Saturday, December 14, 2013


Quote for Today - December 14, 2013 - Feast of St. John of the Cross

"Spiritual directors are not the chief workers, but rather the Holy Spirit. They are mere instruments. They only guide souls by the rule of faith and the law of God according to the spirit which God gives to each. Their object, therefore, should be not to guide souls by a way of their own, suitable to themselves; but to discern, if they can, the way which God is guiding the other."

St. John of the Cross: The Ascent of Mount Carmel (16 Century).


That's the job of a spiritual director. In other words, stay out of the way. It's like Gamaliel's advice in The Acts of the Apostles 5: 34 - 39. Don't get in the way of God. 

Now here's the job of those persons who want to get out of themselves and be with and into God. This comment is also from St. John of the Cross:

"Ecstasy is nothing but the going forth of a soul from itself. It's being caught up in God. It's what happens to the soul that is obedient, namely, that it goes forth from itself and from its own desires and thus enlightened, becomes immersed in God." 

[Spiritual Sentences and Maxims of St. John of the Cross - 16th Century.]


Pope John Paul II and many other folks have written and talked about John of the Cross - so start exploring his stuff - some of which you can catch on the Internet. Check it out - but talk to others about what it gets you thinking about. Hence the value of spiritual direction in one's life.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Quote for Today - Friday - the 13th day of December, 2013

"When He came - there was no light; when He left - there was no darkness."


Question: Wouldn't that be a great eulogy?

Picture: taken in Sagrada Familia in Barcelona in 2011. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Quote for Today - December 12, 2013 - Thursday

"In a museum in Havana there are two skulls of Christopher Columbus, "one when he was a boy and one when he was a man."

Mark Twain [1835-1910]


At this date, there are no authentic portraits of Christopher Columbus. This painting is by Sebastiano del Piombo - dated 1519.

This is not the only story of head relics.  Here's what Wikipedia reports about the head of John the Baptist: "Several different locations claim to possess the severed head ofJohn the Baptist. Among them: Umayyad Mosque in Damascus; San Silvestro in Capite  in Rome;  and the Residenz Museum in Munich, Germany (official residence of the Wittelsbach   rulers of Bavaria from 1385 to 1918). Other heads were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens Cathedral in France (brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople),  at Antioch  in Turkey (fate uncertain), and the parish church at Tenterden in Kent, where it was preserved up until the Reformation."

Moral of the story: Heads up! You never know if what is on the sign in a museum or wherever is true.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Quote for Today - December 11, 2013 - Wednesday

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."

Rudyard Kipling [1865-1936] in a speech, February 14, 1923, found in The Times, February 15, 1923

Questions: Agree or disagree?  If agree, what words knocked you out? And of course, for the sake of transparency, in the course of preaching, I've seen many a person fast asleep.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013



The title of my homily for this 2nd Tuesday in Advent is, “Comfort!”

At first "Comfort" did not sound like a homily title.

Yet, there it is - the opening word in today’s first reading from Isaiah 40: 1-11.

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” [Isaiah 40: 1.]


That message is the opening words of a whole new Isaiah - called “Second Isaiah” - Chapters 40 to 55 -  written 150 or so years after First Isaiah - Chapters 1 to 39. The scene and the audience is not Jerusalem - as was First Isaiah -  but those in exile up in Babylon.  They certainly needed comfort. They certainly needed hope. They certainly needed to have a dream that they could return home.


I ended my homily last Sunday with a wondering about which way is the best way to go - whether it’s in preaching, teaching, coaching, parenting - or what have you.

I made reference to the famous quote: “You catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel of vinegar.”

I contrasted Scold Christianity - Severe Christianity - Strict Christianity - vs. Compassionate Christianity or Joyful Christianity.

It seems on first glance that Pope Francis is going the way of the spoonful of honey vs. the barrel of vinegar.

We’ve all met coach, teacher, A and B.

We’ve all met or experienced Father Strict and Father Sweet.

We’ve all heard about parents playing the roles of Good Cop vs. Bad Cop.

Which or who is better? Is it an all depends? Does each person have to be true to themselves?

