Saturday, August 4, 2012


Quote for Today - August 4, 2012

"Alas for the unhappy man that is called to stand in the pulpit, and not give the bread of life."

Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882] in an Address to the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, July 15, 1838


Did you ever want to tickle the preacher?

Did you ever want to tell the clown to sit down?

In sermons, can you tell the difference between bread and cake?

If you had 10 1/2 minutes in the pulpit, what would you say?

Friday, August 3, 2012



The title of my homily is basic. It's a question to think about: “Have You Ever Heard a Sermon or a Talk that Moved You and You Changed?”

Having preached thousands and thousands and thousands of sermons - in my 47 years of being a priest - that’s a question I’d obviously ask.  It might not  be one of your questions. If you raised children, your question might be: “Did they learn anything from me?” I’ve heard that when parents wonder, “What did I do wrong?” when their kids have gone wrong - divorce - alcoholism - big mistakes - or what have you. I hear that question when it comes to parents telling me about their kids not going to Mass - and giving up on the faith - or switching their churches.

So as priest I’m asking the same question. Mine hits me with regards sermons at times. I don’t ask it - so that people will say afterwards: “That was a good sermon!” I ask it - so as to know how to prepare better - to do a better job.


When I had a job as Novice Master - for 9 years - for 9 different classes - I used to hand out a questionnaire at the end of the year asking about the year: “Was their any homily that grabbed you?” 

Nope. I was fishing for feedback. I rarely ever got a nibble on that question. And that would be over 300 homilies that year. Bummer!

Then I asked myself the question that is the title of this homily: “Have You Ever Heard a Sermon or a Talk that Moved You and You Changed?”


I jotted down about 10 answers to that question. Here's 4.

I once heard Wayne Dyer giving a so called Motivation Talk. It might have been on public television - in connection with a fund raiser. He gave an example from an experience at a spa or some health resort where he was a guest speaker. This was a long time ago. What I remember was his mention of 10 wooden tubs filled with water. The water in each tub had a different temperature. The middle ones were the most comfortable and most people were in them. Then if you went this way, the next tub would be colder and so on down the line to the coldest. If you went the other way, the next tub was hotter and so on down the line to the hottest. Then he said that a person in charge urged people to take a chance, to take a risk, to go beyond one’s comfort zone - and try hotter or colder water. 

The message was: try new things. Take risks. Stretch yourself. Most people don’t.

Why did I remember that image and that message? Obviously, we all like our comfort zone. Yet one of life’s secrets is to take some risks: try eating squirrel or get out on the dance floor to try a new dance. As preacher what I got out of it was this: people remember what they can picture - as well as when they are challenged - to try the new or to get out of the old tubs - and to be baptized in new water.

Next: I once heard a talk by Robert Coles. He’s the famous child psychiatrist at Harvard. He made a confession that when he was in a rich private school as a young man - we were self centered - and wrapped up in ourselves. Years later, now a professor, on a test, he asked his students to write down the first name of staff people who  clean bathrooms and corridors. Many couldn’t.

Why did I remember that? That was me too. So ever since then I try to get people’s names. 

That triggered another story - a memory - something I heard a priest once say in a sermon. He covered a hospital for two weeks for a priest who was a hospital chaplain - who went on a two week vacation. During those two weeks dozens of nurses - all young, all pretty, stopped him and asked where Father So and So was. “On vacation,” he answered. The preacher then said that didn’t really hit him till about a month later he covered another hospital for 2 weeks for another priest who was on vacation. These 2 weeks all the bathroom cleaners and corridor and stair cleaners asked where Father So and So was.

The learning I got from that was: “Whom do I spend time with? Whom do I listen to? Who would miss me?”

Let me give one last message I heard from a talk. It was given by  a Swami talking on a radio talk show. He said the message of Hinduism is that the ego has to go - to die. Then he paused and said, “E  GO!”  And then he laughed.

What I learned from that for preaching is the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid.  

I also learned to ask myself, “How did Jesus say that same message about the ego going?” And the answer was, “The grain of wheat, the seed of wheat, must die, must be planted in the ground, and die and be buried and deal with the mud and muck of life - if it wants to make it to the table as part of a loaf of bread. [Cf. John 12:24]   

Every time I see those tiny packets of flower seed or grass seed in Home Depot etc. I think to myself, that’s me when I’m just sitting around doing nothing - not dying to self - not growing. I think to myself, “I have hundreds of poems in my head - but it takes time and effort and sacrifice and writing and rewriting - and letting the half finished product sit there for a while - in half shape - and then get back to it. I have to work at dying to laziness and rising to creativity. 

