Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 8, 2017


teach us
to see the big picture,
the big ikon, 
to work together
to make each other greater,
as we climb the ladder of 
life together.

May our DNA - our roots -
where we come from -
fill us not with a proud pride -
but with a humble pride -
that we’re all on this same
great ladder to God - together - connected to this same great 
DNA ladder of life. Amen.

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Top image: this is an ikon
of the 12th century "Ladder of
Divine Ascent." It can be found

in St. Catherine's Monastery, 
on the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.
The monks are climbing 
the ladder towards Christ 
at the top. Notice John Climacus
also near the top. 

The image below that is of DNA.

Friday, July 7, 2017



The title of my homily for this 13 Friday in Ordinary Time is, “One More Way To Read the Bible.”

Every once and a while someone tells me they started the Bible on page 1 and then they add, “I didn’t get too far.” They say, they got lost when they ran into begets and begats, talking snakes, and lots of laws and lots of this and lots of that’s. They become confused and too many texts are head scratchers.

Then I meet people who started on page 1 and read all the way through to the last page. I remember a couple from Carlisle PA - who started at the beginning - went to the end 2 times - then the 3rd time around they started from the last book and went to the first book.  Revelation to Genesis.

In the meanwhile, certainly in the last 60 years or so,  more and more Catholics read the Bible more and more.

I still see rosaries in caskets in the hands of people who have died.  I’ve yet to notice a Bible in someone’s hands in a casket. On top of the casket - I’ve seen many a Bible, yes - along with or just a cross at other times.


I like to say that a Rabbi at a wedding asked if I had read the Koran and I said, “No!” And he said, “You better.” 

So I bought one and read it once all the way through - from page 1 to the end - and bits and pieces at other times.

In English of course - and I didn’t get it. And I heard that it’s much clearer and more of an “I get it” if one can read it in Arabic.


The title of my homily is, “One More Way To Read the Bible.”

Instead of reading it like a regular book, read it piecemeal.

So my first comment would be is this:  the Bible is a library and very few people would go into a library and go to the first book and read every book in the library in that order.

So take a book - start with a book - a scroll like the Letter of James.

Or read something short like the First Letter of John or the Book of Ruth.

Read one scroll or one book at a time.


Or play Bible Bingo. Just open a page and put your finger on some words and see what that says to you.

Or read the Bible like you would read Readers Digest.

Take today’s readings.

Take this section of Genesis starting with Genesis 23: 1-4.

It has some tiny neat little observations.

The first would be Abraham coming up with a piece of land to bury his wife, Sarah. Every family has to plan where they are going to bury their dead - or scatter or keep the ashes.

One commentary mentions that the place Abraham picks for Sarah is the authors way of saying, “We have a right to this land” - because Abraham bought of piece of land here - in the land which the Lord promised us.”

One commentary says the person or persons who put together our first reading for today, butchers the text - leaving out some key ingredients.  If your read the Bible from your Bible - you’d get all the ingredients to the story. [1]

The Bible doesn’t have the story in other Jewish legends that Abraham married again - this time Hagar - the woman Sarah made him dump - once she got pregnant and had Isaac. Hagar was the woman he was also with who had his son, Ishmael.

Notice the ages of these characters in the Bible. Sarah died at 127 - a slight exaggeration - and the Bible is loaded with them. Abraham was 175 when he died. [Cf. Genesis 25:7-7.]

There’s a message there with these old ages for Biblical Characters.

We might have heard an old person described as being as old as Methuselah who is listed in Genesis 5:27 - as having lived till he was 969 years old.

Another interesting tidbit is to notice how Rebecca covers herself a bit when she spots Isaac - who has lost his mommy - and now needs a new mommy. At times I hear that as a motive for some marriages.

Great stuff…..

Notice in today’s gospel - how Matthew is telling any rigoristic Christians in his day that Jesus came to call sinners - and I dare say as priest, people still don’t get that message.

We’re sinners. This is theme of Pope Francis.

I spotted a poster that said, “I am a sinner who is probably going to sin again.”

Another poster said, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.”

Or if you dabble in Matthew you’ll find Jesus saying, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."


