Saturday, August 30, 2014


Poem for Today - August 30, 2014


If God was not full of mercy,
Mercy would have been in the world,
Not just in Him.
I, who plucked flowers in the hills
And looked down into all the valleys,
I, who brought corpses down from the hills,
Can tell you that the world is empty of mercy.
I, who was King of Salt at the seashore,
Who stood without a decision at my window,
Who counted the steps of angels,
Whose heart lifted weights of anguish
In the horrible contests.

I, who use only a small part
Of the words in the dictionary.

I, who must decipher riddles
I don't want to decipher,
Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy
There would be mercy in the world,
Not just in Him.

© Yehuda Amichai,
translated from the Hebrew

by Barbara and 
Benjamin Harshav

The painting on top is the 7 works of Mercy.  Here are  notes I found out about this painting on line.

"The Seven Works of Mercy (ItalianSette opere di Misericordia), also known as The Seven Acts of Mercy, is an oil painting by Italianpainter Caravaggio, circa 1607. The painting depicts the seven corporal works of mercy in traditional Catholic belief, which are a set of compassionate acts concerning the material welfare of others.
The painting was made for, and is still housed in, the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples. Originally it was meant to be seven separate panels around the church; however, Caravaggio combined all seven works of mercy in one composition which became the church's altarpiece. The painting is better seen from il "coreto" (little choir) in the first floor.
The titular seven works/acts of mercy are represented in the painting as follows:
Bury the dead
In the background, two men carry a dead man (of whom only the feet are visible).
Visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry
On the right, a woman visits an imprisoned man and gives him milk from her breast. This image alludes to the classical story of Roman Charity.
Shelter the homeless
A pilgrim (third from left, as identified by the shell in his hat) asks an innkeeper (at far left) for shelter.
Clothe the naked
St. Martin of Tours, fourth from the left, has torn his robe in half and given it to the naked beggar in the foreground, recalling the saint's popular legend.
Visit the sick
St. Martin greets and comforts the beggar who is a cripple.
Refresh the thirsty
Samson (second from the left) drinks water from the jawbone of an ass.
American art historian John Spike notes that the angel at the center of Caravaggio’s altarpiece transmits the grace that inspires humanity to be merciful.
Spike also notes that the choice of Samson as an emblem of Giving Drink to the Thirsty is so peculiar as to demand some explanation. The fearsome scourge of the Philistines was a deeply flawed man who accomplished his heroic tasks through the grace of God. When Samson was in danger of dying of thirst, God gave him water to drink from the jawbone of an ass. It is difficult to square this miracle with an allegory of the Seven Acts of Mercy since it was not in fact the work of human charity."

Friday, August 29, 2014



The title of my homily is, “The Beheading of John the Baptist.”

It certainly triggers all kinds of thoughts with the recent beheadings in the Middle  East. I’m sure you’ve seen news reports of the beheading of the journalist Jim Foley and the Syrian soldiers and so many others.


It was a hot, steamy, muggy, humid, sweaty evening after a hot, steamy, muggy, humid, sweaty day, when John the Baptist was beheaded.

We really don’t know what the weather was like or exactly what day it was when John the Baptist was beheaded, but we do know that he was killed by Herod Antipas, around 33.

We know this from Mark and from the Jewish historian Josephus.

Today, August the 29th, the Church marks his death. It memorializes it. I don’t like to use the word “celebrate” We would not celebrate the anniversary of the death of J.F.K. or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bobby Kennedy’s death, but we might mark it or memorialize it.

We can reflect and learn from deaths or the experiences of life. We can spend time in prayer with them.

That is what the Church is stressing, I believe.

Movies: Whenever I read this gospel - I see movie scenes of the beheading.  I see a drunken and then a troubled Heros  hiding behind the grill work - going through all the emotions: jealousy, lust, loud mousiness, and fear - lots of fear.