I know two family members who have the talent to paint, but don’t. And I say, “Why don’t they?” Now I catch myself and say, “Why don’t I write the poem? Why don’t I finish the book that is just sitting there in my brain or half finished in my computer?”


Today’s first reading from Jeremiah 26: 1-9 has some stuff about the great prophet and preacher Jeremiah. He does something that I don’t like to do: to say something that challenges folks so much they want to kill you. They threw Jeremiah down into a cistern of mud. [Check out Jeremiah 38: 1- 13.]They killed Jesus on the cross.  In sermons I’ve gotten a few folks angry in my time - but my weakness is the desire to be liked. Besides vanity and ego, this is a big sin of many a preacher.

Today’s gospel - Matthew 13: 54-58 - has the crowd he’s preaching to - wanting to kill him by dissing or dismissing him. He’s too smart for us. Hey we know where he came from. He’s one of us. Bottom line: we don’t want to leave our comfort zone and move into a hotter or colder new life.


To prepare this homily I just sat there and went into the storehouse of my memory with the question that is the title of this homily: "Have You Ever Heard a Homily or a Talk the Moved You to Change?" I remembered a few examples from talks and sermons I heard.  Then I asked myself: what did this example or message like the hot tubs or knowing the names of those who do the little stuff in life for us or the play on the word "E GO" teach me?

Chalenge: I suggest you do the same sometime…. Amen.


Quote for Today - August 3,  2012

"The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, 1825

Comment on Quote:

e.e. cummings put it this way, "be of love a little more careful than anything".

Or if I saw the name Van Gogh or Picasso on the edge of a painting, would that "wow" me to see the value of that painting? How about seeing the name of God tattooed on the foot or forehead of every person? Would that change the way I treat ______________?

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Jesus, did you grind your teeth
when you were a kid? Did Mary
or Joseph yell out at you at two in
the morning, "Jesus, stop grinding
your teeth! We're here with you
even though we're in the dark"?

Jesus, did you grind your teeth
when you were frustrated? Did
you bite down on your teeth
when you saw your disciples
were not getting what you
were talking about? Or did you
notice this in others when
they were angry or frustrated
in marriage or family or with you?

Jesus, I notice you use this image
from time to time, so I’m wondering
when and where you came up
with this interesting sound bite?*

You have to admit, it does have
an edge to it - in fact, when I read
the gospels and spot the grinding
of teeth image I sort of like
the sound of it - and I grind my teeth
a bit when I proclaim it. How about you?
Did you have the same feeling?

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2012

* Greek word for grinding is either brugmos or trizo as found in  the gospels. Check Luke 13:28 brugmos; Mark 9:18 trizo;  Matthew 8:12  brugmos; Matthew 13:42 brugmos; Matthew 13:50 brugmos; Matthew 22:13 brugmos; Matthew 24: 51 brugmos; Matthew 25:30 brugmos.


Quote for Today - August 2, 2012

"When the devil goes to Mass, he hides his tail."

Creole proverb


What are your reflections on this Creole proverb? Ask others their take on the proverb?

Reread Luke 18: 9-14 and try connecting it to the Creole proverb. Any insights?

Reread John 13: 21-30 and try connecting it to the Creole proverb. Any insights?

Is the devil moving around more during Mass or after Mass?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Quote for Today - August 1, 2012 - Feast of St. Alphonsus 

“Meditation is like a needle after which comes a thread of gold, composed of affections, prayers and resolutions.”  

St. Alphonsus [1696-1787], The True Spouse of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The title of my homily for this 17 Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “The Incurable Wound!”

That’s part of a sentence in today’s first reading from Jeremiah 14: 17. Other English  translations: “a most grievous injury”[JB]; “a very painful wound” [JSB]; “a cruel blow” [NEB]; “deeply wounded and badly hurt” [GNB];  “mortally wounded” [LB]; “a very grievous blow” [KJV].


