Saturday, September 5, 2015

September 5, 2015


It’s a bad thing to belittle another.

Do we do it to bebig ourselves a bit?

Do we step on the person we tried to
make small - so we can feel bigger and
better - because we actually feel small?

Isn't it better to try to see others as different than we actually see them, 
to inwardly say, “Hey,  I haven’t been in their skin? Hey, I haven't read their story to know what they have been through 
to get to where they are right now."

Isn't it better to bebig each other? 

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015



The title of my homily for this Opening Mass for this 2015-16 St. Mary’s High School year is, “Merci Beaucoup”.

That’s French for “Many thanks.”

If you’re in Paris or in a French restaurant say, “Merci beaucoup” to the waiter if it’s a great meal - and he or she will say, “Merci beaucoup!” if you leave a good tip.

When we were growing up my brother Billy was studying French in high school and he loved to yell French phrases at me. When I’d come into our bedroom he loved to say, “Ferme la porte.” Translation: “Shut the door.”  As a result of that I understood the French command, “Ferme la bouche”. Translation: “Shut your mouth.”

To this day I still remember that shut the door command when I walk into rooms - especially when it’s expected of me to close the door.

If this sermon works, I would hope some of you will find yourself this week, next week, and for the rest of your lives opening your mouth and saying to others when you feel grateful, “Merci beaucoup.”


The French word, “merci” means thanks.

It also means, “Mercy!”

The English word, “mercy” means pardon, help me, show some compassion, bear with me, be kind to me, give me a break,  please understand my situation, be lenient,  be tolerant….

However, its background is much wider and deeper and has many more meanings.

The Latin word, “Mercedes” means wages, rewards, pay me, ransom me, ….

It goes back to coming up for a word for “paying for someone” - “rescuing another”.  In a restaurant, the meal is over, who’s taking the check? Someone takes the bill and pays for all - and all say, “Merci!”

In our parish and in our high school and grammar school, the theme for this year is, “Be Witnesses of Mercy.” This year’s theme comes from the writings and thought of Pope Francis.  Show mercy.  That we be merciful towards those we need to forgive. That we be merciful to those who are stuck. That we give the coins of our pocket or some cash out of our wallet to those who are begging on our streets.

And hopeful the other says, “Merci beaucoup” or “Thanks” or “Gracias.”

Another word for what we doing this morning is, “Eucharist” - which means thanks to God.

As I said the other night at the high school Athletes’ Mass, “We see athletes on TV after a great play - raising their index finger and pointing to God. Give God the glory.” 

Well a Mass, this Mass, is our way of pointing to God and giving God the glory.

It’s a way of saying to God, “Merci beaucoup.”


You can see signs on our lawn - outside of school - outside our churches - that the theme for this year is to be a witness of God’s mercy.

That means this year we forgive each other. That means this year we are grateful for each other. That means this year we show mercy to others.

So this year say, “Merci beaucoup” to our maintenance people, to people who wait on us, to people who hand us a movie ticket, to those who referee our games, to those who teach us, to our parents.

This year is a year to witness the gifts of God surrounding us.

Here we are in this green setting. Here we are by the water. Here we are together on a beautiful September morning.

Let’s give God a shout out: “Merci beaucoup.”


As you know there is a major crisis going on right now in Europe and the Middle East. People are escaping Syria and all kinds of other places - besides all the people from Latin America who are trying to get into our country.

On the evening news last night and in our papers today there is this picture [show picture] of this 2 year old boy, being picked up by a Turkish soldier on a beach. His father and his mother and his brother and he had gotten into a smuggler’s small fiberglass boat that held about 12 people. They wanted to to try to get to the island of Kos in Greece and then make their way to Vancouver in Canada or Sweden.  The small raft overturned and the small boy Aylan Kurdi and his brother, Galip, and their mother, Rehen, drowned. Only their father, Abdullah Kurdi lived -  but he is in despair.

Hopefully this picture and the scenes of thousands and thousands and millions of people on the move around the globe will turn the hearts of people to show mercy to these families and folks trying to find a new life.

Obviously that’s what mercy means.

We’re told in today’s gospel to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give the shirt off our back.

