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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Auchincloss & Salinger

I suppose J. D. Salinger's death this past week received appropriate attention. After all, he was certainly a best-selling author and his decades-long life as a recluse in rural New Hampshire was enough to pique the interest of most literary critics and reporters.

Reading his most popular novel, The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, became a rite of passage of sorts for teenagers during the past half-century. I suppose I was 17 or 18 when I read the book and, unlike most of my friends, was not particularly impressed. And I certainly didn't experience much of a connection with his character, the troubled and alienated Holden Caulfield. But apparently most folks my age (65) disagree and closely identified with this rather odd teenager.

Now that Salinger has died we will no doubt be subjected to a whole new wave of criticism and speculation about the man and his works. And I suspect all those rumors about a stack of unpublished novels locked up in a safe in his home will just increase in the months ahead. All very interesting.

But lost in all the publicity surrounding Salinger's death was the death of another novelist, Louis Auchincless, who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 92. I've read only three or four of Auchincloss' many published novels, but enjoyed them all and always intended to read more. Perhaps now I will. His novels, mostly about wealthy New Yorkers, are wonderfully entertaining and offer a glimpse into one side of New York life that most of us will never experience. He was also a remarkable good writer. For an excellent overview of Auchincloss and his fiction, read Christopher Caldwell's review first published in the Weekly Standard in 2002: Louis Auchincloss.

You can view an excellent 1997 interview of Auchincloss by Charlie Rose below. The first part of the video is a conversation with filmmaker Curtis Hanson about his film "L.A. Confidential. It is followed by the Auchincloss interview. To go directly to the Auchincloss interview, go to the 24th minute of the video.

Ralph McInerny, a postscript

For those who might not have been exposed to the teachings and writings of Dr. Ralph McInerny, who died Friday morning, I have included below a brief (8-minute) video clip of a lecture he gave on ancient philosophy.

Youtube video clips of brief portions of several other of Dr. McInerny's lectures can be found here: Youtube clips of Ralph McInerny 

Ralph McInerny wrote dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction. His most recent, published just a few months ago, is well worth reading, particularly if, like me, you have a special love for Dante's Divine Comedy. The book, Dante and the Blessed Virgin, explores the prominent place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dante's great work. It is also a deeply philosophical book and, despite being Dr. McInerny's last published work, provides an excellent introduction to his writings.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ralph McInerny, 1929-2010, R.I.P.

This morning we lost one of the great Catholic intellectuals of our time. Ralph McInerny, professor of medieval studies at the University of Notre dame, passed away peacefully and returned to the Father whose love he celebrated throughout his life. But Dr. McInerny was much more than just one illustrious academic among many. He was a philosopher of note, the author of many serious philosophical books, a writer of best-selling fiction including the famous Father Dowling series of mystery novels, a published poet, a translator of St. Thomas Aquinas' works, and the father of seven. There is so much more one could say about him. He was a truly remarkable man,

I met Dr. McInerny once, about ten years ago. It was one of those brief chats after a speech he had given at a conference I was attending. He answered my question and then, liked a good teacher, asked a few of his own. Our conversation lasted perhaps two minutes before I stepped aside so others could meet him. I can't recall the details of our conversation, but I haven't forgotten how pleasant and gracious he was, or how truly interested he was in what I had to say.

He has taught me much through his books and countless articles. I shall miss his presence in the world. May he rest in the peace of the Father's embrace.

Click here to read an excellent tribute to this wonderful man,

Homily: Wednesday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Sm 7:4-17; Ps 89; Mk 4:1-20
The books of Samuel and Kings are filled with wonderful stories about remarkable people. And right up at the top of the list has to be David.

Now our understanding of David depends largely on our understanding of Scripture itself. By “understanding Scripture” I mean how we think about Scripture and, accordingly, how we read it. For example, if we read Scripture strictly as a collection of historical documents – the way we might read the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta – we might learn something about the people of the ancient Middle East, but we won’t learn very much about God. And just as important, we won’t learn anything about ourselves and about God’s plan for us, about His love for us. 

