The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Homily: Easter Monday

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16; Mt 28:8-15


Isn't it interesting that throughout most of the liturgical year, our first reading at Mass comes from the Old Testament, except during the Easter Season? At this very special time of the year, our first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.

The Church does this for a very good reason. Acts really begins with Pentecost, that special day when the Church, promised and formed by Jesus, is born. The story of Acts is the story of the Church, the story of the Apostles who begin the task of going out throughout the world to fulfill the great commission given them by the Risen Jesus:

"Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:10-20].
Make disciples, baptize, teach - all begun through the preaching of the first disciples. Before the Gospel, the Good News, was written down, it was preached. And it's in the Acts of the Apostles, during this season of Easter, that we encounter that early Gospel preached by Peter and Paul. Listen again as Peter begins to spread the Good News among the Jewish pilgrims on that first Pentecost:
"God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear" [Acts 2:32-33].

Notice that at the very core of that preaching is the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- the foundation of our Christian faith.

Yes, "God raised this Jesus..."

In today's Gospel passage the two Marys went to the tomb, not to see a Risen Jesus, but to anoint His body. They knew He had died. They had heard Him take His last breath. They had seen the soldier's lance pierce His side. They had grieved with His Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And they had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, they knew He had died. In their overwhelming grief, a grief of emptiness, tinged with an underlying fear, they made their way to the tomb of a dead man.

They, like all the disciples, hadn't understood Jesus when He spoke of His Resurrection. Faced with the finality of death, their faith and their hope had all but disappeared. All that was left was their love. And it's this love for Jesus that carried them along the path to the tomb that first Easter morning.

But the sight of the empty tomb filled their hearts with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

And then they encountered their Risen Lord. The One they sought, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. And in the shock of this sudden revelation, they understood that death had not had the last word, but that the Word had overcome death. Faith and hope exploded in their hearts, for they realized that they too would be united with Him in the Resurrection.

And just as suddenly, all of His teachings, every word He uttered, took on new meaning. Now they knew what He meant by the Kingdom of God, for it was in their very midst, catapulted into the here and now by the Resurrection.

Matthew tells us the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed" [Mt 28:8]. Fear and joy -- a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exist only in the presence of God.

Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power, and for the first time truly understood Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God. It's this same understanding, and all it brings with it, that made them so joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly made such perfect sense.

Yes, they were overjoyed. Overjoyed that their trust in Jesus had not been misplaced. Overjoyed that they, like all of us, are the object of God's overwhelming love. Overjoyed because pessimism had turned to optimism, despair had turned to hope, and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, had blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. Mary -- she who had been dead in the slavery of her sin; she who had been sealed in a tomb of her own making -- had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. And Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own resurrection from the deadness of sin, would believe.

Who better to break the news -- the Good News -- to a sinful world; for Mary Magdalene was what every woman and every man is called to be. She was the sinner who became the saint. She was living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She was the "witness" that Peter described as he preached in the streets of Jerusalem. She was the fruit of Christ's Resurrection.

Today, as we receive the gift of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is the Risen Jesus we encounter, the very source of our faith and hope.  Lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounded throughout the universe, and continues to do so today.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Homily: Monday of Holy Week

Readings: Is 42:1-7; Ps 27; Jn 12:1-11

Mark Helprin is perhaps my favorite modern novelist, a writer whose stories not only plumb the depths of the human condition, but also soar to the heights of the divine image within humanity.

Page from the Daianu
This week I happened to read one of his essays in which Helprin, a Jew, mentions a song that is a part of the Passover service. The song, called "Daianu," means "sufficient" or "it was enough for us." In the song God is thanked for His gifts, but as the song progresses, each verse eliminates these gifts until only the gift of life itself is left. At the end we're confronted only by the existence of God; and this is enough. Yes, God's existence is sufficient for us.

Helprin states that, "If one thinks that way, one can pass any test." Amen.

As I read those words the other evening my thoughts turned to today's Gospel passage, an incident in which we encounter two very different people, two very different attitudes about God, about Jesus Christ, about life itself. These two - Mary of Bethany and Judas - offer us a remarkable contrast.

The timing, of course, is crucial, for it takes place six days before the Passover, six days before Jesus sacrifices His life for us on the Cross at Calvary, six days before His lifeless body is placed in the tomb.

And so Mary, in the house of her brother, Lazarus, kneels before her Savior and pours expensive perfumed unguent all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. She then dries His feet with her hair - all done, as Jesus reminds us, in anticipation of His burial.

Mary says nothing, but in her actions we can hear the words of today's Psalm:

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?" [Ps 27:1]
For Mary, just the presence of her Savior is sufficient, and it calls her to worship Him fearlessly and lavishly. Yes, His presence is more than enough for Mary.

Indeed, this is the only anointing Jesus' body will receive; for a week later, on that Resurrection morning, the women who carry their oils to His tomb will find it empty.

But the Gospel passage doesn't stop there, does it? Another is present: Judas Iscariot. He confronts and criticizes Mary for her extravagance. Like all materialists, Judas is spiritually blind, and in a fit of sheer hypocrisy, asks aloud:
"Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days' wages and given to the poor?" [Jn 12:5]
This, John tells us, comes from a man who would have stolen the funds for his own use. Is it any surprise that Judas will trade the life of Jesus for a handful of silver coins?

