Tuesday, December 30, 2014



The title of my homily for this Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas is, “Anna: One of Many.”

When I read today’s gospel – Luke 2: 36-40 – I think of the thousands and thousands of little old ladies I’ve spotted in a thousand churches.

I’ve seen them sitting quietly in the back of a church – behind a pole off to the side in the middle of a church – or kneeling at the communion rail up front.

Praying…. They are praying.

Hoping …. They are hoping.

Begging …. They are begging God for help.


So this gospel story of Anna is one of many stories – of little old ladies – who have found time and place to pray in churches, temples, mosques, shrines, holy places – all through the years.

What a documentary could be made – if documentary makers  - just went into random churches and holy places on the planet – and simply interviewed these women of prayer – finding out what’s going on inside their mind at that moment. What are you doing? Whom are you praying for?

If Anna was asked she would answer that she was praying for the Messiah, the Savior, waiting for the Redeemer, hoping for someone to come and tell us how to live life to the full – how to love one another – how to be a peacemaker – how to know our God.


All  mothers here – you know the scenario. You have dropped into your church. You’re sitting in your favorite place of prayer  – to pray for one or two or more of your children. You’ve knelt there, you’ve sat there, you’ve made the stations of the cross there – because you’re kids and you were making the way of the cross out there in the streets of your life.

Alcoholism, drugs, dating the wrong person, a shaky marriage, abuse, hurts, people not talking to people, kids out of work, kids in Afghanistan, cancer, strokes, lupus, in jail, what have you.


I worked 14 years of my life  in 2 different retreat houses – 7 years in each.

Every year on this one weekend a big guy – a former pro football player - would sit in the back row of our chapel – in the closest seat to the backdoor on the right aisle.  No matter how many people were in the chapel for a talk or for a mass – he would sit in that same seat – sometimes nobody in any row or bench near him.

Once he said to me, “I’m wondering if you’re wondering why I’m sitting in the back corner?” 

I said, “No.” 

“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you. I had dropped out of the church for at least 19 years. In our church back home, that’s the spot my mom always half knelt and half sat for all those years praying for me to come back to church.”

“It worked.” He said. “Here I am praying for her and thanking her in heaven for praying for me all through the years.”

If we made a film documentary of little old ladies in dark old churches – we would hear stories like that.


It was my first assignment.  

A good friend of mine – named Tessie – long dead now – used to sit in the third last row of our church – Most Holy Redeemer – Lower East Side – New York City - every afternoon from 3 to 4. You couldn’t see her – she was hiding in front of a big church pillar in the back of the church – not far from our O.L.P.H. shrine – which was in the back.  I noticed her husband Frank came into church in the morning – and said his prayers.

Tessie also used to be the money counter for Bingo every Wednesday night.

Well, one Wednesday just before Bingo started, Tessie said to me, “I got a great story for you.”

“I’m in church this afternoon – in the dark – near the back – and I hear the door open. I hear someone go over to Mary’s shrine – and I hear Father Leo starting to pray out loud. Obviously, he didn’t know I was there – and I laid low. Well, I hear him tell the Blessed Mother the following. ‘Thank you Mary. Thank You God,  I’m  just coming back from the urologist. I can  pee like a little boy again.”

That moment happened in 1968 – I can still remember it.

I’d love it if a moment like that would be captured in a documentary about little old ladies in churches – and what’s going on in their minds and hearts.


I’m sure Luke put this story in his Gospel, because in his travels, he saw lots of ladies like Anna – sitting, standing, kneeling there in prayer.

He gave Anna praise – today let’s praise our moms and all those Little Old Ladies who showed us the importance of praying  for others – especially the children of our world. Amen.

