Saturday, December 17, 2016

December 17, 2016


I like lines only when I like lines….
Otherwise I don’t like lines….
Like sign your name on the line
near the bottom - of the insurance
form - where it’s marked in yellow
marker - or long lines in the bank
or supermarket - or Burger King….
I don’t like those lines - no! No way!
But I like lines on three lane highways,
especially when it’s raining and I
can’t see too well…. and I’m liking
this pope and I’m liking this Jesus
who seems to be saying in Luke -
that the line into heaven is much
longer than the line into hell - but
this Matthew fellow scares me
at times …. especially in Chapter 25.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016



The title of my homily for this 4th Friday in Advent is, “Sin As A Spider Web.”

Today I would like to talk and reflect a bit about sin.

When I read today’s first reading, the theme that hit me was sin. Isaiah gives the message of keeping the Sabbath free from profanation and one’s hand from any evildoing. [Cf. Isaiah 56: 1-3a, 6-8.]

That’s sin - but it doesn’t mention spider webs - like being caught in a spider’s web - but that’s the image that hit me.

So first a bit about sin - the web of sin.

Sin can ensnare us and we can ensnare others.

Relax sin is a big topic, but  I won’t talk too long.


You have all heard the story of the man who went into a church one evening by himself. He came home and his wife who was with the kids said, “Well, how was the sermon.”


“What did the preacher talk on?”


“How long did he preach?”

“One hour.”

“What did he say?”

“He was against it.”

Well, I’m against sin, but I won’t speak an hour.

Only 8 minutes.


Back to the spider’s web…. That’s the image of sin that came to me when I was reflecting on sin this morning. I have a meditation poem somewhere about being caught in sin is like being caught in a spider web.

Now I don’t know much about spiders, but I imagine things about them and I wonder about them.

Spider webs, I imagine, can be found everywhere around the world -  indoors and outdoors.

And you can find them in many a church - and sometimes people notice them - especially when sermons are long.

I wonder at times when I see a spider’s web: “When was this web constructed and how did a spider get up there in the first place?”

I also wonder, “How long do spiders live?”

And here in this church, on the first step over there in the corner, below the statue of St. Martin of Tours there has been a spider’s web with  carcasses of dead bugs at times.

Next, I picture spiders out for themselves not giving a dang about anyone else. They use their web as a way of trapping other bugs so they can suck the life out of them.

Me, Me, Me

They are out to trap others for themselves - of course.

They are totally self-centered.

They have no ounce of compassion in them.

We’re dealing here with the survival of the fittest.

We’re dealing here with the need for food.

The spider has no thought for the well-being of a mosquito or a moth or for those who have to clean churches.

They are all about: Me. Me. Me. Self. Self. Self.

Life is to watch out for # 1 and # 1 is me.

Now obviously the image is weak - as an image for sin - and being caught in the web of sin -  because humans are well over 100 or 200 pounds.


Today’s first reading is from Isaiah.

Isaiah was a dreamer. In today’s first reading he gets into his dreams for the Sabbath and the Temple.

The purpose of the Sabbath, the purpose of the temple, is to go there on the Sabbath and get out of oneself. The purpose of the Sabbath and the Temple is to be in the presence of God, the OTHER, the GREAT OTHER, God. The purpose of the temple is to stop being self-centered.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to realize we can be as sneaky as a spider, spinning webs to suck life from others for ourselves.

That’s sin. That’s what sin is all about.

Hasn’t that happened to each of us when we’re praying?

Haven’t we all now and then come here to church to pray and to be with God?  However, sometimes what happens is we experience other people - and this is good.  We experience people outside our web, outside ourselves, foreigners. This is very good. They became other than us and one with us and we see the purpose of life is to be present to them, nice to them,  rather than using them.


This doesn't always happen.

Sometimes sin happens.

Unfortunately people, as we will read in the New Testament, and in other places, come to places of worship to show off - to be noticed  - to impress others - to be here for self. They come here wrapped in the cellophane of self. The come here to prove self. To show off. To impress. To feel less guilty. To get points.