Jesus responds to Judas by defending Mary.
For Jesus, Mary's action is nothing less than a sign of her great love for Him. But then He adds:

"You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me" [Jn 12:8].

This is no derisive comment by Jesus. He's not telling us to ignore the poor. On the contrary, He simply reminds us that only those who with a deep love for God can extend that love to the poor and to all those in need. 

Sadly, Judas does not understand this. Indeed, he is already forming his plan, and through his treachery will bring about Jesus' death. Mary anoints Jesus for His burial, a burial that will be brought about by the betrayal of the apostle. The betrayal is deliberate. We don't really know his motives, but it was still a cold and calculated act.

Later John tells us that Satan entered into Judas when he rejected Jesus. That's what Satan does, brothers and sisters, but only if we let him. He twists love and turns it into hate. He turns holiness into pride, discipline into cruelty, affection into complacency, trust into despair.

And, believe me, Satan is active in our world today, a world filled with threats that lead so many to fear, and from fear to despair. But fear is nothing but the absence of faith.

If you and I, like the Jew at Passover, or like Mary at the feet of Jesus, if we can express our thankfulness for God's gift of life, for the simple fact of His loving, forgiving existence, then "we can pass any test."

Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are all sinners. We all betray the Lord. But what kind of betrayers, what kind of sinners are we? Are we like Mary who turns to her merciful Lord in abundant love or are we like Judas who can only despair, only hate himself and the One who loves him?

Mark Helprin, "Falling into Eternity", First Things, March 2017; p.23

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homily: Mass and Healing Service - Saturday, 1st Week of Lent

Note: Every six months our parish celebrates Mass and follows it with a healing service, during which prayer teams are available to pray over those who have come for healing. I was honored to be asked to preach at this morning's Mass. Afterwards Diane and I formed one of the many prayer teams and prayed with and over many wonderful, faith-filled people. It was a beautiful morning.

My homily follows. It focused on today's readings for Saturday of the First Week of Lent.


Readings: Dt 26:16-19; Ps 119; Mt 5:43-48


"Love your enemies..." [Mt 5:44] That's a hard teaching, isn't it?

Years ago, during the conflict in Vietnam, I was a young Navy pilot. I recall one evening, out at sea on an aircraft carrier, opening my Bible to Matthew's Gospel and re-reading the Sermon on the Mount.

POW in North Vietnam
At the time, our enemy, of course, were the Communists of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. As my POW friends will gladly attest, many of them were not nice people. And as my Marine friends discovered when they liberated the city of Hue. the communists tortured and murdered upwards of 6,000 men, women, and children during their month-long occupation of that ancient city. Yes, they were an easy enemy to hate.

But having read Matthew's Gospel that very fact troubled me. And so one day I paid a visit to the ship's chaplain. He wasn't a Catholic priest, but was a young Evangelical minister, strong in his faith, and always interested in comparing notes with me about Church teaching.

That particular day I asked him how we could reconcile the command to love our enemies with this conflict in which we were engaged.

I'll always remember that conversation. I won't repeat our rather lengthy discussion on the just war doctrine. That's a subject for another time. But I will tell you what he had to say about enemies and hatred and love and forgiveness.

He began by saying that if our enemies are those we hate, we have ceased being Christians. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are to hate no one. But if our enemies are those who hate us, then we will always have enemies. Jesus, after all, had many enemies, simply because He loved everyone, especially those despised by the world, and He spoke the truth and did the Father's will even when doing so might well lead others to hate Him.

Our enemies decide how they will treat us. We decide only to love them or to hate them.

This young minister then told me that despite what we see in the movies, or encounter in poetry, or hear in all those country-western songs, love and hate are not emotions. They're decisions.

Jesus calls us to love regardless of the evil others do, and regardless of how we feel about it. And He calls us to exclude no one from our love, and that means loving all those enemies.

And, yes, these are hard words for us, aren't they? Hard indeed...until we come face to face with the Cross, and we hear His words, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34]. It's there, on the Cross, that we encounter Divine Mercy: God's perfect love, a love that demands forgiveness.

Indeed, Jesus makes the act of forgiveness the centerpiece of His call to love.

In that same Sermon on the Mount, He tells us to forgive others without delay [Mt 5:25]. Don't focus on the hurt you've suffered, don't mull it over, just forgive. Jesus, of course, does this Himself. Even as He suffers on the Cross, He asks the Father to forgive those who have crucified Him.

Could we do the same? Can we exhibit this kind of divine forgiveness?

No, we can't - at lest not on our own. To forgive as God forgives, we need God's grace; but it's right there for us. We need only accept it. You see, Jesus wouldn't command us to do something we're unable to do, unless He offers us the grace needed to do it.

And how often are we to forgive those who harm us? Not once, not as Jesus tells Peter, "not seven times but seventy times seven" [Mt 18:22]. In other words, we must never stop forgiving.