So how to read the bible. Another way is to  pick and choose. Cherry pick the Bible.  Be a Cafeteria Catholic when you read the Bible. 
July 7, 2017


Most invitations don’t come in the mail  -
e-mail or paper. RSVP.  A waitress
fills our half empty or half filled - glass
of water -  and we had that chance to
say, “Thank you” - but we missed the
opportunity - just as we did at the door
when someone held it open for us
coming into the restaurant. “Sorry!”
A child in a passing car waves to us
and we catch their eye which invites us
to smile and we wave back and our
face loosens up and we drop a hurt
we’ve been holding on to for weeks.
So too a candy dish just sitting there
at the front desk and we say, “Can I?”
and we hear, “That’s what they are
here for!” So we say, “Thank you.
Nice touch.” We’re back to driving
along and God whispers in our left ear
“How are you doing?” but our right ear
is listening to Bruce Springsteen and we
don’t hear the call to be filled  with grace
and bring Christ to our world this very day.

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

JUL 5,  201

July 6, 2017


Different folks I've met ask,
"Reading any good books lately?"

And I fake it at times or I tell them
some non-fiction book I'm thinking with.

As to fiction: short stories. I love and
I want to write some short stories.

I don't mention the Bible - some do -
but I'm always reading that. It's my job.

But the one book I'm writing and
reading every day: my autobiography.

It's fiction and non-fiction - poetry
at times - but mostly prayers and hopes.

© Andy Costello, Reflections 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017



The title of my homily for this 13th Wednesday in Ordinary Time  is, “Sarah the Horrible.”

I hope there are no Sarah's here today.

I’m making a play on the cartoon called, “Hagar the Horrible.”  In the cartoon Hagar is a male and in this story from Genesis 21: 5, 8-20a.

It’s horrible what Sarah does to Hagar - in today’s first reading.

So that’s why I entitled my homily, “Sarah the Horrible.”

When it comes to these stories we have 2000 years plus - and more.


Abraham has no son. All these stories have the promise of a son.
It wasn’t happening. And he’s supposed to be the father of so many - the father of our future.

So that’s one reason folks came up with the story of Sarah and Hagar. Sarah isn’t having kids - and Sarah is getting older.

So Sarah invites Hagar to sleep with her husband Abraham. They need a son to carry on the name - to carry forward - the promise.

So Hagar the Egyptian has Ishmael.

Then - finally Sarah - has her son, Isaac, when Abraham was 100 years old.

Great story telling - surely it gets people laughing and listening.


Next chapter - the stuff of story ….

Sarah after seeing Isaac playing with her son - feels a big, “No way.”

She tells Abraham, “Drive  out that slave and her son.  No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

That’s an “Uh oh… an “Oh no!” for Abraham.

Did they have the phrase, “Happy wife, happy life” back then?

But what about Hagar? What about Ishmael?

Did they get along before all this?  How big was their house? How big was their tent when they did all the traveling they did?

Notice in today’s reading the description of Sarah as the demanding one,

It’s a patriarchal - male dominated - society - but when you read Genesis - notice the mothers - notice the women.

Notice how God gets pulled into the story - as he tells Abraham to do whatever she tells you to do.

So Abraham gets Hagar some bread and water.  Notice the phrase, “Early the next morning”…. As I read that, I was wondering if he said “Good bye” to Hagar when Sarah was not looking?

Notice the comment, “placing the child on her back, he sent her away.”

Was there a big hug goodbye?  If there was just a big public goodbye, was Sarah there?  If it was sort of private, would Sarah be looking out through a tent opening?

The next time I look at biblical paintings I’m going to look at the faces of Sarah and Hagar at this moment - if I spot a painting of this scene.

Next we hear about Hagar wandering in the wilderness - now a single mother - homeless.

Hagar runs out of water.

She puts the child under a shrub - and sits opposite Ishmael. Notice the phrase “a bowshot away”.

Notice the writers comment that Hagar says to herself, “Let me not watch to see the child die.”

Angels…. She screams to God - like every mother would…. like this couple and their son Charlie in England right now.

And in all these stories, God sends messengers, angels, hope. And they are led to a well of water - and all is well, because the messenger says, “What’s the matter Hagar? Don’t be afraid; God has heard the boy’s cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”

Then today’s first reading closes with a regular biblical refrain, “God was with the boy as he grew up.”


The Moslems have far greater respect for Hagar and Ishmael than the Jews.

There is a rabbinic story that after Sarah died, Abraham married Hagar as his number #1 wife.


The title of my homily is, Sarah the Horrible.

What do you take from the story?

It has so much to ponder.

Well, we don’t have polygamy in our culture - but we do have more divorces than in the past - and we have more step-children.

We have more stories of nasty or horrible at times in how kids are treated.