Or as Jesus found out, to make money.

So people who come to church better take notice. Warning given. The church is a church - not a spider web.

So Isaiah is saying that a place of worship is a moment to get out of self. The Sabbath is a moment of rest. To stop the sucking and to start the worshipping. To admit there is an OTHER  and others.

That’s the real purpose of the temple.

That the temple is the center of Israel, that the center of the temple is the Holy of Holies, the center of the Holy of Holies is God. The OTHER. The Wholly OTHER. 

Hopefully, we go to the temple so that some of this might rub off on us - that there are other people on the planet besides me. They have a center as well.

That I can be with them and with God on the Sabbath and hopefully that mirrors God’s dream for the week.

So we hopefully discover God here and at the sign of peace, see others. There are no foreigners here. We die. Sacrifice to others.


Today’s gospel Jesus says there are times we accept others outside ourselves as  light. We accept people as John the Baptist did, but we do this only for a time, this getting out of self-- accepting another’s light other than self.

But then we blow it out. The workshop is over. The homily is finished. It’s Monday and prefer the dark. We miss the great light. Christ is the Light of the world.


So Advent is that challenge. It's more than a day. It's a period of time. It's a season.  It’s a challenge to die to self and accept Christ. To die to self and accept others. It’s a challenge to stop killing, sucking the life out of others.

Advent is a challenge to not be a spider but to be a Christ. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

December 16, 2016


An orange, a pencil, a rectangle
of yellow butter, a plastic bag
in the middle lane of Route 95,
till an 18 wheeler sends it to
oncoming traffic coming the
other way, a darkish orange
melon cut into 22 pieces in a
solid white bowl, a deflated
basketball, one sneaker, and
a white sweat sock - still clean
but soggy wet from a night’s rain….


© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 December 15, 2016


Rough - rugged - Irish Soda Bread -
like the wind swept West Coast of
Ireland - ridges and barren rocks -
the Burren - wrinkled raisins and
caraway seeds - not to worry - cold
butter - and a cup of tea with a friend -
makes smooth the cold of a winter’s day
in mid-December - and while walking
by the family cemetery a sign of the cross
brings soft memories on a winding rocky road.

                                                                   © Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016


God, as Jesus told us, knows everything -
like how many hairs are on our head. Wow.
But Jesus didn’t know what a Christmas
Tree needle was - as one fell from our tree -
above him - into his crib - sliding into some
hay as Jesus  just laid there watching us.

I knew what they were. They last till at least
June or early July in our living room - long
after the tree is tossed - out on our sidewalk.

Now, smarty pants God, I bet you don’t know
how many Christmas Tree needles there are
around our world. You might know how many hairs
are on Chinese heads, but Christmas Tree needles
lingering under rugs and radiators, no way, there has
to be an unnoticed one on the corner of my sidewalk.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December 13, 2016


An illusion….
A motor under a hood….
A movie that triggers tears….
A cheetah going 55 miles per hour….
A universe kept going by a non-ego God….
A God becoming us as a baby….
A human having life after death….

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016



The title of my homily for this 3rd Tuesday in Advent is, “Changing My Mind.”

It’s a great gift be able to change our mind.

It might get others angry.  Or it might make others happy - especially when we benefit from another’s change of mind or heart. It intrigues us. It gets us to wonder.


In today’s gospel - Matthew 21: 28-32 - we have two sons. One says to his father, when asked to go out and work in his vineyard, “I will not!” But Jesus says that this son changes his mind and goes out and starts working.

The other says to his dad, “Yes, sir!” but he doesn’t go out and work in the vineyard.

I’ve wondered at times - what got Jesus to say this. What did he notice? What’s the backstory?

Did it come out of watching the public yes men - the chief priests and the elders - that  they didn’t seem to be down deep in their hearts doing what God wants? Then those who say, “No” to God - the tax collectors and prostitutes - the so called “bad people” - the people labeled “sinners” changed their minds and then go and do God’s will.