But that's not all. Our forgiveness must also imitate that of the Father, whose forgiveness is lavish and sacrificial. It's the kind of forgiveness Jesus describes in the parable of the prodigal. The Father forgives with a shower of grace [Lk 15:20-24].

And in today's Gospel passage we are presented with the most challenging kind of forgiveness: to forgive our enemies, those who consciously and intentionally seek to harm us.

You see, brothers and sisters, without forgiveness we cannot love. Forgiveness is the only thing we can do to those we are called to love. If we refuse to forgive, we are refusing to love.

Some of you might have seen the movie "Dead Man Walking," about the execution of a rather vicious murderer.

Well, one person you won't see in the movie is a woman named Debbie Morris. She was the one victim who miraculously survived her horrific ordeal at the hands of the convicted killer, Robert Willie.

After his execution, she said something remarkable, "Justice didn't do a thing to heal me. Forgiveness did." The execution of the man who did so much to harm her brought no closure to her life. The only closure came from forgiveness.

It's easy to hate, isn't it? It's easy to scream for justice, to scream for man's justice, but doing so never brings healing. It never brings the closure the world promises. Only forgiveness can do that. Only forgiveness can release us from the bonds of sin. Only forgiveness can heal.

Did you hear that? Only forgiveness can heal!

If you've come here today for healing, take some time to offer forgiveness to those in your life who have caused you pain - whatever the pain, physical, spiritual, emotional, it doesn't matter. Let God release you from the bonds of hatred and unforgiveness.

How can you expect God to bring you healing, healing of any kind, if you won't break apart, tear apart, that which binds you to unforgiveness?

And let us not neglect those whom we have hurt, those who suffer because of what we have done. Asking for forgiveness of another can be even more difficult than giving it.

And so, as we come forward today for healing, let us consider those words of Jesus, words most of you probably pray daily:

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" [Mt 6:12].

These are powerful words, brothers and sisters, but they're also scary words, words through which we can seemingly condemn ourselves.

We are called to live what we pray.

The world will never cease encouraging us to hate, just as it will never run out of objects for our hatred, especially today when enemies abound. And so there will always be opportunities to forgive.

If we hope to become the people Moses spoke of in our first reading, "a people sacred to the Lord" [Dt 26:19], we must live up to God's expectations for us, we who were created in His image and likeness.

He calls each of us to view this life as a pilgrimage of love, a life in which we seek out others, sinners like you and me.

And what do we do when we find them?  That's the miracle of divine love. You see, in finding them, we find and see Jesus Christ within them. And then the miracle continues because through our love they will recognize Jesus within us.

Let God be the one who will judge His creations. That's not our job.

We need only love...and be healed.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Homily: Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Readings Is 58:9b-14; Ps 86; Lk 5:27-32

Are you tired of politics yet? Of course, getting all wrapped up in things political can cause us to do or say some rather foolish things. For example, a few weeks ago a news show aired several comments made by a certain foreign leader. He's not very likable, and neither were his comments. In a weak moment - and I've had more than a few of these lately - I muttered something like, "Why does God let people like that live on and on?" Of course, as Diane would be happy to reveal, I've said far worse things than that.

Indeed, my question was really quite foolish; because in asking it I cast aside the very core of Jesus' teaching on God's love for us. It's a teaching that was foreshadowed when God spoke through His prophet Ezekiel and uttered those words of today's Gospel Acclamation verse. Do you remember the verse?

"I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live" [Ez 33:11].
Yes, indeed, "...that he may live" - that he may have eternal life...That's right, God wishes all to be saved, every last one of Clint Eastwood would say, "the good, the bad, and the ugly." And so, just by wishing or hoping for the death of another, even the most evil among us, we speak in opposition to God's will. It's another reason the Church pleads for an end to capital punishment: praying and hoping for conversion, rather than death.

Of course Ezekiel merely pointed to the Gospel, to Jesus, to the word of the Word Incarnate. And in today's Gospel passage from Luke we heard Jesus' response to the self-righteous, unforgiving Pharisees and scribes. It's the same response He would give to my foolish question:

"I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners" [Lk 5:32].
Jesus at the Table of Levi
Yes, Jesus, the Son of God, the sinless One, reclined at the table of Levi, the tax collector, and broke bread.

Who was there, sharing in that meal? Oh, no doubt some of the disciples were there; but who else? You can be sure it wasn't the elite of local society, for they despised the tax collectors and their extortionist ways. No, the Pharisees got it right: only other sinners would be drawn to the table of one like Levi.

And aren't we glad of that? You do realize how perfectly wonderful that is?

This meal, you see, is just one more Gospel foreshadowing of the Eucharistic feast. The host is Levi - Matthew, the Apostle who bears the name of the priestly tribe - the public sinner whom Jesus will not only lead to conversion, but will raise up to be a bishop of His Church. Jesus comes to the table of Levi, the future bishop, and invites sinners to join Him as he breaks bread and sips the wine.

Jesus' presence always makes things happen: Levi's home becomes a church, his table an altar, he and his friends a congregation of repentant sinners gathered in thanksgiving for God's forgiveness. How perfectly wonderful!

