Saturday, August 2, 2014


Poem for Today - August 2, 2014


Never return in August to what you love;
Along the leaves will be rust
And over the hedges dust,
And in the air vague thunder and silence burning;
Choose some happier time for your returning.

Choose Spring, acrid and cool, unshaped, unmade;
See all that you love come awake,
Stream swell and buds break;
Or choose some Autumn month with loud winds crying,
Stormy with leaves and dark birds southward flying.

Choose Winter if you must, for that stark season
Waits, as you learned to wait,
For loveliness come late.

And all that you have longed for you may hold
Safely within the Winter’s barren cold.

But never return in Summer to what you love,
O heavy beauty that your eyes possess,
O deepest beauty past its perfectness,
Where is the mad bright wonder, the divine
Rapturous lightness that eludes all sense –
That is like flame – that is like wind – like wine –
Only more strange and sweet of influence?

Where are you? Where?
The smell of fruit hangs in the windless air.

(c) Bernice Kenyon



The title of my homily is, “Where Did This Man Get Such Wisdom…?

Sometimes when we are with someone, we say just what people said of Jesus in his time, “Where did this man get such wisdom….?

Sometimes when we are with people, we think just what people wondered about Jesus in his time, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary known to be his mother and James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? Aren’t his sisters our neighbors?”

I think of a plumber named Leo from West Pittston Pa. – an extremely sharp guy – also a farmer in Paulding, Ohio, named Francis – filled with wisdom.  I also met Tom Berry – one of the brightest persons on the planet in the last century – and I was privileged to hear him give a new creation account – which took him a weekend to present – in several talks.

The title of my homily is the question in today’s  gospel – when people experienced Jesus – and ended up rejecting him: “Where Did This Man Get Such Wisdom…?”


Today, August 1st, is the feast of St. Alphonsus d’Liguori.

He was a great preacher – and writer – and made the Hall of Fame  - as a Doctor of the Church.  As of 2012 there are 35 of them in our history – finally 4 women in our times: Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen.

Where did he – where did they get their wisdom?

As you know there is a difference between information and wisdom.

A person can know all the Capitals of all the countries in our world and be stupid.  A person can win in Jeopardy and lose in life.


For starters we learn from our parents and grandparents and those around us as a baby and a child.

Alphonsus had a tough sea captain of a father – a naval captain – and he ran a tough ship at sea and at home. Alphonsus’ mother was the complete opposite – educated in a convent school for girls – and wow was she surprised when she was in an arranged marriage with a rough and tumble vocal husband.

How much did that mold Alphonsus? I don’t know. God could be very strict to him – but he also discovered the tenderness of our God.  Did he get both from his parents?

Where did we pick up our images and likenesses of God?

Alphonsus was very scrupulous and everything was a sin – but then he met and worked with poor goat herders in the mountains above Naples and the Amalfi coast – and somewhere in there – especially in hearing confessions and hearing about their lives his moral theology became much more moderate and balanced and freeing.

Somewhere along the line he discovered the feeling side of religion – the feeling side of God. We see feelings in his music, his hymns, his paintings, his Stations of the Cross, his Visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

He was a lawyer – and in a big land case – he either made a mistake or there was a bribe – and he lost the case. It  wiped him out. He fell apart. He was deeply hurt and depressed.   It was in the midst of this disaster – that he saw the light to move towards another way of life: becoming a priest.

He had hit bottom – and the only place to go – was up.

He was a hard worker as a lawyer – so he became a hard worker as a priest. He took on too much – and became quite sick as a diocesan priest.
Once more he hit bottom. Friends suggested taking a break so he went to the Amalfi Coast – to recover. Good choice.  It  was there he looked up into the mountains when he found out there were folks up there – whom priests didn’t really care about – especially goat herders

He cared about them – and started the Redemptorists.

Pope Francis tells us to smell like sheep.  Would goats fit the bill?

Finding lost sheep  - working with folks who were considered the goats of society – is the attitude and ambiance Redemptorists have in mind.