Jeremiah is screaming, praying, challenging, yelling at God for what is happening in Israel. First it’s a drought - and then on top of that a war is going on - both of which bring sickness, plague, death to so many. Jeremiah blames everything on the sins of the people worshipping false Gods. This was what was happening under Jehoiakim [609-598 B.C.] This takes place in the south - in  Jerusalem and Judah. Jeremiah is begging God for an end to the horrors - and a healing of a wound that seems incurable.

I can hear the people of Syria screaming these very same screams today - along with the people in the Sudan and other parts of the world where war and violence and horror take place on a daily basis.


One of the first thing a doctor asks is: “Where does it hurt?”

If someone asked us that question right now, how would we answer that question: “Where does it hurt?”

Question: Have we ever had a really nasty wound - that seemed incurable - a wound that just wouldn’t heal -  a hurt - that wouldn't go away.

We have heard stories of family fights and cutting disasters - that won’t heal - ongoing unforgiving fights over wills and who took care of parents.

Then we have heard over and over again about sexual abuse cases. People have been wounded for life  in these crimes by those who prey on children.

And there is the double whammy, recent reports indicate that those who are sex offenders, can’t be healed of their mind set and disorder.

Question: How do we bring any of this to a practical turn for the better and not a turn for the worse?


Today is the feast of St. Ignatius. We might know he was hit by a cannonball in battle and legs were injured - one shattered. He was operated on and he also had to be reoperated on. He ended up with one leg shorter than the other and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

We know in his recovery period - he discovered a deeper wound in his soul - that he didn’t know how it could be healed. His conscience troubled him deeply - from his past. The books he wanted didn’t work. The books he got, a life of Christ and the lives of the saints gave him hope - but only after deep reflection - and when what they said sunk in. Slowly he healed.

I think of one of my favorite saints, St. Camillus de Lellis, whose feast was July 18th. His leg was wounded and infected and sore for years. It kept on getting worse - but it brought him to a holy place - and he was healed.

So yes some wounds are ongoing; some are  incurable; but the deepest spriritual and personal wounds can be cured - please God.


I went looking for answers  and quotes last night and came up with these three  answers for now and a few interesting quotes:

1) Admit you're hurting. Admit you've been wounded in life. Show your wounds to someone. Bring them to God Talk. Talk to someone - the right person or doctor. Cuts heal better in fresh air. 

In Vergil’s Aeneid, there is line, “Tacitum vivit sub pectore, volnus.” “Deep in her chest still lives the secret wound.” 

Horace wrote in one of his letters, “Stultorum incurata pudor malus ulcera celat.” “Fools, through false shame, conceal their open wounds.”  

So step one - admit and acknowledge our hurts and wounds.

2)  Realize it takes time to heal. Time heals all wounds. 

Shakespeare - in Othello - Act II, scene 3, line 259, has someone say, “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” 

That’s an old saying. 

Heinrik Ibsen in Brand, Act. IV, has someone say, “Many a wound must be probed till it bleeds before you are cured of your sickness.” 

If someone has been hurting for a long time, sometimes it takes a long time for a healing. 

The gospel story of the woman who was bleeding for 12 years and was healed instantly by just touching Jesus, would be nice. 

If the hurt is another remember Jane Ace’s one liner: “Time wounds all heels.” There’s a lot of truth to that. Most word it this way: “What goes around comes around.”  Of course we have to hesitate about that one, because it might just add to the hurt.

3) Accept scars. They are part of the healing process. Byron in Childe Harold, Canto III, stanza 84 [1816] writes, “What deep wounds ever close without a  scar?”  

And John Oldham, in his work, Satires  upon the Jesuits, No. 3. [1680] wrote, A wound, tho’ cured, yet leaves behind a scar.”  

Scars can be ugly or unsightly, but they are a sign of healing. 

Anyone want to see my scars?


Painting on top: Untitled Wound [1990-91], Oil Painting by Michael Clark [1954-  ]


Quote for Today

"The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1960

Painting on top: Paradise and Hell by Hieronymus Bosch c. 1510

Monday, July 30, 2012



The title of my homily for this 17th Monday in Ordinary Time  is, “The Cling, Cling, Cling of Parables.”

I noticed in today’s first reading the word, “cling”. Interesting English word. It intrigued me. I went to the Hebrew. Sure enough that’s a good translation of the word used in the Hebrew - HID BAQ TI - the root word being DA BAQ. [Cf. Jeremiah 13:11]

It means cling, cleave, close, deeply attached, fastened, joined, stick to.