The call of God is that we be people of mercy - not just to opening and closing doors for others - but to open and not close our eyes and our wallets and our countries and our hearts to others.

And others in turn will not only say, “Merci beaucoup” but they too will open up their lives to others and on and on and on.


This year let’s show mercy and compassion to each other.

This year, let’s show gratitude to each other.

This year, let’s do things that will get others to say, “Merci Beaucoup.”

Friday, September 4, 2015

September 4, 2015


Are we what we’re holding onto?

In a way, yes, and in a way, no.
The question could lead us to
look at what we’re saving, what’s
cluttering our closets and our lives,
what we’re able to pitch and toss
and what has become part of us.

Then we realize it’s far easier to get rid
of what’s in a garage or a corner of our
bedroom near the wall. Hey we get out
on the other side of our bed anyway - so
we won’t stub our toes at 2 in the morning.

The real ugly clutter is what’s
sitting there in those old cardboard
boxes in our mind and our memory,
those mistakes we made 20 years ago,
those hurts from others that we refuse
to let go of. I don’t know about you,
but that’s the stuff I’m holding onto.
That’s the stuff that’s holding me up.

© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2015

Picture on top by Joshua Naylor.
Here he is on what he says about his art:

Cubism 2004-2005

In the summer of 2004, I began photographing my friends and family in their most private spaces.  My idea for this project was obviously inspired by the cubist paintings of Picasso and so I modeled my portraits very closely to those he painted.  I wanted to show more than what just a single photograph could show.  My attempt was to give the viewer the same scattered, cluttered vision of what someone might see if they were to reflect on a memory.  We do not simply see a stagnant image, but a fluid moving world from many different angles.  I felt that this was the best way to show a person, to show their space. The project continued to the spring of 2005 where it culminated in the piece Bereft of Lucidity which I exhibited at the 8th annual BFA Alternative Show in Bloomington, IN.  This piece, inspired by a dream, was the first piece that I had photographed many different environments to incorporate them as one image.  It measures 4' by 4' and uses real cut out photographs with varying depth to create the cubist look and feel.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

September 3, 2015


Four guys went to a meeting and
two of us didn’t. They came back
complaining, complaining, complaining:
“It went from 6 PM till 10 PM - so we
expected that there would be
at least some sandwiches. Nope.
There was only tiny smatterings
of food - crackers, cheese, broccoli,
along with long, long, long speeches”
As I was listening to the ventings,
I was looking for a word for luck,
but it had to have an ingredient
in it - for some smarts on the part
of the person who caught the break.
Couldn’t come up with a word, so I
invented my own: “Smartluck!”
I’m going to pray for a lot more.

                                                           ©  Andy Costello, Reflections, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September 2, 2015


Who are you? Where are you coming from?
Business? Pleasure? Family? Silence?
Hey you never know who’s next to you?
You never know the person standing there
in front of you at the ticket counter. “Hi!”
Sometimes I ask, “Where are you headed?”
Sometimes my belly tells me, “Silence.”
Sometimes the other tells about a death
in the family or a sick brother or sister ….
Sometimes I tell the other things about me
that I didn’t even know I was thinking about.
Sometimes I realize - that night or next week -
it’s good to travel by plane, train or bus
because it's a chance to be in holy communion
with others - but sometimes I feel the long
uneasiness of an "Uh oh! silence from another.

© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 1, 2015


When another dies, it’s then we discover
who another was - as we listen to those
who are dealing with their life and death.

When another dies, it’s then we discover
who we really are - and our connection
to the life of the person who has died.

When another dies, it’s then we discover
more about meaning, God, faith and hope,
and if we believe in a beyond, beyond all this.

© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2015



The title of my homily for this 22nd Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “Bible Discoveries - Take Time - Then Keep Them in Mind.”

This will be a teaching homily.

One of my Bible discoveries is that people get more out of reading the Bible when they have a couple of theories about the how the Bible works - about what’s going on in the Bible - and they spot it when reading the Bible on their own or when they hear it being read in church.


For example, the word Bible comes from the word “biblia” - plural for books.