As I was thinking about this I wondered if a person could change if they actually saw themselves being strict, severe and too, too serious - and they wanted to be different or easier.


I remember reading in his book, The People, Yes, when Carl Sandburg addresses some of these questions in a poem, “A Father To His Son. A father wonders what to say to his son.

“Do I say, 'Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.'
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.”

Or does he say,
“Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.'
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.”

In that  poem he wrestles with the question of comfort or challenge - sugar or salt - the warning of a spanking or the promise of ice cream?

Carrot or stick?


I remember reading in one of William Barclay’s commentaries - his wonderings about a  student he met. This fellow was too intense, too uptight, too severe - and everyone wondered if this is how Christ is and how Christ functions.

It certainly got me thinking about my outlook and my behavior.  


And in our scriptures we certainly have both takes. 

I have been thinking of this since Sunday when John the Baptist seemed much tougher than Jesus - yet Jesus is described as fire - and burning the chaff and gathering the wheat into his barn.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, searching and saving the lost sheep. In other gospels, he’s challenging folks like the Pharisees with tough love - because they could be a swarm of vipers.


So I am left with questions - and I don’t know how comforting questions can be.

So comfort or challenge? 

Fear or love?  

Reaching out or walking away?

A word or the silent treatment?

Which works best - in any given situation?

Sorry, Lord, I don’t know many answers many times. Amen.


Quote for Today - Tuesday - December 10, 2013

"No matter how old a mother is she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement."

Florida Scott-Maxwell in Measure of my Days (1968), page 16

Monday, December 9, 2013



The title of my homily for this feast of the Immaculate Conception is, “Afraid.”

That word is found in two of the three readings we heard today: Genesis and Luke.  

Adam is afraid.  Mary is afraid.


Afraid:  meaning frightened,  scared, hesitant, nervous, concerned, worried, tense, fearful ….

Afraid:  I always try to hear reasons why a word sounds the way it sounds. Listen to the word "afraid".  Hear the sound of friction - and fray in it. The letter “f” - the second letter and key sound in this word “afraid” - brings together our lower teeth and lower lip - as in biting one’s lip. That’s something we do when we are afraid or tense or feeling an “Uh oh!” To be afraid is to be bit or pulled or rubbed against by frightening forces. Something is biting us. OOOOOOhhhhhhhh! Uh oh!

Luke 1: 26-38 -  today’s gospel - uses the Greek word “phobos” for  “afraid”. We know the English word “phobia” from that Greek word - as in "phobias".   We have heard about dozens and dozens of phobias people can have: from autophobia [fear of being alone ] to zoophobia [fear of animals]. Does anyone here today have “chionophobia” - which is fear of snow? 

So the word “afraid” is an interesting word to explore.


In today’s first reading from Genesis 3: 9-15 - we hear about Adam disobeying God. He and Eve did not listen to God and ate the forbidden fruit.

Non-listening to God - as well as others - is often the root of many of our problems.

Communicating and questioning - what Mary does - can be the key to many of our solutions.

When Adam and Eve bit into and ate the forbidden fruit, uh oh, they became afraid. Why? Well they heard God’s voice in the garden. Next they hid. They felt exposed. They felt naked - disobedient - caught in their sin with only their skin. They were afraid.

Mary was afraid when she heard the Word of God. She had Joseph - but she was not married yet. When she was approached by God’s Message and Messenger - to do something for God that seemed impossible - she must have felt an “Uh oh!” -  because the story teller has the angel say, “Do not be afraid!”

And I’m sure you’ve heard a dozen times from us preachers: “This message of 'Don't be afraid!' is a constant in the Bible - when God reaches out to us!”

In fact, we have here in these stories the beginnings of religion. Often it is  fear - afraidness - falls - and wanting to drop out and hide - that bring us to God - to a power greater than our weakness. 

Questioning and questions can also bring us to God.

Being open or being closed? Now that’s a question. Now that’s a life choice.

Adam hid. Mary questioned.

Adam did "No". Mary said, "Yes!"


I’m assuming that our scripture readings place these 2 people: Mary and Adam - or these 4 people - before us: Adam and Eve, Mary and Jesus - as we come to this feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In theology, Mary and Jesus, are called, “The New Adam” and “The New Eve.”

