Saturday, December 20, 2014


Poem for Today - December 20, 2014


I live a city life.
My day is measured by
Commercial and electronic rulers: the news on NPR, not nature.
Solstice or not, my life is
Friends and relatives.
In winter, there are special meals with close friends to acknowledge the holiday season,
We can’t ignore lights strung on trees and decorated store windows,
But darkness or light does not make the meal.
In December, I lunch with a relative here to see Xmas and welcome the New Year.
Now, after the first, I am sitting on my couch with another out-of-towner who seeks work to spend ten months having a NY City experience.
The only difference between now and June is the weather. Up at 8:00. To bed at –
More light or less. It’s the people I’m with or not who determine my day, not the weather.

© Ellen Kaplan

Friday, December 19, 2014


Poem for Today - Friday - December 19, 2014


All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

© William Carlos Williams

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Poem for Today - December 18, 2014



In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he's restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds

  from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.

So, it's over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he's done all he can.

I don't know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—

 which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers©
               of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.

©  Mary Oliver

Wednesday, December 17, 2014



The title of my homily for December 17th, is,  “The Domino Effect.”

It’s won’t be about the square pizza boxes with the round pizzas inside the box  – but those plastic tiny plastic rectangles – that are used in the game of Dominos.


For the past 19 years my sister-in-law and my brother’s daughters get together for Thanksgiving week – with their families. They rent one of those big, big, houses at Virginia Beach, or Rehobeth, or Deep Creek Lake or the Outerbanks in North Carolina. This year we had lots of folks together at Virginia Beach. It makes for a great Thanksgiving Week.

In the generation before that we met as a family – but just for a few days every year at Thanksgiving in one of homes – one of which was a big retreat house where I was stationed in San Alfonso, Long Branch, N.J. – on the ocean.

And one of the things we do all week is play games – besides Turkey, food, a good walk every day – and talk every night – well into the dark.

I like to stand there – off to the side – and just watch our family in progress – and we’ve come a long way from babies.

Over there are 3 people doing a jigsaw puzzle. Over in that corner are 4 people playing cards: Shanghai Rummy, Over there are 4 people playing Boggle.  Over there are people playing Monopoly or Clue or what have you. Over there are 5 people playing dominos.

When we were growing up – we used to say the family rosary - together. It took about 15 minutes – but it felt like 15 hours. “Ugh!” at times. We also played lots of card games. That was a lot more fun – and we felt like we never had enough time.

There was a saying when I was growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s, “The family that prays together, stays together.” 

Looking back now I would also add, “The family that plays together stays together.”


Today’s gospel – Matthew 1: 1-17 - is how the Gospel of Matthew opens up.  It’s a genesis. It gives the geneology of Jesus according to Matthew.

Matthew  starts with Abraham and goes to Jesus.  He gives this long list of names in groups of 14. Luke does it from Jesus back to Adam.

I love reading those fascinating names – many of which are hard to pronounce. We were told: “Just pronounce them with authority and loud and clear.” For example, Matthew’s list has “Abraham, Amminadab, Abijah, Asaph, Amos, Abiud, Azor, Achim….” And those are only the names that begin with “A”.

I hear some priests not liking this gospel when it’s read. I love it.


Let me give three lessons from this gospel of Matthew.

But first me first talk about “The Domino Effect.”

Someone somewhere along the line must have had a box of dominos – but nobody to play – so they lined them up on their side – and then started a chain reaction toppling of the dominos.

What was created was the so called, “Domino Effect.”

Type into Google, “The Domino Effect” and you’ll come up with this Guinness Book of Records enterprise that people around the world like to do.

One YouTube will show some young people in Norway trying to set a domino effect fall of 150,000 dominos. Next someone tried to top that and lined up 250,000 and on and on and on.

I noticed last night that one domino effect set-up used 4 million, 491,863 domino. That’s a lot of dominos. It took some 90 people 2 months to line them all up.

It’s all filmed. Check it out.  Maybe we could collect all the unused dominos in Annapolis and find a big hall – and see what we could pull off. I’m sure they leave different sections separate just in case someone bumps one domino too soon – and the whole enterprise topples down before its time.


The first lesson from the Domino Effect for me is to realize all the people that are part of my line – to get me into existence for my turn at life.

