Saturday, February 27, 2016

February 27, 2016


We are statues of limitations.
We’re this bit tall and this bit wide.
We’ve got this face and this name.
We have our roots and our history.
We have our questions and our mystery.
We end where our skin begins.
We can never say all we want to say.
We can never do all we want to do.
We’re limited. We’re caught in this body.
We only have so much time.
We only have so much energy.
We have a birthday and a death day.

We are statues of limitations.
That is till we close our eyes - and enter
into God - who is no statue - no idol -
but unlimited mystery, grace, laughter,
a God who has tears about our not-knowing,
but that is small potatoes - because we
don’t know God - nor how far out into  
the night the universe goes - if that’s
the way it goes - and why in the world
there are hippopotamuses, owls, murdered
sons and raped women and why some
dead leaves hang onto trees till Spring.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016



The title of my homily for this 2nd Friday in Lent is, “Expect Mess.”

Last night I sat down to write this homily. When I read today’s two readings the thought and the theme that hit me was, “Expect Mess.”

If we expect life to work perfectly and to go according to our plan, we’re in for uneasy and antsiness of mind. We’re in for mess. 

If we know - on the other hand - at times things are not going to go according to plan - that things will get messy at times - then in the long run we’re going to be a happier camper.


Jacob - now called “Israel” - loves Joseph best of all his sons. 

How many parents have we heard say, “I have no favorite!”  So too teachers - they claim that they have no favorite student.

In reality we all have our favorites - for various reasons - in various ways - and this can mess things up.

We might not think we have favorites - but those who watch us in action, know. They see us favoring one kid over the other. Then sense we like so and so better than so and so. 

So what else is new?

In this first reading from Genesis Joseph’s brothers want to kill him. They just don’t like him. They don’t like his mouth. They don’t like his dreams. 

Next comes a change in the story. Reuben  speaks up. Instead of killing Joseph directly, he suggests that we throw Joseph in a cistern.  This will give him time. He  plans that he can come back and rescue Joseph.

Next comes the great change in the story. A caravan of Ishmaelites come up the road. They are merchants on their way down  to Egypt. Judah says, “Why kill our brother? Let’s sell him to these traders and tell our father that he was killed by a wild beast.”

Keep reading. We’ll find out how good things will happen out of this complete family mess

TAKE TODAY’S GOSPEL - MATTHEW 21: 33-43, 45-46

In the parable for today the chief priests and the elders are trying to mess up Jesus - so he tells them about the parable of landowner.  Like God the Father, the land owner keeps sending his agents to pick up some produce from his land. The tenants want the land to be theirs - so they kill and maim and mess up everyone and everything - so as to get their way.

The obvious message from Jesus to the Pharisees is that life has its payback. Life has its crosses and difficulties and disasters and it’s going to hit them some day. Expect the cross. Expect mess.


Today’s readings also triggered for me the mess called “sin”.

They also trigger the reality of  “suffering” - which at times is part of the mess of sin.

The Stations of the Cross are not just on Church walls - they are on the walls of our own homes.

Lent is a good time to take a look at how we deal with sin and suffering - how we deal with mess - how we make our stations of the cross.


It’s been my experience that people have sayings and stories to deal with mess.

The other day something went wrong about a Mass at St. Mary’s. I heard a lady respond by saying philosophically, “This too shall pass.” That saying works for many people. I remember reading way back a story about that saying. A great king  of Persia asked his wise men to come up with a saying that will sum up the secret of happiness. He added that it has to make the happy sad and the sad happy. The saying that won was, “This too shall pass” - and it can be inscribed on the inside of a ring - to be looked to at times of turmoil.

Do you have a saying like, “This too shall pass” that helps you deal with the messy moments of life. Or do you have a story that helps you deal with mess? I’m sure you heard the origin of “This too shall pass.”

The other day I added that I follow the July 4th Principle: “What difference will it make next July 4th what happened today.” I’ve heard other people say, “What difference will it mean in 20,000 years what happened today.”

