Saturday, May 24, 2014


Poem for May 24, 2014


(Jordan, 1992)

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head
that only language cracks, thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
wells up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow had finally stopped.
in a land where snow rarely falls,
we had our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the bank of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug … I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulders for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend who only scrawled
I can’t write.  What good would any grammar have been

to her then?  I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle East,
and said, I’ll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! And it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

© Naomi Shihab Nye (1952 - )

From Red Suitcase, © 2000

Friday, May 23, 2014


Poem for Today - May 23, 2014


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

Then begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

© Billy Collins.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Poem for Today - May 22, 2014


death comes at the end of the chain saw
with spears of shrieks that split the air and red of the sun
biting into  the flesh of wood
that is shocked by the sudden pain and alien din.
its world overturns all, strange as fainting
sap flowing, its essence denying the steel’s
base and supporting roots trembling
In its canopy birds will play
its air made fragrant by the essence of the forest
the sky is witness with clear eyes.

fallen is the cengal
  fallen is the meranti
    fallen is the merbau
      fallen is the pulai
fallen is the seraya
   fallen is the nyatuh
            fallen is the resak
fallen is the halban
                       fallen is the nibung
                          fallen is the rattan

a family of trees aged by the centuries
the beautiful and great lying in the shadow

with a presence in the root’s fibers and shoot’s sway.
heat rushes into the air tunnel, existence is scalded.

the wheel of nature turns slowly
listening to the rhythm of the season and the sun
With a sense of presence in the roots and the sway of the shoots

after the death shatter and scatter of roots
heat rushes into the tunnel, searing existence.

morning-purple flowers fall
as red as cliffs, as white as cloud, as brown as trunks.
buds and fruits on heavy branches fall
lire dotted near the stem or full with the seasons
a universe of colors falls
a hundred stripes of green painting the leaves' personalities

the moon falls, caught by the branches
as light that sketches difference,
morning falls, the afternoon and the night.
with the rustle, tenderness drips from shoots
the secret mist of nature evaporates
the frame of balance is broken, since trees became earth
the quiet beauty filtered by light fades away,
leaves are dumb, branches speechless, no song, no echo
no deer, no baboon, no elephant herd
no pulse of mouse deer’s bleat,  no question.

the full epic of the forest
is ended by a convoy of lorries with tyres of concrete,
a gang of paid lumberjacks who wear no pity in their eyes.

and a bloated logger
who stands on the red desiccated desert
our future.

© Muhammad Haji Salleh -  
Translated from the Malay

 by the author

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Poem for Today - May 21, 2014


I have no desire for talking, my tongue is tied up.
Now that I am abhorred by my time, do I sing or not?
What could I say about honey, when my mouth is as            bitter as poison.
Alas! The group of tyrants has muffled my mouth.
This corner of imprisonment, grief, failure, and regrets          –
I was born for nothing that my mouth should stay               sealed.
I know O! my heart, It is springtime and the time for           joy,
What could I, a bound bird, do without flight.
Although, I have been silent for long, I have not                 forgotten to sing,
Because my songs whispered in the solitude of my               heart.
Oh, I will love the day when I break out of this cage,
Escape this solitary exile and sing wildly.
I am not that weak willow twisted by every breeze.
I am an Afghan girl and known to the whole world.

© Nadia Anjuman, 
Translated from the Dari
by Abdul Salam Shayek

November 8, 2005

Afghan Poet Dies After Beating by Husband

The death of Ms. Anjuman at age 25 was lamented by colleagues and condemned by the United Nations as a tragic example of the violence that so many Afghan women still face despite their advances four years after Taliban rule.

Ms. Anjuman was knocked unconscious by her husband during an argument Saturday evening, Col. Nisar Ahmad Paikar, chief of the police crime unit in Herat, said in a telephone interview.

Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Mia, is in custody and has admitted hitting his wife and knocking her unconscious, Colonel Paikar said. Ms. Anjuman died later in a hospital, he said. "She had a dark bruise under her right eye," he added.

