Saturday, February 1, 2014


Poem for Today


Here dies another day
during which I have had
eyes, ears, hands
and the great world round me;
and with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Friday, January 31, 2014


Poem for Today - January 31, 2014


I am the least
Of living things,
A cell, a seed,
A spiral chromosome,
A tendril in the sea.

I know how mystery began,
And why the roots
Of purpose feed on pain.

© Boynton Merrill, Jr.
On top a picture ofa yellow mite.
 I found it  in  Wikipedia. Check it out.
"Historically, mites have been difficult 
to study because of their minute size. 
But now, ARS scientists 
are freezing mites in their tracks 
and using scanning electron microscopy
 to observe them in detail.
 Here a yellow mite, Lorryia formosa, 
commonly found on citrus plants, 
is shown among some fungi. 
False color. Magnified about 850x."

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Poem for Today - January 30, 2014


I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play 
        without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever 
        a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright
as your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none 
       the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless,
peaceful flowers of the hillsides.

© Mary Oliver, page 43
in New and Selected Poems,

Volume One, Beacon Press,

Boston, 1992


Did Mary Oliver think this as a silent eulogy for someone she knew - and died?

If this were me - and I read this - what would I do next? 

Does this sound true for someone you know? I've lived with priests who fit the description of the person in this piece - and I didn't know what to do. I felt very  sad. Wooooooo! I often wondered, "What happened to them that they turned out like this?"

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Poem for Today - January 29, 2014


Sometimes when the boy was troubled he would go
          To a littIe cave of stone above the brook
And build a fire just big enough to glow
          Upon the ledge outside, then sit and look.
Below him was the winding silver trail
          Of water from the upIand pasture springs,
And meadows where he heard the calling quail;
          Before him was the sky, and passing wings.

The tang of willow twigs he lighted there,
          Fragrance of meadows breathing slow and deep,
The cave’s own musky coolness on the air,
          The scent of sunlight ... all were his to keep.
We had such places -- cave or tree or hill . . .
          And we are lucky if we keep them still.

© Glen W. Dresbach

“The Cave” 
by Glen W. Dresbach:
 from Glen W. Dresbach’s 
Collected Poems. 
the Caxton Printers, Ltd. 



The title of my sermon  is, St. Thomas Aquinas. In this sermon I just want to give 10 comments about St. Thomas Aquinas - hopefully interesting ones.  So this is what I came up with from my homework last night in preparing this short 2 page talk.

1) Today - January 28th, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s not the anniversary of his death, but the date of the publication of his Summa. He died March 7th, 1274 - about 49 of age.

2) He was a quiet Italian boy whose parents planned on him being a Benedictine - an abbot - probably in Monte Cassino.  Nope! He ends up a Dominican - with parents dead against that idea. He studies in Naples, Paris, Germany and teaches in Paris and Rome, etc.

3) During his last few days of life he could be seen on a donkey heading for the Second Council of Lyons. He bangs his head on the branch of a fallen tree - gets brutally sick and dies a short time later. I like that scene. It sort of follows the same path as Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem Palm Sunday - and then dies the following Friday.

4) He wrote 2 massive works - two Summa’s - or Summaries of what he was thinking and what he was teaching. First the Summa Contra Gentiles [1265-1264] and  then the Summa Theologica (1265-1274).  

5) His method was very thorough: state a question as clear as possible.  Then present the opposing positions - each with the best arguments. Then pick the arguments apart before you present what you believe to be the truth along with the best possible arguments.

6) Some say the best book on Aquinas is called, St. Thomas Aquinas - The Dumb Ox  by G.K. Chesterton.  I’ve read the following: as  biography it’s weak; as to research, it’s also weak. However,  because Chesterton was a huge genius, he captures the essence of Aquinas, Next, for some,  the book can be a tough read. Yet, for some who read it, it becomes the best book on Aquinas and the best book of their life. It has helped lead various folks into the Catholic Church.

7) Staying with Chesterton, I like the comparison between him and Aquinas. Supposedly,  Aquinas was a big man. How big, how fat, we don’t know. Chesterton was also a big man. That we know.  G.K. Chesterton wrote, "St. Thomas was a huge heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of holiness; and abstracted, even apart from his occasional and carefully concealed experiences of trance or ecstasy.” When Chesterton died, his coffin was too big to be carried through the door, so he  had to be lowered from the window like a piano. When they were trying to help Aquinas to escape from his own home and get to the Dominicans, supposedly he too was lowered out of window - but in a basket and to freedom.

