walk humbly or modestly with our God.


[1] Confer New York Times, July 22, 2012, “In New Jersey, a Knot in a Tree Trunk Draws the Faithful and the Skeptical” by Nate Schweber; confer Google, Conyers, Georgia, Apparitions of Jesus and Mary. If you’re really interested in doing research on “apparitions” just type that word into Google or your favorite search engine.


Quote for Today - July 23,  2012

"It was up to me to bring my nerves to heel."

Albert Camus, The Stranger


When another upsets our day, how much is it our responsibility on how we deal with others and ourselves for the rest of that day?

Can a person bring their nerves to heel?

Is there anyone whose day I ruin - someone I bother? Is it my fault - or both our faults - or just the other's fault? Can we talk about it with this person?

Sunday, July 22, 2012



The title of my homily for this 16 Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] is, “Walls.”

W A L L S:  we know about walls. They surround us. They are everywhere! Walls.

That’s an image and a possible theme for a homily that I noticed in today’s second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.

I once read a whole book by Marcus Barth on just this theme - which was triggered from the text in Ephesians that we heard this morning. The book was entitled, The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians. I’ve been working on a book on this theme ever since - and every once and a while I add a chapter. This homily will be one more itch to finish it. By the way, after finishing this homily I realized, this homily is going to sound like it’s a book. Smile.

Paul pictures Jesus as the one who breaks down the dividing wall of enmity - E N M I T Y - ECHTHRA - in Greek - better translated, I think, by the word HATRED, the opposite of AGAPE - LOVE.

Walls - sometimes we love them, want them, need them. Walls - sometimes we hate them. We don’t like them. We wish they would fall down.  Walls.


Robert Frost - one of our national poets - sums up both feelings - the ambiguity or mixed feelings - the pros and cons - about walls.

In his poem Mending Walls, Robert Frost says one man wants to repair the stone wall that separates his property from another man. Both meet every spring to check out their wall.

The second man wonders why they need a wall in the first place. If they had cows, smart move, but they have trees. The first man always says “Good fences make good neighbors.”  The other man reflects, “Before I’d build a wall I’d ask what I’m walling in and walling out.”

Obviously, we need walls. It rains. It gets cold. It gets hot. We need privacy when we go to the bathroom and when we go to sleep. We need skin to keep our insides in and stuff from the outside out. We need tents and mosquito nets. We need umbrellas and laws - and front doors and windows with locks. We need cages and jails. We need places to live - with closets and bottom drawers and a good kitchen table. Now with this Aurora, Colorado horrible shooting, we're going to have to have more safety walls and screening at theaters.

Arab proverb: “Keep you tents separate and bring your hearts together.”

Arthur “Bugs” Baer said, “A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles over the back fence but doesn’t climb over it.”

Ben Franklin said, “Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.”

In a book of poems and reflections Carl Sandburg says, “A fence should be horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.”

Looking at your life - if you own your own home -  how many times - have you pointed out to a guest - your property line - if you don’t have a fence or a wall? Why did you do that? What’s the back story?

Looking at your life - if you have kids - how many times have you told them about boundaries - when they have to be home - the rules of the house - and you add, “They are for your protection”?


We know about walls - and barriers - and obstacles - and blocks - and red tape.  We know about our homes - our protections - our man caves - our hiding places - our escapes - the boundaries we have for human behavior.  We know about covenants and contracts. But we also know about the beauty of freedom - and national parks - and the ocean and the sky without boundaries - and the vast unknown.

We know today’s gospel. We need vacations. We need a break. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Then Mark adds the comment - I hear him telling us this with a smirk in his voice - because there is wall to wall people in the scene. “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.” Then Mark continues the humor, “So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”

We know about walls - sometimes we are surrounded by them - especially people walls.

Tom, a priest I worked with for 8 ½ years before I came to Annapolis, told me a great story. He said, “Maryann called today and her voice sounded funny. So I asked her, where she was. She said, ‘In the cabinet under the sink. The four boys, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Sean, haven’t discovered this hiding place yet.’”

We know about the walls down the middle of our families, broken friendships - problems with people  at work. We know walls down the middle of the marriage bed. We know walls inside our souls - mistakes we made many years ago - walls with pictures of the mistake that hang there on that wall for the rest of our lives.

We know about walls - those we build against those who are too loud or too fat or too thin or too different than us. We know that we just don’t understand why the other person doesn’t see what we see - and how we see - and they are so, so wrong, narrow, strange, different from us.

There’s a value in reading - and traveling - and discovering and dealing with the different. I love the story about the tourist in Mexico. He sees men riding their donkeys and the women are walking. He finally asks a man about this who says calmly,  “But senor, my wife doesn’t own a burro.”  We then think: maybe she does.