The Bible is a library of different books and different types of literature. It’s a whole stack of books. Better: it’s a lot of different scrolls.  If you were at Mass yesterday you heard in the gospel of Luke how Jesus was in the synagogue and was handed one such scroll - that of Isaiah.  It was kept in a box - a tabernacle - and the attendant like a Eucharistic Minister would open up the tabernacle and take out the word and hand it to someone.

Sound familiar?

We come to Mass and are fed with the word and the word made flesh Jesus.

So the first learning is to ask what kind of literature am I reading or hearing? A kid’s story is different than a book in the history section of the library. The Bible has fiction and non-fiction. Both contain truths. And they have various other types of literature as well.

So those who see the Bible as the same kind of literature can end up taking everything literally. Then some give up, because they know a person can’t be in the belly of a whale for 3 days and live. Then when they hear it’s fiction and non-fiction they throw up their hands saying, “I don’t know what to believe any more.”


When listening to and hearing the New Testament we discover that from after Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead as we believe - there was a major question about the Second Coming. So after he left us around the year 33 till sometime after 100, people weren’t sure if this whole world was about to end.

When it wasn’t happening, when it wasn’t ending, different people got on a new train - the one that was saying, “Jesus didn’t mean what we thought he meant.”  Keep your ears open for that one. You could cut and paste a whole series of texts to show that this was happening. Think about all those texts we have at the end of the Church year  - when we hear about not knowing with the Bridegroom would appear.

In today’s first reading we have the oldest New Testament text is 1st Thessalonians and it’s dated around the year 50 and 51. Those of you who have Magnificat, or This Day or a small Missal - re-read today’s first reading and this question is front and central. The end is going to come like a thief in the night. It’s like being pregnant. Couples near the time of birth are anxious - and make all kinds of contingency plans - not knowing when the baby would arrive..

So read the New Testament remembering this question is front and central at times.


The gospels and the letters of Paul etc. have in mind an audience who want to know who this Jesus is. Peter is not the only one who is being asked, “Who do you say I am?” 

That question is aimed at everyone - and the gospels etc. are probing and pushing us to answer that question.

In today’s gospel we have the funny story that this crazy guy in the synagogue in Capernaum knows who Jesus is, “the Holy One of God” but the crowds don’t get it yet - and the Scribes and the Pharisees never get it.

Keep that in mind when you hear the gospels. A main question is discovering and coming up with answers to the Who is Jesus question


So that’s my homily. When we come up with some key questions and key issues to keep in mind, we’ll grasp the scriptures that much better. Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015


I suggested to a lady who seemed locked in
that she get out of her house and take walks.

She countered that she is scared of falling.
I countered that she get herself a cane.

She laughed and said, “Me with a cane?
Impossible! Didn’t you know? I’m so vain?”

Well, I hope if you happen to read this,
you'll think this poem is about you. It is.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015



The title of my homily for this 22nd  Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Life and Then Death: Is That All There Is?”

Today’s  first reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 4: 13-18th triggers this topic and this question for me.

Paul says we all fall asleep - we all die - but on the word of the Lord - there is the waking up - the resurrection.


I find that metaphor - comparing the letting go called “sleep” - to the letting go called “death” - in lot of the literature about death.

Is it as simple as that?

If we make it to 80 there are some 29,200 goings  to sleep.  Ooops!  As we get older there are thousands and thousands more goings to sleep and wakings up - that that - more and more as we get older.

I always thought it would make a great night prayer - to compare the letting go when going to bed at night to the letting go called death.

God of the Night,
here I am letting go of all control
as I wander into the realm of sleep.
If I don’t wake up for the morning light,
God my God, please be on the beach,
making breakfast for me
on this other side of life. Amen. [1]

So maybe in a way, it is as simple as that: each going to sleep is a mini-death - and someday we won’t wake up because we’ve moved into a maxi-death.


Last week I was talking with a guy about an upcoming family funeral.  He said that in his family there were not that many deaths - and then he added, “This is sort of new for me.”

I’d hear that because we have had many family funerals.

I read somewhere that the first one is the toughest  - and each death after that makes the next one easier and easier.

I don’t know if that’s true.  I would think it all depends on who died and our relationship with them - and who we are.

I have learned life is loaded with lots of opportunities to say, “It all depends.”