8) Chesterton liked food. As a teacher and theologian, Aquinas loved to go from the stuff right in front of us - the stuff on the table - the stuff that we know from our senses. and have them bring us to God. His 5 proofs of God - go from the known to the unknown. See the earth moving, someone had to get it started. That Prime Mover is God. See a chair, know there is a chair maker. I read that the key Latin saying and principle that Thomas Aquinas used is: "Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit prius in sensu." (Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses). What we see, hear, taste and touch, cab move from the eyes - from the senses -  to the mind - to theology - to God. Speaking of people, how else would God come to us,  but  as a baby, Speaking of food, how else would God feed us, but by bread and wine. Jesus comes as the answer to human hunger and thirst for God.

9) Expect conflict in life! If we speak up,  if we think and then publish our thoughts, if we innovate, expect criticism. St. Thomas had some of his stuff condemned and blackballed. That’s part and parcel of the history of theology in the Catholic Church. It takes time and study - to come to the truth. This was the history of many theologians in the Catholic Church. Life: expect problems, struggles and controversy.

10) Conclusion:  In the long run St. Thomas Aquinas said, “In comparison to God, everything I wrote seems like straw.” Translation for me: Don’t take oneself so seriously.  Be able to laugh at life.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Poem for Today - January 28, 2014

At Becky's Piano Recital

She screws her face up as she nears the hard parts,
Then beams with relief as she makes it through,
Just as she did listening on the edge of her chair
To the children who played before her,
Wincing and smiling for them
As if she doesn't regard them as competitors
And is free of the need to be first
That vexes many all their lives.
I hope she stays like this,
Her windows open on all sides to a breeze
Pungent with sea spray or meadow pollen.
Maybe her patience this morning at the pond
Was another good sign,
The way she waited for the frog to croak again
So she could find its hiding place and admire it.
There it was, in the reeds, to any casual passerby
Only a fist-sized speckled stone.
All the way home she wondered out loud
What kind of enemies a frog must have
To make it live so hidden, so disguised.
Whatever enemies follow her when she's grown,
Whatever worry or anger drives her at night from her room
To walk in the gusty rain past the town edge,
Her spirit, after an hour, will do what it can
To be distracted by the light of a farmhouse.
What are they doing up there so late,
She'll wonder, then watch in her mind's eye
As the family huddles in the kitchen
To worry if the bank will be satisfied
This month with only half a payment,
If the letter from the wandering son
Really means he's coming home soon.
Even old age won't cramp her
If she loses herself on her evening walk
In piano music drifting from a house
And imagines the upright in the parlor
And the girl working up the same hard passages.

At Becky's Piano Recital” 
by Carl Dennis, from 
New and Selected Poems 
1974–2004. © Penguin Poets, 2004. 

Monday, January 27, 2014



The title of my homily for this 3rd Monday in Ordinary Time is, “A Case of the Furies!”


Today’s readings triggered this topic for me. Have you ever had a case of the furies?

In today’s gospel - Mark 3: 22-30 -  we have the scribes, those who could write, those with education, training, those who perhaps have a better position in the community.  Well,  they start a whispering - a gossip campaign - against Jesus.

“He is possessed by Beelzebul …. By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” “He has an unclean spirit.”

Evidently Jesus rubbed people the wrong way. Evidently Jesus got some people furious!

In today’s first reading from 2nd Samuel  5: 1-7, 10 - we hear more stories about David. This  time he’s has been made King. He ends up ruling  for 40 years - 33 years in Jerusalem. To get his positions and his power, he has to win lots of battles.  As we read about David and the stories in the Jewish scriptures,  we hear about a lot of battles, wars, fights, revolts, revolutions - division of kingdoms and what have you. We hear about a lot of people dealing with “a case of the furies”.


Peace is often not given a chance.

Peoples inner furies are often released.

I’m sure the evening news for the past thousands and thousands of years has basically been the same.

I’m sure the family news in families has often been the same.

The human heart - is not that different - in all the different places of the world - in all the different moments of our histories.


As you know Jewish thought - and Jesus’ thoughts - moved into the Greek World with Paul - and then the Roman World.

The same stuff of the human heart is found in all human hearts - expressed in different thoughts and words and images - and attempts at understanding, “What’s going on here?”

As I read today’s gospel especially - when I read about demons and Satan and unclean spirits - I said, “So what else is new?”

Then the word “furious” popped up - furious - from the Greek idea about the furies.

When was the last time we had a case of the furies?

Someone cuts us off in traffic. Someone with a SUV or a big jeep or big pickup truck - any vehicle bigger than our vehicle - is pushing us - up the tail pipe of our car.  It’s icy. There’s less road with the snow. We’re being cautious.  We’re looking in our rear view mirror and we get a case of the furies. We scream: “Get off my back.” 