Paintings: In Vienna and Rome and New York and Washington D.C. art museums, I’ve noticed that this gospel scene is a favorite of artists - like the painting by Caravaggio on top of this blog piece.

It's a painting that artists would definitely attempt  -  like paintings of Judith with the head of Holofernes.

If you saw a painting of this scene, what would you reflect upon?

If you read this Gospel passage in prayer and meditation, what would your thoughts be?

What would be your thoughts as you look at those who actually executed him? What were their thoughts and questions in doing it? What did they think as they walked into the party with the head of John the Baptist on a plate? Did they look to see what  was happening in Salome’s face? Looking at Herod’s jaw, seeing Herod’s face, what would you think? What would your thoughts be? What would your wonderings be?

What were the thoughts of those in town who heard about what happened? What were the thoughts of his disciples?


I took some time to think about it and came up with 4 possible areas for thinking about:

1) Would you reflect on the power of grudges, that Herodias harbored this grudge against John the Baptist, waiting for the time she could get even with John the Baptist?

2) Would you reflect on the various John the Baptist’s in the history of the world who were thrown in prison for speaking up about unjust deeds? Millions have had the courage to speak up and speak out and as a result are in prison and even execution.

3) Would you think of all the people who messed up their lives by stupid statements and actions at parties, things that changed their life, because of booze or lust or both and spoke words and then did things they lived to regret? Lust and wine (or drugs or other forms of alcohol) are powerful activators.

4) Or would you reflect as I did on Herod as a weak man. He’s the one that Jesus called “The Fox.” Today the word is okay in referring to beautiful Sports Illustrated bathing suit types, but in the scriptures, fox is a negative word. In the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, the word for “fox” also could be translated “jackal” - SUAL in Hebrew. ALOPEX, in Greek, a member of the dog family. That Herod was a fox or jackal or a scavenger. A fox is solitary. A jackal is more an animal who travels in a pack.

Herod disliked his first wife. While on a trip to Rome, he went after his sister-in-law, who was also his niece.

He ended up paying for his sins, because his first father-in-law, beat him in battle in 30 A.D. and when he ended up in exile in 39 A.D. people said that it was because of what he did to John the Baptist.

Jesus refused to speak to him.

To save his face, he cut another’s head off.

He was an animal.

He was unable to say publicly, “I was wrong.” or “I am sorry, folks, I really didn’t now what I was saying there. I spoke too soon. I was bragging. I shot my mouth off. I want to take back what I just said. It was a misjudgment. I blew it. I was afraid of criticism, but I am still wrong.”


To reflect on our own  life....  See this gospel as a mirror. Are I unable to say, “I was wrong.” – for example because of something I did at a party.  

Do I harbor grudges?

I picture Herod for the rest of his life harboring a grudge, a regret, staying there in the hot weather in his jockey shorts saying to himself, “Boy, was I was stupid.” I picture him as a man who had trouble sleeping, not just because of hot, humid, muggy, sweaty weather, but because of what he did in his life, especially to his first wife as well as to John the Baptist.

Reading today’s gospel, about the dance and Herod’s putting his foot in his mouth, and ending up having John beheaded, what can we learn?

August 29, 2014


An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains. 
© Yehuda Amichai
- A Jewish Poet.

Picture on top: 
Goat on a Mountain
in Garm Chasma,

Had Gadya or Chad Gadya
is a song sung at the end 
of the Passover Meal.
It tells the story of a little
goat that a father 
pays 2 zuzim for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Poem for Today - August 28, 2014


The sky here is American like the blue of your eyes;
the folds of your eyelids the Hindu Kush mountain.

The rich vein of the Hindu Kush only a stony ridge
cutting across the parched soil of Afghanistan

on which the primal play of progress comes to pass.


Locked in, its people:
nomadic, peasant or simply pleasant,
green-eyed, blue-eyed, brown-eyed or simply wide-eyed.