Poem for Today - Tuesday - December 30, 2014


I want to reach you—
in that city where the snow

only shimmers silver
for a few hours. It has taken

seventeen years. This trip, 
these characters patterned

in black ink, curves catching 
on the page like hinges,

this weave of letters fraying 
like the lines on my palm,

all broken paths. Outside, 
no snow. Just the slow pull

of brown on the hills, umber 
dulling to a bruise until the city

is just a memory of stained teeth, 
the burn of white marble

to dusk, cows standing 
on the edges like a dust

cloud gaining weight
after days of no rain. Asleep

in the hot berth, my parents 
sway in a dance, the silence

broken by scrape of tin, hiss 
of tea, and underneath,

the constant clatter of wheels
beating steel tracks over and over:

to the city of white marble, 
to the city of goats, tobacco

fields, city of dead hands,
a mantra of my grandmother's—

her teeth eaten away
by betel leaves—the story

of how Shah Jahan had cut off
all the workers' hands

after they built the Taj, so they 
could never build again. I dreamt

of those hands for weeks before 
the trip, weeks even before I

stepped off the plane, thousands 
of useless dead flowers drying

to sienna, silent in their fall. 
Every night, days before, I dreamt

those hands climbing over the iron 
gate of my grandparents' house, over

grate and spikes, some caught
in the groove between its sharpened

teeth, others biting where 
they pinched my skin.

Vandana Khanna, 
"Train to Agra"
from Train to Agra
Copyright © 2001
by Vandana Khanna. 

Monday, December 29, 2014



The title of my thoughts is, “Saint Thomas Becket.”

Today we celebrate his feast.

His dates are  1118 to 1170.

Instead of spending time for a homily on today’s readings, I decided to revisit the movie, “Becket.”

I remembered seeing the movie - but I wondered if I could get in touch with my thoughts and feelings when I saw that movie way back in the 60's.

So I went on line and did a tiny bit of research on the movie as well as Becket's life.  All I remember from the movie was the pageantry and the costumes - as well as the stone walls in castles and cathedrals - and lots of dark shadowy scenes. I remember that the acting was excellent: especially Richard Burton as Thomas and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II.


The 1964 movie received 1 Academy Award and 11 nominations for an Academy Award.

It made good money.

It makes several big mistakes historically - but the story as told on screen and stage make for good historical fiction - as well as being well written.

The movie presented the basic dynamic of two good friends – 2 drinking partners – 2 fooling around friends – who end up in deep conflict with one another.

Besides alcohol and women, King Henry II had his problems with the church – for starters with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Henry II wants money from the church – especially by taxing it – to finance his wars. The Archbishop said, "No!"

He appoints his buddy Thomas to become Lord Chancellor. Then when  the Archbishop of Canterbury – his enemy and thorn in his side dies – Henry names Thomas Archbishop – with the idea he will now be able to tax and control the church.

Surprise – good story – good plot – Thomas as Archbishop – takes his job seriously – so seriously – that King Henry can’t control him.

Once in a drunken rage King Henry says out loud: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

His soldiers hear this and murder Thomas in the Canterbury Cathedral.

News spreads through Europe of this killing – this assassination – of an archbishop because it's the wish of a  king.

And King Henry repents – at least out loud – perhaps for public consumption – and he is flogged and beaten as a penance for his crime and involvement in the murder.

The original movie, two  plays, a redoing of the movie in the 1990’s,  were all quiet successful.


We are governed by both church and state – the state obviously having more physical power.

We all need to consider both realities – including  those in public office. A Catholic is called to vote with his conscience - and to form his conscience with Gospel values and Christian teaching.

So each person needs to do his or her job – as public official – archbishop - parent – teacher – business person - soldier - judge with God's will and the Common Good in mind.

There is a scene in the movie when the king is demanding loyalty and follow up from Thomas  - that he does Henry's will. The king says: "You're Chancellor of England; you're mine! And Becket says: "I am also the Archbishop, and you have introduced me to deeper obligations." 

Isn’t that all of us?

We have lots of obligations to various people – but we also have obligations to God – and when Jesus tells the Rich Young Man what he must do to gain eternal life - it's to keep the 2 Great Commandments - to love our God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


After a bit of reading about St. Thomas Becket on line, I couldn't get in touch with what I was thinking the first time I saw the movie, "Becket."