Preachers know that parables and props are a great way to preach.

Jeremiah the preacher uses a loin cloth for a prop - for his preaching.

Our pastor, Father John Tizio, is the best preacher I’ve seen  in using props. He’s really good at it - especially at Kids’ Masses - but I’ve seen him use props at adult Masses as well. Excellent.

When I listened to today’s first reading - and read it several times - I wondered if any modern preacher would use a pair of jockey shorts for a sermon prop. It would certainly get our attention.

And guess what: that image of a priest holding up a pair of jockey shorts in a pulpit - would cling to our memories for life. Remember that time, Father SoandSo held up a pair of jockey shorts in the pulpit.

Jeremiah’s use of a loin cloth - a rotting loin cloth - certainly clung to Israel’s memory - long enough to get put into words.

He’s preaching that God wants us to cling to him like our underwear clings to us.

Jeremiah’s parable of the loin cloth is a great parable. Does it cling to you like you’re underwear?


The title of my homily is, “The Cling, Cling, Cling of Parables.”

When we hear bells on a summer night, for some people it brings back memories of the ice cream truck cling, cling, clinging through the air - from years and years ago. Ice cream. I remember us kids singing when we heard those bells, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.”

We have a lot of things clinging to us - triggered at times - like Pavlov’s bells - by something or someone - by what they are wearing - a blouse - a T-shirt - a perfume - a “that reminds me of!”

The title of my homily is, “The Cling, Cling, Cling of Parables.”

Jesus knew this human reality - so in his parables which he sent in words through the air - he talks about fathers and sons, workers in the field, people in the market place, as well as mustard seeds and mustard bushes and yeast, flour and bread as we heard in today’s gospel.

Jesus is trying to trigger in us - ring a bell in us - when he uses everyday experiences - the sacred in our midst.

We are surrounded by reminders - but sometimes we don’t hear them - like Israel didn’t listen to God. Did you hear the last sentence in today’s first reading? It was just 5 words: “But they did not listen.”


Mustard, plants, trees,  the sound of birds, yeast, flour, bread, all can ring bells in us. Our underwear clings to us  - sometimes more than other times - especially in hot weather. Hopefully, all those things underneath our surface  have cling, cling, cling, and remind us to cling, cling, cling to God. Amen.


Quote for Today  - July 30,  2012

"Loneliness is a game of pretense, for the essential loneliness is an escape from an inescapable God."

Walter Farrell O.P [1902-1951], The Looking Glass, 1951


Do you agree with the statement by Walter Farrell?

If you brought this quote to prayer - into the presence of God - what would happen next?

If you look in the mirror - a looking glass - would you see more of you or more of God?

Have you ever prayed with a mirror?  

Have you ever prayed with Lewis Carroll's books, Alice In Wonderland [1865] and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There [1871].

Have you ever prayed with anything by the Dominican, Walter Farrell?

Sunday, July 29, 2012



The title of my homily for this 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time is, “The 6
th Chapter of the Gospel of John.”

This Sunday and the next 4 Sundays, we’ll have the 6th Chapter of John as our Gospel readings.

This is the year of Mark, Year B, in the 3 year cycle for Sunday Readings. A - last year - was Matthew. This year is Mark - B. Next year -  C - is Luke.

Since Mark is only 16 chapters and there are 33 Sundays in Ordinary Time - I assume those who arranged these readings took this 6th chapter of John - broke it up into 5 parts - and surprise - made this Lectionary idea for a 3 year cycle of Gospels work. Next - a question - when to introduce this variation for Year B?  Answer: it’s perfect putting it right after last Sunday’s gospel. That gospel reading from Mark had a vast crowd coming to Jesus from everywhere - to listen to him -  but we also know they are fed by him. So instead of Mark’s version of the feeding - we get John’s - and starting today with Chapter 6 for 5 straight Sundays.

So with that as an introduction, let me present this homily. It will consist of  5 comments about the Eucharist coming from this 6th Chapter of Gospel of John.

My hope is that this will be a refresher course on the Eucharist - the Mass - what we are doing here right now - and every Sunday.

Relax I’m aiming for 9 minutes.


My first point would be that the bread never runs out. Jesus is still feeding us - as he has been doing since sometime around the year 33.