Its great teacher: Noor Mohammad Taraki,
the proud translator of great works
into Pashto, Dari, Turkic and Uzbek.
Its cities: Herat, Kabul, Kandahar.


Assuredly, the pilgrims descend the emerald-strewn
Panjsher valley. They have come to water and tend

a young tree. Time is at hand, for the unhurried
descent of the Western offering,

whose yellow parachute will slow its fall.
And this tree, which will grow underneath the cluster bomb,
will hold up the pomegranate to the blue sky.


The tick tock and whirr of metal and material
in the hidden azure vault of the air

has so far unleashed the American ahistoricality
upon the two tall Bamiyan Buddhas.

Ordained stone must give way to bared rock face.
Grieve not. Rejoice, for the spirit triumphs here.


When Kabul was as beautiful as Leningrad,
when our hearts hadn't grown weary,
when Taraki could take a stroll down
the streets of Kabul with a confident smile,
when he could still be Afghanistan's Maxim Gorky,
when our erstwhile bachelor could enjoy
the company of dancing girls like a mogul emperor,
when the way forward was the way forward.


The uncertain exile is never to Rome—
no picture postcards of the coliseum to send home—

but to a mud hovel among other mud hovels
by the edge of the city of Islamabad.

For the uncertain exile has nothing to do
with the divine or with any other kind of comedy,

but with what has remained or with what reminds:
with the trace of terror that persists.


In this part of the world the children know and have desires
to be a martyr, to enter paradise, to leave this life.

Of the twenty-nine different names for the garden,
they know all twenty-nine by heart.

For this part of the world began with a garden and
will end as an open ditch piled up with bodies.


Grant me Antigone's strength to forbear
for the sun has come unstuck from a blue sky gone black,

stolen for effect, and the veiled moon stands in,
for the mourning women standing next to platters of rice,

signifying the historically sound end of forgetfulness,
returning our agency to mourn

the collaborations of the merchant capitalist class
with the unlistening, ahistorical God.


If only Gandhi's spinning wheel had spun
a million yards of cloth

we would have covered all our war dead.
And as for tents, we would have built

cities upon cities of tents to keep the rain out
for all our refugees. And then and only then

would we have mourned our war dead,
mourned our war dead.

© Raza Ali Hasan,
 "In that Part of the World"
 from Grieving Shias
(The Sheep Meadow 
Press, 2006)

Picture on top: 
City of Kabul
 which is 5,900 feet 
above sea level –
 in a narrow valley
 between the Hindu 
Kush Mountains.

Second Picture:
 the taller of the two 
Bamiyan Buddahs
 destroyed by the
 Taliban in 2001.


August 29, 2014

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains. 

© Yehuda Amichai

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Poem for August 27, 2014


As a boy he had trouble speaking,
past three before a real word preened
from his lips. And for the longest time,
malaprops haunted him. His older sister
did what she could to train the bitten seal
of   his brain to twirl the red ball
on the nose of eloquence, and his grandmother
tired of   insisting he utter the names
of   toys or foods — for every desire
was coded — and gave him whatever
he grunted and pointed to.
O, the man then a boy
thought, when I tower among them
I should invent my own speech
and leave others empty and afraid
that they did not know it, could not ask
or plead their case in the one tongue
that mattered. I shall have them
look upon the simplest things,
the man then a boy thought,
and fill up with stolen awe,
and point with their faces,
their pupils wide as blackened coins,
and hope with all the revenue
shattered heart-glass can muster
that someone had grasped
their need as need and not
as the monstrous coupling
of   sounds in a trance of whims.
Then, the grind of   his teeth
vowed, then the plazas of my city
will fill with my name,
and their blood will matter
as little to them as to me.

(c) Ricardo Pau-Llosa,
2013 Poetry Magazine  
February 2013

Tuesday, August 26, 2014



The title of my reflection for this 21st Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “The 7 Woes of Jesus Continued.”

