Monday, September 15, 2014


Poem for Today - Thursday October 2, 2014


Ages ago, clouds brought them near
and rain brought them to our lips;
they swam in every vase, every cupped palm.
We took them into ourselves
and were refreshed.
For those luckier generations, angels
were the sweet, quickening substance
in all light, all water, every morsel of food.
Until the day the sun changed some, as it had,
took them skyward, but thereafter
the clouds failed to restore them.
In time, streams gave up
every spirit, and the sea, unreplenished,
finally became the void we had feared
it would become, the void we had imagined.
And, as now, clouds brought only rain,
and the emptied rain
brought only the chill in which
we must now be wrapped.

© Scott Cairns, pages 152-153
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of Contemporary
Christian Poetry, Edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University Press,

New York, Oxford, 1997

Poem for Today - Wednesday - October 1, 2014


The moon comes up, a white cow
grazing on limbo.
Today in the confessional I yelled,
Father, I am the deaf one, absolve me
in a voice I can hear.
But as usual, he mumbled in the curtain
and the saints cast their eyes
past me, into the cold space of the loft
when I knelt at their feet.

What sins have I done
that you should forsake me?
Again, I asked loudly.
The saints are far deafer than I.
Their ears, curls of plaster,
have grown closed from listening
to the organ's unceasing low sobs.

I sit where the moon rides up,
swollen and tender,
the beast of my burdens. Her back is broad
enough to carry my penance and yours.
When she moans, the whole sky
falls open.
My weight has done this,
My life an act of contrition
tor the sins of a whole town.

But now, when I let the weight fall,
she arches, a slender thing
shot from a quiver.
Oh white deer hunted into a cloud,
I was your child, now I leap down,
relaxed into purpose,
my body cleaves through the air like a star.

Make your wishes, small children.
You others, make vows,
quickly, before I snuff myself out
and become the dark thing
that walks among you,
pure, deaf, and full
of my own ingenious sins.

© Louise Erdrich, pages 229-230
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of Contemporary
Christian Poetry, Edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University Press,
New York, Oxford, 1997

Picture on top: Confessionals
in Santiago de Compostella
in Spain - which we just  visited
last Tuesday, September 30, 2014.


Poem for Today - Tuesday  September 30,  2014


binds all wounds,
wounds all heels,
whatever. You can tell.
William Buckley,
Gore Vidal, Sampson
and Delilah. Paul
and the Corinthians.
You can tell.

It makes us fight
and bleed, takes us to the heights,
the deeps, where we don't
want to go. Adam and Eve. Noah
and Mrs., David,
Bathsheba, Ruth,
Naomi. You can tell.

The way light surges
Out of nothing. The Magdalene,
The gardener, God help us,
We are God’s chosen now.

© Kathleen Norris
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of
Contemporary Christian
Poetry, Oxford  University
Press, New York, 
Oxford, 1997,
Pages 223-224
Painting on Top:
St. Maximilian Kolbe,
who gave his life
for another. 

Poem for Today - Monday - September 29, 2014


For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.

I read of Abraham's sacrifice
the Voice required of him,
so that he lead to the altar
and the knife his only son.
The beloved life was spared
that time, but not the pain.
It was the pain that was required.

I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at his grave, giving him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.

And then I slept, and dreamed
the life of my only son
was required of me, and I
must bring him to the edge
of pain, not knowing why.
I woke, and yet that pain
was true. It brought his life
to the full in me. I bore him
suffering, with love like the sun,
too bright, unsparing, whole.

© Wendell  Berry 
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology
of Contemporary
Christian Poetry,
edited by David Impastato.
Oxford University Press,
pages 43-44


The title and theme of my homily today is “Second Thoughts”.

Part of being a human being is to have second thoughts.

Second thoughts.

“You know, I was thinking. Would it be okay if I a, a, a  ... changed my a, a, a  ... mind?”

Seconds thoughts.


That thought hit me when I read today’s readings, especially today’s gospel [Matthew 21: 28-32].