A man told me that his old Irish mother used to say, “It could be worse.”


We can learn a lot from mess - the messes of life.

Pat Livingston wrote a whole book on this entitled, Bless this Mess.

The great baseball pitcher Christy Mathewson. - said, “You can learn little from victory. you can learn everything from defeat.”

So when mess hits us, pray, Bless this mess.”

When the messes of life hit us,  ask, “What’s the learning here?”

Think of before and afters - and make the afters a beautiful mess.
February 26, 2016


Driving down dark roads - on dark nights -
I see here and there - a light in a house off
to the side - or a plane’s flickering lights
high in the sky. I know I’m not alone on the
dark roads of life - but sometimes I find
myself screaming, “Morning…. Come
quickly. Hurry up the dawn. More light!”

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 25, 2016


“Mindfulness.” I am hearing that word a lot lately.
Awareness of the wind, the sounds, the scents
in the room and on the train platform  - all round me.

“Mindfulness.” I am eating and this time I taste
the salt and the cold butter and I see the ice cubes
in the water and the words and faces around me.

“Mindfulness.” I pause and hear scripture texts
in my memory. “Be still and know that I am God.”
“Even though the valley is dark, I am with you.”

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February 24, 2016


Some say God is pulling all the strings.
Others say, God is on another planet.

Me? I don’t know - but I like to think God
likes to touch new born babies tiny toes
and watch little kids learning to use a yoyo.

I like to think God pauses to watch
starlings in flight - 25 violins in a orchestra
in total sync - and watermelons on plates
waiting for their moment in a picnic.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

February 23, 2016


Closure, it’s one of those words that
makes sense when it means, “Let it go!”

Easier said than done. It’s a goal to let 
something go when it's crushing us. At 
times pain or anger or a mistake or things we
have no control over us are controlling us.

Closure!  It’s a good idea because sometimes
it works and people actually let something go.

Closure! It’s good to know that doors have
knobs and locks that unlock and unless we
have dementia,  our whole life is within and lots
of things trigger lots of memories and moments.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016


Diego Rivera portrait 
of Jacques  Lipchitz (1814)


The title of my homily for this 2nd Tuesday in Lent is, “The Public and the Private Me.”

As we all know, we all have a public and a private self.

As we all know the real me is the me when nobody is looking.

Question: How well do I know the real me?

Answer: When the real me is pausing to look in on the real me and we start to get particulars.


Jesus was very aware of this reality.

In today’s gospel Jesus  talks about the Pharisees and their need to make their public self look great. Jesus says, “All their works are performed to be seen.”  They love to be up front. They love titles - being called “Rabbi” or “Master” or “Father”.

Worse they try to load others down with excessive laws and burdens - to make themselves look good and others look bad.

The Gospel of Matthew comes from after Mark - which is dated from 64-69 and before the year 110.

I was taught that the stuff in a gospel is aimed at people around the time it was written - so that tells me not only were there Pharisees in the time of Jesus but also in the early church of Matthew or whatever gospel we’re looking at.

So what else is new? There are always going to be people who are Pharisees - up front and trying to be seen - as well as trying to lord it over other people and make them feel inferior, guilty and sinful. And the biggest offenders can be those up front - like priests.

Tassel wearers, beware when you’re wearing tassels. Instead, keep trying to touch the tassel of Jesus and don’t shake your own.


So the call of Lent is to go into the inner room - into the all by myself me - and look in the mirror and see oneself.

And to see ourselves as we really are can be and ought to be quite humbling.  Notice the last sentence in today’s gospel, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


If we look in the mirror we can see the spilled spaghetti stains of life.

Sin is a spill - like an oil spill - like a ballpoint pen that leaks - like tomato sauce on a white Irish sweater.

In time can wash our hands and our sweaters - and slowly get the oil and ink stains and tomato sauce stains off.

