Saturday, May 31, 2014


Poem for Today - May 31, 2014


As long as you’re dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

© Mary Oliver

Page 19, in A Thousand Mornings
he Penguin Press, New York, 2012

Friday, May 30, 2014


Poem for Today - May 30, 2014


“Peace be upon each thing my eye takes in,
Upon each thing my mouth takes in.”

The pleated lampshade, slightly askew,
dust a silverish muting of the lamp’s fake brass.
My sock-monkey on the pillow, tail and limbs asprawl,
weary after a daya of watching sunlight
prowl the house like a wolf.
Gleams of water in my bedside glass.
Miraculous water, so peacefully
waiting to be consumed.

The day’s crowding arrived
at this abundant stillness. Each thing
given to the eye before sleep, and water
at my lips before darkness. Gift after gift.

© Denise Levertov

Poem for Today - May 29, 201449


I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels – twice descending
Reimbursed by store –
Burglar! Banker – Father!
I am poor once more!

© Emily Dickinson

Poem for Today - May 28, 2014


I may be silent, but
I’m thinking.
I may not talk, but
Don’t mistake me for a wall.

© Tsuboi Shigeji

Tuesday, May 27, 2014



The title of my homily is, “The Court Is In Session.”

How many movies, how many TV programs, have we seen a scene - where a judge bangs a gavel and says, “The court is in session.”


I noticed in various commentaries on today’s gospel – John 16: 5-11 – that a possible image to keep in mind for understanding this gospel scene is a courtroom. The text is quite wiggly and muddy watery to me – so I need an image – and that of a courtroom helps.

Wait! Listen to today's gospel again:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Now I am going to the one who sent me,
and not one of you asks me,
‘Where are you going?’

But because I told you this,
grief has filled your hearts.

But I tell you the truth,
it is better for you that I go.

For if I do not go,
the Advocate will not come to you.

But if I go, I will send him to you.

And when he comes
he will convict the world
in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation:
because they do not believe in me; 
because I am going to the Father
and you will no longer see me;
because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”

Picture oneself on trial. We’re sitting in the witness chair and we’re being questioned.

The key Greek word in the gospel is elegchein – which is translated into English as “convict”, “convince”, “prove”, - in an effort  to expose the truth – and nothing but the truth.

So picture oneself on trial  in a courtroom - being grilled by an attorney – defense or prosecutor– with the idea that  the person grilling us wants us to  see – to be shamed – broken down and then to admit - we are wrong.

In today’s gospel – and in many of these gospels that lead up to Pentecost, Jesus is saying - he is going to send the Spirit – as Advocate – Lawyer - who will convict us  – and convince us of three things.

First of all, the Spirit will convince or convict us that we’re in sin – when we think we’re not. The Spirit will get us to see or sense the implications and results of our sinful attitudes and actions. Come Holy Spirit!

Secondly, the Spirit will convince or convict us that we’re wrong – when we thought we were right – and we’ll get a grasp on what’s truly right. Come Holy Spirit.

And thirdly, we’ll grasp that our way of judging life and what’s happening - is wrong and we’ll say, “Oh now I get it – now I see how God judges things. Now I get that God has a judgment on how life should be working. Now I grasp what, 'Thy Will be done' in the Our Father – means.  In other words, it’s something different than 'My will be done.'”  Come Holy Spirit!


This stuff is heavy – and to be honest – I sense I’m miles away from what this text is really getting at.

However, as preacher – I feel convinced – that the readings are here – so it’s my call to try to get one’s mind on what’s being presented – so as to get something out of it – for a homily.

I was tempted to stick to the First Reading for today – the prison scene in Acts 16: 22-34. It too is a strange story – yet it seems  a bit clearer.

However, as already stated, I decided to stay in the courtroom – the step before prison. I’m tackling  the Gospel rather than the First Reading.

So how to grasp today’s gospel?  As already stated, picture being in the courtroom – and the prosecutor is trying to get us look at 3 things in our life: sin, righteousness and judgment.

Take some time to think about situations in one's life when we were wrong – but we thought we were right – and then surprise, surprise, we realized we were wrong in those areas.

First sin. 

I remember someone who gave me an insight into sin. I don’t remember now who it was – but it was some lady in upstate New York – in the late 1960’s. In a casual conversation she said, “Oh, for starters, I don’t see sin as hurting God - or effecting God. I see sin as something that hurts me or another or both. Then that hurts God – who sees me hurting and messing things up.”