Ms. Anjuman, a literature undergraduate at Herat University, published her first volume of poems this year, titled "Gule Dudi," or "Dark Flower." She was to publish a second volume next year, said Sayed Haqiqi, a local journalist and colleague of Ms. Anjuman in Herat's Cultural Association. Her husband, who graduated with a degree in literature from the same university, worked as an administrator in the literature faculty, Mr. Haqiqi said.

A spokesman at the United Nations mission in Kabul, Adrian Edwards, called Ms. Anjuman's death tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan. Her death "needs to be investigated, and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in proper accordance with law," he said.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014



The title of my homily for this 5th Tuesday after Easter is, “Do Not Let Your Face Be Troubled.”

In today’s gospel – again from John – we have a  recurring theme - about - not letting one’s heart be troubled. [Cf. John 14:27-31]

As I was thinking about that last night while working on this homily for today, I asked: “Does saying ‘heart’ get to the heart of the matter – with what the text is talking about?”

To a Hebrew – in Jesus’ time – heart would not mean the pump. The doctors in those days wouldn’t know what we know about how our hearts work. The word “heart” would mean one’s command center. It’s the me that I am.  It refers to our mind – our personality – our will – our character – our attitude - and a lot more – the me of me.

So translators might do better - by using the word “center” – instead  of heart – when we hear the call to love God  - our neighbor – and ourselves.

So the translation could be, “Let not your center, your you, be troubled.”

Yet on the other hand, we get heart. Think of Valentine’s Day or all those bumper stickers and T-shirts with hearts on them – that say things like,  “Virginia, or Chocolates or Pugs or Naptown is or are for lovers.”


What would it sound like if we made the sentence go like this: “Let not your face be troubled.”

We can’t see another’s heart, but we see each other’s face.

How many times has someone said to us, “Is everything okay?” And we say, “Yeah – ah ----- uh --- everything’s okay.”  But along with the response there is that tiny biting our lower lip or that slight shrug of our shoulder.

And as they walk away – and for the rest of the day or the hour we wonder, “Is it that obvious, that I’m nervous about X or Y or Z?”

We are sculptors – the sculptors of our faces?  Is that true?

I always remember a page in a book I read some time in the past. I forget the name of the book or anything in it – other than that one page. It had two pictures on it in black and white. The top picture had a table filled with laughing babies. How did they get them all to smile at the same time – and on the same table?  And the picture underneath had a scene of people in a New York Subway car – packed together – maybe on the way home from a long day at work -  and everyone has a closed mouth - and many have a sad face. And underneath that picture were two words: “What happened?”

How many times do we have to be angry – to form a permanent angry face?

How many times do we have to be sad – to form a permanent sad face?

How many times do we have to be happy – to form a permanent happy face?

Smile someone’s taking your picture.

Smile someone’s being affected by your face.

William Shakespeare said, “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” Is that true? What’s your take on that comment?


I guess two tricks are: One - look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Self! What’s going on in there today.” Two - Without looking in the mirror, feel your face from the inside and ask that same question other’s ask us, “Is everything okay?” Then answer that question for yourself.

We’ve all felt our face squinch and squirm and squiggle at times – as we say, “Ah – no - not again. Crud. I hate it when he does that. Every dang time. Dang it! Uhhhhhhhhhhh Ugggggggh!”

William Ernest Henley said in his well-known poem, Invictus, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

I’m wondering out loud in this sermon, “Am I the sculptor of my face.”

And Jesus looks us in the face – and says, “Peace!”

He says, “Peace in there baby, inside there, baby. What’s going on inside your self – behind that face today?”

See his face. Hear that word of “Peace!” Be aware of what that does to our face today.


Uh oh! After Mass, I hope nobody here says in our parking lot about us, “Oh no! Was that person at the same Mass I was just at this morning?”

Poem for Today -May 20, 2014


Stammer is no handicap.
It is a mode of speech.

Stammer is the silence that falls
between the word and its meaning,
just as lameness is the
silence that falls between
the word and the deed.