When was the last time we had a case of the furies?

Someone jumps ahead of us on line. One of our kids just won’t talk to us. Kids are living together without the benefit of marriage and we’re worried about the impact of that on our other kids.  Our neighbors are slobs. We’re trying to pray in church and people are talking. Someone in church asks us in church how we’re dealing with the death of a loved one. We answer. Someone goes, “Shush!” or gives us a dirty look!  And on and on and on.

We’re furious. Furies can run rampant - red hot rampant - ramming into our heart.

In Greek thought and myths there are the 3 goddesses of vengeance.  that means they are about pay back. They are about the wanting to get back at someone. Alecto is the goddess of anger - constant anger; Megaera is  the goddess of jealousy; and Tisiphone is the goddess - the avenger - of murder. They are some trinity - biting, growling dogs, unleashed within us at times. Someone wrongs us. Someone murders our reputation or our plans. Someone wants to diminish us or take what we have and the goddess of  jealousy appears.

We often mix up jealous and envy. Jealousy has to do with what we have; envy has to do with wanting what others have. I don’t know if they have a specific goddess of envy.

This stuff is in us.

We name them:  ugly feelings, furies, tensions, agita, demons, devils, unclean spirits, what have you.

They divide the kingdom called me.

The scribes begin by saying Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul - that was what folks called in his time: the prince of demons.

Jesus doesn’t smile or laugh at all this in us. It would be good if we did at times, if that meant we are facing our own craziness. Jesus cries. He  knew the human heart. Folks have trouble facing the sights in into their own soul. We prefer to concentrate on others.

We’ve all met people possessed by the demon of anger - ongoing anger. In Greek thought they are possessed by the fury called Alecto.

We’ve all met Megaera when we’re jealous.

We’ve all met Tisiphone  - the wanting to get back at someone who has killed something in us - usually our plans - our will - my way.

To use the words in today’s readings: these furies have become our king or queen.  They have become a stronghold in us. They possess us - putting a stranglehold on us - for 33 years or 40 years - just like David the king taking over southern Israel in his time.


Hearing all this we certainly need the Gospel. We need Jesus and his Good News.

Notice as we go through the Gospel of Mark these days. Jesus is walking into all kinds of situations and settings - and meets various people in various states or conditions.

Well, Jesus comes into us - into our city, into our heart, into our temples.

Mark tells me that when this happens, I should expect my furies to  become furious with him. We want to kill him - crucify him. That’s one more reason this cross is up here in front of us. We become like the two different thieves on the cross. We’re divided.

Our household - our family - our kingdom - our me - ourselves - won’t survive - with such inner division - unless Christ is allowed into our possession.

Surprise I got some new insights - at least for me - as I read about this scene in today’s gospel.

Redemption - salvation - help - the key to the door of peace - is right here in today’s gospel. It’s found right here in the paradox and puzzle of the unforgiveable sin.

Listen to the end of today’s gospel again:

‘Amen, I say to you,
all sins and all blasphemies
that people utter will be forgiven them.
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit
will never have forgiveness,
but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”

Notice the word “forgiveness” - as in “never have forgiveness.”

Notice the mention of the Holy Spirit.

What is this sin that can’t be forgiven?

Well, here is what hit me today. Unless we forgive those we have a case of the furies with, we will remain stuck in our anger, jealousy, or the wanting to kill others. We’ll  be stuck in our vengeance - in our wanting to get back - and wanting to throw stones at others.

God doesn’t do this to us. We can do this to us - if we don’t let go - if we can’t forgive - and we let our furies flame.

But if we forgive another - if we let the breath of the Holy Spirit - howl or shake or whatever - come into our upper room [1] - then peace can happen - because we have forgiven another or others. The Kingdom of God happens to us. We experience peace, serenity, the Kingdom of God. We can say, “Bye bye!” to the furies and the demons and unclean spirits than can ruin our days and nights.

But be careful - they can come running back another day, another time, like a polar or Arctic blast - and we can go crazy with another bout with a case of the furies this time seven times worse than we were before [2]

O  O  O  O  O  O  O

[1] Cf. John 20: 19-23; Acts 2: 1-4.]

[2] Cf. Matthew 12: 43-45]

Poem for Today - January 27, 2013


A father sees a son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
“Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.”
And this might stand him for the storms
          and serve him for humdrum and monotony
          and guide him amid sudden betrayals
          and tighten him for sIack moments.
“Life is soft loam; be gentle; go easy.”
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
          has sometimes shattered and split a rock.