Then she paused and said, “I sense that people only think of hurting God when they sin – and not themselves. And then they picture God is going to get them, punish them, for their mistakes.”

Thinking about what she said, I began to realize I was wrong about sin. Up till then, I was reading the Bible and the Catechism as saying that sin basically is something that was hurting God.

I was seeing sin as something abstract – something out there on paper – something in the books - external - not internal.

I wasn’t thinking much about how sin hurts me and others. I was just trying to follow the law – the rules and the regulations – the Commandments - so as to please God – do God’s will – and not study what’s behind something that is labeled a sin.

Okay, sin must hurt God – like an aftertaste or aftermath -  because sin is what messes up God’s hope for our world – for us – and for other's plans on how a day should go. 

That lady's comment got me to see God being like a parent who feels horrible when they see their kid mess up their life – and the kid doesn't get it that he or she is hurting themselves for life by their actions and behaviors.

Secondly righteousness. 

There’s another one of those tricky religious words.

I assume it has to do with what’s right and what’s wrong. What saves us? What kills us? 

I assume it takes time and a lot of living to realize what real right religion is all about.  

I assume we need the Spirit – Come Holy Spirit – to come into each of us. Come Holy Spirit – not just into church teachers –  but into each of us in the Church – in the Human Race - as we all hopefully grow in holiness – improving our conscience – righting out conscience - not just someone else’s conscience. I heard the great scream of Vatican II that the gospel calls are calls to all in the depths of our inner being  - in each person's "most secret core and sanctuary" as Vatican II proclaimed.[1]

Third and last – judgment.

I remember when I switched my attitude towards the Sabbath. Yes,  there is the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath Day.  Then  when I saw that lots of people have to work on Sunday – often - so the rest of us can go out to eat on Sunday or what have you – I realized that the law was not made for God but for us. Hello! That’s exactly what  Jesus told us. The Sabbath law was made for us – not the other way around. We need a break – on regular basis – and if don’t take breaks, we’ll break. Dumb me – is that how the word “dummy” evolved? – that’s what Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to see about the Sabbath. It’s made for us – and not the other way around.  So people better make Sabbath – even if it’s a Thursday or a Tuesday or what have you.


Enough already. I said this is complicated and I suspect I muddied up the waters I was trying to make clearer – even more. Sorry. Come Holy Spirit.


[1]  The Document of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,  #16-17 - which says: 


16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.

Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals the law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genjuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships.  Hence the more that a correct conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality.

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity.  The same cannot be said of a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or of a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.


17.  Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly so, to be sure. Often, however, they foster it perversely as a license for doign whatever pleases them, even if it is evil.

For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man.  For God has willed that man be left "in the hand of his own counsel" so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him.   Hence man's dignity demands that he act according to a knowing  and free choice.  Such a choice is personally motivated and prompted from within.  It does not result from blind internal impulse nor from mere external pressure.

Man achieves such dignity, when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skillful action, apt means to that end.  Since man's freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the help of God's grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgment seat of God each man must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil.


Poem for Today - May 27, 2014

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 

© William Shakespeare

Monday, May 26, 2014


Poem for Today - May 26, 2014

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon


You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine. 

© Billy Collins

Sunday, May 25, 2014



The title of my homily is, “I Love A Good Mystery.”

Have you ever said that to anyone in your life?

“I love a good mystery.”


I was driving along in my car  - on Thursday afternoon – listening to the radio – sort of spaced out – thinking about St. Mary’s High School graduation - that took place that morning. Once more it was a wonderful moment – in a beautiful setting – the baccalaureate mass here in this church and then the graduation down on the lawn on the edge of Spa Creek.

Still driving - I woke up when I caught on CBC - Radio-Canada – it’s just like NPR – an interview with Jim Holt – about a book he wrote in 2012 – entitled, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story.

Never heard of him - nor his book. It’s non-fiction – yet it’s a mystery – about the great mysteries of life – especially whether there is a God. I’ve been thinking about that radio interview for the past few days. Evidently, I love a mystery.

The interview was fascinating, interesting, and challenging. I really took notice – I really started listening – when he said he was born Catholic and went to Catholic school – but somewhere along the line – the answers he was getting – to his big life question – were not answering his question – and he dropped out of our church. As priest I’d obviously heard  that.