I assume Thomas is a martyr to the principal: God’s will is service, love, and working for the common good.   May we all work towards these goals.  Amen.


Poem - Monday - December 29, 2014


O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

© Carl Gustav Boberg (1859-1940) Sweden
© English Translation, Stuart K. Hine – 
who added the last 2 verses.

Sunday, December 28, 2014



The title of my homily is, “Family: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards.”

The Church got this one right – putting this feast of the Holy Family – around Christmas time – when we are filled with memories – nostalgia – the past - when parents know how much Christmas meant to them as kids – so too the desire to do likewise for this new generation.

So that’s looking backwards. 

Next, looking forwards – they put this feast of the Holy Family - at the time we are about to begin a new year – the time we look forward with hope for a Happy New Year.

So a few words today on “Family: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards.


We humans have the ability to remember. Dementia is a bummer. We can look backwards and see what happened. We can recall. We can remember.

History is not just a class in a classroom.

Family History is perhaps the most important course we need Home Schooling in and about.  

It’s important to know – to check out - how we got to where we got to.

It’s important to find out where the other has been. 

Talk to grandparents – “What happened?” Where did you come from?

For starters – check out three things: the stories, the pictures, and the letters.

What are the family stories? I’ve noticed there are moments and there are moments. I’m talking here about those moments when a kid gets inquisitive – and starts asking how their grandparents met, where they came from, then mom and dad – if they don’t know.

I love the story about how a Jewish family ended up in Alabama. While doing some family research on that question, someone found out the reason was: way back in the 1800’s while traveling west,  that’s where the horse died.

I heard a cute family story at Christmas dinner at my niece Patty’s house in Reisterstown, Maryland. The dinner took at least 2 hours and nobody was moving from the table. I heard some old stories and I heard some new ones.

Someone mentioned a moment about Sophie when she was in the first grade or so.  The teacher asked the kids a question: “Does anyone have a parent that speaks a foreign language?” Sophie raised her hand like every little kid upon hearing a question? She said her, “Teacher! Teacher.”

Upon being called upon, Sophie told her teacher and her class - that her dad spoke 4 languages.

I had heard the story that he didn’t speak till he was 4 years old – but when he began speaking, out came full sentences in French, Spanish, Italian and English. He's from Milan, Italy. His father taught Spanish. His nanny spoke French and his mother went to work in Italy – from England.

The teacher then asked, “Wow, your dad spoke 4 languages. How about your mom?”

Sophie said that her mom spoke 2 languages: English and Pig Latin.

Meals are not just for  the sharing of food. They are for the sharing of stories - stories that feed us - stories that become us. Meals are for the sharing of self.

The Last Supper – especially in the Gospel of John – gives us a lot of words – and it’s up to us, to put some flesh onto them.

So looking backwards, what are your family stories?

I also love it when families show and tell me a lot of family stories – by bringing me over to the Christmas tree. They stand there and touch an ornament and they touch an experience. I'm at the Liturgy of the Word: hearing family homilies about persons and places, moments and memories - that are - embodied, transubstantiated in a personal and unique Christmas tree ornaments.

That’s stories. 

Next, while still looking backwards, what and where are the family pictures?

Do we realize the importance of family  pictures – on walls, on tops of bureaus, end tables, shelves? Has anyone secured photo albums - so they won't be tossed or lost? Has anyone made sure they are kept in a safe way - along with notations of who's who and where's where?

Question: what’s going to happen to all the pictures AD – After Digital? 

Just as it’s important to sit down on a couch and read with one’s kids – so too sitting with kids and pointing out who’s who in the pictures.

At Thanksgiving I sat there with over 30 people and we watched a slide show of my nieces when they were little kids. Their  kids were there as well. There were great “Ooh’s!” and “Ah!s’. The room was filled with laughter and  people yelled out comments about hair and clothes and “Remember….”

Thirdly, still, looking backwards, has any one gathered any letters – in one’s family museum – boxes of old letters – with the pictures in boxes under beds or in the closets? When my mom died,  I was given a packet of old letters my mom had saved. They were letters I sent to my mom and dad from when I was away in the seminary. They all sound the same – but they all are precious.

