Saturday, March 15, 2014


Poem for March 15, 2014


Remember the spider

Weaving a snare
- And that you did it

Remember the cat

Tormenting a bird
- And that you did it
In deed and word:

Remember the fool

Frustrating the good
- And that you did it
Whenever you could:

Remember the devil

And treachery
- And that you did it
When you were he:

Remember all ill

That man can know
- And that you did it
When you were so:

And then remember

Not to forget
- That you did it
And do it yet.

(c) James Stephens 

From page 676 of 1000 
years of Irish Poetry.

Friday, March 14, 2014



The title of my homily for this Friday in the First Week of Lent is, “Fair – Unfair.”

My main stress will be on “Unfair!”  - because we think that – we scream that – we say that - much more than we say, “Fair!”

“Unfair!” is one of life’s deepest screams – one of life’s most basic sounds – erupting from down deep inside each of us – from time to time.

Listen to little kids - as they interact with other kids - especially brothers and sisters - and parents - and you'll hear the "Unfair!" scream.  If we're saying it at 3,  it can be cute; if we're saying it at 73, we might be in down deep trouble.


We scream it at God – parents – kids - brothers - sisters – teachers – coaches – traffic – life.

If you need to hear this sermon more than others – listen up!

The title of my homily is, “Fair - Unfair!”


It’s an issue we hear about in today’s First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel 18: 21-28.  That’s why I’m preaching on this theme today.

Ezekiel hears people saying – praying – screaming at God: “Unfair! The Lord’s way is not fair.”

He responds with this reaction. “You scream and hurl that  ‘Unfair!’ at God. Well, let me tell you who is unfair.”

In other words, he’s saying, “Let’s go to the Video Tape. Look at your own life. Ask yourself:  ‘Does God hurl that “Unfair!” back at the one who screams “Unfair” the loudest?’”

Do we ever say “Thanks” to God for blessings – for our situation – for our blessings?  Do we only appear at God’s doorstep when things are going wrong – when we feel we’re getting a bum deal?

So the title of my homily is, “Fair - Unfair!”


Here are 2 examples from my brother, Billy, 2 examples that are true.

First example…. He loved to tell about the time he was driving along this road – single lane – both sides. The speed limit is 50 MPH. He comes up behind a police car – which is going exactly 50 MPH.

My brother wishes the cop would speed it up. Nope.

My brother says that he looks in the rear view mirror. He now sees two cars right behind him. Then 3 …. Then 30.

The cop continues going 50 MPH.

My brother decides to pass the cop.  He waits for the next clear chance – no cars coming towards him from the other side – and the lines indicate – split lines – one can pass – and he makes his move around the police car.

As soon as he does it, the police car’s lights start flashing…. And the cop pulls him over.  All 30 cars then pass – surely with smiles on their faces.

My brother opens up his car door and starts running towards the police car – something you’re not supposed to do. He has his arms up in the air – like someone arrested or someone who got a field goal in football. He wants to try to reach the police officer before he starts writing down a ticket for speeding.

The cop lowers his window and my brother protests, “Unfair! Unfair! Unfair!”

The cop pauses and smiles and says, “You’re right. No ticket.”

My brother loved to tell that story.

Second example, second story…. The first story was told by my brother. This story is about my brother.

At his funeral someone read a letter which had this second story. It was from a young man named David Goldberger. He was the son of my brother’s best friend, Marty Goldberger. He was on a Kibbutz in Israel at the time and couldn’t make the funeral – so he sent the letter.

In the letter he told this second story about my brother. David said he was 7 years old at the time. My brother showed up at their house. David was playing ping pong with his dad. Well, my brother says to David, “Can I see that ping pong paddle.”  He hands it to my brother – who  then says to Marty, “3 over to see who serves.” 

At that,  David says, “Hey Mr. Costello, wait your turn to play winners. My dad and I are in the middle of a game.”

David continues in his letter, “Mr. Costello totally ignores me and again says, ‘Three over to see who serves first.’ Well, my plea didn’t work, so I said,  ‘Mr. Costello, that’s not fair.’ At that, Mr. Costello stops and says to me, 'David, let me let you in on one of life's greatest secrets: "Who says life is fair?" Then once more he says to my dad, "Three over to see who serves, Marty.'"