He said that he discovered the Existentialist Philosophers in high school; Sartre and Heidegger – in particular. I didn’t read them till the last two years of college – and then in the major seminary.

Jim Holt said he was floored by something Heidegger wrote – that the deepest question is: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

He said that question hit him – a high school kid – and hit him hard and was in the back and front of his mind ever since.

That comment on Thursday afternoon on the car radio – hit me as he began describing what he was thinking about much of his life.  

Why is there something? Anything? Why is there me and you and this great big universe we find ourselves in?

He said that if our mom and dad didn’t make love – when their love making made us – the person I am  would  not exist. A different sperm – maybe a different egg – would have made another person – but not me.

I’m not writing things down while I’m driving – but what I heard - was something - I wish I could have written down. Hence this sermon. You’re my radio audience. Fasten your seat belts.

I was hearing some fascinating comments.

Jim Holt added  - that there might have been – say 50 billion people so far – on this planet – but how many ghost people are there – those who never existed – out there – as nothing.

I think he then paused and said something like, “I hit the lottery. I exist.”

That hit me. Thank you mom and dad.

Wow 74 years of me so far.

I exist. I am somebody. I am not nothing – even though like everybody I’ve experienced yawns and people walking away from me in the middle of a story – or their eyes checking the rest of the room while I babble – and not just in church.

Still like everybody, I’m somebody. Then again, I smile when I say that, because I like one of Emily Dickinson’s poems – Poem # 288

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!

I’m somebody. I exist. I have a name! I’m not a nobody. I’m nothing special, but I am somebody – to somebody – to two people for starters – my mom and dad – then to my 2 sisters and my brother.

Then there’s marriage – at least my fantasy of marriage – or the hope in every marriage – that this other person knows and loves me.

I think about these things – therefore I exist.

I prefer to talk Descartes that way.

I am also a believer in God – so I add, “Thank you God – for the gift of life – for being Someone – not a nothing – who helped – along with my mom and dad – I believe  - in the creation of me – that I was and am - a wanted one.”

Jim Holt, the fellow I heard on the radio, didn’t seem to think like that – at least I was hearing him – and how else can hear another – but as each us hears – in our own unique way.

Jim Holt went around the world and talked to a handful of thinkers – important – thinkers -  philosophers – scientists – to get answers to his most fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It’s Heidegger’s question – but it became his question.

That radio interview - I was listening to - while driving this past Thursday - triggered a memory and a moment from my first course in philosophy – when Father Joseph Colleran – who ended working here in Annapolis with the poor. One day he said the following, “I going to write on the board, the shortest poem ever written. It’s only two words – and it sums up the whole of Existentialist Philosophy.”

 And he wrote on the blackboard:


I understood very little in our two years of philosophy, but I never forgot that. And I know years later I found myself mentioning that moment in sermons and then saying that I wrote another poem – adding - that  it too is only 2 words - and it too rhymes and it too - asks another of life’s biggest questions:


There they are:  two big mysteries; two of life’s biggest questions.



That radio program the other day triggered all this – and Jim Holt told about by name and personality and peculiarities the different philosophers and scientists that he traveled to interview and study. His book is a summary of what he came up with.

I didn’t read his book yet – but what I heard, and what I tracked down yesterday while looking up his stuff on line and reading a lot of stuff by him and about him,  I realize I have been hearing  and reading about down through the years – plus some new stuff.

I wondered if he had read or why didn’t he visit, Hans Kung – who deals with a lot of what he was dealing with in his big fat 839 page book, Does God Exist?

What I heard – what I knew - when I read Hans Kung’s book – and while I listened to this interview with Jim Holt - was that I know very little about quantum physics, string theory, and known and unknown scientists, teachers, etc. etc. etc. Jim Holt mentioned in his interview the names of some key people he met – and their take on life.  Some had answers; some had questions. Some believed in God; some didn’t.

I’m happy to be able to say that I learned a long time ago the message from the Talmud – “Teach thy tongue to say, ‘I do not know.’”

It reminded me - of many a moment  - I stood in the doorway of  big library and seeing all those books – I’ve said, “I know nothing.”

It reminded me of a thousand moments I stopped to look up at the night sky and see so many stars  - and realized - I know nothing. I love this church with its stars on the blue sky ceiling – but I love the night sky far better.