A man has two sons. He asks the oldest son to work in the vineyard that day. And the oldest says, “I’m on my way” and he disappears. So the father asks the second son and he says, “No!”

But the younger son has regrets. He has second thoughts. So he changes his mind and goes and does the work.

And Jesus asks, “Which one does the father’s will? Which one does what the father wanted?”

And obviously, the answer has to be the younger son.

And obviously Jesus is pointing out that the prostitutes and the tax collectors, the sinners were the ones who had second thoughts and started to convert when John the Baptist preached repentance. The elders and the chief priests didn’t.

Second thoughts.


Years ago I was preaching a parish mission down in Ohio. There wasn’t any room in the rectory so myself and the priest I was working with stayed in parishioner’s homes. Tom was with one family and I stayed with another family. Neat.

The couple I stayed with had three kids. Two boys were away at college -- Ohio University and the daughter was in her first year of college -- but living at home -- and going to a community college -- much to the delight of her parents. Three kids in college at once. Big time bucks!

Well, I came into the house -- in the back door on Thursday afternoon and Katie, the wife and mother was in the kitchen and she says to me, “Did you do the dishes?”

I said, “No!” but I lied. Katie said, “Oh!”

I went upstairs to change and I met Frank and he says to me, “Did you do the dishes?”

I said, “No!” I lied again. I didn’t have any second thoughts. I wanted Liz to get the credit.

Well, when I got downstairs a few minutes later for supper, they both said to me, “You lied!” Obviously they compared notes. Then they said, “Liz never does the dishes.”

Once more I lied.

There were only some cups and bowls and some plates from breakfast and I had washed them after I had a sandwich for lunch. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome.

Then at supper Frank and Katie said, “I guess we spoiled our kids.” Then Frank went on. I ask Mike to cut the grass and he laughs and says, “No!” Then I ask John and he says, “Yes!” but he doesn’t do it. Then surprise I come home and one of them just did it.  Then at other times neither of them cut the grass. Knowing that sometimes I then do it. But sometimes Mike does it fast and then I have to redo it. Smart kids.”

Well, when I read today’s gospel, I felt right at home. Very real stuff.

But wouldn’t it have been great if Liz had second thoughts and did the dishes?


Life is having second thoughts and then doing something about our thoughts.

We say the wrong thing. We do the wrong thing. We make a mistake. We become lazy. We get into patterns that the other knows like the plates in the kitchen. Isn’t it great when we surprise each other? Isn’t it great when we do the dishes or empty the dishwasher or cut the grass or clean the garage or put the seat down in the bathroom and surprise the other or others. Surprise! I was thinking .....


In today’s second reading we have this great early Christian hymn that St. Paul presents to us -- the kind of thinking we should have --the kind of attitude we ought to have. It’s having the attitude of Christ. [Cf. Philippians 2:1-11]

God created the world and all was good.

Then we got our hands on it and messed it up.

Then God got angry.

Then God had second thoughts.

He called Abraham, Moses, the prophets.

Finally God had the great thought -- to send his Son to us -- in the fullness of time. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word become flesh, and lived amongst us. Then the Son had second and third and fourth thoughts -- becoming our servant, then dying on the cross for us. And because he did all this, the Father lifted him up.


New Life.

Jesus is Lord -- the Lord of it all.


There it is -- the secret of it all. Being human like being God, we can have second thoughts. We can make changes -- significant changes.

We can have second thoughts and then surprise every one around us with new and better behavior.

Isn’t that the secret of a happy marriage? People start to do some thinking about their behavior. People start to have second thoughts. “Hey I can be better. I can give more of myself. I can start to serve rather than serving. I can start giving more than wanting to always get.”

Then the person does it. Surprise. Life. Resurrection. Exaltation.

That’s how people make it to their 25th, 30th, 40th wedding anniversary. Amen.


Let me give a small example to conclude this homily.