Then David said in his letter. “He was right. I didn’t know it then, but in time I discovered, life is not fair.”

The title of my homily is, “Fair – Unfair.”


In today’s gospel from Matthew 5:20-26 we hear Jesus talk about anger – and not showing up at worship filled with anger. Jesus says, "If angry, leave your gift at the altar – and go first and be reconciled with your brother – and then come and offer your gift.”

Well, there are a lot of people who come to church – and go through life filled with anger – at God, at parents, at brothers and sisters, at all kinds of different folks – who have been part of their lives.

They feel they got a raw deal from God.  They feel they got a raw deal from their parents or whomever – and it ruins their lives.

I’m saying in this homily that the down deep root of a lot of their anger is this feeling that they were treated unfairly.

Jesus is giving great advice here: let it go.

Easier said than done.


Now it’s been my experience there are something’s we can let go of and there are something’s that are very difficult to let go.

Name your poisons. Know your buttons.

If by now we have a handle on this issue of deep seated unfairness issues – good – but then we have to learn to avoid folks who haven’t.

Now some unfairness issues are not that difficult to master.

We’re in the movie and we say, “Great nobody is sitting right in front of me.”  Surprise in walks a 6 foot 8 guy – who sits right in front of us.

I don’t know about you, but I like the end piece of the meat loaf – as well as the end piece of any loaf of bread – sliced or non-sliced.

Sometimes we run into a teacher who just doesn’t like our style – so too a coach – so too a play director.

Sometimes a referee makes a call – that is blatantly wrong.


Then there are deeper issues that trigger deeper unfairness screams.

We might have acne forever or we’re too short or we get cancer or someone who is drinking crashes into our car – and we get a bad back forever.

Who said life is fair?


In Office Depot or Staples – you can find those stamp gadgets – that need an ink pad.

I think some people have inside their minds a stamper that says, “Unfair!” and they go through life driving themselves nuts because they spot unfairness 24/7/365 and stamp everything with that UNFAIR stamper.

I suggest tossing that UNFAIR stamper and get one with the word, “Acceptable” or “Compromise” or “Adjusting” on it.

In other words to come up with some personal way to deal better with the unfair situations of life. Amen

Poem for Today - March 14, 2014


You've seen a herd of goats

going down to the water.

The lame and dreamy goat

brings up the rear.

There are worried faces about that one,

but now they're laughing,

because look, as they return

that goat is leading!

There are many different kinds of knowing.

The lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.

Learn from the lame goat,

and lead the herd home.

(c) Rumi

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Poem For Today - March 13, 2014


for Harry Caudill

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it.  There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.

It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling

the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,

and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

(c) Wendell Berry, 
Collected Poems
1957-1982, page 65

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Poem for today - March 12, 2014

Blind Curse 

You could drive blind
for those two seconds
and they would be forever.
I think that as a diesel truck
passes us eight miles east of Mission.
Churning through the storm, heedless
of the hill sliding away.
There isn’t much use to curse but I do.
Words fly away, tumbling invisibly
toward the unseen point where
the prairie and sky meet.
The road is like that in those seconds,
nothing but the blind white side
of creation.

                   You’re there somewhere,
a tiny struggling cell.
You just might be significant
but you might not be anything.
Forever is a space of split time
from which to recover after the mass passes.
My curse flies out there somewhere,
and then I send my prayer into the wake
of the diesel truck headed for Sioux Falls
one hundred and eighty miles through the storm.

© Simon J. Ortiz

  “Blind Curse”
from After and Before
the Lightning (Tucson:
The University of
Arizona Press, 1994). 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


              DO ALL WORDS LAST?


The title of homily for this Tuesday in the 1st  Week  of  Lent  is, “Do All Words Last?”


In today’s first reading from Isaiah 55:10-1, Isaiah dramatizes the Lord saying that his words will last. They are not voided. They do the Lord’s will. They achieve the end for which they are voiced, sent.

We know that Jesus pondered Isaiah’s words - words that lasted for centuries - by word of mouth first and then written in ink on scroll and book - up till our time.

I like Bibles that have those little tiny references to other texts along side the texts. The Jerusalem Bible is the best for this in my opinion.