My sister Mary and I were just up to Scranton, PA – when we went to my sister Peggy’s grave for the first time. We also went to Marywood University, where one of the nuns whom Peggy had lived with gave my sister Mary two big bags of Peggy’s personal stuff – knickknacks, etc.  My sister Mary just told me before Christmas that there were some letters in those bags that I had sent Peggy way back. What did she save? What’s in them? What was I saying way back when?

Hopefully, we all have archives and museums of all sorts with our stuff – in closets and cellars in our homes.

Another question: preserving one’s family history – will we gain with technology and scanning or will we lose with e-mail etc., etc, etc.?


That’s looking backwards.

With a New Year about to happen on our calendars – wouldn’t it be interesting for grand kids to discover in an attic or basement 50 old kitchen scheduling calendars from the past 50 years.

For some reason, someone thought they would be a neat thing to save. Priceless

What would it be like for some grand kid - upon discovering those calendars – that he or she began to notice that in the little Sunday boxes – the word “church – 9 AM”  was written - but then see it stopped some 19 years ago?

So the kid says to her mom, “What religion were grandma and grandpa when you were a kid?”


Then the answer with an embarrassed hesitation: “Catholic.”

Looking forwards – what are our church plans for 2015? What are our God plans? 

I’m sure some people have started thinking – perhaps making plans in their minds – and then they put in their calendars plans to see the pope in Philadelphia?

Looking forwards what are our family plans for 2015?

I heard of one family wrapping up a Christmas present for each of their 2 kids. Inside the son discovered a  Mickey Mouse Calendar and the girl a Minnie Mouse calendar – as well as Magic Markers. Next the parents told  them to turn to April – and put a circle around 5 dates and then write in: “Disney World.”


I’m sure we all heard some football player who is a leader or some coach say there is no “I” in the word “team”.

Some of you might remember Willie Stargell and the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates singing, “We are Family” as they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the 7th and Final World Series game in Baltimore.

On Holy Family Sunday – of course the stress is on “We” over “I”.

Three years ago on First Sunday of Advent – the church got it wrong in my opinion – when they switched the Creed at Sunday Mass from “We believe…” back to “I believe….”

By Vatican II – the Second Vatican Council – the Church had moved from the “I” to  “We” – at least in the creed at Mass.

We are a community – we are a we – more than we are a bunch of I’s.

Some of us have seen the Mass and the Church change to a “we” attitude.

Parish councils were in. Meetings were in. Some said, “Ugh” and “Oh no!” as well as "Good" or "Great" to that.

Altar railings were opened up or came down.

Altars were turned around.

People would come to church and talk and listen to each other in church before and after Mass.

And some still say, "Shhhhhhush!"

In architecture we sometimes hear the discussion about “form” and “function”. Does form follow function or vice versa? Compare this church building to St. John Neumann. Compare old churches with new church buildings. When people want to greet someone after Mass – it’s easier at St. John Neumann – because of the big lobby.

Back to backwards.... The following are a few more moments of my babbling about some of my personal theories about the issue of individualism and community – I and We.

Our world has come a long way baby from being a planet with a bunch of nobodies – having zero or almost no value  - to becoming a human community of folks who have value and personal worth.

Way back when - people saw the  somebodies – the kings – the have’s – those with titles and land and servants and slaves.

A great story would be a story of a no one who became a someone.

In human evolution – it’s an important moment – when someone discovers their voice and their value – and even more importantly – when they respect another who speaks up and says: 

“I have rights.”
“I have a voice.”
“I have a vote.”
“I have a mind of my own.”
“I have feelings.”

When people start to grow, to evolve, they move from being a have not – to someone who has.

History takes time – and sometimes some remain blind.

Men got a vote – then an equal vote.

Women finally got the vote – in some places.

Our church is slowly getting the message.

Church and society are called to give everyone a chance for upward mobility – individual rights and value and a chance for success.

The United States stressed the individual. The I.