We find this vision for life – and outlook – in the motto he chose for the Redemptorists : Copiosa apud eum Redemptio.

With him, with Christ, there is fullness of Redemption.

It’s from Psalm 130. That’s the De Profundis Psalm. From out of the depths I cry to you, O God. Out the depths – when you’re in the pits – when it seems like it’s only night – everyone hopefully – hopes for the dawn – for the light – for help – for redemption.

So Alphonsus reached out and decided to start a community of priests and brothers – to work for those in the pits – those on the outskirts – the edge – the neglected.

We came to America from Austria, because there were a lot of German people here  in America – who needed priests.

We came to Annapolis because there was nobody really there – and it was a good place to set up a place to train priests for those who needed us in German communities in the upper eastern part of the United States.


I joined the Redemptorists to go to Brazil – never got that deal.

I often wonder how that would have molded my life.

What would I have learned that I have not learned?

In the meanwhile I look at what I learned from not just my education – but my mom and dad – family – experiences – mistakes – and so many people that I have met in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington DC, Ohio, Maryland, etc. etc. etc.

I think key to wisdom is not the experiences, but what we learn from our experiences.

I love the saying, “A  person can have 30 years’ experience or 1 years’ experience 30 times.


The title of my homily is, “Where Did This Man Get Such Wisdom…?

I gave some personal answers – as well as the example of St. Alphonsus- on his feast day.

Let me close with a mnemonic.

If you want to get a Ph.D. in Wisdom from one’s experience, use those 3 letters: “P H D.”

P stands for perception. We perceive something. We see something. We spot something.

H stands for humility.  I love the old saying, “Teach thy tongue to say, ‘I do not know.’” I don’t. We have no clue to really what is or what happened.

D stands for digging. Dig into what we have seen and see what happened and the why’s – and calmly keep doing that – and in time, we’ll have a Ph.D. in wisdom from our life experiences.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Poem For Today - August 1, 2014


I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain –
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

© Dana Gioia

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Poem for Today - July 31, 2014


"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest's ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone. 

© Walter de la Mare

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Poem for Today - July 30, 2014


A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
Gold doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

© Mechthild of Magdeburg (1210-1297)
Translated by Jane Hirshfield,

Page 64 in The Enlightned Heart,
An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
by Stephen Mitchell

Tuesday, July 29, 2014



The title of my homily for this feast of St. Martha is “Mousier Martha.”

Last night in preparing this homily I noticed on Google that description of Martha as “mousier.”  


That’s a metaphor: Martha being described as a mouse – scurrying around – but also notice the “ier” in the word “mousier.” It’s a comparison  - referring to another. That would be Mary – also being described as a mouse – as in “a church mouse” or being as quiet as a mouse.

In the Detroit Institute of Art there is a famous painting by Caravaggio entitled, “Martha and Mary.”

It has two other titles as well: “Martha Reproving Mary”; and, “The Conversion of Magdalene.” It hit me: maybe some artists or at times artists don’t give their paintings the names we see on the wall next to the painting. So from now on when I see the title of a painting – I’ll have the wondering, “Is this their title or did someone else make it up.”

In 1985 I visited the Detroit Art museum  - but I don’t remember that painting. I do remember the big pictures and stories in the mural paintings by Diego Rivera. Now he was an interesting character. Check him out as well as Caravaggio.

I love to look at paintings in art museums – not trying to see all the paintings – scurrying around like a mouse – but only a few – and to see those few very well. Would that be how Martha and Mary would do a museum?

And there’s one more beauty of Google and the  Internet. It's this:  one can slowly look at copies of so many great paintings – and get excellent commentaries on a painting – and take one’s time – in doing so.

In fact, as I was looking up Caravaggio’s painting on the Internet, “Martha and Mary,” that's where I spotted that writer describing Martha as being “mousier” than her sister – and having an insistent presence.  So that’s where that mousier metaphor comes from.


The painting shows two women: Martha and Mary.

Mary is touching  a big mirror  - as well as holding a flower in her hand.