I do a lot of weddings and when the parents of both bride and bridegroom are divorced, obviously I hope the ex’s are civil and sensitive and sensible that weekend -

We’ve all be around long enough to notice that sometimes there are horrible comments and nasty digs about each other.

When you feel yourself saying, “That’s horrible,” you got one of the messages from this reading.

Hopefully none of us gets the nickname, ______________ Food, Sarah the Horrible.
July 5, 2017


Mary Oliver, the poet, talked about being
amazed at last 10 things per day.... How about:

The texture of homemade bread ….
Cold butter on rye bread ….
The shake of Jell-O ….
The black shine of split coal ….
The red of strawberries ….
The ruggedness and dirt of potatoes ….
A conductor leading a symphony orchestra ….
Lemon sherbet at supper ….
Watching big waves at the ocean ….
A sailboat on a breezy evening ….
A kid going down a hill on a skateboard ….
A monkey staring at me at the zoo ….
A baby breaking into a smile - me a stranger ….
Fresh peach pie ….
Watching the movie, My Cousin Vinny ....
Watching the movie, My Cousin Vinny with my two sisters, Mary and Peggy ....
Chocolate chip cookies soaked in milk….
A magic trick I can’t figure out ….
Playing cards with at least 3 other people ….
Seeing inner city girls playing jump rope ….
Calligraphy by sandpiper’s feet on a morning beach ….
A tiny 3 year old kid reaching for Holy Communion ….
Ravioli - with cheese inside ….
My mom’s Irish soda bread ….

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Tuesday, July 4, 2017



Instead of a homily this morning, I would like to read four poems. Three are by someone else, the fourth is a first draft poem by myself for the occasion. 

For some reason, the story of Lot's Wife, is a Bible story we all know - how she was told when leaving Zoar not to look back. She did. She turned into a pillar of salt.


This first poem is entitled, “Lot’s Wife”. It’s by Anna Akhmatova and is translated from the Russian by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward.


by Anna Akhmatova

And the just man trailed God’s shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
“It’s not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.”

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound …
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.



The second poem is by Wislawa Szymborska. It also is entitled, “Lot’s Wife.”  It is translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Austin Flint. It gets at possible reasons why Lot’s wife turned her head to look back at the city where her husband demanded that they must flee.


by Wislawa Szymborska

I looked back, they say, out of curiosity.
But there might have been other reasons.
I looked back because I missed my silver bowl.
By mistake, tying my sandal thong.
Not to look any more at the righteous nape
of my husband, Lot.
Suddenly sure that if I died,
he wouldn’t even stop.
From the disobedience of the meek.
Listening for the chase.
Touched by silence, hoping God had changed his mind.
Our two daughters were disappearing behind a hill.
I felt old. Distant.
Drowsy. I thought of the futility of wandering.
I looked back because I didn’t know where to step.
In my path appeared snakes,
spiders, field mice, young vultures.
Neither good nor bad – simply all that lived
and crept and jumped in mass panic.
I looked back in loneliness.
Ashamed that I ran so furtively.
From the wish to scream, to return.
Or merely when the wind rose,
loosened by hair and whipped my dress up.
I felt they saw it from the walls of Sodom
and burst into loud laughter, again and again.
I looked back because I was angry.
To feast on their grand undoing.
I looked back for all those reasons.
I looked back unwillingly.
It was only a boulder that turned, growling under me.
It was a crevice that abruptly cut off my road.
And then we both looked back.
No. No. I was running farther,
I crawled and flew upwards
until darkness tumbled down from the heavens,
and with it hot gravel and dead birds.
Breathless I spun around many times.
Someone watching might have thought I was dancing.
Maybe my eyes were open.
It’s possible that I fell with my face towards the city.


The third poem is by James Simmons. It too is entitled, “Lot’s Wife”.


by James Simmons

Uneasiness confirmed his words were right:
there was a rottenness in all she knew.
She could not see where she was going to
but love for him felt stronger than her fright.

Yet as she traveled on she was bereft
of every landmark but her husband’s eyes:
her whole life echoed in her friends’ goodbyes.
How could he take the place of all she left.

For him or them, but not for heaven’s sake,
she made decisions: these two were opposed.
He led her on his way, her eyes were closed.
At every step she felt her heart would break.

At last Lot drew his wagon to a halt;
dog-tired but glad, he groped his way inside,
looking for pleasure in his sleeping bride,
kissed her, and on her cold cheek tasted salt.