We were taught that the Bible - contains echoes of earlier texts - over and over again. It’s not plagiarism. It’s referals without quotation marks.

Those then who mark these echoes with tiny text references make it easier to hear these earlier sounds. It wasn’t till the early middle ages that chapter and verse numbers were added to our Bible.

I love the scene in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus walks into the synagogue  at Nazareth - and they hand him a copy of the written scroll of the words of Isaiah. He unrolls the scroll and voices words from Isaiah 61:18-19. He uses them for his inaugural address:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor,
and to the blind, sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.”

Then Jesus went out and made those words flesh.  Or as they say in 12 Step Language, “He talked the talk, then he walked the walk.”

The title of my homily is, “Do All Words Last?”

Isaiah’s words - become Jesus’ words. Then when we make those words real in action, we are helping to make those words last.

Mary is the model for all this. She said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Then the Word became flesh in her and lived among us.

Do all words last?

An “I love you!” lasts - and sometimes an “I hate you!” lasts even longer.

Think back on life!  Which words last? What words do we remember all our life?

Words can  be like tattoos - they last on the inner skin of our mind and memory  - for better or for worse - forever.

To replay and make a play on e.e. cummings famous words, “be of love a little more careful than anything” - we can say, “be of words a little more careful than anything.”

Don’t we all remember from grammar or high school Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “I Shot An Arrow Into Air”?


I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,

It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak

I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend. 

Isaiah in today’s first reading saw rain and snow come down from the sky - and watched their impact on the arid soil of Israel

I once preached in the Tucson, Arizona area for 2 weeks - and I was hoping, hoping, hoping for rain, because I heard when one wakes up the next day, one sees that the desert has bloomed. Didn’t happen.

Isaiah is comparing rain and snow to words - falling down on people - changing them - helping them blossom.

Isn’t that why we read the scriptures? Don’t we want good words to rain down on us? Isn’t that why we read good books and magazines, listen to good music, attend lectures, talk to each other, so we can flourish.

Isn’t that why we pray - our own prayers - or Jesus’ prayer as we heard it in today’s gospel, “the Our Father.”


Today - may our words - be words that lift those we’re with - words that are made of oak - words that grow and stand tall in the woods of each other. Amen.


Poem for Tuesday - March 11, 2012


Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.
My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.
What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?
I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.
Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

© Charles Simic



The title of my homily for this Monday in the First Week of Lent is, “Make A List.”

Make a list of do’s and don’ts on how to do life - how to do life as a Christian.

This is a very basic and a very easy homily to say - to list - but it contains things that are very difficult to do.

Do the good stuff on the list and don’t do the bad stuff on the list.


Sometimes the readings at Mass are not that clear - not that specific on what to do and what not to do if one wants to lead a holy life, a Christian life.

Today’s readings - both of them, Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18 and Matthew 25: 31-46 are very clear and very specific on how to live life to the full.

The first reading closes with the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. In other words, what are the things we want for ourselves and what are the things we hate to see happen to us?


Here are the two lists. I’ll start with the don’ts coming out of today’s first reading.

·        Don’t steal,
·        Don’t lie,
·        Don’t speak falsely,
·        Don’t swear to God’s name,
·        Don’t exploit those we can exploit,
·        Don’t rob,
·        Don’t withhold wages,
·        Don’t curse the deaf,
·        Don’t put things in front of the blind to trip them,
·        Don’t judge falsely,
·        Down kow tow to the mighty or show partiality towards the weak,
·        No hatred.
·        Don’t cause yourself to sin when challenging others.
No revenge,
·        No hugging grudges.

Here are the do’s coming out of today’s gospel from Matthew 25…..

·        Give food to the hungry,
·        Give something so the thirsty can have a drink.
·        Welcome the stranger,
·        Clothe the naked,
·        Visit those in prison or those who are in Jail.


One causes heaven here and hereafter. One causes hell here and hereafter. Chose to do the good stuff on lists and avoid the damaging stuff. Amen.

Poem For Today - March 10, 2014

The Cities Inside Us


We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece   
Through the eye and through the ear.

It’s loud inside us, in here, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Does not reach out
In place of the tongue.

© Alberto Ríos, “The Cities Inside Us”
from The Smallest Muscle in
 the Human Body. Copyright © 2002
 by Alberto Ríos. 



