Monday, October 10, 2016



The title of my homily for this 28th Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Now This Is An Allegory”.

In today’s first reading from Galatians, it hit me when I read, “Now this is an allegory.” 

I said, “Now that’s a theme I would like to clarify for myself.”

I remember reading somewhere, sometime, that in the early church about two theological, biblical and catechetical centers: Antioch and Alexandria. One was big on allegory and the other was not.

So I looked that up.

Alexandria was off on allegory - whereas Antioch was more into a literal understanding of scripture and theology.

Okay! That’s interesting, but is that something you’d be interested in?

I know that I’m more off on imagination and poetry and story - and others are more literal. There’s a lady who tells me at times that she doesn’t get what I’m talking about. I then say, “I know. We probably have 2 different kinds of minds.”


This is a weekday Mass - so I assume that you come here for more - to be fed more - to give more glory to God - to pray - to hope for more.

During the past 50 or so years, I’ve noticed that surveys - of Catholics indicate that Catholics want more scripture, more spirituality, more prayer.

Well, Sunday Mass and weekday Masses certainly give us more scripture.

In a 3 year cycle on Sundays we do the gospels - as well as a good bit of the Old and New Testaments.

In a 2 year cycle on Weekdays, Catholics get even more scripture.

And sermons in the last 50 years are now called homilies - and a homily is supposed to be a reflection on the readings of the day.

Moreover, in many parishes, during the last 50 years - since Vatican Council 2, parishes have offered Bible Study - and people attend workshops on the scriptures.

So more of the Bible has been offered - so too more presentations on Spirituality as well as on Prayer.

We’re in the year 2016.  I believe we can say that the church has done what the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, asked to be done. In Chapter II, # 51,  reads,  “The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s Word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy Scriptures will be read to the people over a set cycle of years.”

And in #25 of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, we read the words of St. Jerome, “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” [Commentary on Isaiah, Prol.; PL 24, 17.]


Having said that, let me now get back to the title and topic of this homily, “Allegory.”

As you have heard over and over again: the Bible is a traveling library.

Its many books - many scrolls - have various types of literature: fables, stories, songs, poetry, sayings, history.

When it comes to understanding the Bible, we have to know the following basic statement. There are various different types of literature in the Bible.  

The Catholic Church has come a long way in its teachings about the Bible.

When Biblical Scholars started to explore the Bible in newer ways in the late 1800’s - some experienced a lot of grief and opposition.

In pockets of Christians - still today - the Bible is taken literally - and often it’s in the King James or the Douay Rheims English versions.

So if we read in Joshua 10:13, “And the sun stood still, and the moon halted,” that needs to understood in the context of the text and the time it was written - with the scientific knowledge of the time.

So too the story of Balaam’s talking donkey in the Book of Numbers 22:28-30.

It took the Catholic Church a long time and a lot of struggles to say the following in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from Vatican II, “Those who search out the intention of the sacred writers must, among other things, have regard for ‘literary forms.’  For truth is proposed and expressed in a variety of ways, depending on whether a text is history of one kind or another, or whether its form is that of prophecy, poetry, or some other type of speech.” [# 12, Dei Verbum.]

If you walk into any library there is the children’s section - as well as various other sections.

In the kids section we’ll find books with talking trees and talking animals - and everyone knows that’s no problem.

In the history section we’ll find various types of history - narrative history of presidents and very exact - with lots of footnotes - types of history of the presidents.

Nobody has problems about different types of literature - that is - till we pick up a Bible.


I say all this because of that one comment in today’s first reading, “Now this is an allegory.”
Paul goes into Jewish history and takes the example of Abraham’s two wives: Sarah and Hagar.

Next, using them as an allegory, he tells us what each stands for.

Paul compares Hagar to Sarah - saying each one represents the two covenants.

At the beginning of this homily I said that the Christian center of Alexandria would love this approach - whereas the Christian school of Antioch would be more literal.

So I hope I made my point. In fact, I’m assuming you know all this, so perhaps I was using a sledge hammer as a fly swatter.

That’s an image.


I love allegory.

How about you?

I like the allegories and stories in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis - as well as Harry Potter and so many other books.

I say this even though J. R. Tolkien once wrote, "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history - true or feigned - with it's varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.  I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."

I mention C.S. Lewis as well, even though he is not too quick to call his works, allegories. So let me present this quote from Lewis, "The function of allegory is not to hide but to reveal, and it is properly used only for that which cannot be said, or so well said, in literal speech. The inner life, and specially the life of love, religion and spiritual adventure, has therefore always been the field of true allegory; for here there are intangibles which only allegory can fix and reticences which only allegory can overcome" [Lewis, Love, 166].

A lot can be said in lots of different ways.

Let me close with a comment from Pat Conroy - from his new book, A Lowcountry Heart, Reflections on a Writing Life, “The most powerful words in English are, ‘Tell me a story.’”

Should I counter with, “Tell me an allegory.”
October 10, 2016


From the Latin,
“ad”  - meaning “to” or “towards” -
and “cadere” “to fall”, to “happen.”

Jack and Jill just happened
to climb that hill that day
to fetch a pail of water ….

Mom and dad fell in love.
They were in the right
place at the right time.

Or Jackson and Gillian
were in the wrong
place at the wrong time….
The driver in the other car
just happened to pull out at that moment….


They happen.

How does all this work?

Is God in the mix of every moment?

Or does God clap and cry just like us?

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016



The title of my reflections for this 28 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C -  is “Skin.”

When I read today’s readings, the obvious thought that jumped out of today’s first reading and today’s gospel is skin - leprosy - uh oh.

What are your thoughts about skin - your skin - other’s skin?