Did stammer precede language
or succeed it?
Is it only a dialect or a
language itself?  These questions
make the linguists stammer.

When a whole people stammer,
stammer becomes their mothertongue:
as it is now with us.

God too must have stammered
when He created Man.
That is why all the words of man
carry different meanings.
That is why everything he utters
from his prayers to his commands
like poetry.

© K. Satchidanandan, 
Translated from the Malayalam 
by the author, page 484
 in Language for a New Century,
 edited by Tina Chang, 
Nathalie Handal and 
Ravi Shankar, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2014



The title of my short homily for this 5th Monday after Easter  is, “Zeus and Hermes.”

Paul and Barnabas in today’s first reading from The Acts of the Apostles are called Zeus and Hermes by the people of the townof Lystra.  [Cf. Acts 14:5-18]

Paul  – along with Barnabas – had called on God - for the healing of a crippled man – who is lame from birth. Paul seeing that the man had the faith to be healed calls out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” Surprise! The man jumps up and starts to walk about.

The crowds seeing what Paul just did cried out, “The gods have come down to us in human form.” It’s then that they call Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes”.


I don’t know about you, but down through the years – whenever I run into names of the Greek gods – as well as the Roman gods – I say to myself, “I have to take the time to study up on all this.”

I’ve tried several times. I never seem to get it. 

And I’ve often been impressed by those who know all about the names of the Greek gods – and their Roman – counterparts – and who is god of this and who is god of that.

It’s like those who know all the names of the characters in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Hobbit series. For them, it's as if the characters lived next door.

This morning, once more, I looked up who these gods were and what they stood for.

Zeus is the top god – the god who presides over all these other gods. When sculpted he’s a statue of a male - standing there as a father – with thunderbolt in hand.  He’s described as father – the head god – the one who presides over various other gods. He’s described as an eagle, or a bull or an oak. He’s described as the daytime god.

Hermes is described as one of the children of Zeus – and he had many. He is described as a messenger – who brings messages – from here to there and back. In Roman mythology he’s called Mercury – with wings on his feet. You’ve seen that in fast messenger – as well as fast flowers – services.  At times he’s described as the trickster – the cunning one. He moves between two words: human and divine. One descriptions that he’s the god of transitions and boundaries. I like that one.

I know him better than the other gods – because he’s the god of public speaking – and that’s how the folks of Lystra and elsewhere saw Paul.


Christianity all but put an end to this whole system of gods and goddesses.

I have to do my homework – and that means more reading – about all this.

At times I wonder if there is a human tendency to want gods – or powers above our powers, abilities, and weaknesses. If there is, what happened with Christianity taking over. I wonder at times  if it was replaced by saints being named patron saints of this and that.

I know Protestants at times think we made Mary a Goddess.

I don’t know.

I do like it that I was blessed being born into Christianity – with Jesus as our God – and he introduces us into how the Father is – and if you see Jesus – you see the Father.


In other words I’m lame and crippled when it comes to this whole pantheon of gods – in both Greek, Roman, as well as Hindu religions and mythologies.

However, in other words,  I like it that Paul said just what Jesus said to the crippled man. Stand up and walk. Amen.

Poem for Today - May 19, 2014


I know the dark need, the yearning, that want,
in the same way the blind man knows
the inside of his old home.

I don’t see my own movements
and the objects hide.
But without error or stumbling
I maneuver among them,
live among them,
move like the self-winding clock
which even after losing its hands
keeps ticking and turning
but shows neither minute nor hour.

And dangling between darkness and loneliness
I want to analyze this want
like a chemist
to understand its nature and profound mystery.
And as I try
there is laughter
from some mysterious tunnel,
laughter from an indescribable distance,
from an unhearable distance.

A city sparrow with a liquid song
changes its ungreen life
Into music from an unechoing distance,
an unhuntable distance.

And words start hurting me
as they mock, echo from the unhuntable distance,
the merciless distance.

I walk from wall to wall
and the sound of my steps
seems to come from far away
from that merciless distance,
that impossible distance.