They are placed before us as choices - on how to live life - how to live it to the full - or how to hide in the dark.

In fact, is that the original sin: choosing darkness instead of choosing the light?

Hey Lucifer - means “Light Bearer!” It’s the name of the great fallen angel. [1] In today’s first reading he’s pictured as a serpent, a snake in the grass, crawling along - hissing sin - dismissing God - trying to bring down to his level God’s first people - Adam and Eve. The Serpent tries to bring them down to the dust from which they were sculpted and created by God. This is a push for the horizontal - when our call is to be vertical -  to evolve upwards  - to rise up - to stand up straight - be tall upon the earth.

I loved the joke about a person who dies and wants into heaven - but Peter is not sure if they should get a pass through the Golden Gates. “Well,” says Peter, “If you can find Adam or Eve in 20 minutes you’re in.”  The person comes back with them in 5 minutes. Peter astonished says, “How did you find them so fast?” “Simple!" says the person, "They were the only ones without belly buttons.”

So Adam and Eve started from scratch - with no belly buttons - with no history - but with all the gifts of paradise. They could have everything they wanted - except the fruit from one tree.

Hey there’s always a catch….

There’s always forbidden fruit ….

That’s our origins story. That’s what makes the story so original.

Otherwise the story would be boring….

Question: Why? 

Answer: Mystery....

So they bit - the snake’s story …. and the rest is our history.

Afraid - and sin - and darkness - and hiding - entered our world with them - but then sin became no longer that original.

Well, Mary grew up in that world - but with one original catch. 

Because of  Christ - because of the New Story to come - she was born without the original sin. 

And that’s what we celebrate today.

The Immaculate Conception is an original concept. It's a mysterious teaching from our Church - which took a long time to be articulated - agreed upon - and promulgated.  As I was trying to put this into words, I realized how difficult it is to state what the Immaculate Conception means. It certainly is one of a kind - original - and obviously a mystery.

Let me say this.  Mary had a belly button from her mom - and Christ had a belly button from Mary. That’s us. We don’t start from scratch.  We are connected. We have background. We are part of a history. We are called to be in communion with each other and our history. We begin with Adam and Eve’s story - and in time we can embrace Mary and Christ’s story.

Mary is conceived  without sin so she can bring Christ - who is without sin - Christ who is light - without any darkness  - into our world.

Mary does not have a Divine Nature.... Christ does.  

This feast of the Immaculate Conception brings us smack into the great struggles and controversies and heresies on how Christ is.

Mary is without sin, but this doesn't mean she is not one of us. She felt fear - was afraid - questioned - but then Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”


Maybe that original “Yes” is the message here - to say  that rather than the original “No” of Adam and Eve.  We have the choice each day to say “Yes” or “No!”



Painting on top: Master of Moulins - c. 1500, Coronation of the Virgin Mary

[1] In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary - one can read the following when looking at Isaiah 14: 12-15: “How!: Hebrew ‘ek parallels the ‘ek that opens verse 4b and probably intends to mark a major division. The poet applies to the king a non-Israelite myth of a god (the ‘shining star, son of the dawn’ [verse 12], conceals a proper name, Helel ben Shahar) who aspired to ascend the mountain of the gods and make himself equal to Elyon, for which presumption he was cast down to the netherworld. In the Latin Bible helel was rendered lucifer (‘light-bearer’) and since some Patristic writers saw in this piece an account of the fall of Satan, Lucifer came to a dame for the devil.” [Confer page 239 for this comment by Joseph Jensen, O.S.B.]The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Isaiah 1-39, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 07632, 1990.

Quote for Today - December 9, 2013 - Monday

"We all choke, and the man who says he doesn't choke is lying like hell."

Lee Trevino 

Comment: Isn't choke an interesting word - in look and sound. "Eeeh!" - we feel that in our throat and soul when we're caught in a request we want to run from - or a challenge that scares the living heaven out of us - and we end up in a helluva of a pickle of a feeling or situation. Hence: Lee Trevino is on to something with his comment.