I find it saddest when I’m with someone who doesn’t believe in life after death.

I’ll never forget the moment I stood at my brother’s grave with my brother’s best friend, Marty, and he said, “I don’t believe that there is anything after this.”

I said, “Some Jews believe in life after death.”

When his wife, Gloria, was dying last year she was joking about being together in heaven with my brother and laughing at all of us down below.

As I sat there with her and her cancer and her family - the only thing I heard was hope: “She knows there’s a there after this.”

So as I stood there in a Jewish cemetery a month later, I hoped and hoped that she and my brother were looking down on us - with joy and peace and eternal happiness.

To add to that joy - after that funeral in that Jewish cemetery, we headed 4 miles away to a Catholic cemetery - and stood in prayer with Marty and his 3 kids at my brother’s grave.

So life - it all depends.

So too eternal life - you never know.

Today’s first reading triggers these thoughts - no wonder it’s often read at funerals.

This is the oldest New Testament reading - from around 50 or 51 - and its message is Jesus Christ - he’s the one who takes us through death to eternal life.

I like the last line in today’s first reading: “Therefore, console one another with these words.”

Many people have.


Today’s gospel - Luke 4:16-30 - the scene of Jesus walking into his family synagogue in Nazareth -  brings us back to life.

Right now, we’re not at a funeral Mass.

We’re at this Mass - and our job is to hear Isaiah and Jesus Christ - and then to go out from here today and fulfill their words - by bringing glad tidings to the poor, liberty to those who feel trapped, sight to the blind, freedom to those who feel they are oppressed - and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Amen.


[1] Read the Gospel post resurrection stories - especially those in John and especially John 21: 1-14

Sunday, August 30, 2015



The title of my homily for this 22 Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] is, “Religion?”

"Religion" with a question mark after it?

When you see the religion question on a little box on a questionnaire, what do you answer?




Or maybe at times you even leave it blank. It’s none of their business.

Sometimes it’s asked when someone is admitted to a hospital.

Then someone from a church or a religious group shows up to welcome them - say some prayers - bring them communion - and for a Catholic to give them the sacrament of the sick.

For some Catholics they think the sacrament of the sick is still the sacrament of the dying. Yes - but there’s been a change. It’s also the sacrament of the sick - the anointing on one’s forehead and the palms of one’s hand - to give one the strength of the Lord and the community one belongs to - in times of sickness or going into an operation.

As priest, that’s a wonderful moment to be a priest.

And I love the word for communion for a person who is dying, “Viaticum”. It’s food for the journey - the journey into the world of death - and with faith - with Christ - heading to the Eternal Banquet of Heaven.


I’m sure you heard in today’s second reading from the Letter of James the following description of religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Very interesting…..

How would you describe religion? How would you describe your religion?

Has your understanding of your religion changed with the years?

A guy named John Morley wrote - way back in April of 1905, “There are said to be ten thousand definitions of religion.” [John Morley, Nineteenth Century, April, 1905]

Who’s counting?

What’s yours?

I remember hearing a talk by an alcoholic who said, “I was looking for God at the bottom of a bottle.”

Freud said that religion is a childhood neurosis as well as in illusion.

Karl Marx said religion was the opium of the masses. Sometimes at Mass I get nervous when I put people to sleep.

Others say sports is the religion of America.  Russell Baker once said in The New York Times that sports is the opiate of the masses.

I’m a Giants fan in football and the Knicks in basketball and both put me to sleep last year.

I remember hearing in the seminary that the word religion simply means, “What you wrap your life around.” Then the teacher who said that added, “Notice the root word ‘ligare’ in the word religion. It means to tie, to bind, as in ligaments - as in those tight bands of tissue that hold our bones and organs in place.

I also remember a field day in the seminary. I was kidding a fat guy and he called to a fast guy and they both chased me across a field and the fast guy tackled me and the fat guy fell on top of me and ripped my shoulder ligaments. Bummer: I was tied up in a bandage from Thanksgiving to St. Valentine’s Day, 1960 - 1961. I learned the hard way: Don’t pick of fat or fast people.


Besides that comment from the Letter of St. James about what religion is, what about today’s other two readings?