I am not blind
but I see nothing
around me, because
vision has detached itself
and reached that distance
that is impossibly far,
excessively far.

I run after myself
incapable of ever reaching or
catching what I seek.

And this is what is called
Want and longing or “garod.”

© Barouyr Sevag,
from Colorado Review.  
Translated from the Armenian, 
© 1978  by Diana Der-Hovanessian.
Found in Language for a New Century,
Edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal
and Ravi Shankar, pages 110-112

Sunday, May 18, 2014



The title of my homily is, “There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat.”

Have you ever used that saying somewhere and some time in your life?

Someone wants you to do something their way – or the expected way – and you do it a different way – or you want to do it your way. And so you say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”


I looked it up and found out that nobody is that sure of the origin of that old proverb.

Researchers found people saying that saying - as far back as 1678 – but they are still not sure where the saying comes from. It could mean just what it says. Picture 5 taxidermists removing the skin of an animal – removing stuff - then restuffing it with different stuff – and then putting the skin back on. I would assume taxidermists - or hunters - or butchers - would remove an animal's skin differently. Then someone applied that reality to everyday life and said, "There's more than one way to skin a cat." People do things differently. Hello!

Others say it refers to skinning a catfish. Others say it refers to doing a gymnastic trick differently.

Since it’s still a common saying – someone came up with a cute list of 50 different ways to skin a cat. Some were quite funny.  Some of the 50 are gross – and I have to work on being PC correct. Better PCC – Politically Cat Correct. Here’s 4  ways from that list on how to skin a cat that I think could be mentioned in church:  
# 17: “Suddenly and severely frighten the cat you want to skin.  Try sneaking up and clap cymbals in its ears.”  
# 22:  vote yes on proposition 98. (the cat skinning law) 
# 42, “Tie one end of string to doorknob, other end to cat's skin. Slam door.” Ouch!                
# 46: Accuse cat of murder. Collect skin as evidence.”


It’s the thought that hit me when I read today’s 3 readings.

In today’s first reading we hear about structural – organizational - changes in the Early Church.

Things are getting busier and people are being neglected. We need to reorganize.

We heard in today’s first reading that the Hellenists – the Greeks in the Early Church – complained against the Hebrews in the Early Church. Their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Some folks were needed to serve at table; some folks were needed for prayer services.  So after discussion 7 men were chosen for a special ministry.

Reorganization has been the history of every organization – and that includes the Christian Church. Priests, bishops, deacons, other ministries developed as the church expanded and grew. These titles don’t mean exactly what they mean today.

Pope Francis has recently set up his super committee of 8 cardinals. Was it to bypass the curia or other power groups?

As we move into the future, there will be changes in Church structure and organization. What those changes will be – gives material for many magazine articles.

As we look at the past, cardinals weren’t always the sole voters on picking a new pope. That didn’t take place till 1059. Before that emperors and others got in on the pickings.

So the history of cardinals could be a case study in church organizational change and development. Some say our first reading  - with this story of these 7 men being picked by name was the beginning of the idea of cardinals. Others say it’s the idea of the deacons. These 7 were chosen as consulters – and by the 4th century - these consulters of the Pope were called "Cardinals".  The word has the Latin root "cardo" meaning "hinge".

The word “monsignor” also has an interesting history. Pope Francis didn’t reward anyone with this title when he was Archbishop and then Cardinal of Buenos Aires – and wants to cut back on titles and awards  - telling priests to avoid careerism.

I love the last part of the last sentence in the English Translation of today’s first reading: “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

So expect in our lifetime more structural changes in the Catholic Church.

Today’s second reading from 1 Peter says the key to any structure is Christ. The building can take many shapes, but make sure Christ is our cornerstone. Make him our rock.

So Christianity has many forms – and has had many splits – and hopefully we keep on working for Church Unity – aware that we all don’t see the same way. Hopefully, we all hear that final sentence and statement in today’s second reading: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Today’s Gospel has Jesus telling us that he is the way, the truth and the life. Today’s gospel also has Jesus telling us that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house.