That’s seems to have been Jesus experience.

Take Matthew - a tax collector - who rips people off - let’s go of his gains - throws a party for Jesus and then follows Jesus.

So that’s one possible experience of Jesus Christ.


When it comes to this experience of people changing their minds, there are all kinds of humor in many life situations.

I’m not married - but I’ve seen scenes of TV - as well as the movies - where a wife asks a husband, “Does this dress look good?” He says, “Beautiful.” Then she comes out with another outfit on. “How does this one look?” Once more he says, “Beautiful!”  Once more she comes out with something else. “Beautiful.”  Then we see them going out for a Christmas party and she has some other outfit on. 

People change. People change their outfits and change their minds.

This gets us to laugh, wonder, scratch our heads, as well as talk to each other or about each other.

This can give us pause for patience.

I’ve remember hearing 2 priests arguing about something.

The next morning I hear one of them in the same argument with someone else, but this time they are on the side of the person they were arguing with the night before.

You have to laugh.

And isn’t prayer often asking God to change his mind?

In the meanwhile we get frustrated - especially when someone can’t see what we see - and won’t change their minds.


The title of my homily is, “Changing My Mind.”

You gotta laugh

Monday, December 12, 2016

December 12, 2016


You need Christmas if lights
no longer delight you - if you don’t
notice lights in the windows and lawns
as you come up your street - on dark
December afternoons or early evenings.

You need Christmas if the movie
playing in the theater of your mind
is some “chick flick” or violent “shoot-
em-up”. Get out the TV guide and spot
when, It’s A Wonderful Life,  is playing.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016



The title of my homily for this 3rd Sunday in Advent is, “What Does Your Spirituality Look Like? Moving Towards Fear or Compassion?”

“What Does Your Spirituality Look Like? Are you moving towards fear or towards compassion?”

I wasn’t sure what words to use in my contrast: Fear or Compassion or what?

See if this makes sense – see if this helps - see what this triggers?


There are studies and statistics indicating that one of the main reasons people come to church and synagogue is for an increase of spirituality. People want meaning. People want a deeper faith, hope and charity in their life. Come Holy Spirit.

There are also studies and statistics indicating that people who don’t go to church, synagogue or mosque want spirituality. Check out the spirituality section of Barnes and Noble Bookstores, etc. I’ve noticed they have religious books and books from various religions - but they call the section of the bookstore: “Spirituality.”


And some people have a God of Fear - whose job is to watch us.

And others have a God of Compassion - whose passion is to love us and who died on a cross - because people killed him because they didn’t like his message of mercy and compassion.

Why are you here? What do you want? What are you looking for? Why do you come to church? Why do you pray? Do you use the word “spirituality” in answering any of these questions?


I used to teach spirituality and I’ve given various talks on this subject – obviously being a priest.

I’m not an authority - I’m a B student in Spirituality or in  Life 101– but I have some ideas about spirituality.

Don’t we all?

At least that’s one of my key theories: everyone already has a spirituality.

It can be great, poor, or so so - clear or never thought about.

It’s called out attitude, our outlook, our viewpoint – our way of doing life.

Each of us has a spirit.

Agree or disagree? Before we walk into a room or a situation, our attitude precedes us. And after we leave a room, when someone brings up our name, our spirit comes sliding back into that room – even if we’re 500 miles away or even dead.

Mention a name and that person’s spirit comes knocking.

So instead of saying, “I’m looking for spirituality,” I would stress: take a good look at the spirituality we already have – and try to understanding what we have.

Then instead of saying, “I’m looking for spirituality,” say, “I’m looking for a deeper meaning to life.” Or say, “I’m looking for a better spirituality.” Or “I’m looking for a spirituality that satisfies my hungers.”

So people come to church for light. People take walks - to not only breathe - but to take walks to  go nowhere, but  to come home better for the walk. We also read. We pray. We have these two seasons every year called Advent and Lent – which stress growth and a heightened spirituality and prayer life.

Come Spirit of God.