Sunday, December 8, 2013



The title of my homily  for this 2nd Sunday in Advent - Year A - is, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”

Those are the words of the opening song of the 1970’s musical, “Godspell.”

I’m sure many of you saw that play on stage - big stage - or high school stage - and some of you might have been in a production of it - or you saw the movie version of it.

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”

7 Words …. If you are ever asked to memorize a song and sing it - there it is  ….  It’s only 7 words … and you can look it up on line and practice with various versions of singing it.

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”

It’s the key opening message of John the Baptist. We heard it in today’s gospel from Matthew 3: 1-12.  

New Testament scholars tell us that the gospels began with the adult Christ arriving at the shores of our lives. They began - as we clearly hear in the earliest gospel [Mark]  - with John the Baptist - announcing Jesus’ arrival - and then the theme, the scream, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

John’s gospel - the latest in time of the gospels -  begins with Jesus’ pre-existence - then gets to John the Baptist.  Luke and Matthew begin with some stories of Jesus’ infancy - the Christmas stories - to answer those questions - in the minds of those who were beginning to wonder about the story of Jesus Christ. Then they gets to John the Baptist.


There is a TV advertisement for Navy Federal Credit Union - or is it Army Federal Credit Union or both or is it insurance? The one I'm talking about has different people - adults - kids - young and old - appearing on the TV screen telling us when their family got Navy Federal Credit Union or whatever it is.  

So I’m not sure just what this TV commercial is. Next time I see it - I’ll know - because I’ll be listening and watching carefully - to see what I’m actually seeing.


Anyway - as I began working on this homily - that image hit me - as a way to go with this homily.

Question: who has given you the faith? Whom do you give credit to for preparing you for the Way of the Lord?”

That’s my homily for today - that question.

This week - this Sunday - this moment -  to reflect upon those people in our life - who have prepared us for the Way of the Lord.


For many it’s parents.

For me it was my parents. We went to church all through our childhood - and it was never a question not to.

Years and years later I remember hearing a priest say the following: “Picture a little kid going to bed at 8 PM. His or her parents are awake till 11 PM. The little kid hears a sound - wakes up - and walks towards his or her parents’ bedroom - around 11 PM. Mom is still downstairs arranging something for the morning. The bedroom door is open. The kid sees his or her dad kneeling there saying a prayer before going to bed.”

The preacher then said, “That sight - that moment - is more powerful - more significant - than all the CCD or religious education stuff that kid will ever learn or hear about in any classroom - or church.”

My first reaction was: “That’s quite a comment.” 

My second thought was: “It all depends.”

My third thought was: “Exaggeration! Prove it!”

My fourth reaction: “Maybe this is his story. Maybe this is what happened to him.”

My fifth reaction: “You’re right! That’s what I experienced as a child - but I never thought about it.

That preacher’s comment  triggered a memory. Once I had the 6 AM weekday Mass as an altar boy at OLPH Church, Brooklyn,  as a kid. My dad was off to work at 5 AM - taking the subway over to Nabisco on the West Side of Manhattan, New York City. But that morning - as I came down the side aisle - there was my dad half kneeling, half sitting, saying a prayer - head in hands.

It totally surprised me. I didn’t stop to tap him - or put my tiny hand on his shoulder. I went quietly by him. When I came out into the sanctuary to serve the Mass - I found myself sneaking a peak back and over to the side where he was. He was gone.

I’ve often wondered about that moment - but like a thousand things - I never talked to my dad about that moment.

But after I heard that comment - by that preacher - that priest - about that little kid seeing her dad - kneeling there praying - before going to bed one night - and how much that moment might  impact that kid for life - I found myself being grateful for my parents preparing me for the way of the Lord.


I also saw tons of nuns - and lots of priests - as a kid. It was the 1940’s into the 1950’s - before the mass changes of the 1960’s.

I am not scared to say in public that I never saw any abuse from any of them - in my whole life.

I’ve seen some strange rangers. I’ve lived with a few strange ranger priests. Having said that I love the last supper question,  “Is it I Lord?” [Cf. Mark 14:19]

I'm sure you too have had the experience of many different characters - plus and minus -  in your parishes and in your life. It’s life.  