A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
          and left them dead years before burial:
          and quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
          has twisted good enough men
          sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff call he wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
          and to have no shame over having been a fool
          yet learning something out of every folly
          hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
          thus arriving at intimate understanding
          of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
          and above all tell himself no lies about himself,
          whatever the white Iies and protective fronts
          he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
          and the final decisions are made in silent rooms. TeIl him to be different from other people
          if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
                   Then he may understand Shakespeare and
                   the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
                   Michael Faraday and free imaginations
          bringing changes into a world resenting change.
                             He wilI be IoneIy enough
                             to have time for the work
                             he knows as his own

©  Carl Sandburg

What Shall He Tell That Son?” 
by Carl Sandburg: 
from The People, Yes
by Carl Sandburg.

36 by Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.; renewed 1964 by Carl Sandburg. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014



The title of my homily for this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, is, “The Call of Caravaggio.”

Today’s gospel presents the call of Peter and Andrew and then James and his brother John.

Artists down through the centuries have painted - how they pictured those calls.  I always liked Duccio’s painting of the scene of the call of Peter and Andrew. [Cf. below.]

Duccio was an Italian artist who produced that painting sometime between 1308 - 1311.  

Back around 1959 I was in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and I bought a reproduction of that painting - probably because my name was Andrew and I was thinking deeply about the call to follow Christ as a religious.

Somewhere along the line - in a transfer - from here to there - I misplaced that painting. I mentioned  this once in a sermon. Sure enough someone bought me another reproduction of that painting - and it hangs on my wall.

In preparing this homily I looked at various other paintings of the call of Peter and Andrew.

I found one that was very intriguing and I studied it. It was by another Italian artist - Caravaggio: The Call of  Peter and Andrew

No I’m not looking for a copy of that painting. With the beauty of the internet one can download the great masters and their great paintings - all for free.


For the past 25 years or so - Caravaggio has become very well known. So whenever I spotted an article -  or what have you - about Caravaggio - Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - 1573 - 1610 - I would read that article.

Words - words - words…. interesting and intriguing.  Then I found myself taking the time to look at his paintings. That’s something I don’t do enough of. Study the paintings.

Caravaggio’s the one who does those great light and dark paintings - shadow and light. His influence moves up out of Italy and others pick up his style. For example some painters up in Utrecht - in the Netherlands and  in time Rembrandt - use dark and light so powerfully. Think of paintings by Rembrandt - like his face of Christ or the Prodigal Son.

It’s cold out. The parking lots are icy. The Super Cold Bowl isn’t till next week, so you have time to type into Google “Caravaggio” and  then “Rembrandt” - and compare both artists.

Light and darkness …. I like that because someone told me to make sure I use my camera to take pictures 2 hours after sunrise - and 2 hours before sunset - when the light is coming in from the side. Sure enough better pictures.

Light and darkness - the theme of today’s First Reading from Isaiah [8:23-9:3] and also today’s gospel from Matthew [4:12-23]. How do I do Bible reading? What light - what insights - am I looking for? Where are those dark places where I hide? Where does Christ the Light of the World want to shine?

How do you do pictures? How do you do art museums? How do you do spiritual reading from novels, non-fiction and the Bible?

P.S. These are rhetorical questions....

Somewhere along the line I found myself doing art museums differently than I did when I was younger. You know the old New Yorker magazine cartoon. The husband and wife are tourists. They arrive at the big art museum. Going up the stairs, the husband pointing - says to his wife, “You take that side. I’ll take this side.”

Somewhere along the line - after realizing I forgot every painting in a art museum - 5 minutes after  I left - I got the insight to change my patterns.  Now I walk up the front steps and head for the gift shop. I look at the post cards and the big coffee table art books on display to see what artist might be featured. If I see a painting  that looks very interesting, I jot down it’s name.  Then I go looking to find it. Now I skip most of the paintings in those high ceiling rooms in an art museum.

Okay I like the earphones sometimes - but I forget most of that stuff too. I rather really  see one painting that some artist might have spent days and weeks and months on - than have a jumble of paintings and images in my short term memory that look like a bowl of  vegetable soup sloshing and swishing around in my mind.

So one painting - really looked at  - then studied - has the impact for me.

In fact, when I do that, I’ve often walked out of an art museum - and realized this whole world is an art museum. I see particulars better: a dented car, a dark green dumpster - a lady with a red plaid scarf walking along the avenue with 6 dogs in tow or a fur coat old lady crossing the street with an aluminum cane. What a great world we’re living in. How do you do art museums? How do you do life?