The fourth poem is a first draft poem I put together this morning, just to try my hand at this. I want to watch your reactions, if any, at hearing some poems from the pulpit.


Haven’t we all found ourselves
at times stuck in the past,
spending too much time
looking in the rear view mirror of life,
wanting the back then now,
wanting someone who has died to be still alive,
wanting a return to the good old days?
We’re mad, sad, not glad
at our present situation,
and as a result, we’ve become
like summer salt.
We’re in there,
but nothing is coming out of the shaker.
We’ve become a lot like Lot’s wife. 



The title of my homily for this 13 Tuesday in Ordinary Time - July 4th, is, “Storm.”

Storm! What a great name for a dog.

I grabbed that theme and that title from today’s gospel [Cf. Matthew 8: 23-27]

Jesus and his disciples got into a boat so as to  cross the Sea of Galilee.

Suddenly a storm comes up and almost swamps them. They panic, They wake up Jesus and say, “Lord, save us, we are perishing.”

Jesus says, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith.”

And Jesus calms down everything.

And they say, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”


In January of 2000 we were in Israel.  I was with about 25 priests - for a retreat. Our bus dropped us off at the edge of the lake or sea - of Galilee - with the idea we would go across the lake and then our bus would meet us at the other side. 

We got onto one of these small boats - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Paul. I don’t remember which one we were on. Each could hold 40 or so people. We set sail. Our retreat leader and guide, Father Stephen Doyle - a Franciscan from Philadelphia - read today’s gospel.  About 5 minutes later - up came a small storm. We have understood this gospel that much better for the rest of our lives.  Stephen Doyle pointed out two small hills or mountains - through which the wind would whip up - and come through  - with these sudden and quick storms on the lake.

We couldn’t cross the whole lake. We stayed near the top of the Sea of Galilee till we got to another dock where our bus met us.  The bus could see us as we moved along.


Name your storms - troubles, problems, that suddenly popped up in your life.

It could be a death, an accident, a surprise - someone did something dumb in our lives - and we had to scramble and re-scramble our lives.

Everyone knows that people watch TV news to find out what’s new and what’s happening in our world.

Everyday there is a story of violence - from somewhere in the world.

Today’s first reading from Genesis sounds like the latest news coming out of Mosul in Iraq.  The TV scenes of that city look like what Sodom and Gomorrah must have looked like in its day. [Cf. Genesis 19: 15-29]

Everyone knows weather reports from watching TV.

Everyone knows we can’t always predict the weather.

Everyone knows John Lennon’s words - John Lennon of Beatle fame - shot and killed coming out of a hotel in New York City.

“Life is what happens when we are making other plans.”

Today- July 4th - we commemorate the Declaration of Independence - although now historians and newspaper writers like to say it might have been July 2nd.

Whatever…. A revolution was happening in the colonies.

King George III wrote in his diary for today, “Nothing of importance happened today.”

Little did he know what was happening in Philadelphia that day - or days around that date - before and after. There are different stories about all the events. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence kept quiet about their putting their name on the paper till at least January of 1777.

This weekend - we’re also looking at the storm called the Civil War and what happened July 1,2,3 in Gettysburg.

It takes a while to figure out what happens in storms - where they are named the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Katrina, Sandy or September 11th.

So too our family and personal storms.

So too what’s happening in our world and our country these days.

Each of us stands there on a boat that is crossing our current sea - and we see what we see.


In the last few months - if I have heard it once - I’ve heard it a dozen times, someone saying,  “I’m scared and I hope another war is not going to happen. “

Each of us has to do our own praying and putting into words what’s hitting our hearts and minds and thoughts - and not cause more storms than necessary because of our mouths and our words. Amen. 
July 4, 2017


Gossip, whispers,  razor blade words,
slid out of the side of their mouths.
These cutting comments - got edgy laughs.
But they quickly hid under the couch -
in the dark - underneath butts above.
Embarrassed - with the content of such
nasty news - these words lay low in a
foetal position for the rest of the evening.
Sometimes not nice words can have the
smell of a kitchen sink sponge or wash cloth.

© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017

Monday, July 3, 2017



Today is the feast of St. Thomas the apostle. He is famous for being the one who doubted. Hence his nickname: “Doubting Thomas.”

So I decided to say a few words in this homily about doubts and doubting.

The classic message of the gospels seems to be: “Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t doubt. Have faith.”

So the message is we should not be like him.


That was the message that I heard from time to time when I was studying to be a priest. One should not have doubts. The old teachers and theologians  that I had seemed to be men that did not have doubts.