A commentator says Martha – the one on the left is pleading something to Mary.  Martha is the more active one; Mary is the more quiet one.

The Gospels have several Mary’s – and they get mixed up at times – in the scriptures – as they have often been done by preachers – and now an artist by the name of Caravaggio.

Caravaggio mixes up the Mary in this story with Mary Magdalene – which makes it a good story telling painting.

Some think the painting was commissioned by a rich woman in Rome. Here’s the comment I noticed: the paining “was commissioned by a noblewoman and sole heiress to a vast family fortune, Olimpia Aldobrandini, since it is first listed in an inventory of her collection, made in 1606. It is itself an object of conspicuous consumption, displayed to show off Aldobrandini’s taste and wealth among the elite of Rome.”

The two models were Anna Bianchini (Martha) and Fillide Melandroni (Mary). The painting must have gotten lots of comments because Fillide was a well know courtesan in Rome and Anna as well. They were used by Caravaggio in several paintings. In an earlier painting “Penitent Magdalene” (1591), he cast Anna Bianchini as Mary. [Notice the pearls and perfume of her former way of life off to the side - bottom left.]


If you were looking at either painting – what would be your thoughts and reactions?

To see the first painting - the one on top,  you could go to Detroit – and to their famous art museum – but check first – because the city is in financial problems – big time – and there has been talk of selling some of their famous paintings – or you can check the painting out and study it on line – or you can find it on my blog with this first draft sermon.

Question: in life am I more like Martha or more like Mary?

Question: am I mousy? Or would I pick another animal to describe myself  – dog, cat, monkey, bird? “Woof! Woof!”  “Meow! Meow!” "Eeek! Eeek!" “Chirp! Chirp!”

Question: is there someone I can encourage to be better – and how would I do just that? Check out the two different gospel texts we can use for today: John 11: 19-27 or Luke 10:38-42 - and picture Martha's approach. There there Jesus' approach. How do they differ?

Question: do I need to change? Do I need a conversion?  How and where I do need to meet Jesus?


The thing I like the best in the top  Caravaggio painting of Martha and Mary or The Conversion of Magdalene or Martha Reproving Mary is what’s in the center of the mirror. It's not a person – but a small light.

What is the symbolism of that light? 

I noticed the commentators say: it’s Grace.


Poem for Today - July 29, 2014


The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, "Be ye removed." They say to the lesser floods, "Be dry."
Under their rods are the rocks reproved -- they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit -- then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves' end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden -- under the earthline their altars are --
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city's drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they dam'-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat --
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed -- they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet -- they hear the World -- they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and -- the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!

© Rudyard Kipling
Painting on top
of this poem,
Christ in the House
of Martha and Mary
by Diego Velazquez, 1618



Martha was busy and hurried,
Serving the friend divine,
Cleansing the cups and platters,
Bringing the bread and wine;
But Martha was careful and anxious
Fretted in thought and in word.

She had no time to be sitting
While she was serving the Lord,
For Martha was "cumbered with serving,
Martha was "troubled" with "things"---
Those that would pass with the using---
She was forgetting her wings.

Mary was quiet and peaceful,
Learning to love and to live.
Mary was hearing His precepts,
Mary was letting Him give---
Give of the riches eternal,
Treasures of mind and of heart;
Learning the mind of the Master,
Choosing the better part.

Do we ever labor at serving
Till voices grow fretful and shrill,
Forgetting how to be loving,
Forgetting how to be still?
Do we strive for "things" in possession,
And toil for the perishing meat,
Neglecting the one thing needful---
Sitting at Jesus' feet?

Service is good when he asks it,
Labor is right in its place,
But there is one thing better,
Looking up in his face;
There is so much he can tell us,
Truths that are precious and deep;
This is the place where he wants us,
These are the things we can keep.

© Annie Johnson Flint

Painting on top of this poem,

"Martha and Mary"
 by Johannes Vermeer, 1655


Monday, July 28, 2014



The title of my homily for this 17th Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Tongues In Trees, Books In The Running Brooks.”