But when we are within - when we’re talking to ourselves as the private - the me I really am - we know the mistakes and the spills and the mess of our lives.

It’s difficult to wash blood red spaghetti stains of the fabric of our soul and our memory.

Isaiah in today’s first reading tells us, “Come now, let us set things right…. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow. Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.”

It’s been my experience that white wash, that cleansing of sins, sometimes takes a lifetime - a long time.

I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, The Scarlet Letter, and how long  and now shameful it was for Hester Prynne to wear the dress with the Big A in front. A is for adultery.

The private me of every person is wearing inwardly A’s for abortion, or G for some big hurt we caused on another for gossip or E or P or M or S or what have you.

We are our own library and librarian.

My mind took notice of a scene in another of Hawthorne’s stories, The Marble Faun.  There is Miriam and there is Hilda. Hilda is the type who walked around  looking down on others - making “Ttch! Ttch!” - “Naughty, Naughty” - sounds on folks she considered sinners.  In Chapter 23, Miriam says in so many words, “Honey you ought to go out and commit  a really big sin and maybe then you’ll understand the rest of us.”

Here’s how Hawthorne has Miriam challenge Hilda,

"I always said, Hilda, that you were merciless; for I had a perception of it, even while you loved me best. You have no sin, nor any conception of what it is; and therefore you are so terribly severe! As an angel, you are not amiss; but, as a human creature, and a woman among earthly men and women, you need a sin to soften you."


We are both public and private persons.

Lent is a good time to  get within ourselves and grow in holiness and humility - and stop worrying about our public perception and public self.
February 22, 2016

LIES ARE  LIKE  _____ 

Lies are like razor blades - they can cut.

Lies are like snakes - poisonous at times.

Lies are like quicksand.

Lies are like a taser - they can leave a sting.

Lies are like chocolates - they call for another one.

Lies are like cinderblocks - with a rope.

Lies are like wearing dark sunglasses - covering those eyes.

Lies are like boomerangs.

Lies are like a rash - they make you scratch.

Lies are like a broken tape recorder - you can’t retrieve what you said in the first place.

Lies are like echoes - they continue.

                                                                                                           © Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016



The title of my homily is, “The Chair of St. Peter.”

Today we celebrate the Popes - those who filled the Chair of St. Peter.

Every year when we come to this feast I wonder what to preach about - I see the priest’s chair over there. Notice the arms.  Notice the cushy seat.

I’ve preached about important chairs at dining room tables - or meetings - and sometimes asked, “Who sits where on a round table?”


266 people sat in that imaginary chair.

Pius IX sat in it the longest - 31 years;  Next came John Paul II who was pope for 26 years. Add some months to each of those.

Urban VII resigned after 13 days and John Paul I lasted 33 days.

Saints and sinners sat in that chair.  I haven’t seen any of the TV series on the  Borgias - but we know that 3 Borgias were popes. And Rodrigo  Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, is listed as one of our badies. And we know that 4 popes were Medici - two of which:  Leo X and Clement VII are in list of the Top 10 worst popes.

I’ve heard variations of the story about Napoleon claiming that he would destroy the church and the papacy and Cardinal Consalvi said, “Best of luck, the popes and the priests couldn’t do it.”

And I remember hearing in a sermon about the old little old lady from Jersey City who said that the 5 marks of the church are: one, holy, Catholic, apostolic and it survives its clergy.


In our lifetime, we have certainly been blessed with a line of good popes - different - but good popes.

I’ve see Pius XII, John the 23, Paul VI, JP 1 and 2, Benedict and now Francis. Did I miss anyone?

If we sit back and look at those who have sat in the Chair of Peter, we can see differences. So too Pastors. So too priests. So to presidents, governors, mayors, bosses, neighbors.

As Catholics we’re blessed to have someone in the top seat.

We pray that they give good example and good wisdom.

I have lived here at St. Mary’s Annapolis with 3 pastors now, Father Sweeney, Father Kingsbury and now Father Tizio. All are different - all have their off on’s - all have their strengths and weaknesses. So too bishops. So too bosses and presidents of our organizations.