However, in my opinion, the day comes when we get to their age and we know the reality is: To be human is to doubt.

So we are all like Thomas. We have doubts.

Recently in the May 7, 2017 The Washington Post Magazine, there was an interview by Joe Heim of Paul  Scalia, Catholic Priest.

The subtitle of the section was Just Asking.  Father Paul Scalia - the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - was asked, “Every person of faith that I’ve talked with has moments of doubt in their faith. Have you ever experienced those.?

His answer: “I’ve been blessed with having no doubts. Doubt is different from difficulty.  I think a lot of people confuse doubt with difficulty. They run into difficulties with believing, and they think that means that they doubt. But difficulties are there so we can trust God more.”

When I read that I said, “I have had doubts as well as difficulties. 

As to doubts, I have had them more about the divinity of Christ - about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. I sense less doubts about the existence of God because creation tells me there is a creative force that created this universe - which could not exist without a creative “mind” behind all that we can see.

As to difficulties, I have difficulties with some of the answers the Church people gives  to theological questions like: ways and means to deal with divorce and re-marriage;  women priests, a married clergy, cardinals,  etc. etc. etc.

So when Father Paul Scalia says he has no doubts, I react by thinking, “best of luck guy”.


So my thought is this:  to be human is to have doubts - doubts about God, self, others.

Miguel de Unamuno said, “La vida es duda
y la fe sin la duda ex sola muerta."

Life is doubt,
And faith without doubt is nothing but death.

Wilson Mizner describes doubt as, “What gives you an education.”


The day we have doubts about God is a good day. I say this, because I would think that it could be the day we stop seeing God as a thing and we start thinking about God as a person. Hopefully, we then also start talking to him as a Person. That could be  the beginning of deep way of praying.

Many people are like all those people in the Bible who have gods made of stone or wood. And stone and wood are things that we don’t have doubts about. They are there. They are solid. We don’t give them a second thought.

We don’t have doubts about this podium being here. It’s solid. It’s marble. But the day will come when it might crack or what have you and it will need to be replaced or what have you.

Today’s gods are made of ink and paper - words - in books or in mind - solid - till they get cracks.

My words on this written document are first draft. In time I would hope I would make them clearer and with better theology.


We also have self-doubts, doubts about ourselves.

So what else is new?

We know this area better than anyone else. And as we get older, this experience of having self-doubts can return – the same self-doubts we had when we were teen-agers.

We’re talking with someone at a get together – and suddenly the person we’re talking to starts to drift away – first with their eyes – then with their body – and we’re standing there all alone. I pause and think to myself, “Am I losing it?”

That’s the basic thought that hits us. Then the feeling, “I guess there are other people more interesting than me in the room.”

Or we’re talking with someone and they start to fall asleep as we are standing there talking to them – and they are only 2 feet away. I have experienced this at various times doing a homily.  Like a funeral I had the other day. As I spoke, I was getting zero feedback from the body language of those in church. I don’t give up, but I wonder, “Is there anyone here who is listening or caring what I am talking about?”


We wonder about other people. Are they here because they have to be here?

Obviously, we can’t know the motive of others, but sometimes we wonder. 

Take this poem by G.K. Chesterton. I doubt it has anything about the child abuse problem - but we should have had a lot more doubts about signs and signals that some priests and possible perpetrators gave off. Here’s the poem of sorts:

John Grubby, who was short and stout
And troubled with religious doubt,
Refused about the age of three
To sit upon the curate’s knee.”

From Poems [1915] “New Freethinker.”

So we have or ought to have  doubts about others as well.

Doubts in this case has the benefit of getting us to talk to ourselves.


So my points today, would be: it’s okay to have doubts. In fact,  it’s human to have doubts.

I sense that’s why Thomas is a favorite saint. Okay Jesus says it’s better to have faith than to have seen - but ….

In this sermon, I’m not telling you to have doubts, but to get in touch with the doubts that you have: the doubts that you have about God, self, and others.

It will bring us down a peg, to our knees, to the ground, to the humus. Isn’t that the truth - the reality -  that we come from the earth and go back into the earth from which we came?

We were made from the clay of the earth and into the earth we will return.

It's after that where we really need faith. Is this life all there is or is there more because of Christ - the resurrection and the life.  That's where we are called to be like Thomas - to put our finger into his side as we see Thomas doing in the Caravaggio painting on the top of this blog entry. Hi.