It’s part of a comment by the Duke Senior – the banished older brother of  Duke Frederick in Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It.

Duke Senior is calm and tells the audience one can learn a lot from just looking around a lot.

Here’s how his speech about how learning from wherever  or whenever things go wrong goes; It’s found in  Act 2, Scene 1, lines 12-17.
           Sweet are the uses of adversity,
           Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
           Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
           And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
           Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

           Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.


That’s the thought that hit me from today’s readings.

In the first reading - Jeremiah 13: 1-11 - we learn about a loin cloth. Did you ever learn something from your underwear? How interesting?!

Today’s gospel – Matthew 13: 31-35 -  we hear some learnings from a mustard seed – which becomes a large mustard plant or bush. Jesus also talks about learning from yeast  “that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”

Matthew tells us this was how Jesus taught and preached – with parables.


I like to picture Jesus in the carpenter shop or in the kitchen – watching Mary and Joseph. What was he seeing? What was he thinking about?

I like to picture Jesus walking around town and village – farm and field – before he began his preaching – and learning lessons from wheat and bread, grapes and vines and wine, fish nets, wild flowers, the birds of the air and how people are at funerals.

I like to read the gospels – put my finger on some saying or some scene - and ask when Jesus saw this scene and what did he see – or some saying – what was the experience that triggered his thoughts?

I like to read folk literature and sayings from all kinds of cultures. They tell me what Shakespeare said in the comment Duke Senior made in the Arden Forest about learning from trees and brooks.

I like to walk around and see what’s around me – and ask, “What’s the lesson here?”

I haven’t been in too many garbage dumps – what a classroom that would be. What would it be like to take a class of kids to the local dump?

I have walked in graveyards and read the stones – and reflected upon the life of the persons below the earth.

I have looked at knick knacks on book shelves and window sills in homes and wondered on the story behind the story.


Did you ever swat and kill a fly and start to think afterwards, “That wasn’t fair! That fly wasn’t really bothering me. What would the rest of that fly’s life be like – if I hadn’t killed him or her?  Did you ever think: ‘Maybe this fly had a bucket list and I just dissed him or her?’”

Did you ever spot a dozen red roses – all dead – all dried out – just lying there near the top of garbage can – near a curb? Did you ever start wondering the back story of those roses? Why weren’t they saved? What happened?

How about wedding albums? Where do they go when there is a divorce?

Have you ever  spotted names or initials in a tree or on cement or in a tattoo on an arm or ankle and the other is with someone else? What happened? What’s the story?


Shakespeare said, “All the World’s a Stage” – but today I’m saying he also said, “All the world’s a classroom.” Walk among the trees and listen to the sounds around you.” Amen.

Poem for Today - July 28, 2014 


Your face is neither infinite nor ephemeral.
You can never see your own face,
only a reflection, not the face itself.

So you sigh in front of mirrors and cloud the surface.
It's better to keep your breath cold.

Hold it, like a diver does in the ocean.
One slight movement, the mirror-image goes.

Don't be dead or asleep or awake.
Don't be anything.

What you most want,
what you travel around wishing to find,
lose yourself as lovers lose themselves,
and you'll be that.

© Attar
Page 57 in
The Hand of Poetry

Five Mystic Poets of Persia

Sunday, July 27, 2014



The title of my homily for this 17 Sunday in Ordinary Time, (A) is, “Pick A Word.”

I was visiting someone in Anne Arundel Medical Center the other day. As I was going out – I spotted - between the front desk and the staircase to the garage - various words on a wall like: “Honesty, Integrity, Hope, etc.”

When I got back here to St. Mary’s I went over to our high school – to drop into a luncheon for one of the staff who was moving to Florida. On the wall there was a list of words as well, “Honesty, Hard Work, Intelligence, Faith, Hope, Charity, Peace.”

I said to myself, “The staircase over in the Elementary School has a list of words on the steps as well.”

Then I thought, “I’m willing to bet every school in the world – well not every school  – but many schools have their list of words – reminders to work to be the best.”

IBM used to have just one word, “Think!”