Today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy has Moses bragging about how great the commandments are - as well as the statues and decrees. He adds that anyone hearing them would certainly say, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”

For the sake of transparency,  Moses is the one who came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments - and is given credit for the first five books of the Bible - especially all those laws in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

And to some people,  it seems they see religion as the Ten Commandments and to keep them.

Today’s gospel has Jesus going against his own people when they see religion as washing hands and cups and jugs and kettles - but inside the cup and kettle of their mind and heart are evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly.

That’s quite a list of sins and tendencies that can possess us.


We’re living in an age where religion can scare us.  We’re living in an age where people are killing people in the name of God.

I know when I sit down with a couple who are planning to get married, I always ask them about their religion. And I add: I hope you are a thinking Catholic. I hope you are an informed Catholic. And when one is Catholic and the other isn’t, I add: “If you the Catholic don’t go to church and don’t practice your religion and you the non-Catholic do go to your church, please bring your children up with your religion and your religious values.”

We hear reports about various religions in our world beating and even killing people who don’t keep the religious practices of the faith of that religion and that tribe or country.

We live in a country with separation of Church and State.  Please study and read up about the why of that rule.

Many people came to this country for religious freedom. But we ought to be aware of how religion can be very tough on people. We Catholics have our own track record - our own sins - and our own problems. I hope and pray I have not driven anyone out of our church. That scares me. I know some people want priests in the pulpit to be much tougher than they are.

I would love them to know the following about New England Puritanism.

Keeping in mind today’s gospel about complaints about Jesus and his disciples by the scribes and the Pharisees, here’s a quote to think about, “Under the blue laws of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Puritans administered religion to unwilling subjects by means of the whipping post, the ducking stool, the stocks, fines, and prisons. Mrs. Alice Morse Earle’s history, The Sabbath in Puritan New England, lists such examples: ‘Two lovers, John Lewis and Sarah Chapman were accused and tried for sitting together on the Lord’s day under an apple tree. A Dumstable soldier, for wetting a piece of old hat to put in his shoe to protect his foot, was fined forty shilling for doing this heavy work. Captain Kemble of Boston in 1656 was put in public stock for two hours for his ‘lewd and unseemly behavior’ which consisted of kissing his wife in public on the Sabbath on the doorstep of his house after his return from a three-year voyage. A man who had fallen into the water absented himself from church to dry his only suit of clothes; he was found guilty and publicly whipped.’”


Religion is tricky stuff.

It can also be scary stuff.

Hopefully it’s wonderful and our religion gives us life.

I want to get it right.

Thomas Merton, way back in 1949 wrote in his book, The Waters of Siloe, “The greatest enemy of religious Orders is not the persecutor who closes monasteries and dispels communities and imprisons monks and nuns; it is the noonday demon who persuades them to go for enterprises that have nothing whatever to do with the ideals of their founders.”

St. Alphonsus was the founder of the order we Redemptorists in this parish are part of.

If I heard anything from our founder it’s this: the whole deal - the real deal - when it comes to religion and life is this: It’s the practice of the love of Jesus Christ.

If I learned anything about Christianity it’s this: our religion is not words. It’s about a word spoken by God the Father to us: and that Word became flesh and lived and breathed and walked and taught amongst us - and my religion is knowing and loving and  following that person.

I’m not making this up. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”

We’re here in church today hopefully because of our love affair with Jesus Christ.
August 30, 2015


I grew up just above the New York Harbor.
Our dad walked us down to the waters every Sunday.
We learned early on - everything is coming or
going - but in the meanwhile there is a lot of waiting.
We saw all those boats anchored in the Narrows
waiting their turn to be unloaded and then filled up -
and then make their way out into the oceans
of our world. We heard the sound of boat horns,
but I never learned what they meant. We could
see in the distance  Our Lady in the Harbor,
the Statue of Liberty, with her welcoming light.
We also knew our parish church - Our Lady of
Perpetual Help - high on the hill  - overlooking
the harbor - with her welcoming arms and doors.
Childhood needs such sights and sounds -
memories - and a dad to take us everywhere.

© Andy Costello Reflections, 2015