The goal was to make it to the top of the social ladder.

The goal – as I see it – is to move towards the “We”.
We are called by God to be community – to receive communion with and of each other –and to have respect and recognition for all.

We should feel blessed  if we have the gift of faith - that we see that God is a “We” – a Trinity – a Father, Son and the Holy Spirit of love amongst each other – and we are made in that image and likeness.

Of course the “I” is important –  every “I” on the planet – is important.

The becoming an “I” is just a step in human evolution - much more significant than that first step on the moon.

It takes time for caste and class to be erased in bits and pieces in various parts of the world – a movement that started centuries before in some cultures and countries – but obviously not all.

In society and family, women got the vote and more value in some places and in some families - not all.

Education – education – education helped.

The French did it with the French revolution – with the overthrow of the divine rights of the king – as well as “Upper Clergy” with a little help from mobs and marching and the guillotine.

Not always – not everywhere….

So in our church at the Second Vatican – the “We” arrived - publicly.

Then – in my opinion - some 50 years later - the stress on class and caste – in our church – has slipped back in – in both world and church.

This is all my opinion of course – my “I” – how I see stuff.

I hear Pope Francis – trying to move us back into the Spirit of Vatican II and then go forwards. Lately he called the big boys to stop pursuing some self-serving stuff – to move from me, me, me stuff to we, we. we stuff.  This is  the so called “Francis Effect”.

I’m aware of those who love him and those who are “frustrated with him”.

I noticed in the paper the other day – someone saying he’s a Communist.”

Obviously, the best side of communism was a stress on the “we” – that we’re all in this together – but in practice – to bring about that goal – there was a massive amount of self-serving by the few – using absolute power which Lord Acton said corrupts absolutely.

Surprise – communism crumbled – because there was a lot of self-serving in the Soviet Union and China – for starters.

I read somewhere that Joe Stalin had some 20 million people killed directly and indirectly. I also read that he said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic."

I also read that Mao Zedong was responsible for the deaths of 49 to 78 million people.

And notice the breakdown of the communist states – the “we” has become “I’s” – with some very rich Russians in place – and the “we's in many places never got a chance to be either an I or a we.

Of course, in every we, the “I’s” have to be recognized – in order for the best church, parish, organization, to become an authentic, “We”.

Of course our church and our world has a long way to go into the future.


I’m assuming the family is the model for world – and church.  I assume that the church and world is women and men – males and females – all working and “we-ing” together for the good of the whole human family. Amen.


Poem for Today - December 28. 2014


I’m Nobody!  Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog – 
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

© Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Poem for Today - Saturday, December 27, 2014


I have a list of folks I know, all written in a book

And every year when Christmas comes, I go and take a look,
And that is when I realize that these names are a part
Not of the book they are written in, but really of my heart

For each name stands for someone who has crossed my path sometime,
And in the meeting they've become the rhythm in each rhyme
And while it sounds fantastic for me to make this claim,
I really feel that I'm composed of each remembered name

And while you may not be aware of any special link
Just meeting you has changed my life a lot more than you think
For once I've met somebody, the years cannot erase
The memory of a pleasant word or of a friendly face

So never think my Christmas cards are just a mere routine
Of names upon a Christmas list, forgotten in between,
For when I send a Christmas card that is addressed to you,
It is because you're on the list that I'm indebted to

For You are but a total of the many folks I've met,
And you happen to be one of those I prefer not to forget
And whether I have known you for many years or few,
In some ways you have a part in shaping things I do

And every year when Christmas comes, I realize a new,
The best gifts life can offer is meeting folks like you.
And may the spirit of Christmas that forever endures
Leave its richest blessings in the hearts of mine and yours

© Kristen M. Saccardi

Friday, December 26, 2014


Poem for Today - Friday - December 26, 2014


All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke the tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?
Even God had a Welsh name:
We spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.
Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.
Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?