And this is exactly what we have right here today in this church, at this altar, where Jesus calls sinners, that's you and me, to repentance and offers Himself in this Eucharistic feast, the feast of thanksgiving, a perfect sacrifice of love. But today the bread we break is His Body. The wine we sip is His Blood.

But do we then take the next step? Do we follow the command of the dismissal to "Glorify the Lord with your life?" In our first reading Isaiah gives us a few hints on how exactly to do this.

Do we "bestow our bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted?" [Is 58:10]

Do we "remove from our midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech?" [Is 58:9]

Do we "delight in the Lord's Day and make it honorable?" [Is 58:13]

Are there others in our lives who need our forgiveness? Do we need to forgive so our hearts can be open to God's love?

And the reward? God "will renew your strength, and you shall a spring whose water never fails... Then you shall delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth." [Is 58:11-12]

The first step is to recognize our sinfulness, the need for repentance, something the Pharisees just couldn't do. But Jesus continues to call, doesn't He? He doesn't seek the death of the sinner, but conversion and eternal life - just as He later called a Pharisee named Saul.

Image result for sinners gathered at the eucharistic feast 

God calls. We need only respond in repentance and obedience and then let Him convert our hearts. That's His work, the work of the Holy Spirit. Let Him do it.
Don't spend your time worrying about the "small stuff" -- the politics and concerns of this world. Focus instead on that which is truly important, the conversion of hearts, your heart and the hearts of those around you.

This Lent, open your heart to repentance, to God's call, to His power, to the movement of His Holy Spirit, and let Him do His work within you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Homily: Monday, 7th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir 36:1, 4-5a, 10-17 • Psalm 79 • Mk 10:32-45

"This kind can only come out through prayer" [Mk 9:29].

Jesus is telling the disciples something very important here. First, God's power remains God's power; it doesn't become ours. When His power moves through us to accomplish His will, we don't possess it. 

Perhaps the disciples had forgotten this, and assumed God's healing power, the power He exercised through them, had become theirs. Jesus is reminding His disciples that they must remain in constant communion with God, something which can be done only through prayer.

When St. Paul instructs us to "Pray without ceasing" [1 Thes 5:17], he's speaking of holiness, the result of that constant connection between the soul and God, a connection that keeps us always mindful of God's will for us.

But when you consider prayer from a strictly human perspective, it's really quite strange, isn't it? In prayer we communicate with Someone we can neither see nor hear. Physical sight and hearing are really not involved. And so prayer, even the prayer of weakness, the prayer of the unbeliever who turns to God in desperation - even that prayer demands at least a glimmer of faith. Indeed, it's in that turning to God that this faith is manifested.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we're told that, "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" [Heb 11:1]. Yes, hope and faith, even in their weakest form, are necessary ingredients of prayer.

Listen again to that brief dialog between Jesus and the desperate father in today's Gospel passage [Mk 9:22-24]. The father pleads with Jesus:
"But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus said to him, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!"
Once again, the faith of the people, the faith of those who come to Jesus in pain and suffering and dire need, puts the disciples to shame.

I don't know about you, but I feel a deep connection with this unnamed father. He pleads with Jesus to "help us" - not help my son, not help him, but help us. His love for his son is so great that his son's pain, his son's suffering, have become his pain, his suffering. With this he's already taken a necessary first step on the path to true discipleship: he accepts that to be truly human, to be in God's image and likeness, he must love.

This prayer of ours, then, this personal encounter with Jesus Christ, must lead us to serve others in Christ's name. Our service to those in need must always be the outgrowth of our prayer. Otherwise our prayers are only selfish ramblings, really no prayer at all.

The father then takes a second step to discipleship when he has an honest encounter with his own faith. Unlike the disciples - "that faithless generation" [Mk 9:19] - who can't understand why they are unable to exercise God's healing power, the father also knows that his faith, although real, is still very weak. And driven by this self-awareness, he utters his now-famous words: that statement of fact followed immediately by his contradictory plea:

"I do believe, help my unbelief!" [Mk 9:24]

On hearing such words, the faithless will just cast them aside as an unresolved paradox. But to those of us struggling through the times of darkness that enter every life, his words make perfect sense. Faith and doubt, belief and unbelief often exist side-by-side in the same heart, especially when that heart is broken or filled with fear.

Do you see what else Jesus is telling this distraught father, what He is telling us? 

There are no limits to the power of prayer. "Everything is possible..." [Mk 9:23] Jesus tell us. All that is necessary is faith. In other words, the possibilities are endless. And it all comes through the Gospel, the Good News, the story of faith made real for us.

Jesus is telling us that our relationship with God can deepen only through a strengthening of our faith; and faith can deepen only through prayer. Otherwise, like the disciples that day, we can become self-absorbed, something that will ultimately enslave us.

We are slaves, you know -- slaves to our sinfulness. That's why Christ ransoms us. Can we accept this? Can we let the Spirit pray in us so we thirst for the chalice from which Jesus drinks?

Can we accept that, as Jesus' disciples, we are baptized in the baptism of Christ's Cross?

Is my prayer the gift of myself with Christ on the Cross?