We’re tourists in Rome. We’re in a big piazza.  We spot this church. We look at the name:  St. Luigi dei Francesi Church. Never heard of it.  We go in. Surprise they have three Caravaggio’s - 3 paintings on St. Matthew.  We end up spending about 45 minutes there - looking at those paintings mainly.

Off to the side I noticed  books for sale - mainly a book entitled: The Bible of Caravaggio - by Mario Dal Bello. I buy a copy. In time I realize it was a smart buy - because  I have looked at  it dozens of times - especially the 21 delicious paintings - all Bible Scenes - by Caravaggio - with comments - especially when I’m preparing a homily - wondering if Caravaggio pictured the scene of the day.

 I pulled it out yesterday to see if it had his paintings of today’s gospel from Matthew. Nope. It does have The Call of Matthew with thought provoking comments.[Cf. above on the cover of the book.]

It also triggered the title of this homily: The Call of Caravaggio.

It also triggered the idea to check the internet to see if he did a painting on today’s gospel. Sure enough I found his painting on line:  The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew [1603-1606],

Light and darkness …. As I looked at the painting I looked to see what Caravaggio might be saying - might be wondering about - what he might want to picture.

He has Peter standing there with a big fish in his right hand. Next, Peter’s left hand is in the exact center of the painting. It’s empty.

In the same story in Luke - both hands would be empty. In this painting, is he wondering if Peter is saying: If I stay as a fisherman, at least I have caught fish; if I follow Jesus, what will I catch with my life?

Is that the question of every Christian: stuff or emptiness if I follow Jesus?

Is that what Caravaggio was saying, contemplating, wondering about? We don’t know.

Next he has Andrew, Peter’s  brother standing next to him - with his hand pointing at himself - sort of saying, “Who me? You want me to follow you? Are you kidding?”

What does a calling mean? What does a following mean?  Does Christ still call people?

Caravaggio died at the age of 48 of a fever. He was in exile - often  on the run - because he had killed someone - in an argument about a tennis match. There are court records that he was in fights from time to time. As to his life - there are all kinds of stories about his morals, but we don’t know for sure. There are many takes on his life.

Who knows me? What are their takes on my life? How do they picture me? How do they paint me? What scene from my life, stands out for them? What are the mistakes on their takes on my life?

The questions I ask when I look at Caravaggio’s paintings - or anyone’s pictures or paintings - is to be conscious of the questions he raises for me at the time.

I’ve read at times that we can read the Bible by reading the words of the Bible - and this was the great Protestant gift to the Christian life - at the Reformation - and with the invention of the Printing Press. Or we can go with the great Catholic Tradition: read the paintings - the stain glass windows - the paintings in the art museums - or the coffee table picture books - to sit looking right into the face and stories of Jesus or others and what have you in the pictures.

What hits you more?

That painting by Duccio moved me at the age of 19. I was also impacted big time when I saw for the first time the major red icon of Christ in the National Cathedral in Washington DC. I sat down in the silence of that enormous church  / basilica - and that moment comes back to me every time I drop into the upper church in DC.

 Now I’m letting the paintings of Caravaggio impact me.

Do you have a favorite painting that is hanging on the wall of your house or your soul - or your favorite church in your mind -  that says a lot to you - and your life? What is that painting or picture calling you to?


For 350 years a painting of Caravaggio sat in a storeroom in Buckingham Palace. It was in horrible shape.  The experts thought it was a copy of a painting by Caravaggio - The Calling of Peter and Andrew.

Someone suggested research. Surprise what was thought to be a copy - perhaps worth 50,000 pounds - was a Caravaggio. It took 6 years - 6 years of restoration and is now estimated to be worth at least 50 million pounds.

What a great parable. We are worth what we are worth - as is - but if we let Christ restore us - even it takes 6 or 60 years - we are worth a lot more.

And like Caravaggio - and like his paintings - we all have strong light and strong darkness in us. That’s who we are. Hopefully we all have at least one great biblical story in us - for the world to see and read and experience when they experience us.

So we come to church and hear these readings - or look at the cross - or one of our stained glass windows - and maybe one of these scenes we see or hear about is key to our life. It  is us for the taking - and for the making  - and  for the remaking of me. Amen.



Top: Portrait of Caravaggio  - from around 1621 - by Octavio Leoni (1578-1630)

Poem for Today - January 26, 2014


Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a god-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
StiII, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love,
          and so much fear.

© Richard Wilbur
“Boy at the Window” 
by Richard Wilbur: 
copyright 1952 
by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. 
reprinted from 
Things of This World 
by Richard Wilbur, Harcourt, 
Brace & World, Inc.