© by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Thursday, December 25, 2014


[Every year I like to write a Christmas story in memory of Father John Duffy - who died December 24, 1993. He used to write a Christmas story every year for his niece. He was a horrible typist - and never got into computers - so I typed up a few of his Christmas stories  that he wrote for his niece. That Christmas - 1993 - upon hearing of his death while about to begin writing a Christmas homily, I decided on writing a Christmas story instead. I've been doing this ever since. I now have 22 stories - and this one is called, "Group Photo."]

Forever is a long, long, long, long time.

Well, it’s supposed to be just that  - here in heaven.

Here was Albert – here in heaven – here for 607 years now.

And Albert just happens to be sitting – right there – right next to God – at God’s right hand - at this big, gigantic, banquet table.

And God says to Albert – “Hey, Albert, there are a lot of people here – so I never know who’s going to be on my right hand. It’s wonderful to be with you right now.”

Albert is nervous – sitting right there - right next to God. This is the first time this has happened to him since his death 607 years ago – way back in 2025.

He doesn’t say a word.  He still can’t believe he’s in heaven. He still can’t believe all that he has experienced in heaven – and all the people he has met so far.

Yet? There’s always a yet.

So God – seeing the blank in Albert’s – face - says, “Albert, so how’s it going so far?”

“Great God, great!”

Then Albert – after a long pause – says, “Well, God, to be perfectly honest, I do get bored at times.”

Then comes an “Uh oh!” thought in Albert’s mind. “Did I just say what I just said – to God?”

So God says, “Well, Albert, give me some ideas.  You know, I can be very creative.”

Albert smiled at that.

So then he says to God, “I was thinking, ‘How about some competitions? How about some contests up here?’”

And God says, “Albert, hello! In case you didn’t catch it yet, this is heaven. We’re not supposed to have any comparisons or competitions or contests and that sort of stuff anymore.”

“Ooops, God,” Albert says. “I’m sorry.”

And God laughed at the contradiction and  said, “I don’t think we’re supposed to say ‘I’m sorry!’ here in heaven – either.

Then God says, “Albert, let me think about this for a moment?”

Then there’s another long pause.

Then God says, “I need to get my imagination going here. In heaven – with everything so heavenly, with no struggles, no competitions, no contests, no games, no losers, and all that – you might be onto something.”

With that - God put his hand on Albert’s shoulder, and asks him, “What did you do for a living?”

“I was a bridge attender.”

“A what?” asks God.

“A bridge attender.”

“Yeah,” Albert continued,  “I used to attend to a little bridge over Carrol’s Creek in Annapolis, Maryland.”

And God said, “Where?”

“Annapolis, Maryland.”

“No, no” says God, “I know where Annapolis, Maryland is.  But Carrol’s Creek? Where’s that?”

“Oh,” says Albert, “It was also called, ‘Spa Creek.’”

And God said, “I don’t remember ever meeting anyone who was a bridge attender. Toll collectors on bridges – yes. Even with E-ZPass, they still have toll collectors. Tell me what you did?”

And Albert told God all about his life time – and his one great – piece of cake – of a  job: being a bridge attender over Carrol’s or Spa Creek in Annapolis, Maryland, USA.

Then God asked, “Any hobbies?”

“Oh yeah,” said Albert, “I loved taking pictures. I took thousands and thousands of great pictures of sail boats and sunsets – on and over Carrol’s Creek. Great spot for picture taking.”

Then God said, “That’s it. Let’s have a photo contest.”

Albert says, “What!”

“Yeah, a photo contest,” says, God, “but I’m wondering about what?  Any suggestions?”

Albert’s imagination began to bounce – and he said to God, “Well even though I loved to do sunsets and sail boats, my favorite pictures were group photo’s – especially of families. They tell so much.

Then God lifted his hand off Albert’s shoulder. Then he  slapped that same shoulder – and said, “Albert you’re a genius.”

And then God called his favorite “Go To Angel,” -  Gabriel  - and said, “Announce to all of heaven that we’re going to have a Group Photo contest. The best group photo – the best group picture – gets a special prize!”

Gabriel says, “Great. I haven’t made any big time announcements in a long, long, long, long time. Thank you God.”