It reminded me of a thousand moments - I have been stopped by beauty: living 7 years – in in an Atlantic oceanfront  – retreat house - in Long Branch New Jersey, backpacking in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado – as well as the White Mountains in New Hampshire, living on Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, living 14 years just 200 yards from the Hudson River,  giving talks in a retreat house in the desert just outside of Tucson, Arizona, snorkeling in the Virgin Islands when working down there once giving some talks – great job – and they paid for it. Life is good.  The world, the earth, the universe is beautiful.

So when it comes to God, I wonder at times why did God create the Grand Canyon and the Grand Cayman’s – while I remember Woody Allen’s comment: “God created the world, except certain parts of New Jersey.”

So I wonder why the 13 year old gets gunned down – and why Hitler lived.

I wonder what in the world is it with the faces of certain types of dogs and monkeys.

So  – some of us believe God is the Creator.

All of us know there are things around us – some we like, some we don’t like, some we wonder about.  And we know they are not nothing.  So we ask at times: “Why? Why? Why?”

Then there are all those wonderful “you’s” – - all those people whom we meet in our lives.  I consider that one of the best gifts of being a priest.

I remember hearing on TV – William Sloan Coffin [1924-2006] – a famous Protestant minister. He was being interviewed. One question he was asked was, “What’s the best part of being a minster?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he must have been asked the question before, or he had thought about it a lot, he answered, “Oh – sitting with someone – one to one – and they invite me into the secret garden of their soul.”

So if Jim Holt asked me his question, I’d say all of the above and say, “I believe in God.”

I’d say, “I have my questions – my wonderings – my prayers – but especially my prayers of thanksgiving – because I see the somethings that are – more than the nothings that are not.”

I’d say, “When I was younger, my prayers were more asking prayers – but for the past 20 or 30 years – they have become more and more prayers of thanksgiving.”

As to suffering and sorrow – horror and war – shootings and craziness – I assume that they are not nothing.

So I am aware that philosophers talk about The Problem of Evil.

I am forever thankful for  a paper I once read by the philosopher, Jacques Maritain – entitled the Problem of Good. Ever since reading that article, if someone hits me with the problem of evil – I like to add, “But what about the Problem of Good?”


Did you notice the following comment in today’s second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence ….

I hope I’m did that in this homily.

I noticed in today’s readings that we Christians bring Christ into this question that Jim Holt is asking.

It’s a shame that he dropped out of the family a long time ago – that what he was hearing in church and Catholic school – did not answer his existential question – the question that Martin Heidegger asked,

By dropping into a Catholic Church I would hope he would hear what today’s gospel and first reading are telling us: Jesus. Experience the existence of Jesus. He is somebody.

I would hope he would hear that Jesus – one of the 3 persons in God – now that’s a mystery – came down and lived this life on this earth.

He ended up being violently killed because part of being us – the mystery of us – is that we were gifted with the gift of freedom – that life and love would be boring – meaningless - without freedom – that the other person or persons doesn’t have to love us – or be nice to us – but rather they can hurt us – and kill us or what have you. And secondly, this person, this second person in God – who became one of us – loved people, healed people, touched people – embraced children, talked and embraced women – something not to be done – even back then - in public in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. He reached out to all. Each in the all was somebody – and he knew if they even touched the hem of his garment in a crowd.  He loved bread and wine, the birds of the air, the flowers of the fields, alone time in the desert and in the mountains.


The title of my homily is, “I Love A Mystery.” 

I love that I have been created in mystery. I celebrate that I am someone – not nothing – someone who spends time and thought and prayer with my two questions: 



In fact, I like those 2 questions better than Jim Holt’s life quest to answer Heidegger’s question:  “Why is there something rather than nothing?” 

Poem for Today - May 25, 2014


Because the night you asked me,
the small scar of the quarter moon
had healed — the moon was whole again;
because life seemed so short;
because life stretched before me
like the darkened halls of nightmare;
because I knew exactly what I wanted;
because I knew exactly nothing;
because I shed my childhood with my clothes—
they both had years of wear left in them;
because your eyes were darker than my father’s;
because my father said I could do better;
because I wanted badly to say no;
because Stanley Kowalski shouted “Stella…;”
because you were a door I could slam shut;
because endings are written before beginnings;
because I knew that after twenty years
you’d bring the plants inside for winter
and make a jungle we’d sleep in naked;
because I had free will;
because everything is ordained;
I said yes.

© Linda Pastan