The title of my homily is, “3 Imaginary Places to Visit: A Garden, a Desert and a Hill.”

When we read today's 3 readings, many themes and thoughts come jumping up out of the text. I'd like to reflect on some of those themes and images:

·        A Garden and It’s Trees
·        The Tree of Life in the Middle of the Garden
·        Serpents and Snakes Sneaking in the Grass  
·        Temptation
·        Sin - Falls from Grace
·        Desert,
·        Temptations: the Big Ones


I'd like to begin with a guided imagery and imagination trip. Close your eyes and picture the following 3 scenes. Or picture the following as a dream that you had and this is what you saw.

First of all, you're in a beautiful garden. There are lots of trees - especially fruit trees. There are animals roaming around. They are friendly - Bambi or Teddy Bear like. There are all kinds of flowers. The garden is lush and beautiful. There are water falls and streams. Your feet like the feel of green grass underfoot. Your eyes see the glistening fruit. Your ears are picking up the musical sounds of this tropical paradise all around you.

As you’re meandering through the garden, you spot this special looking fruit tree. You stop. It’s there that you begin to hear a hissing snake – with a seductive whispering voice that says,  “Take and eat!”

You hesitate because you had also heard another voice say, “”Don’t take. Don’t eat from this tree. You can eat from any tree in the garden except this one.”

You think, “There’s always a catch!”

You have entered a new phase of life. Up till you heard those voices you thought, “All is good” -  but now you realize there is forbidden fruit.

You think for a moment: there are plenty of other trees in this garden to pick fruit from. You remember hearing that there is this other tree. It’s called “The Tree of Life” and you know it’s in the middle of the garden.

So secondly, you go looking for that tree. You keep walking around till you come to a hill. There it is: the tree in the middle of the garden - The Tree of Life.

But this tree is not what you expected. It’s not a peaceful moment as back there at the tree with the forbidden fruit.

This tree is different. You see a crowd of people crucifying a naked man on that tree. They are spitting and cursing at him and you can't believe that people can be that cruel to another human being

You hear the words, “Take and eat.”

You don’t. You wonder: “Should I go back to the other tree? You remember that’s where you heard those same words, ‘Take and eat!’ You stand there torn between both trees.”

You look at your watch. It’s getting late. You know will be looking for you – in the garden - in the cool of the evening.

Next, the third image hits you. You picture yourself in a desert for 40 days – the complete opposite of the garden.  That place was easy. This place is tough.

You start to hear deep inner temptations – three  big ones.

First you feel the temptation to sensuality - to pig out, to stuff yourself with food, or stuff, or lust, or money and you are overwhelmed in your body with the choices you have to make.

You say “No!” to this temptation. You choose to say, “Yes” to  the Spirit because you know there is more to life than what you can see and taste and touch.

You ponder this choice – there in the desert – an experience so, so different from your garden experience. Slowly you realize – as you look back at the whole of your life -  that this first temptation is part of everyday life - moving in out of traffic - moving in and out of gardens and deserts - and hills of your life.

Some days you feel all is perfect. Life is a garden. You’re in paradise. Some days you feel hot and bothered. Life is a desert. You’re being sand blasted.

Then you’re hit with the second temptation here in the desert. You sense life’s struggles. Sometimes life feels like it’s all burden.  You feel tempted to avoid work and choose the easy way out by being superficial. It's the temptation to "flash" - to try to dazzle the others with surface trash rather than substance. You remember moments when you were in school and you had to write a term paper. You fake it. You put together junk and you know it. You put your work in an expensive binder. You put in graphs or pictures and use all the computer tricks you know to make it look good. But down deep you know you didn't do your homework.

Then comes the third temptation. You are tempted by power - to Lord it over others. You have a job - any job - and people are under you and you are tempted to use them or ignore them or not listen to them. You see it in government. You see it in the Church, but now you see it in yourself. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. What will you do? What will you choose?

You wake up! You open your eyes. You realize that life sometimes is moments in a plush garden – where all is good – but from time to time your eye spots  forbidden fruit. Sometimes its moments on a hill – seeing someone being crucified. And sometimes it’s like being in a desert being hit by big time temptations.