Then Albert asks God, “What’s the special prize?”

“Shush!” says, God.  “I don’t know what it will be right now. But relax – without anyone ever saying this, everyone knows that I’m the great procrastinator. So relax.  I’ll come up with something. We got plenty of time – oops eternity.”

The Group Photo contest created quite a buzz in heaven.

People gathered their whole family line from the beginning – back to Adam and Eve – who were drained – in being asked to be in so many family pictures.

People got themselves pictured with every pet they ever had.

People got themselves pictured with Army or Navy  or Air Force buddies – whom they hadn’t seen since some war – and hadn’t connected up with them yet in heaven.

People met people they heard about from their spouses – ad nauseam – when they got everybody together for a group photo.

Some people found themselves standing there nervous – because there they were to be in the same group photo – with first and sometimes second and third spouses – and step kids – and family members  whom they had had stresses with at times while on earth. But this was heaven and things went rather smoothly.

And the winner is….

After what seemed a good slice of eternity – after  a lot of tears and a lot of laughter – the winner was finally  announced.

Nobody could have guessed which group photo – which group picture -  was chosen.

And the winner was a group photo of all the animals who were in the stable that Christmas night – when Jesus was born.

Down through the centuries – people kneeling there at Christmas crèche’s and stables – and mangers – wondered – what were the animals thinking as they saw the birth of a baby boy – and they heard angels singing – “Woo!” - “Wow!”  - “Glory to God in the highest!” and in came shepherds -  and in came kings – and a few days later in came soldiers with swords  in hand – looking for this new born baby whom Herod the Horrible heard was to be the new born king – and they were told to kill him.

It’s heaven – so the sheep and the goats, the ox and the ass, told a wrapped in rapture audience – the whole of heaven – what they saw that night – what they experienced in that experience – of being at the birth of a baby in a stable.

A sheep said, “We didn’t see it coming –  a baby was born who would change the world.”

The ass said, “It was like a Mass – a Mass of Mary – as if she was  holding up this tiny baby and saying, ‘This is my body. This is my blood. Take and eat. Take and drink! I’m giving my life to you.’ No wonder Jesus was born in Bethlehem – the House of Bread.”

And the winner was – you’re not going to believe this either – a bridge attender from Annapolis, Maryland – named Albert.

“For the sake of transparency,” God announced in the award ceremony, “Albert came up with the idea of this contest – and the idea of the Group Photo. So Albert, congratulations.”

Albert, a bridge attender from Annapolis Maryland, in one instance – one momentous moment – was instantly known by all the people in heaven that ever lived.

And God said, “Albert do you have anything to say?”

“Yes,” Albert said, “Yes!”

“What is it, Albert?”

“The prize. The prize. What’s the prize? What’s the surprise?”

God paused. All were silent!

Then God said, “Albert,  you can go down to earth – and you can whisper one thing into every person on earth’s ear – sort of like Gabriel whispering in Mary’s ear – when she was being called to be the Mother of Jesus.”

“Ooops,” God says, “I like this idea of calling you, ‘Angel Albert’. It’s got a nice sound to it: ‘Angel Albert.’”

And then God said, “Angel Albert – I’ll give you a week, a month or a year, to come up with what  you’re going to whisper into every person’s ear?”

Albert says, “Hello God. Hello!  I told you I was a bridge attender and I told you I love group photos. So obviously, I’m would love to go back down to earth to try to urge people to bridge the gaps – the empty places - in the pictures of their life.  I want to whisper to everyone, “Who’s missing in your life? I would love to whisper into the mind of every person on the planet earth, ‘Is there any person you’re blocking out of your family or any group photo – any person you’re keeping on the other shore of your life? Attend to your bridges. Or as they say, ‘Stop throwing rocks! Bridges not walls.’”

“Great," God said, "Great."

"And, God, Pst!" said Albert. How about some day a group photo of everyone that ever lived?"

And God said, "Not yet Albert - and -  I don't know about that one. I don't know."

And Albert said, "But God, I thought you said, 'With God nothing is impossible.'"