This is an example I saw in some book or a magazine somewhere. I used it a few times this year in our parish missions and I think someone said they also saw it somewhere. It’s a good example on second thoughts.

It goes something like this:

“Recently I witnessed a moment of deep soulfulness between two strangers. I was at a bus stop, sitting next to a woman reading a newspaper, but I was totally engrossed in the performance of a 14-year old boy on a skateboard. He had his baseball cap turned around with the bill in the back, and was skating beautifully and very fast. He buzzed by us once, then twice. When he came by a third time, he accidentally knocked the woman’s newspaper out of her hands. She said, ‘Oh, why don’t you grow up!’

“I watched him glide to the corner of the block, where he stood talking with his buddy. The two of them kept looking back over their shoulders at the woman. She hesitated for a moment, then rolled up her paper, tucked it under her arm and walked into the street, motioning to him. ‘Won’t you come here?’ she called. ‘I want to talk to you.’

“Very reluctantly, he skated over to her, turned his cap around with the bill in front, and said, ‘Yeah?’

“She said, ‘What I meant to say was that I was afraid that I might get hurt. I apologize for what I did say.’

“His face lit up, and he said, ‘How cool!’

“In that moment, I witnessed what is called in Spanish a milagro pequeno -- a small miracle. This small miracle was a holy, healing moment between generations, between two human beings who had just become important strangers to each other. The woman chose to shift the shape of her experience by moving out of reactivity to creativity. This kind of shape shifting is possible when we allow ourselves to speak directly from our soul.’” [1]


[1] p. 39 in Homiletics. From Angeles Arrien in “Walking the Mystical Path With Practical Feet,” in Nourishing the Souls, ed. Anne Simpkinson, Charles Simpkinson & Rose Solari,  (Harper San Francisco, 1995) p. 104

Poem  for Today - Sunday - September 28, 2014


What Mary knew was just
enough for the usual day;
pull water, flint fire, bake
bread, smile, pray

the dark orations, sleep, wake
wait. When pain honed a nerve,
when birth or dying clotted
an hour, she leaned to the curve

of living, resilient to fear
laughter suffering.
Partings are a little death.
Each one’s journey is a thing.

Wholly without precedent.
She looked at the sky
For compass. None. She, too,
Created a road to travel by.

© Maura Eichner
in Upholding Mystery
An Anthology
of Contemporary 
Christian Poetry,
edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University
Press, Oxford,
New York, 1997,
Pages 362-363
PRESENT  ____  ABSENT ____


Poem for Today - Saturday - September 27, 2014


Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places;
a quick glance, and away – and back,
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering,  perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?

© Denise Levertov, pages 122-123
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of Contemporary
Christian Poetry, Edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University Press,
New York, Oxford, 1997


Poem for Today - Friday - September 26, 2014


In the afternoon
he chose the corner in the sun.
Then he set his porch rocker
facing the mimosa
where gold wires
of light tapped
the leaves, and he, himself,
by a simple act of seeing
observed a miracle.
If anything is, he said,
them pods
on this tree is the keys
of the kingdom.

© Maura Eichner  page 144
in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of Contemporary
Christian Poetry, Edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University Press,
New York, Oxford, 1997


Poem for Today - Thursday - September 25, 2014


What is this Holy Spirit?
And what is it doing in the eggplant?

© David Craig
page 116 in Upholding Mystery,
An Anthology of Contemporary
Christian Poetry, Edited by
David Impastato,
Oxford University Press,
New York, Oxford, 1997


Poem for Today - Wednesday - September 24, 2014


Black tulips in my heart,
flames on my lips:
from which forest did you come to me,
all you crosses of anger?
I have recognized my griefs
and embraced wandering and hunger.
Anger lives in my hands,
anger lives in my mouth
and in the blood of my arteries swims anger.

O reader,
don't expect whispers from me,
or words of ecstasy:
this is my suffering!
A foolish blow in the sand
And another in the clouds.
And is all I am –
Anger, the tinder
Of fire.