We come to in-look to improve our outlook.

So we have Sunday Mass and adult religious ed talks – and Bible studies, etc.


Before I finish, let me go back again to that earlier question I asked near the beginning of this reflection: which is more me? Fear or Compassion? Which describes my take on God better: fear or compassion?

People can have a negative spirit or spirituality. People can have an outlook on life that is missing something. People can want God - but because they are scared and afraid. Or people might want to grow in human awareness - and be able to be there for others - especially towards those who need affirmation, attention or awareness.

Erich Fromm talks about religions whose main stress is “necrophilia” and other religions whose main strain is “biophilia” – translation: some religions stress love of life and other religions seem to be off on death.

Christianity has a history of strains of both.

Hopefully, our main stress and strain is “love of life” – starting with Genesis with God creating all of life and saying, “It is good.”  Let that sum up the Jewish religion and scriptures. Let these words of Jesus stress the meaning of Christianity: Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and live it to the full.”

So the question: What is my spirituality like?


Today’s gospel gives us a hint about two types of spirituality – that of John the Baptist and that of Jesus the Carpenter.

If we read the New Testament, we’ll pick up that something was going on in the early church between the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus.

John the Baptist is sharp rock severe. He’s preaching desert and no fancy soft clothing. Jesus is here to help the blind to see, the lame to walk,  people with leprosy who are cleansed, the deaf to hear, the dead to rise, and the poor to have Good News preached to them.

For starters John the Baptist had his followers - but it’s my sense - that the entering the Kingdom of God - having that Spirit - is what we’re all looking for and that will last.


The title of my homily is, “What Does Your Spirituality Look Like? Moving Towards Fear or Compassion?”

I suspect a lot of people have to begin strict and severe, till they discover that life begins not in the desert - but leaving the Inn and discovering the baby as shepherd or king.


Picture on top: The Good Samaritan by Delacroix, 1849



The title of my homily for today is, “A Parish Mission.”

Father Kevin MacDonald is preaching a parish mission this week here at St. Mary’s Parish, Annapolis, Maryland. The talks - the preaching - will take place at St. John Neumann Church - the bigger of our two church buildings.

You’re invited to make the whole mission: Monday evening to Thursday evening - at 7:00 PM - or any of the evenings.

He’s also going to be speaking at and taking the 12:10 Mass each day - so add Tuesday and Thursday to the 12:10 Masses this week.


The title of my sermon - this is more a sermon than a homily -  is, “A Parish Mission.”

The Redemptorists are the religious order who staff this parish - which started way back in 1853 - on Duke of Gloucester Street. [1]

We came to the United States from Vienna in 1832. We had been in contact with Frederick Rese - Vicar General of the diocese of Cincinnati since 1828. There was an obvious shortage of priests here in the United States. We ended up in all kinds of different places. [2]

We had started in Scala, Italy - a small, small village half way up a mountain above Amalfi - a beach town - 100 years before that - November 9, 1732. St. Alphonsus started in the Kingdom of Naples - before Italy was Italy - with 9 - soon it was down to 2 and then it restarted with more. 

A while later - 1784 - two outsiders - from way up in Vienna - Clement Hofbauer and Thadeus Huebl - came down to Italy and ended up joining us. After becoming Redemptorists, they were then sent back to Vienna - to start a branch up there. They couldn’t make a go of it in Vienna, so they went to Warsaw in Poland and then that branch took off.

They got bounced out of there - so they headed back to Vienna - from which they began to finally flourish a bit more - and were able to send 6 missionaries - 3 priests and 3 brothers to America - in 1832.

We ended up starting parishes for Germans in various big cities, Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore, Rochester, Buffalo, etc.

We also preached some parish missions all along the way.


Our province, the Baltimore Province, went to the Caribbean and Brazil as well.

I joined to go to Brazil - because a priest working in Brazil - came into our grammar school classroom in OLPH, Brooklyn, around 1950 - told his story - and asked if anyone was interested.  It sounded great to me - and so I raised my hand.