It’s what we see - first thing - when we see each other. Skin look…. Skin color …. The wrapping - the cover of the book called me …. the largest organ in the body - around 8 pounds more or less - some 20 to 22 square feet - or what have you.

Our skin, It protects us - covers us - waterproofs us. It’s us - warts and all - tattoos and scars - covering the me that’s me.

Skin - skinny me or bigger me.


We’re moving along this year - year C - with the gospel of Luke.

Today we come to the story of the ten people Jesus cleansed of leprosy. We have the same story at Thanksgiving - and the theme is making sure we say, “Thanks!”

Notice when I read the gospel I didn’t use the L word. There have been statements from the United Nations for more than 50 years at least - not to use the word L word - but to say leprosy or skin disease.

Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

The Biblical commentaries like to point out that Hansen’s disease - having the kind of leprosy we have in modern times - is probably not what the people - labeled with leprosy in the Bible - had. In Biblical times any kind of skin disease was called leprosy.

So to match the Gospel - those who put together our readings for this Mass - matched it with a story from 2 Kings 5:14-17 - the story of Naaman of Syrian - who is healed of his skin diseases by the Hebrew God. The last line in today’s first reading states, “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.”

I noticed that the English translators of the Bible do not use the word “skin” but rather the word “flesh”.

So with these readings  in mind, I began thinking about skin as a theme for today’s homily. Skin….


Take a moment and look at your hands - back and front.

Look at them, rub them.

Looking at the palms of your hands, see the lines. Be a palm reader - of your palms. See how your skin accordions - when you bend your fingers inwardly - but differently at the different phalanxes - 3 on each finger - 2 on the thumb. Turn to the back of your hands. See how your skin covers your hand so differently - especially when you bend your hand and make a half fist or a whole fist.

Amazing - wonderful packaging.

Are you amazed at the variety in creation: the skin on apples, bananas, elephants, humans?

Great packaging - evolving over millions and millions of years.

What’s your take on skin?

When you get home - when nobody’s watching - look in the mirror.

Look at your face. It’s you. It’s your skin! You’ve been wearing this face for so many years now.

It’s not a mask. It’s you - how people recognize you.

It’s on your driver’s license. It’s on your passport. It’s on your Facebook - if that’s the way you go.

What do you see in the mirror? What do people see when they see your face when you come in the door - face forwards?

Do they have to ask, “How was your day?”

Our skin tells so much - when we blush, when we’re flushed, when we’re sick, when we’re worried, when we’re smiling, when we’re laughing, when we’re eating ice cream, when we got an A or $1,000 dollars back from the IRS.


The second exercise would be to reflect upon human touch.

Watch people touch each other - especially with tenderness.

Watch people touching their babies - grandparents - parents - nose to nose - kissing them on top of their heads. Notice babies - they tell you immediately whom they know and have grown used to - and want to reach out to.

I do a bunch of funerals - and I’m always - almost late - and I often wonder as I’m running across the parking lot - running towards the church - seeing couples heading for the church, “Do married couples who don’t usually walk into church holding hands, hold hands when they are heading into church for the funeral of someone their age?” Just a question. Just a wondering. I don’t know the answer.

I don’t hear too many kids of today complaining that their parents didn’t hug them - like I heard in the past.  Have we recovered in the hug department?

At Mass we give the sign of peace. There are still some people who never liked that - and I’ve learned to not be a PITA about that. But it certainly was and is an attempt to build more bridges in this world. And it certainly has become for many people a wonderful part of the Mass. There was a move to move the Sign of Peace to near the beginning of the Mass - like at the Lord have mercy - but that idea died. They stuck with it - for after the Our Father - after we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

And we receive communion for the most part in the hand around here - and I think we have continued to be understanding of each other when it comes to receiving communion on the hand vs. on the tongue. If it’s worry about sins of the hand vs. sins of the tongue, I think the sins of the tongue wins hands down. Smile. And if it’s germs we’re worried about, I keep on hearing priests, deacons, Eucharistic ministers talk about the difficulty of putting communion onto someone’s tongue compared to the hand. So that’s my preference, but I’m for a preference accepting church and humanity. And I’m not here today to push that agenda - but to look at skin - and human touch.

In the gospels, we often see folks trying to reach out and touch Jesus and we see people being touched by Jesus.

There’s a prayer there - there’s a meditation there.

Our Catholic religion is touchy - it’s sensey - it’s visual.

We touch our skins with water coming into church.

We anoint a newly baptized baby with 2 oils - in the Roman Rite - on the Adam’s or Eve’s apple - here on the neck and on the forehead after the water is poured on the newly baptized.

Touch is important.

So too the other sacraments - confirmation, priesthood - Sacrament of the Sick.  So too the love of husband and wife - in the great sacrament of marriage - lots of touch, lots of holding, are called for - and needed.

So too the tattoo urge - on the skin - what are our thoughts about that?

So too the beautiful darkening of United States' skin…. By 2050, hopefully, we’ll be much more at home in our skin - much more assimilated - much more Torontoficated. I love being on the Toronto or New York Subway - such great colors and such great variety of skin tones.


Enough already.

I hope my homily goes more than skin deep.

I hope we all grow in acceptance, appreciation, and holy love of ourselves and each other - no matter who we are and how we look.

 If we have the skin of a baby - life’s been easy on us so far - praise God.

Or if we have the skin of wrinkled history and story and struggle - with marks and scars to prove it. Praise God. Amen.

October 9, 2016


Slowly I began to see reflections….
The more I saw, the more I see ….

Off car doors and stainless steel
panels - puddles and silverware  ….

In the playground, tones tell me
which child belongs to which parent ….

My dad died in 1970 - but I keep
on seeing him in me - still living.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016