Just like today’s gospel, someone begat someone – and on and on and on down to me.

Pinch yourself.

Each of us is like just one domino – on a long, long, long, long, long line of dominos.

I love to quote the comment by Groucho Marx.  “If your parents didn’t have any kids, chances are you won’t either.”

Pinch yourself – in a prayer of Thanksgiving for the gift of life.

As priest I get nervous that I didn’t have any kids – yet a priest is called “father”. That teaches me that it’s not just our parents who parent us. Teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, priests, ministers, rabbis, all contribute to our upbringing. Yet that domino thing hits me every time. My line stops with me. “Uh oh!”


I notice family members who have dropped out of the practice of our faith.

I am a Catholic because my parents were Catholics in Ireland and I assume their parents were Catholic and back and back and back and back and back.

I wonder what if someone way back way back dropped out – and then came back again. Or was their one convert way back when?

I wonder about the larger number of Catholics who have given up their faith – or dropped out of going to Mass, etc. etc. etc. Are they stopping the Domino Effect of faith for people to come?


The third lesson concerns the little everyday interactions we have with each other.

Smiles beget smiles; scowls beget scowls.

Random acts of kindness beget random acts of kindness.

I remember seeing as a kid a cartoon about the Domino Effect.

A general calls in a Colonel – and yells at him. The Colonel then goes out and yells at a Lieutenannt – who then goes out and yells at a Captian – who then yells at a seargeant, who then yells at a private – who then goes out and yells or kicks a dog – and the dog then goes and starts chasing and barking at a car.

Is the angry person a long line of angry people – and we are just seeing one angry person?

I’m sure from time to time we’ve all experienced the Domino Effect in traffic, in school, at home amongst brothers and sisters.


Give this stuff some time and some food for thought. Amen.


Poem for today, Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

© Sylvia Platt

Tuesday, December 16, 2014



The title of my homily for this 3rd Tuesday in Advent is, “Who Said, ‘You Can’t Change Your Mind’”?

Sometimes people get mad at others – when they change their mind about  something. Their memory is like a video or recording device and they dig up a comment the other person made years ago. They blurt out a comment, “Wait a minute, 5 years ago you said just the opposite.”

Who said, “We can’t change our mind”?


Today’s gospel – Matthew 21: 28-32 - tells the story of 2 sons – both of whom change their minds.

One said “No” to his father – but then changed his mind and said “Yes” in his mind and did what his father asked him to do in the first place.

The other said “Yes” to his father’s request – and then did “no” with his feet – walking away from his “mouth” yes.

Change: it happens.


Werner Wolf – a TV sports guy here in Maryland and then New York and then the nation used to have a one liner: “Let’s go to the video tape?”

He was doing what coaches and teams were doing all the time.

“Let’s go to the video tape?”

When I take my afternoon walk through the Naval Academy I notice near the sports field these guys with video cameras up on portable towers filming the practices. Then I’m sure that coaches and staff study the film and then point out to players – moves that help – and moves that don’t.

I was once doing a baptism of a grandnephew. During the ceremony with the whole family watching,  I dropped the book into the baptismal font. Everyone laughed. I didn’t. Then when we got back to my niece’s house, one of the older kids invited everyone to the big tv for the showing of the baptism. When we came to the moment of the humble of the ceremony book into the water, this kid says, “Let’s go to the video tape?” And they showed it over and over and over again.

I assume everyone who knows us has a whole library of video tapes that they play over and over again – especially of our bad stuff – how we pick on so and so – and how we are always so nice to so and so.

I was on a high school retreat with some of our seniors last week.  High school kids often are giving replays of their teachers mannerisms, quirks, behaviors, favorites, etc., etc., etc.

Just listen. Just watch.

I’m sure when you come to church – you see scenes – you’ve seen before – over and over again. I’m sure you hear sermons or   examples you’ve heard before.

As Yogi Berra put it over and over again: “Life is one big déjà vu over and over again.


A key New Testament word is “metanoia”. It’s in today’s gospel – and it’s often translated “repentence”.

Various scholars say that’s a horrible translation.

Then they add that the word “repentence  means a lot more than that. It means for starters “a change of mind.”

Then a change of behavior – for the better – that comes from a change of mind.