Down through the centuries there have been many descriptions of what heaven is like. We have to die to find out – and I don’t hear most people dying to find out. Different religions also give different descriptions.

There are jokes and amusing stories about up there. I’ve heard about 5 versions of the person arriving in heaven – and being shown to their room – and St. Peter says as the new person goes by several doors – “Shish – those are the Catholics, they think they’re the only one’s here.” “Shish those are the Baptists, they think they’re the only one’s here.”

Will every mansion on the street be different? Will there be gated communities – with Golden Gates and Golden cobblestones?


The title of my homily is, “There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat.”

I think that tiny trivial statement – can bring us a lot of peace.

I think Thomas is a great gift of a person to have in the gospel readings. He says things we all need to say at times. For example, from today’s gospel: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Then Jesus says to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

To me that’s like ordering “Cobb Salad” when at a restaurant.

My good friend Tom and I were preaching in Ohio – where Bob Evan’s Restaurants started. The priest in the parish took us out to Bob Evans every night – he didn’t like to shop or cook. Every night – Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I got Cobb Salad.

As a result whenever I see Cobb Salad on a menu – except if it says it has fish in it – I order Cobb Salad to see how they make it in this restaurant.

That’s the act of faith. I make it.  In the meanwhile I wait to see what’s going to appear 10 minutes later.

Life – we have to make lots of acts of faith. We know there are lots of ways to skin a cat – lots of ways to live our faith – lots of ways to do life – and we make acts of faith in each other – and in our judgment - and in God – and we just hope what happens after our waiting– it was all worth the wait.

Of course we have hesitations. Didn’t the risen Lord – on that Lake called Galilee – have fish on a fire for the disciples  – for breakfast - one of those first mornings after Easter? I hope to get to heaven after I die, but if I meet him waiting for me on the other shore of death  cooking something up for me when I arrive, I hope it's not catfish.


Poem for Today - May 18, 2014


When, during a weekend in Venice while standing
with the dark sky above the Grand Canal
exploding in arcs of color and light,

a man behind me begins to explain
the chemical composition of the fireworks
and how potassium-something-ate and sulfur catalyze

to make the gold waterfall of stars cascading
in the moon-drunk sky, I begin to understand why
the Inquisition tortured Galileo

and see how it might be a good thing for people
to think the sun revolves around the earth.
You don't have to know how anything works

to be bowled over by beauty,
but with an attitude like mine we'd still be                   swimming
in a sea of smallpox and consumption,

not to mention plague, for these fireworks
are in celebration of the Festival of the Redentore,
or Christ the Redeemer, whose church on the other           side

of the canal was built after the great plague
      of 1575 to thank him for saving Venice,
though by that time 46,000 were dead,

and I suppose God had made his point if indeed he           had one.
The next morning, Sunday, we take the vaporetto
across the lagoon and walk along

the Fondamenta della Croce, littered
with the tattered debris of spent rockets
and Roman candles, to visit the Church of the                   Redentore

by Palladio. The door is open for mass,
and as I stand in the back, a miracle occurs:
after a year of what seems to be nearly futile study,

I am able to understand the Italian of the priest.
He is saying how important it is
to live a virtuous life, to help one's neighbors,

be good to our families, and when we err
to confess our sins and take communion.
He is speaking words I know: vita, parlare,                       resurrezione.

Later my professor tells me the holy fathers
speak slowly and use uncomplicated constructions
so that even the simple can understand Christ's                 teachings.

The simple: well, that's me, as in one for whom
even the most elementary transaction is difficult,
who must search for nouns the way a fisherman

throws his net into the wide sea, who must settle
for the most humdrum verbs: I am, I have, I go, I       speak,
and I see nothing is simple, even my desire to                   strangle

the man behind me or tell him that some things
shouldn't be explained, even though they can be,
because most of the time it's as if we are wandering

lost in a desert, famished, delirious,
set upon by wild lions, our minds blank with fear,
starving for a crumb, any morsel of light.

© Barbara Hamby (1952-  )