I think those are enough questions for us to ponder today.

God's peace.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy SAINT Valentine Day

Poor St. Valentine. His feast day has been overrun by a constant stream of commercialism and syrupy sentimentalism that seems to flow more quickly and more deeply with each passing year. For decades candy or flowers were the expected gifts a man gave to his sweetheart, but now expectations have apparently become inflated. Today jewelers warn of catastrophic rejection if the object of one's affection isn't showered with diamonds. One cruise line sent me a slick brochure demanding that I book a week-long Caribbean cruise. Failure to do so would shatter my relationship with my "significant other." And a local car dealership, while reminding its customers that "love is priceless," encouraged them to buy their lover a $40,000 vehicle. It's all quite strange. And I find it somewhat incongruous that in these times of supposed sexual equality, almost all the ads are aimed at men. Are there no feminists on Madison Avenue? 

Thankfully Dear Diane and I have never celebrated this pseudo-holiday except to honor the saint whose name it bears. This morning we greeted each other with a kiss and words of love, the same kiss and words with which we begin every morning. I did, however, add a little something extra today. When I awakened her this morning I handed her a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee in my favorite mug. Now this might seem less than trivial, but Diane truly admires this mug. It's really quite a handsome mug, and she bought it for me on a recent visit to Nantucket. 

Those who know me well also know that I have a rather large collection of coffee mugs, acquired on my travels over the years. To elevate a particular mug to "favorite" status is not something I do capriciously. The mug must earn this label. Size, shape, color, graphics, origin, even the "feel" of the mug -- these and other attributes enter into the mix that ultimately enshrine a mug as most favored. Until it is supplanted by another, the Nantucket mug reigns supreme.

Because of this Dear Diane has refused to drink from this particular mug, fearing she might drop and break it. As I handed it to her this morning I told her not to worry, that I would rather have a broken mug than a broken heart. It's her presence in my life that keeps my heart whole and happy. This so pleased her that she allowed me to vacuum the living and dining rooms and set up the card table in anticipation of the arrival of her friends who are now here playing mahjong.

St. Valentine
Yes, poor St. Valentine -- well, not really "poor" since he is, after all, a saint enjoying the riches of his heavenly home. But I suspect that fewer than one in a ten of those who bought gifts for their lovers today know anything at all about this 3rd-century Roman saint. Martyred under Emperor Claudius II in the year 269, this priest and bishop was accused of encouraging young Christian couples to marry, contrary to an edict by the government. His martyrdom was brutal, a three-part torture that included beating, stoning and decapitation. 

The patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine knew full well that a loving life-long commitment to another involved both joy and suffering, a pairing many today cannot accept. Married life isn't always candy and flowers; sometimes it's broken coffee mugs and vacuuming and card tables. And sometimes it's worrying about paying the mortgage, or struggling to help a troubled child, or confronting unexpected unemployment, or coping with the reality that the one you've loved for a lifetime no longer recognizes you, or dealing with a serious illness that threatens the other's life. Love and marriage are a wonderful gift from our God, but they demand the radical humility of self-sacrifice -- and this, too, is a gift. 

Take a few minutes today to pray together with the one you love and give thanks to God for each other.

Happy St. Valentine Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 3:0-24 • Ps 90 • Mk 8:1-10

What does God first say to Adam after that original sin? He asks a question, doesn't He?
"Adam, where are you?" [Gen 3:9]
God knows where Adam is, physically, but He wants Adam to understand and recognize where he has placed himself by his sin. 
Where are you, Adam? Don't you see what's happened, Adam? What you and Eve have done to yourselves?

Yes, with that simple question God reminded them that He had given them paradise on earth, everything they needed, a gift they tossed aside. The two lost their intended place in God's creation, because they desired that which is reserved for God Himself. They listened to the serpent, and succumbed to the temptation to be God, forgetting that God had blessed them as no other creature had been blessed. They had been created in God's image, molded into His likeness. But they were still creatures, weren't they? They were not the Creator.

Oh, how that question, that Word of God, must have echoed throughout the Garden:
"Adam, where are you?"
Adam is shamed. He and the woman are naked. With their sin they have cast themselves out of paradise and into exile. They know they have sinned, just as you and I know when we have sinned. But they refuse to admit it, to repent. Adam blames the woman. Yes, the other, the one created to be loved is now to be blamed. Already the effects of their sin have taken hold.

Sin and its effects will multiply and infect every generation that follows, pouring through the ages. In Genesis we soon encounter it again, don't we? When God asks another question:

"Cain, where is your brother?" [Gen 4:9]
Cain, where is your brother?
Sin has indeed multiplied. A brother is envied, despised, and murdered.

Today God still asks those same two questions:

Where are you? Where is your brother?
The world today, like our first parents, has become lost. Rather than recognizing and repenting of our sinfulness, rather than caring for one another, we cast blame, and we destroy.
"Where is your brother?"
It's a question that God, in His love and mercy, asks each of us.
"Where are you?"
Yes, God seeks us out, just as He sought Adam and Eve in the Garden. He calls us back to the reality of His love by exposing our sinfulness.  