Mahmud Darwish (1942-2008 )
pages 194-195 in
When the Words Burn,
An Anthology of Modern
Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987,
translated by John Mikhail Asfour

Poem for Today - Tuesday - September 23, 2014


I've always thought of writing a dictionary for lovers—
my friends, the lovers.
I've always thought of making them happy,
those marvellous people ... thought of
lighting a small lantern
for the lost thousands,
and making my heart
a wheat field for all the hungry.
I 've always considered making my eyelids
a sheet to throw over the weary
and finding out
where the birds of sadness come from
and when the trees of longing bloom.
Considered discovering what fire has burned us
for millions
of years.
I have, without a doubt, been a big fool
calling myself
the official spokesman of lovers.
Can it happen?
Is it possible to hold the sea in a bottle—
imprison jasmine?
Can the flowers of love be compressed
in one book?
I ask mercy from the God of all!


© Nizar Qabbani (1923 -1998)
Pages 100-101 in
When the Words Burn,
An Anthology of Modern
Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987,
translated by John Mikhail Asfour


Poem for Today - Monday -  September 22, 2014


I cried till there were no more tears,
prayed till the candles melted, knelt till kneeling bored me.
I asked about Muhammad in you, and about Jesus.
Jerusalem, City which smells of prophets,
shortest of roads between the earth and the sky
Jerusalem, lighthouse for ships,
beautiful girlchild with burnt fingers—
Your eyes are sad, City of the virgin,
luscious garden where the prophet passed.
The stones of the streets,
the minarets of the mosques, are sad.
Jerusalem, beauty wraps in black:
Who rings the bells in the Church of the Resurrection
Sunday Mornings? Who carries the toys to the children
Christmas night?
Jerusalem, city of grief,
large tear that roams under the eyelids:
Who repulses
your enemies, O pearl of religions?
Who washes the blood from the stones of the walls?
Who salvages the Bible
Who salvages Christ from his assassins?
Who salvages man?
Jerusalem, my city
Jerusalem, my love
Tomorrow, tomorrow the orange trees will bloom
and the green wheat rejoice,
and eyes and olive trees will laugh.
Migrating doves shall return
to the blessed rooftops
and children will come back to play.
Fathers and sons will meet
on your tall hills, my country,
country of peace and olive trees.


© Nizar Qabbani (1923 -1998)
page 100 in When
the Words Burn,
An Anthology of
Modern Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987,
translated by John Mikhail Asfour



The title of my thoughts for today is: God’s Ways Are Not My Ways.

The heart of prayer is for the human being to shut up and listen to the heart of God. It’s as simple as that. And in prayer, we find out what Isaiah found out in prayer. I am not God. God is other and God has ideas and thoughts and loves of his own and they are not the way I think and feel and love and see. In prayer Isaiah heard these words, 

          “My thoughts are not your thoughts,
          nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
          As high as the heavens are above the earth,
          so high are my ways above your ways
          and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

This morning I’d like to reflect briefly on that reality: “God’s Ways Are Not My Ways.”

Or shut up and discover you’re not God.


Today’s gospel gives a concrete example of what Isaiah heard in the principle that God’s Ways Are Not My Ways. It’s the Parable of the Generous Vineyard Owner.

George McCauley said, “If Jesus got killed for any single teaching, the teaching in today’s gospel might have been the one.”

Doesn’t God have the right to do what God wants to do? We cry for that gift for ourselves, yet we often don’t want or don’t allow God to be God. We want God to fit into our image and likeness. Isn’t that a horrible form of idolatry? And of course, God laughs at us and his laugh can be heard in the halls of prayer.

Don’t we get angry when others peg us, when others try to mold us, when others try to shackle us, when others try to force us to do what they want us to do, when others want us to be what they want us to be, when they want us to be in their image and likeness?

Doesn’t every man and woman grow up fighting their parents dictum: “My will be done.”

The boy whose father is an admiral doesn’t want to go to Annapolis. The boy whose father is a surgeon doesn’t want to go to med school. The daughter whose mother was an Olympic diver or gymnast, doesn’t want to spend hours and hours on becoming an athlete.