Yesterday we heard the first 3 of the 7 Woes of Jesus – as they are stated in the Gospel of Matthew 23. Today we heard 2 more and we’ll get the last 2 tomorrow.

We’re more familiar with the 8 Beatitudes in Matthew. We know the 7 Corporal  and the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. They are not found in the gospels as  is. They have been lined up as good catechism – based on biblical texts. [1]


The 7 Woes here in Matthew – are good stuff – but in my opinion they are a bit clumsy for memorization and catechism.

For starters, I don’t think the word “Woe!” has enough grab and common usage.

The Greek word used is, “Ouai!”  It seems that English translators use the phrase, “Woe!” for “Ouai.” It’s an interjection or a shout out.

So “Woe” works.

However, last night I was trying to come up with a different word or expression than, “Woe!” For starters, I came up with these first draft nominations: “Shame, shame on you when ….” Or “Stop it when ….”  Or “No, no!” or “Whoa!”


Using the words, “Shame, shame on you when you …” to begin each woe, here is my attempt to make the 7 woes more manageable and understandable. I want to stress this is a first attempt. This is what I am doing with the 7 woes this year – when this gospel came around.

Here they are in the order they are in the Gospel readings for these 3 days:

1.    Shame, shame on you – when you shut the door to the kingdom in people’s faces – and in the meanwhile you’re not getting into the kingdom of heaven yourselves.

2.    Shame, shame on you – when you search everywhere to make one convert and then you make that person twice a child of hell as yourselves.

3.    Shame, shame on you – when you swear on gold or altars or holy places on everything but God.

4.    Shame, shame on you – when you pay attention to the iddy biddy details of the law and neglect the heavy-duty matters of the Law – like justice, mercy and good faith.

5.    Shame, shame on you when you clean the outside of cups and dishes – but you leave the inside filthy and dirty.

6.    Shame, shame on you when you try to look like the upside of cemeteries -  beautiful white washed tombs – but underneath you really only dead bones.

7.    Shame, shame on you – when you’re snakes in the crass –talking about if you were around when the greats of the past were around – you too would be saints – but in the meanwhile right now you’re criticizing and verbally abusing the good people in our midst.


The two woes – the two warnings – for today are basic. So once more here are the two woes – the two warnings – as heard in today’s gospel:

“Woe for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay your tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law-justice, mercy, good faith! These you should have practiced, those not neglected. You blind guides, straining out gnats and swallowing camels!”

“Woe  for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee! Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that it and the outside are both clean.”


When it comes to trying to be a  follower of Christ – look in the mirror – look in your own eye – check out your own behavior. Look Jesus in the eye.  

Instead of being like the Pharisees and the scribes who were doing the tiny, tiny – to avoid the biggy bigs: mercy, forgiveness, justice, fairness, kindness,  go within. Spend your energy there instead your own eye - inside your inner room - with Christ - instead of criticizing everyone else but yourself.

O  O  O  O  O  O  O


[1] I could not find in the Documents of Vatican II – and also the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church – the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy and the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy – per se.  Different popes like John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia [Rich in Mercy - 1980] and Pius X in Fermo Proposito [On Catholic Action in Italy to the Bishops of Italy p. 1905] mention them specifically.

I couldn't find specific dates for their origins. I did read about manuscripts as far back as 12th century listing works of mercy. Then there were wall paintings with the works of mercy on them from the 14th century. 

I noticed that 7's are important - as in the 7 Deadly sins and the 7 Works of Mercy. They were a good positive and negative examination of conscience for for folks. 

There were wheels with 7 spokes and on the 7 spokes there were lists of 7 this and 7 that.  There was also the Tree of Sin and the Tree of Life - one listing the 7 Deadly Sins and the other the Seven Works of Mercy.