We know about walls. If we’re over 30 we know about the Berlin Wall coming down on November 9th, 1989.

If we know history and if  we’ve been following the news down through the years we know about the Great Wall of China, the Iron Curtain after World War II, the practice of segregation in the United States, the program called, “Apartheid” in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. the difference coming in and out of the United States and airports before and after September 11, 2001, the call for walls on our southwest borders,

If you know your family and neighborhood history, you know stories and gossip about walls. The story that still intrigues me happened in a place I won’t mention, but you know this kind of a story. Two brothers got the family home when mom died. Dad had died earlier. Both brothers had their own family. One brother thought he should have gotten the whole house. A fight began. It  was going on for 22 years when I was brought in on the story. The front door was broken open so two doors could go up. Behind the front walls - walls went up where needed right down the middle of the house. Both brothers didn’t talk for 22 years.  That’s how I heard the story. I’ve often wondered how did it. There are a lot more particulars - but let me just say that much. That story can be a déjà vu story - for individuals, families, neighbors, churches, countries.



Every Monday morning I read a section of the New York Times called, Metropolitan Diary. It presents 4 or 5 vignettes from life in New York City that people send in. One of the 5 usually grabs me - and I jot it down - for possible use in a future sermon.

Here is an incident from June 27 - this year. It’s entitled, “An Existential Guard.” A gal named Marcia Epstein writes,

Dear Diary.

A friend and I were wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, trying to find the exit. The Met being enormous and full of hallways that turn into other hallways and exhibition rooms, we were not having much success.

Finally, I approached a museum guard and said to him, “We’re looking for the way out.”

His reply? “Aren’t we all.”


Aren’t we all trying to find a way out - or a way through - or a way to knock down walls and barriers that we don’t want or like - or that drive us crazy.

Paul is telling us that Jesus came to break  down the walls between God and us. Jesus came to break through the walls that appear in religion and worship.

Read the four gospels and you’ll hear Jesus reaching out to all sorts of people - the strangers and untouchables - the little people and the sinners - over and over and over again. Listen to the gospels and you’ll hear what folks have been saying in churches for the past 1980 years, “Oh my God, look who’s in communion with Jesus! Look who’s eating Jesus. Look who Jesus is feeding and nourishing. Oh my God.”

Read the four gospels and hear Jesus giving solutions on how to get through walls. I love the Easter Gospels where Jesus comes through walls - notice the little comment - even though the doors were locked - and said to his scared, fear filled disciples, “Peace! I forgive you! Whose sins your hold onto they are held onto - whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

I love that and I think that’s why so many people love Edwin Markham’s short piece called, “Outwitted.”

“He drew a circle that shut me out.
Heretic, rebel a thing to flout
But love, and I had the will to win.
We drew a circle and took him in.”

Notice the word “love” there. “But love, and I had the will to win. We drew a circle and took him in.”

November 7th, 2012 can’t come fast enough for me. The walls are going up and up and up - from both sides and all sides.

Erase the circles - or draw bigger circles - change the conversation - turn the other cheek - go the extra mile - and then some.

Jesus speaks to us many ways - 2 clear ways - as a baby and in suffering and dying - two moments that bring us together dramatically.


Here in church - we have an opportunity - to be together as Catholics - which means With the Whole Human Race - Kata Holos in Greek - the whole Catalogue of Peoples.

I loved Rome - seeing all those Catholics from all over the world - in St. Peter’s Square - with a German Pope right now - the one before him was Polish - the ones before that were Italian - but wasn’t the first one Jewish. Wouldn’t it be great if the next one was Chinese or from some country in South America or Africa? Surprise.

Let me close with one wall breaker - because I’ve heard this enough to know it’s some people’s sentiment. Some people see things differently than us - that’s a gigantic wall - we all face every day. Some people knowing our walls say, “Get over it!”  The complaint, the barrier, the wall, the rule, some people want is that of what folks wear to church. Some people go crazy with that. Some people say, “Close your eyes!” Some people say, “Glad everyone is here.”

When I was in Rome last September, the guide had said women can’t have bare arms and shorts or something like that. Men couldn’t wear shorts either, so this one guy bought paper pants. I loved it. Then I saw men outside the bus ready for us to get off - selling shawls for the ladies. I thought, “Isn’t that great? Someone is capitalizing on the rule. I love it. It’s helping someone put food on the table.”

I’m sure they do the same thing at Mosques.

Then I saw the signs about modesty - a value of course. However, I would rather see at the door of every church or mosque, the sign they have at the Taize monastery in France,

“All you who enter here
Be reconciled
The Father with his son
The husband with his wife
The believer with the unbeliever.
The Christian with his separated brother.”


Quote for the Day   July 22, 2012

"Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations."

Carl Sandburg [1878-1967] Prayers of Steel [1920]