And remember the Love sculptures. Here's one in New York City:



Today’s first reading - 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12 -  has the famous story and the famous moment in the life of Solomon – the wisest king in all the world. The story is told in classic form.  At night in a dream the Lord appears to Solomon – and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”

It’s the old, “You have one wish!” story.

I’m sure preachers all over the world this weekend will be giving the same sermon idea of understanding that I’m preaching on this weekend.

You have one wish, one dream, one hope, one desire, one fire, what is it? Make a wish. 

Solomon asked for the gift of understanding. 

What would you ask for? Put it in one word – if possible. Ooops, “Winning the lottery” is three words.

Next time I go to Anne Arundel Medical Center I’m going to look to see if that word "understanding" is there – so too our schools – so too the many places I’ve seen this idea of listing words, listing values, listing hopes, listing desires, listing dreams.

The title of my homily is, “Pick a Word.”

Would you pick the word, “Understanding.” Would that be your deepest dream – your highest hope?


I have a joke I use at every baby baptism and it gets a laugh every time – because I believe it contains a great truth.

Every baptism of a baby begins this way:

“What name do you give your child?”

“What do you ask of God’s Church for _____ Name?”

Then the priest or deacon doing the baptism says, “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him or her in the practice of our faith. It will be your duty to bring her or him up to keep God’s commandments as Christ has taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.”  Then the question: “Do you clearly understand what your are undertaking?”

And the answer in the book is, “We do.”

And I always love to say, “Wanna bet?” And I bet I get a laugh and a smile every time from my off the cuff comment.

I say all that – because we don’t understand. There’s not only the terrible two’s ahead, but the teenage years – as well as the rest of our life ahead of us.


Is understanding a total gift – or is something we can work to acquire?

Or is it both?

It certainly is a gift to be prayed for.

It is a characteristic to be desired – hopefully.

It is a characteristic that can be worked on.

Stephen Covey’s Habit 5  of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”

To understand is to listen,  to get inside another’s shoes and skin and mind if possible, to accept that another can see what I’m not seeing or my take on something - and especially to ask questions – like the big one: “If I hear you correctly, your understanding here is this: ____________________.”


I was at a wake last Monday afternoon. Not knowing the lady who died, I asked those gathered there – family and friends, “Can you put into words – one word would be wonderful – what Louise was like? I didn’t know her and I want to say a few words at her funeral Mass tomorrow – and I don’t do canned.”

Out came wonderful words, “Giving, loving, caring, funny, energetic, patient, dedicated, understanding, hard worker, mom, friend, sister, grandma…..”

Question: How do we want people to describe us when we die?

Question: How do we want people to describe us when we are alive?

Question: How do we not want to be described right now – better how do we want to be right now?

The title of my homily is, “Pick a Word.”

Would we pick the word “Understanding” in answer to a hoped for self-description?

I’m sure we don’t want someone to say, “My boss, he just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand.” “My dad – no way – no clue – he doesn’t understand.” “That priest – no - he just doesn’t understand.”

When people on the phone from some other state and situation tell me that they want to talk to a priest – but whom? – I tell them go to your local church – go to Mass – and watch, look and listen and ask yourself, “Would this guy understand?”

So too teachers, therapists, counselors, doctors, friends? Ask around: “Who listens?”  “Who understands?”


Many people – that I have tried to listen to have said – or I think this is what they are saying, “I don’t think God understands.”

I also think they have a different take on God than the one I have. Don’t we all?

As priest it kills me – when people have a guerrilla God – or an angry God – or I’m going to get you God – and that God is found not just in Islam and other religions – it’s found in our religion – because our scriptures present people and their take on God.  

My creed is this: I believe Jesus is God’s word saying, “I understand.”

Jesus walked around – stood around – listened – learned – grew in wisdom age and grace – and then entered not only into the lives of the people who reached out to him in the Gospel stories – but to those he reached out to – and his words, his parables, his wisdom sayings still reach out to till today.