Notice in today’s gospel from John 6,  after the 5,000 were fed, Jesus says “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” Then John 6 continues, “So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.”

The baskets of bread have never been empty. Every Sunday over a billion Catholics come up the aisle to receive. Okay a lot less - not all go to church.

The 12 disciples became 11 - with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus - and then they became the many priests and bishops down through the ages.

Take a moment these 5 weeks to reflect upon your communion moments - receiving first communion - receiving communion at the parish churches that have been part of your life -  receiving communion at beach churches - receiving communion at big events in stadiums when the pope was in town or where or what have you.

I think of Father Walter Ciszek - the Jesuit from Shenandoah, Pennsylvania who was in the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1963. Most of the time  he was in prison - 5 years in Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison and 15 years in the Gulag in Siberia. He was there as a priest and said Mass in concentration camp prisons in Siberia for many, many years. People secretly received communion - taking tiny pieces of the Bread of Life while in those labor camps. If you want to read a great book read, With God in Russia, by Walter Ciszek.

The baskets never become empty.


As we heard in today’s gospel from John 6 there were leftovers.

There is evidence from the Early Church that the bread after the Mass was brought to the sick and those who couldn’t get out of their home or they were in jail.

In time, because we believe in the divine presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread, people after Mass would sit in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. A rich theology developed out of that. It is still with us today - as we see in the springing up once again in churches around the world - the practice of people adoring Jesus Christ  in the Sacred Bread. One suggestion: want something to read when you’re in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? The 6th chapter of John.

Want more? Matthew, Mark and Luke present the Last Supper Scene in texts that are not that long. Each tells us that Jesus said at the Last Supper to take bread and wine and say, “This is my body. This is my blood. I’m giving my life for you. Do this in memory of me.” John significantly doesn’t do that. But John gives us two great scenes on the Eucharist - his 6th chapter which we begin today and also the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper which take up chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. That’s a lot of words and messages for our renewal. So if you pray in a Eucharistic chapel or at home in a prayer chair - a place that is quiet and prayerful - you can read John 6 and then John 13-17 - and you will have a much greater grasp and understanding of why we are here this morning for Mass.

Once more, as we heard in today’s gospel from John 6, Jesus said, “Gather the fragments.” There is evidence that a tiny fragment from all the local churches were brought to the main church. At the cathedral or main church - that little piece was put in the chalice with the wine - the precious blood. It was done as a symbol the unity of all churches with the mother or central church.

Notice in our Mass we still have a remnant of that tradition when the priest breaks off a tiny piece of the bread and puts it in the chalice.


In today’s gospel from John 6 we see and hear about a big crowd. That’s us till this day. We are part of the vast crowd of Catholics and Christians - followers of Jesus down through the ages.

In today’s second reading from Ephesians 4: 1-6, Paul points out that we are one body - called to one hope because we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Sometimes at Sunday Mass and sometimes in life - we feel crowded but alone - all alone. This scene in John 6 and this scene of all of us together at this Mass tells us we are not just a crowd - we are united in Jesus Christ. Amen.


In the very Early Church there was a heretic named Marcion of Sinope. His dates are roughly 85 to 160. He was declared a heretic because he said the Jewish scriptures are inferior and the god described in the Jewish scriptures was inferior.

John was Jewish. Jesus is Jewish. Today’s gospel from John 6 has deep connections of Christianity with Judaism. Today’s gospel has Passover overtones. Just as Moses led a large crowd from slavery to freedom, so too. Just as Moses and the Israelites  had to move quickly, so quickly that the bread didn’t rise - so to we use unleavened bread in this our Passover Meal.

All those of you who are in AA or any 12 step program can choose Jesus as your higher power who liberates people.

John 6 is laced with Jewish symbolism and cross references.


And lastly in John 6 we come face to face with the question who Jesus is.

This Sunday we only get a glimpse of who Jesus is - when he is seen as Prophet and King. In our following Sundays - when we continue with the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, we’ll hear Jesus using the pronoun “I” a bit - as he does in many significant moments in the Gospel of John. Jesus will tell us in John 6: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Our faith is a relationship with God - an I to I relationship with Christ - who feeds us - and who will lead us to the eternal banquet. Amen.


Quote for Today  - July 29, 2012

Photography: "Significant details, illuminated in a flash, fixed for ever."

Susan Sontag