I would assume that change is a difficult process.

It starts with seeing – Let’s go to the video tape – and then seeing how what we say and do impacts others – and then we see options – other ways of seeing and doing life – then choosing the more loving behavior and then to do it and then seeing how others react for the better because we’re nicer, more giving, more understanding, more loving.


So today's gospel story of the son who said, "No!" and then did "Yes" can be our story as well. Amen.


Poem for Today - Tuesday - December 16, 2014


Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

© Mary Oliver 

Monday, December 15, 2014



The title of my homily for this 3rd Monday in Advent  is, “Questioning Authority.”


In today’s gospel from Matthew 21: 23-27,  the chief priests and the elders question Jesus about his authority to say and to do the things he was saying and doing.

They ask him, “By what authority…?”

The word in Greek in the Gospel text  for authority is, “EXOUSIA”.

It means the right to exercise authority, power, right – to make the rules.

It means trying to nail down by what right does someone possess authority, power, rule, right – to try to make others behave the way the one who gives the orders wants things to be done. It has to do with a right that is recognized by the community. It’s all about public credibility. It’s dealing with legitimation.


Let me throw out three quotes.

First quote: I’ve often heard that St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Authority is the weakest form of argument.”

By what authority is he saying this?

I never asked that question before. However, since I’m thinking out loud about “authority” in this homily, I’d guess that he’s making that comment from experience.  Did he hear too many thinkers and theologians make comments on their own and he disagreed with the commentator – because they couldn’t prove their statement with good enough arguments to satisfy Thomas.

Second quote:  “Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying “No” to any authority – literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social and even political.” Ignazio Silone in Essay in The God That Failed [1950]

We have the gift of being about to doubt and ask questions and to say, “No!”

We also have to face the consequences that come from our thinking and doing stuff outside the box.

The third quote is from Abigail Adams. In a May 7, 1776 Letter to John Adams she says,

“While you are proclaiming peace and good will to men, emancipating all nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over wives.  But you must remember that arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken – and notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our masters, and without violence throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet.”  Abigail Adams, May 7 1776, Letter to John Adams.


So authority – using it – questioning it – exerting it – is a major issue in life.

Authority issues appear every day – in all kinds of ways.

By what authority can someone demonstrate – block traffic – or what have you.

I know that in the United States we have First Amendment rights to express and articulate one’s opinions – but I also know that one can’t scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie house.

By what authority can someone grab another – try to stop someone – Taser another – etc. etc.

That’s the stuff in the public arena.

Here is an example  that deals with the issue of authority from the private sector.

This past Thanksgiving at a big family gathering, we were playing cards – Shanghai Rummy. In the last hand the question came up: do you have to have a lay down card or does every card have to go into one’s hand to go down and end the game. One person said every card has to fit; another said – you have to have one last card to throw out to end the game. Who was right?  An argument began. We found out during the argument that followed that one person was playing Brooklyn rules; another person was playing with Scranton rules; another was playing Maryland rules.

Who had the authority?

Everyone – as long as all agree on the rules of the game – before the game begins – or when we commonly decide on how we’re going to play the game.


Common sense, common discussion, common agreements are what is key to the issue of authority – not yelling, not bullying – but the common good.

Poem for Monday - December 15, 2014

The song I came to sing
remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing
and in unstringing my instrument.

The time has not come true,
the words have not been rightly set;
only there is the agony
of wishing in my heart…..

I have not seen his face,
nor have I listened to his voice;
only I have heard his gentle footsteps
from the road before my house…..

But the lamp has not been lit
and I cannot ask him into my house;
I live in the hope of meeting with him;
but this meeting is not yet.

© Rabindranath Tagor

Sunday, December 14, 2014



The title of homily for this 3rd Sunday of Advent (B)  is, “Words and Action.”

The heart of Christianity is, “The Word became flesh and walked amongst us.”

Do you agree with Gandhi and so many others – that Christianity is a too, too -  “Talkie-talkie” religion?

E.M. Foster in his 1924 novel, A Passage to India, has someone make that dig about ”poor, talkative, little Christianity”.

There is a temptation to be one sided: too much talk – but we can also sometimes be too much action – that is mindless motion – mindless action.