What horrors have you brought to my creation? Why do you turn away from me, convinced that you are gods?

God had provided them with food but they ate that which was forbidden them. Out of their rebellion something else is forbidden them: to eat of the Tree of Life, which would give them life eternal.

But even in their sinfulness, God offers them, and He offers us, a path to return to God from their exile. As they leave the Garden they have an encounter with God's mercy. From that encounter comes a promise. It is the promise of God's Son, the gift of Jesus Christ, who will take on Adam's nakedness, our nakedness, who will take on the shame of humanity, the shame of all our sins, and allow Himself to be sacrificed by those He created.

By His wounds we are healed.

Yes, Jesus is nailed to the Tree of Life, and leaves us a new food: the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood, God With Us in a way almost unimaginable. And now we can eat of the food that will give us eternal life. It is through Jesus Himself that we are transformed. The Mass is a kind of new Eden in which Jesus feeds us with the food that perfectly satisfies.

We see a foreshadowing of this in today's Gospel passage from Mark. This is the second miraculous feeding of the crowds. At the first Jesus feeds 5,000; in the second 4,000. Listen again to the Word of God:

"...taking the seven loaves he gave thanks (in the Greek, eucharistesas), broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd" [Mk 8:6].

Yes, the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, is given to us by Jesus but is distributed by his disciples. The same is true today. We, the disciples, are called to feed the hungry, to feed them with both the physical and spiritual bread they need.
Lord, teach us to be the servants we are called to be. Help us to serve you by serving others, regardless of the cost. Let us learn to accept the wounds of service as gifts, to turn our lives into a labor of love, happy and content only to do your will.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

Note: Today, at our daily Mass, we also celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of our dear friends, Deacon Claude and his wife, Patricia. They spend part of the year here in Florida and in the warmer months return to their lovely home in Penn Yan, NY on beautiful Lake Seneca. When they're here they spend much of their time involved in many of our parish ministries. I was honored that Claude and Patricia asked me to preach at today's Mass. Happy Anniversary, and many more!


Readings: Heb 11:1-2,8-19 • Lk 1:69-75 • Mk 4:35-41

I've always been intrigued by that verse in today's reading from Hebrews in which the author describes the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - as men who "acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth"  [Heb 11:13].

It's seems like such an odd thing to say, doesn't it? After all they were born here on earth, lived on earth, and died on earth. How could they consider themselves aliens? 

That verse troubled me for years...until one day I realized I was getting old...or at least older. It was then, from my perspective as a more mature Christian, that I began to see the earth -- the world we live and die in -- as a fairly hostile place. I came to realize that this world, so hostile to all that I believed, so hostile to our faith, was not our home; that it was really a place of preparation, a place that would lead us to our true home, the home for which we were created. 

But if we let it, the open hostility of this world can drive us to respond not in faith, but in fear. The antidote to that fear is described in that far more famous verse from the same reading of Hebrews:
"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" [Heb 11:1].
You know, most people, if asked, "What's the opposite of faith?", would probably answer, "Doubt." And yet, that's not what Jesus tells us, is it? In our Gospel passage from Mark, and indeed, throughout all four Gospels, Jesus seems to be telling us that faith is opposed mainly by fear. What did He say to the apostles in today's passage?
"Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" [Mk 4:40]
Jesus Calms the Wind and the Sea
Yes, it's fear, isn't it? It's fear in the face of this hostile world that challenges our faith. And so many today are so very afraid.

Fear, of course, is a normal human emotion, one that if it's controlled can actually aid us in our survival. As a Navy pilot I occasionally found myself in rather scary situations. Fear certainly kicked in, but so did my training, and I managed to overcome the fear. My faith was there, too,  supporting me, but I was more focused on simply doing what had to be done.

If we allow fear to control us, it will turn against us, and paralyze us. We see this manifested by the apostles in our Gospel passage. Jesus sleeps, in complete trust in God, but the apostles panic, overcome by fear. That they still call Him "teacher" tells us they do not yet understand who He is. But even in their fear and ignorance there's a glimmer of faith; for they awaken Jesus, and scold Him, hoping He can do something to save them.

But Jesus simply speaks to the sea as if it were a living thing, another being in this hostile world, something that the devil can manipulate.

"Quiet! Be still!" [Mk 4:39]
It's as if He's scolding an unruly child. The apostles are awestruck. And they ask the question that answers itself:
"Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" [Mk 4:41] 
Psalm 46:10
It's an answer found throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms, where God's rule over creation is proclaimed again and again. And it's in the Psalms where we, too, are told to be quiet, to be still, to step away from the storms of our lives and be with God.

The boat, of course, foreshadows the Church, and over the centuries it too will be tossed about by an increasingly hostile world. But as Jesus reminds us again and again, it will be the faith of the Church that saves us, your faith and my faith that save us; for Jesus is never far away, but always there with us, calming our hearts.

And so today, let's pray that the trust and peace of Jesus will fill our hearts, that in our faith we'll know He is always with us, always ready to calm the storms of our lives. more thing...