The idea was planted in my  brain.  The interest was in my dreams.

That’s the way it works.

That’s one of life’s questions: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I used to say, “Every little girl in America wants to be a vetinarian.”

Every boy wants to be an athlete - a magician - a guitar player - or a bulldozer driver.


I have had many jobs as a priest: parish priest, retreat house preacher, novice master for future Redemptorists, preacher of parish missions, and now again a parish priest.

From 1994 till 2002 - 8 ½ years -  I had the gift of preaching parish missions all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut,  South Carolina, etc. etc. etc.

It was a great job because I got to see the Catholic Church - especially in small towns with names like Holgate, Hamler, Leipsic, Napoleon, Galion, Paulding, Swanton, Miller City. And they were just towns in rural Ohio.

Looking back I ask the question every parent - every teacher - asks: “Did I do anyone any good?”

Did I help? Did I help folks to have a better life - a better family - a better spiritual life?  Did people get to know God better?

I haven’t sat down and counted the parish missions I have been part of, the retreats I have done, the sermons I have preached.

There is a poem by Walter de La Mere, The Listeners.  A guy travels through the woods - on a moonlit night - comes to a house and knocks - and nobody answers. And the speaker says, “Is there anyone there?”

Silence…. Then he says, “Tell them I came, and nobody answered, That I kept my word….”

I have given thousands and thousands and thousands of sermons and I often wonder: “Is there anyone there? Is anyone listening?”

How about you?

Is there anyone listening? Hello! [Wave hand.]

I don’t want this to be over personal nor am I fishing for “Oh yeah, we’re listening.”

I want to say, “This is a universal question that everyone of us is asking.”

Does anyone hear you?


St. Alphonsus de Liguori - an Italian lawyer - who became a priest - and  then founded our order - saw a need for preachers to go to places that lacked priests - and nobody wanted to go to listen to those poor people in the hills.

That’s how we got to Annapolis.

The Jesuits from Southern Maryland used to come up here and say Mass - but in general - Annapolis didn’t have a church here - so we ended up here.

Today I’m sure that would not be a problem. Somewhere along the line we stopped being a tiny town.

What did Alphonsus preach? What did he push? What was his message when he knocked on doors?

He has over 100 works published - and a lot of his sermons are in print - so we can read what he preached - especially in his parish missions. [3]

Let me line up 3 right now.

First message: practice loving Jesus Christ.  Our religion is personal. Our religion is a relationship.  Our God became a baby, human, with arms and eyes to reach out to people - like every baby does - like every adult does.

Second Message: pray. Alphonsus said, “Pray and you’ll be saved. Don’t pray and you’ll be lost.”  I have changed that message from not just the hereafter, but also for the here and now.

Third Message: God is not a condemner - a “Gotcha God”.  Our God is PAZZO - the Italian word for crazy.  Our God is crazy in love with us. Think Pope Francis when you hear that message.


That’s 3 messages we Redemptorists preach.

Come to the Parish Mission this week and hear Father Kevin MacDonald preach.

Come to the Parish Mission this week and hear God knock on your door and ask, “Is there anybody there?”

O - O - O


[1] Robert L. Worden, St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis, Maryland, 1853-2003.

[2] S. Boland, A Dictionary of the Redemptorists, Romae 1987, “United States”, pages396-397.

[3] Theodule Rey-Mermet, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Tireless Worker for the Most Abandoned, 1987
December 11, 2016


Two weeks after my mother died,
the 5 of us gathered  for the gifts.

We each had a number: 1 to 5.
And the numbers were put in a hat.

I had number 4 and I got to pick 1st.
Lucky me! I picked mom’s afghan.

She told me that was the one thing she
wanted from her mom after she died.

That meant it was from our great grand-
mother, Sarah, from years and years ago.

That meant it warmed the shoulders of
three generations for many a winter’s night.

That meant it was sacred - a mantle -
a memory knitted with love and devotion.

And I wondered who will get this when
I die and will it be a wanted choice number 1?

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2016