I would assume we all get that.

I would hope that all of us when we are the chair of an organization - learn from Peter and from Jesus and good popes - that we’re in it for service and as good Shepherds of the flock.

I would assume we become aware of our weaknesses - or where we need others with other skills to work with.

This present pope is off on his themes and values: mercy, forgiveness, and understanding. Don’t judge. Smell like the shepherd - in other words get off the dais and the podium  and get out of your seat and be with the sheep. Sweat. Work. Give.


In the meanwhile, I am happy as Catholics we have a head - a pope.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Muslims and other religious groups had a “pope” - a “papa”, a head guy or gal. I would hope that then things would work easier and better because we could meet and talk, chair to chair, eye ball to eye ball. Amen.



The title of my homily for this 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C, is, “Dazzling White or Terrifying Darkness?”

Today’s first reading and today’s gospel mention two realities: “Dazzling White or Terrifying Darkness?”


In today’s first reading - Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18,  we have a very mysterious scene. 

We also have a mysterious sentence, “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.”

What was that like?

In today’s gospel - Luke 9: 28b-36 -  we have another mysterious moment.

We have these two sentences:  “Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”

What would that be like?


Looking at our life, when have we had similar moments: moments of dazzling white and moments of terrifying darkness?

The birth of a child – a beautiful baby –   the death of a child?

The wedding - the divorce?

The getting of a job - the being fired or let go?

The game winning shot - the strike out or missing the extra point?

The walking the beach in a bathing suit at 18 and the walking the beach in a bathrobe at 78?

The honeymoon - the funeral of a spouse?


The gospel scene is a transfiguration moment and the disciples say the obvious, “Master, it is good that we are here.” They want to pitch tents and stay there.

Of course, highs are nice. It sells fine wines, lottery tickets and café mocha or café latte. It’s nice when our team wins it all. It’s nice when all is going right – when all is dazzling bright. New cars have that smell and that dazzle – for a few weeks at least – and I imagine in a Hummer or a Mercedes or a Lexus, the high lasts much longer - at least to those of us on the sidewalk watching.

The Abram scene is a disfiguration moment – where Abram sees birds of prey swooping down and eating the animals of sacrifice.

Wow! Woo! An ugly scary scene.

Lows can disfigure our face. We walk into a room and people seeing us just know something is wrong. Somebody died. Someone got hurt. Something went wrong. Lows can devour our spirit like birds of prey swooping down and biting us.

Paradoxically, the first reading also gives a vision of great hope: God asks Abram to step out of his tent and “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you can.” Then God adds, “Just so shall your descendents be.”

And paradoxically, the gospel, after the moment of great light, there comes a great shadow.

So life is like that line we want to see on the monitor when we’re in the hospital. If it’s flat, we’re dead. Life is the ups and downs – mountains and valleys – highs and lows. Roller coasters are exciting because of their ups and downs – the morning train ride is flat and just another way to get to work.

Both readings, both scenes, leave those who experience them – in silence. The highs and lows of life have an aftertaste of silence.

I’ve noticed that literary people love George Eliot’s words from her novel, Middlemarch, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar that lies on the other side of silence.” 

Isn’t that a great quote?

When we become silent, reflective, we get that. 

It's morning - early morning. We're on vacation with the kids and we get up ahead of everyone. We can hear that roar on the other side of silence when we are walking or simply sitting at the beach.

Or we’ve heard that roar on the other side of silence when we saw a dead squirrel on the street. Life ended horribly for the little furry creature. 

We’ll be hearing that roar again this spring – or anytime, if we garden or walk or look at the night sky or morning sunrise or fish or kayak or rollerblade or listen to classical music or read a good novel or paint or sit in the mall or airports or downtown Annapolis and watch the world in progress.


Obviously, one of the things to do in Lent is to fast from talking and fasten the mouth shut – and listen. 