Today is the feast of the great 13-century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, a man whose influence on the teachings of the Catholic Church can hardly be overstated. A Dominican, he was a brilliant philosopher and theologian, but also a man of deep faith, a man of prayer, goodness, and simplicity. In addition to being the patron saint of teachers, students, and schools, St. Thomas is also fittingly the patron against storms.
Church - St. Thomas Aquinas, Paris
Thomas studied under St. Albert the Great, and the two of them spent a number of years studying and teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris. Today we have another Parisian connection, one that goes back not to the Middle Ages, but to the spring of 1965.

Yes, it was April in Paris of that year when Claude and Patricia first met. Like Thomas Aquinas both were studying in Paris. And less than two years later, they married. I'm sure over the years they've encountered a few storms, but in their deep faith, together they have weathered them all.

And so today we join Patricia and Claude as they celebrate their fifty years of marriage, and call them forward to renew their vows and receive Father's blessing.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I'm beginning to like Donald Trump...a lot! I especially enjoyed his inaugural address even though I wasn't able to watch or listen to it live. Dear Diane and I spent a good part of inauguration day taking an elderly acquaintance to the doctor. She had fallen and broken her wrist a week or so ago and needed to see an orthopedic specialist. Sadly, the closest who would honor her Medicare and Wellcare insurance was almost an hour away so that's where we had to take her. The entire adventure, from home to home, took over six hours; therefore, we missed the new president's inauguration. But that's OK. The day was a typical, beautiful Florida day, so we had a delightful drive to Clermont, Florida. I got some reading done in the doctor's waiting room and we also met several very nice folks there. The traffic was light, and we stopped for a milkshake on the way home. What more could we possibly desire? It's these little things in life that I've come to enjoy as I shuffle through my senior years.
Oops! As I write this on Sunday evening, we've just been issued a tornado warning by the Weather Service. It's all very exciting, so exciting I've changed the channel from the Patriots-Steelers game to my favorite bunch of weather guessers on Orlando's channel 9. Dear Diane and I are ready to jump into the interior guest bathroom in the event of a tornado. Lots of thunder and lightning, very high winds, and torrents of rain -- it's all raging right now outside our doors. Interestingly, this storm system is moving through the area at 60 mph, much faster than most of the storms that visit us here in central Florida. I remember outrunning a storm like that years ago in my Navy helicopter. It was roaring across the South China Sea at over 70 mph and I had to race it back to the ship. Fortunately I won that race. (I will take a break until the weather improves.)
The storm is now over and we were, thankfully, untouched by tornadoes. And the Patriots won!

As I said above, I'm beginning to like Donald (now President) Trump. I've learned to measure people by their enemies. And when one looks at who hates President #45, it's hard not to like the man. Just consider all those who have convinced themselves his presidency is illegitimate: the same people who ranted when, during the campaign, he gave one of his famous off-the-cuff comments that he might not accept a Hillary victory. Well, these folks have taken non-acceptance to a new level. 

One particularly interesting Trump-hater is the Reverend Al Sharpton who along with his good friend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has perfected the profitable art of race-based extortion. Rev Al is very upset, certain our new president's election wasn't legitimate. In this he agrees with US Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, a man who has done little of note since he was beaten up by thugs decades ago on a bridge in Selma. But because of that beating, we are not permitted to question his current absurdities. Both men, along with their admirers, are apparently convinced that the Russians perpetrated a Slavic version of the Vulcan mind-meld on the American people, causing them to shift allegiance from Hillary to Donald during the final days of the campaign. Rev Al, of course, is no more than a race-pimp, a walking, talking irrelevance who need not be taken seriously...and so I don't.

When considering haters, one can't ignore Madonna and her apparently unfulfilled desire to blow up the White House. Speaking to a sympathetic mob at the Women's March, she stated that she had instead chosen "love" and then proceeded to spew forth a stream of hate-filled rhetoric. The mainstream media, of course, were thrilled by her inarticulate diatribe even though she dropped a load of f-bombs and other obscenities on live TV. Such a lovely woman. 

I couldn't help but note that abortion seemed to be the overriding issue for those on the Women's March. For a gathering that speaks so much about love they sure do enjoy killing innocent unborn children. It boggles the mind.

Oh, yes...almost forgot. Michael Moore also addressed the Women's March. He was particularly upset with those women who voted for Donald Trump, calling them “victims”  of “misogyny and the sexism that is still so prevalent and ingrained.” Like most on the left, Moore believes that anyone who disagrees with him is either evil or crazy. 

Back to the president and the media...Did you hear Chris Matthews and the other MSNBC jokesters compare President Trump to Hitler and Mussolini? Or how about Democrat Representative Yvette Clarke of NY who was distraught because of the new president's fascism? In her words:
“You know, we may have fallen short on election day, but we did carry the popular vote. And, so, there are many more Americans who are in tune with the fact that we’re in the 21st century. And we’re not turning back the clock. We’re not going to stand for the type of, if you will, fascism — and I’m going to use that word — that many use to their advantage while suppressing and oppressing marginalized communities in this nation.”
One suspects that the representative doesn't have a clue about the real meaning of fascism. But who cares? Fascism is one of those scary words -- like racist, sexist, Islamophobic, etc. -- the left loves to toss around when speaking of conservatives. 