Tree of Vices [above]

Tree of Virtues [Above]

Here is the usual listing of  the 7 Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy:
The Corporal Works of Mercy:
·        Feed the hungry
·        Give drink to the thirsty
·        Clothe the naked
·        Shelter the homeless
·        Visit the sick
·        Visit the imprisoned
·        Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

·        Admonish the sinner
·        Instruct the ignorant
·        Counsel the doubtful
·        Comfort the sorrowful
·        Bear wrongs patiently
·        Forgive all injuries
·        Pray for the living and the dead

The Methodist Church lists 5 Works of Mercy:

·       Doing Good,
·       Visiting the Sick and Prisoners
·       Feeding and Clothing People
·       Earning, Saving, Giving All One Can
·       Opposition to Slavery.

 Check out Matthew 25: 34-46 for the first 6 corporal works of mercy according to Catholic theology.

Poem for Today - August 26, 2014


I have no idea what priests
dream of on Christmas Eve, what prayer

a crippled dog might whine before the shotgun.
I have no more sense of what is sacred

than a monk might have, sweeping the temple
floor, slow gestures of honor to the left,

the right. Maybe the leaf of grass tells us
what is worthwhile. Maybe it tells us nothing.

Perhaps a sacred moment is a photograph
you look at over and over again, the one

of you and her, hands lightly clasped like you
did before prayer became necessary, the one

with the sinking cathedral in Mexico City rising up
behind you and a limping man frozen in time

to the right of you, the moment when she touched
your bare arm for the first time, her fingers

like cool flashes of heaven.

© Lee Herrick, "What is Sacred"
 from The Many Miles from Desire
Copyright © 2007 by Lee Herrick,
 published by WordTech 
Communications LLC. 

Monday, August 25, 2014



The title of my homily for this 21st Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Christ: The Pause Who Gets Us Back On Track.”


I don’t know about the girls here, but I assume we’ve all seen in our lives those toy racing cars that run around a track on a big piece of plywood board.  They spin around and around – but sometimes a car goes off the track or crashes in the rush.

Then there’s the pause.  Someone picks up the car that went off track and puts it back on board and the car gets rolling again.

We’ve all seen a similar thing happen with electric train sets.

Sometimes a train jumps the track and crashes.

Then comes the pause – the train is carefully put back on track – and it gets rolling again.

When it comes to those toy cars or electric trains – the kid with the control needs to know when to roll and when to slow down and pause a bit – to navigate the turns – and then speed up again.

Sometimes kids get so excited with speed they lose it – and crash, crash, crash.


Today’s gospel from Matthew gives us the first 3 of the 7 “Woes” of Jesus.

We often picture Jesus with the smile and being a warm fuzzy – ready to forgive and embrace everyone.

That’s more Luke. That’s a broad generalization, but Matthew can give us some of the hard sayings of Jesus.

Now let me connect the first part of this homily – the stuff about the pausing to get a train or a toy car back on track.

The title of my homily is, “Christ: The Pause Who Gets us Back on Track.”

Well, I translate “Woe” this way: “Whoa!” or “Stop!” or “Halt!” or “Wait a minute!” or “Pause.”

I’m assuming that Matthew is dealing with Pharisees in his local Christian community or church – and he uses Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees in Judaism – to challenge folks – who are off the track when it comes to religion.

Religion can go crazy. So called “religious people” can get off on iddy biddy strange stuff.

Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday, we have the 7 “woes” of Jesus.

Jesus is saying to people who come to church that they can be hypocrites, phonies, blind guides.

I hide from people who go to church who nick pick how I say Mass.

They can be like someone with a strainer trying to remove a gnat that got in the soup – but in the meanwhile they don’t notice the sink is overflowing. Jesus uses the metaphor of the camel. That must be a local joke.

I do get the image of someone who wants to look good outwardly – faking it with religious practices – but underneath they stink. They are like a nice graveyard – beautiful green lawns – bright white tombs – but underneath the stones and the grass is death.


Jesus gives 7 woes – 7 ways people get off track – and the title and theme of my homily is that Jesus is the Pause – that gets us to see this and pick up the pieces and start again.