What I’m saying here is that for the most part I’ve lived and met many wonderful nuns and priests in my life. They impacted me for good big time. I hope they have done the same for you.

As priest I am very well aware of the impact of the horror stories that have come out in the past 20 or so years. Bummer. Obviously, I know horror has a greater impact than holiness - and good human beings.

I also know that people expect more of priests - so the shock when someone they look up to hurts and/or abuses others - especially young people - is greater.

I also know that we priests are in the national average or percentile  - under 8 % - probably around 4 % - give and take - as they like to say - of those who are criminal. That’s a sad and horrible reality.

Of course, of course, 1 is too many - in a family - in a school - in a church - or where have you.

I hope we have been an advertisement - in a flip way - backhanded way - to make the world more aware - especially parents and church and schools and groups - of protecting all children - being very aware that there are predators around.

Prepare ye the safe way for all children.


I have met many priests - being a priest - that’s an obvious statement - but I asked myself in preparing this homily, "Who was the best person besides my parents -  in preparing me for the way of the Lord?"

I came up with 10 names of various people and then I put a circle around the best.

# 1 was a priest named Teddy Meehan. His real name was Francis Meehan - but because he had buck teeth like Teddy Roosevelt - he got the name Teddy. He was a Teddy bear besides.

He taught us history in the seminary. Then I had the honor of living with him - years later  in that same seminary when I had a job there for 8 years as novice master. In this second stint with him, he was now an old man - in his 80's.

I could list a dozen great examples from his life - but for this sermon on good example - and preparing people for the way of the Lord - let me give this one example.

On Sunday night I used to have a holy hour in our big chapel. I’d sit with our novices up in the sanctuary - before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It would be absolutely quiet. Then the back door would open and Teddy would shuffle in. He was getting old and getting deaf.  Some Sunday nights he would just sit there in the back and mumble prayers. Sometimes he would get up and do the stations of the cross - sometimes even saying some of the prayers out loud.

At first I said to myself, “Dang it  Teddy. Not so noisy!” 

Then I said to myself, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. These young men are in the presence of greatness - experiencing an old man moving towards the far edge of life - praying - and sometimes praying out loud. This is impacting them - whether they know it or not - much more than anything I could say or do.”

Prepare ye the way of the Lord!


So my homily today is basically a question - well 2 questions.

First question: who has prepared the way of the Lord for you? Who have been the people who kept you in the faith or brought you  back to the faith or prepared the way of the Lord for you?

It might have been your parents or a spouse or a buddy in the military or someone whom you roomed with in college - or someone at work. 

Who has prepared the way of the Lord for you?

Second and last question: Am I aware of the impact of my life on other’s lives? 

This is a scary question. Maybe you are a parent who - like so many parents - have seen your kids drop out of Church. If you’re wondering: hey I did this and I did that - but why have they have disappeared from the faith? Is it my fault? Or how much am I at fault?

If this is the case, this is what I do - what  I go through. I pray. I let go. I trust the process. I admit my failures. I say to myself that I tried. I hope. I talk about it.

I talk to young people about all this. In fact, I just told some of our high school seniors on a 4 day Kairos Retreat this past week - that I think we’re in the period called “Post Christianity!” and I’m wondering about your future as Christians.

I realize our new Pope Francis - is having an impact - called the Pope Francis Bounce.  It tells me loud and clear that Service Christianity - Smile Christianity - Joyful Christianity. Honest Christianity. St. Francis of Assisi Christianity - has more impact on people than Scold Christianity - SCOLD spelled SCOLD - which had taken over too many times in my opinion in the last bunch of years.

I know today’s readings - especially the first reading and today’s gospel - come on very strong - but I rather use the image of a pat on the back - a listening ear - than using the image of  an ax - chopping away at roots. If people want to go that way, know the consequences. I rather be with those people who want to go with a spoonful of honey rather than a barrel of vinegar. Amen.



* Thanks to Bill Cable for letting me know the correct advertisment.


Quote for Today - Sunday - December 8, 2013

"A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every passer-by leaves a mark."

Chinese Proverb


List 5 positive specific marks on your life - and who left each mark?  Leave the negative stuff for another day.