I also found it odd that the less-than-dynamic duo -- Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- seem a bit confused about the new leader of their party. Senator McCain claimed today that he was unsure whether he had confidence in President Trump. This seems a rather odd thing to admit before the man has completed two days in office, but I suspect the senator's evaluation of the president might be colored by a few personal concerns; i.e.,  he hates Donald Trump. Senator Graham also expressed confusion today when he stated: “I don’t know what America first means.” If that's true one can only assume he paid no attention to Donald Trump during the campaign. Of course, it's pretty apparent that he too hates Donald Trump.

The next four years should be interesting indeed.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

News from Israel: Old and New

I thought it might be interesting to share a few recent news items out of Israel -- some relate to current events while others touch on the nation's ancient roots. The first item says much about the attitude of the United Nations with regard to the state of Israel.

UNRWA School in Gaza
UN Schools Teach Palestinian Children to Hate Israel and Jews. In the West Bank and Gaza the United Nations operates a number of schools attended mainly by Palestinian children. These schools, which receive funding from the United Nations' Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), use textbooks provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. As you might imagine, these textbooks are strongly anti-Israel. They purposely do not recognize the existence of Israel, even excluding the country from maps of the region. Equally disturbing, the books claim that the holy sites in Israel are exclusively Muslim sites, fail to mention their Jewish origins, and even accuse the Jews of trying to control them illegally. The books also contain no historical reference to the Jews or the Hebrew language. In effect these UN schools simply continue the racism and antisemitism that typify the official Palestinian position. Is it any wonder that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is so illusive since one side refuses to accept the existence of the other? It also explains the recent anti-Israel resolution passed by the UN, a resolution which the Obama administration supported by its refusal to exercise its veto.

Gaza-based Jihadist: Ban Christmas. If you're a Jihadist (aka, a terrorist) a good place to hang out is in Gaza where you will be well protected by the Palestinian authorities. You'll also have access to some cool textbooks. Anyway, one of these jokers, who's been given the label of "Senior Islamic State Jihadist," goes by the name of Abu Omar Almaqdesi. (Let's just call him Abe.) It seems Abe has been very vocal of late. Discussing recent terrorism in Turkey, Germany, and Jordan, he announced that such attacks are "the price these states must pay for positioning themselves as part of the Crusader Coalition of infidel countries fighting against Islam." Just a thought, but I suspect the German. Turkish, and Jordanian governments (or, for that matter, the US government) do not consider themselves as part of a Crusader Coalition. Too bad. If they did we might actually get somewhere in our misnamed war on terror. 

Abe also added a few seasonal comments relating to Christmas: "If somewhere there are Christians who insist on celebrating Christmas with the support of the heretic authorities, one must unleash upon them all one's might and deploy all the available means." He went on to explain that "all methods are admissible when it comes to preventing blasphemy against Allah and his commandments. Yes, including killing and blowing up." Then, apparently getting into the Christmas spirit, Abe added, "But...we believe that first you should act politely and explain that living in Islamic countries is conditioned on accepting Sharia and refrain from openly practicing rituals other than Islam." I guess after you've been polite, you can go ahead and blow them up. Don't you just love these guys? Abe sounds like a prime candidate for an extended vacation at Gitmo.

Having been promised by God to Abraham about 4,000 years ago, the Holy Land is a remarkable treasure trove for archaeologists. Like much of the Middle East, modern day Israel has lots of interesting stuff beneath its surface just waiting to be uncovered. Here are a couple of cool stories I found particularly interesting.

Egyptian Slab -- Ancient Hebrew? Inscriptions
Hebrew is #1. A Canadian archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich, has generated a whole lot of controversy among his colleagues by claiming that the Hebrew alphabet might just be the world's oldest. One can only assume his claims will not be well-received in Gaza. Petrovich believes that the Hebrews, when they were in Egypt, converted the local hieroglyphics into their own alphabet so they could express their Hebrew language in written form. He dates this alphabet to almost 4,000 years ago. He also claims to have found specific Biblical references from Genesis and Exodus -- to Moses, Ahisamach and Asenath -- as he translated various inscriptions. He's taking a lot of heat from the skeptics, but who knows? He might be right. After all, we know God was partial to Hebrew.

One of the many Temple Floor Tiles recovered
Second Temple Floor Tiles Discovered. Jerusalem's
second Temple, the one started by Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., is now covered by a Muslim shrine. This makes excavations a bit tense since the Muslims do not want Jewish access to this holy site. The second Temple is also the Temple of the Gospels at which Jesus and his disciples worshiped. As a result of excavations that began in 2005, over 600 of the Temple's floor tiles have been found and many have been restored. These are the only known physical elements of the Temple so they are considered extremely important. They are also of interest to Christians since Jesus quite possibly walked on many of these floor tiles.

I find it amazing that today, thousands of years after these events, we continue to discover such wondrous things. And so often these finds support the Biblical narrative that so many have considered unreliable at best. It would seem that God delights in leading us to that which magnifies His Word.