Be quiet and hear God. Be quiet and hear each other. Be quiet and hear one’s own heart. Hear what’s on the other side of silence.

I am an advocate of walking prayer – no iPods – no music – just quiet walking. Watch. See. Listen. God is a mighty roar on the other side of silence.

Quiet Waters Park – the Naval Academy – your neighborhood – the mall – a treadmill – where do you walk?

Lent is a time to listen – to life’s great mysteries.

Last week Jesus took us into the desert.

This week Jesus takes us up into a mountain.

Next week we’re going to hear about a garden where there was a fig tree that wasn’t producing figs.

The fourth week in Lent, we’re going to go to a house where there were two sons and an extraordinary father – and the younger son leaves home and everyday the father looks down the road for his return – while the oldest son is furious - because his dad isn't noticing him and all that he's doing.

The fifth week in Lent, we’re going to go to the Mount of Olives and we’re going to be there for a fascinating scene where a woman is dragged before Jesus by men holding stones to kill her – because she was caught in adultery. Were they scared she might talk? Or were they using her in hopes they could kill the silent roar called Jesus?

Then the following Sunday we’re going to reach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, which begins with Jesus having a great high – the crowd screaming, “Hosanna in the highest!” but by the end of that week he’s in deep darkness – especially on Good Friday afternoon when all the lights went out.

Dazzling light and terrifying darkness is the stuff of Lent and life.


There’s an interesting word in today’s first reading that gives an image that can pull this all together. Maybe. Or maybe it’s too far fetched. You be the judge.

The word is, “enveloped”. It’s in that sentence I quoted at the beginning of this homily. “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.”

I accidentally pronounced “enveloped” “nvelope”.

Maybe much of our life feels like we’re in a sealed envelope – that’s dark inside – being sent all over the place. We’re inside. We’re in the dark about what’s really happening in life.  And every once and a while, it’s good to step aside – to slit open the envelope and see what’s inside – to read the contents of the letter called me.

Lent is one of those moments – to hear – “you’ve got mail” and to find a quiet place to open up and read our letter, our story to ourselves – where we’ve been and to check the address on the front of the envelope – to see where we’re headed. Amen. Is it the right address?

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Last week we went through the First Week of Lent.

The Sunday gospel brought us into the desert with Jesus and with Jesus we dealt with or at least looked at the devil and our demons - especially our 3 top demons and destructive temptations and tendencies. They differ with different people. But if we put the Lord our God - first - as our first choice - then we can deal with desert moments in our life - moments when we feel alone or deserted or burnt out.

This Sunday - as we enter into the Second Week of Lent - we find ourselves on a mountain - which is much different than a desert.

We need both types of moments. 

This week let’s look at big picture moments - mountain moments in our lives - family celebrations - anniversaries - Thanksgivings - Christmases - vacations - weekends - when we say what Peter said, “Lord it is good we are here!”

This week let’s look at not just our struggles, our temptations, but also our highlights - but like last week - to see Jesus in these moments.

This week let’s picture ourselves - with a big picture - with mountain top view - and hear God our Father say to us about Jesus in our life, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
February 21, 2016


Ask a friend, someone you trust,
if they see any quirks in you.


Yeah, ask someone - someone you trust -
if they see any interesting quirks in you?

Why would anyone ever want to do that?

Well, maybe it might open up a few doors
or windows to what’s going on in you.

As to asking yourself about your own quirks,
I’m not so sure about that. Quirks are all
about traits, peculiarities, others see in us.

Like tap, tap, tap with our teeth when nervous.

Like pulling an ear lobe when so and so speaks.

Like yawning every other time when I speak.

Like going "hummm?" when turning door knobs.

Like adjusting the rear view mirror every time
your beloved is about to start the car. Every time.

Quirks?  Some are funny. Some obnoxious.
Some unique. Some strange - very strange.

Quirks? Be kind to me. This is the real me inside
me; sometimes I get nervous about what’s next.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016