We want to choose our own salad dressing, our own college, our own hair style, underarm deodorant, our own future and our own friends.


One of the great learnings in life then is not only allowing another person to be free, but that the other person is free: free to choose, free to do what they want to do.

Yet people spend millions of dollars for cosmetics, cars, clothes, dinner engagements, health spas, weight loss to get another to like and love them.

Yet people spend millions of pounds of psychic energy planning and trying to get others to love them.

Yet people spend millions of units of time on phones, writing letters, visiting others, to get them to love them.

And the crash comes when we discover that love is free. If another loves us because of looks, cars, clothes, age, money, etc. all that can crumbles in an earthquake. Relationships need to be built on love that is free. Those are the best relationships. Those are the kind of relationships that stand in the test of time.


So too with God. God is free to love as God wants to love. God chooses. And all this is mystery and it causes anger and frustration. Yet look around. Go to class reunions. Look at who married whom. You'd be surprised. Some people settle in Scranton and some settle in Seattle or Sacramento. Life is funny. Choices are funny.

Can’t we allow God a sense of humor. Can’t we allow God to choose his friends. Can’t we allow God to do life as God wants to do life - to give some people more than others.


So once more, once again, we come back to today’s gospel. We see that God has a sense of humor. God isn’t fair. Love isn’t fair. God has favorites. God plays favorites. God is free to do what God wants to as God. If God wants to make penguins and hippopotamus’, monkeys and octopus’, then God can make all of the above and all of the below - funny birds of the sky, fascinating fish of the sea and those who walk or run or slide along the surface of the globe.


We want that freedom for ourselves, let’s let God have the same.

The heart of prayer then is letting go and letting God - letting God be God. The heart of love is being loved not because of anything we do, but because the other chooses to love us.

And that’s the shock of love: to find out that we are loved by another - and we had nothing to do with it.


And the greatest shock is that we are loved by God, not by any thing we do, but because God simply loves us. Sit in prayer and you’ll begin to hear the sounds of love: God’s love for you and maybe God’s love for the other person as well as that crazy guy you read about in the morning paper.


Poem for Today - Sunday - September 21, 2014


When the travelling planes pass at great altitudes
over distant villages
the children halt their play
and raise small hands over their eyes
to view the beautiful travelling toy

and as soon as it disappears behind some scattered clouds
they rush along in full force
after a torn ball
and repeat short songs

but no one knows
where their lyrics come from.


© Banda ‘Abd al-Hamid [1957- ]
in When the Words Burn,
An Anthology of
Modern Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987,
translated by John Mikhail Asfour
Page 129


Poem for Today - Saturday - September 20, 2014


I hated you, till there was nothing
but my terrible hate to converse with.
Into it I poured tomorrow's blood
and drowned my present.
I fed it the fire of curses, revolution and revenge,
inflicted my cries of hatred upon it in my dark song,
sustained it with the sleep of the dead
and drew a curtain of ghosts and gloom around it.

I despised your name,
its shadows and echoes.
I loathed its colour and tune,
rhythm and form
and the rough memories
which fell, were consumed
and dwelt in eternity all in a moment:
and I was resurrected as a new poem
which says that the past is only a word.

Victory was mine as you fell,
a statue over a cliff.
I came to bury the pieces under the grief of the cypress.
Hungrily my spade split the earth,
and touched
a cold and frightful foot.
I proudly dragged to the light
—Whose corpse? the remains of regret ...
The night was a mirror where I beheld my hatred
and my dead past, but not the centre of my being.
I knew then,
having killed you in my cup and night
and borne my murdered slowly to the grave—
knew, by the lugubrious hue of my face
that I had only killed myself.

(May 12,1952)

© Nazik al-Mala’ika (1923-2007)
pages 78-79 in When
the Words Burn,
An Anthology of
Modern Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987,
translated by John Mikhail Asfour