Each of us has to ask ourselves if we are all talk – or if we are too mechanical?

Each of us has look at ourselves – and look at our life and be truly honest – whether or not we put into practice the old principle: “Action speaks louder than words.”

We’ve all heard the words – “Walk the walk. Don’t just talk to talk.”

Which is more me: walkie or talkie?


I was at a bar mitzvah in a Jewish synagogue this year. I sat there noticing once more how much a synagogue is like our churches. There are the benches and the aisles.  There’s the sanctuary.  In the sanctuary there is a table or altar. Up front there are the  steps to a raised platform – called the “bimah.”

Up on that bimah or raised platform up front, I spotted the tabernacle – or ark. Above that there is the “ner tamid” or light or eternal flame.  

After the ceremony started I saw the young person – Adam – going up to the ark  – the box – that holds the Torah – of first 5 books of the Jewish Bible. The rabbi opened the cabinet door. He took out the scrolls. He handed it to the kid who marched with it to the pulpit. He then read a passage from the Jewish Scriptures.


Every time I read today’s first reading from Isaiah, I think of that scene – in various bar or bat mitzvahs I’ve been to.

At every Mass we have the moment of the reading of the scriptures – the word.

We also have the moment at every mass – at the consecration - when we believe the words become flesh and dwell among us.

In our tabernacle – we keep the bread. We have there the body of Christ – that is preserved for those who bring the bread to the sick.

Out of that adoration has come – but action – service is central.

Just as at the end of every Mass – we are sent out into the world – as the Body of Christ - to bring Christ and his love to our world.

Christianity is not just a religion of the word – but it’s also a religion of the flesh.


So the call of Christianity is not just to be word – but that the words become flesh,  body, real – in us.

The call of Christianity is to hear the word – say yes to the word as Mary was challenged to say – and then become Christ.


Talk is important, key, real.  Of course – but talk is talk.

A Christian community needs to talk  - to have meetings – but we better not be talk, talk, talk.

A Christian community needs to plan – to map out action steps – but then they have to become flesh – otherwise we’re all talk.

Goethe or someone came to the end of his life and asked, “Tell me. Did I ever finish anything?”


Jesus talked – gave us sayings and stories – but he was off on action.

He said, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom, but it’s the one who does the will of my Father.”

He knew about babble that people thought was prayer.

He knew about people running to and from the temple – but didn’t spot the brother or sister on the road needing help.

He talked about a son whose father asked him to do something and that son said, “Yes!” but then didn’t do it – but  his brother who said “No!” then went out and did what the father asked him to do.

In today’s first reading from Isaiah – we have the words Jesus was handed that day in the synagogue in Nazareth:

         The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
         because the Lord has anointed me;
         he has sent me to bring glad tidings  to the poor,
         to heal the broken hearted,
         to proclaim liberty to the captives
        and release to the prisoners,
        to announce a year of favor from the Lord
        and a day of vindication by our God.

Then we hear Jesus going out and doing all that.

Talking to talk, then walking to walk.


If I hear anything about Pope Francis it’s right here.

Rules, plans are important – but they have to be pastoral.

They have to be of service to the people – not knots to knot up their lives.

I hear him calling our church to simplify, simplify, simplify – to help people live out the Christian Calling – not just talk in the Christian.

I hear him calling our church not just to know the words of Christianity – but to know the Word Jesus Christ – to be like Mary – saying Yes – a word, yes, to God – then becoming pregnant with Christ – and then bring him into our world

And we start with Christmas – making baby steps – and as the church year goes on year after year after year – we go and grow our faith and our relationship to Christ.


The title of my homily was, “Words and Actions.”

Let me sum up my homily is, 14 words:

“Don’t talk about love, show me.”

“Don’t talk about Jesus, show me Jesus in you.”

Poem for Today - Sunday - December 14, 2014


As you all peacefully sleep
My heart is awoken by the darkness of the night
I slumber through this empty house
For I carry in me a heavy heart
I light a candle, then a few
The movie of my past now flashes before my eyes
I stare at the empty walls, where pictures once hung
I hear the ghostly voices of lovers past
I hear the silence of dreams escaped
A sad faced mime touches my shoulder
Whispers of I feel your pain drift out the open window

© Arthur Vaso