While I was doing the guided imagery above, what thoughts hit you? Where did you go? What will Lent 2014 look like for you?

As we begin Lent,  the Church wants us to reflect on heavy duty stuff. Today it gives us 3 readings that should be reflected on over and over again. We are in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. We are in the Desert with Jesus. We are in the heart of Paul as we find his thoughts in Romans and we have to do some heavy praying and thinking.

Lent is a way of getting us to enter our hearts and see them as a plush garden or as a dry empty desert – or as moments on a hill – sitting under his cross – the Tree of Life.

Many churches – like our church – have this big barren cross up here. How do we see it?  Is it the tree of life for us?


Lent provides us with 40 days to think about all these life issues.

Take sin and temptations to sin. We know they are real. The person who thinks they are without sin, let them turn over the first stone within their hearts. Surprise they will find worms everywhere. Enter deeper into ourselves and we’ll find snakes everywhere. We have snake pits within.

We also have fruit trees in abundance.

So we also have beautiful qualities.

But somehow as we grow older, we begin to discover the knowledge of good and evil. We make choices and we eat of its fruit. We bite into a beautiful apple and discover it's half rotten and a worm crawls within.. The temptation looked perfect from a distance, but we blocked out the ramifications of our behavior.

Take original sin. We run into people who say that they don't believe in Adam and Eve – that story about these two characters in the early pages of the Bible. We run into people who tell us that they don't believe in original sin.

We are tempted to laugh at them, but we choose not to. We know everyone needs to learn all these things are both real and imaginary.  They really exist – but they exist in every human heart.

That’s what a myth is – a story – that helps us understand our story.

Inside each of us is paradise, the garden, the tree with the forbidden fruit on it – as well as the tree of life in the center mountain of our heart – as well as the desert of emptiness.

Adam and Eve is our story. Christ is our story.

It takes time – and sometimes a life time of coming to church – to hear these scriptures – these writings to see, to discover, to learn that they are not just any literature. They are the thoughts of many people put together over many re-tellings on basic human situations.

Have you wrestled with the idea of original sin? I do every time I do a baptism of a baby.  Here is this tiny baby – innocent – and so, so cute. Then I am saying these prayers over this baby – using words like, “kingdom of darkness” and “original sin” and I feel “funny”.

Where is the God who says, “All is good!”

Why are we saying that this little brand new baby – has sin within him or her?

Then I step back and realize – we’re looking at the big picture here.

Give this kid time. Give this kid time to realize that life has forbidden fruit and temptations in the deep desert periods of life. And let’s give this kid – help – strength for the future. Give him or her parents who will give him or her lots of love and good example.

I heard and have never forgotten the saying, “If you want to change a person, you have to change his or her grandfather and grandmother.”

As humans we are tainted by sin. We are not God. We are also tainted by God – and his goodness – and we wrestle all our lives with urges of good and evil, sin and grace, the great tug of war of life.

The sacred scriptures, our bible, wrestle with this issue.

In Chapter 9 of John, in the story of the man born blind, Jesus says he was not born blind because of the sins of his father. Yet – on the other hand we have the DNA and the genes and the eyes of our fathers.

I’ve listened to tapes of people in ACOA – Adult Children of Alcoholics – and yes patterns come down in families – good and bad. If our grandparents  could speak, maybe they would say they are sorry for sins and bad example they have show and passed down to us. Maybe they would say that they got them from their parents and back and back and back. So greed begets greed. Lust begets lust. Anger begets anger. I jump on someone for spilling coffee on my note pad and they are steaming at being yelled at, so they go out and pick on someone else and the domino effect of anger ripples across the world - starting with me. Or did I get angry because someone yelled at me for spilling coffee twenty years ago. Hell, I was just a kid.

But this is too simplistic an understanding of original sin and sin in general. We have to go much deeper – and this enough – too much for now.

Good thing we have one more Lent  - and many Lents to come - to tackle these  big issues.


I sense each of us has to write our own Confessions like Augustine – to explain what we have come up on all this as of today. Each of us has to write our own Letter to The Romans as well. And let’s throw in the need to make imaginary journeys into the garden and desert in our being – as well as stand under the cross of Jesus – and hear him say, “Take and eat. Take and eat.” Amen.