Forgive 7 times 70 times – drop the rocks – stop judging – turn the other cheek – go the extra mile – if you’re a lost sheep, make your prayer a loud, Baa! Baa! Baa! The Good Shepherd will find you. If you’re feeling like a prodigal son, come home. The father is waiting. If you’re the older brother, come on, reach out to those who messed up and want father and family again.

Today’s gospel has three parables – the field, the pearl, the net.

Don’t we all wonder at times if we’re in the right field, the right marriage, the right relationships, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right place?

Don’t we all search for the pearl of great price – not knowing what it is we really want?

Don’t we all sit down at times and look at our net worth – what we have netted so far – and we sort out the good from the bad?

Speaking of pearls, what do you think of Pearl Bailey’s comment on all this in her book, The Raw Pearl [1968],  when she said, “There’s a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside.”

Please God, when we sort out our lives – from time to time – like on vacation – like in the doctor’s office, we don’t become sour  inside – that we don’t become bitter – but that we become ever so understanding of each other.

I often quote and remember and use Nathaniel Hawthorne’s’ story about the two women in a New England town. One walked around with her nose in the air – looking down on half the town and the other finally said, “Deary, why don’t you commit a really good sin and then you’ll understand the rest of us?”


As you might have noticed we have a new pope – and different popes have different personalities – and different takes – on what it takes to be a follower of Christ. Please take that in an understanding way. As you also know we have another synod coming up – in Rome – and they want to look at finances, abuse – and especially the family.

And there was a questionnaire send out on some hot button issues – and people’s take on various questions: marriage, divorce, communion, family size, etc. In general I’ve heard that the idea was good – but the questionnaire needed a lot of work. I’m assuming it’s an attempt by this pope and our church in listening and understanding.

 Speaking about the church, Charles Curran, a priest who has had struggles with those in authority in our church talked about what he learned from  an essay, “Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self Doubt.” It was written by Margaret Farley. She’s one of the nuns who has had a tough time with those in authority in the Catholic Church as well. Charles Curran wrote, “The grasp for certitude too easily shuts the mind and sometimes closes the heart. The grace of self-doubt allows for epistemic humility, the basic condition for communal and individual moral discernment.”

When I read that, I went “Woo!”

It triggered memories of meeting all kinds of people who want our church to be dogmatic – clear – exact – tough – strong – and that’s why I’m in it. I need that rock – no doubt about it.

To me their death sentence often is: “I can’t stand!” They say lots of, "I can't stand it when they ...."  "I can't stand it when they ...."  "I can't stand it when they...."

To me their life sentence would better be: “I’m trying to understand.”

That comment about “the grace of self-doubt” also trigged a dozen conversations with folks have left the Catholic Church  - because they felt there was no room for them in it – with their understandings about women in the church – or this and that – or people who are regular thinking people – who like me have doubts – about all kinds of things – especially myself.

Doubts – different understandings – questions – what if’s – I see them as normal. It’s life. It’s what anyone over 55 does more and more as they get older.


The title of my homily is, “Pick A Word.”

If that word is “understanding” do some standing under it this coming week and see what self understandings hit you.

I’ll close with a tiny story – a story I have doubts about telling from the pulpit – but it was a story that has helped my morale down through the years.

Once upon a time – long before I came here to Annapolis -  I was giving a  priest retreat in a diocese  in the United States. Near the end I told the bishop that I’d give his regards to the bishop of the diocese I was stationed in – if I run into him. Well,  I ran into that bishop two weeks later and I gave him the regards of the bishop of the diocese where I had just given the priest retreat in.  The bishop said thanks, then said of that bishop “He’s a nice guy but I always wished he’d have a doubt every once and a while.”

Woops I thought. Then afterwards I said to myself, “Thank you. We’re all human and we’re all in this all together after all. I get it. I understand.”

* This Love Sculpture is at 1359, Avenue of America - New York City. It's between 55th and 56th Streets and 6th Avenue. It's based on a Christmas card designed in 1964  by Robert Indiana - for the nearby Museum of Modern Art. Check out on Google Love Sculpture and you'll see where they can be seen around the world.