After all, how could these ancient documents, written in long-dead languages by forgotten, anonymous men so long ago…How could they have anything to do with you or me? Sadly, that’s how a lot of people think of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament. And their lives are spiritually impoverished because of it.

But if we view and read Scripture as the Living Word of God, as God’s love letter to His people, to all of His people, to all of creation…well, if we see it that way, everything changes. According to the early church fathers everything in Scripture points to one thing, to one person… everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ. And David is no exception.

In today’s reading, the prophet Nathan carries God’s message personally to King David. Now, David is pretty comfortable and settled; there’s peace; he lives in a palace. Life is good. And fittingly He desires to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant, a house for God. At first Nathan tells him to do what he wants, but then Nathan is sent by God to, in effect, tell David: “You don’t need to build a house for me; rather I will build a house for you.”

God also tells David that his son will build God’s Temple, as Solomon ultimately did. And He goes on to say, “…I will make his royal throne firm forever.” And it is here that we get a first glimpse of the Davidic covenant with God – the promise of an eternal king from the line of David, a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

This is where we come in. God’s promise to David -- “God will make you great; God will make you a house” -- is also fulfilled in us and will continue on with our children, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren…because with the promise of the New Covenant, God lives within us, he lives in our hearts, our hearts of goodness, of peace, of His love.

How did the psalmist put? “Forever I will maintain my love for him; my covenant with him stands firm. I will establish his dynasty forever…” Ah, but then today we hear the parable of the sower and again we hear that everything, even life itself, eternal life…we hear that everything depends on how we receive God’s Word.

Now, all these thoughts led me to see today’s Gospel reading in a new light. You see, Jesus wants us to dig deep into that soil, whether it’s rocky or covered with thorns or on the wrong path. He’s wants us to examine it; and if it’s not in good shape, to do something about it.

I’m always telling young people that the people they hang out with can have a major influence on them. Doesn’t the same thing apply to us? We, too, can be easily influenced. If we spend most of our time playing golf, or going out for dinner and drinks, or going to neighborhood activities, or just being a couch potato…well, our soil probably isn’t in the greatest shape.

How much more fertile would it be if we were all well connected with our parish, if we were actively involved in one or more ministries? Or how about reading Scripture daily? Or improving our “listening to God” skills by making an occasional weekend retreat? Or spending an hour or two a week in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament? Or praying together daily with a spouse or friend? These influences ground us in our Faith, making our soil receptive to God’s Word, helping us see Jesus in those around us.

How will you and I receive the Word tomorrow, next week, for the rest of the year?

Not only did the Holy Spirit give us Sacred Scripture, but Jesus gave us His Church and her sacraments, her engines of grace, to help us and guide us. We can till our soil through the sacrament of reconciliation. And then we can enrich it with God’s own presence in the Eucharist, allowing Him to live within us.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 19; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21

If you’ve ever been inside St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice, you might have noticed, in the baptistry, a striking 14th century mosaic of Jesus’ baptism. The water that washes over Jesus looks remarkably like a shroud, and Jesus seems to be rising up out of it. At the same time, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends on him from the brightness of the Father’s presence.

Well, that same Spirit is present with Jesus in today’s Gospel reading as he travels through Galilee preaching the Good News and then eventually visits his hometown. How does Luke put it? “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” He returned, Luke tells us, “…to Nazareth, where he had grown up…”

Now here’s something interesting.

It’s in that same Spirit, St. Paul tells the Corinthians – and he tell all of us – that “…we were all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” And so it is through this Spirit of God, Paul says, that we are the body of Christ. What the Spirit is for Christ, the Spirit is for us. What the Spirit does for Christ, the Spirit does for us.What the Spirit sends Him to do, the Spirit sends us to do.

And what does the Spirit send Jesus to do? Exactly what He told the people of Nazareth. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says that the Sprit sends me "to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

The Spirit sends Jesus to heal, to free, to restore, to bless, to bring to fulfillment. This is God’s desire for all of humanity, and Jesus embodies that desire. He makes it present and makes it felt in His own time and place.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting…

You and I are called to do exactly the same thing. That’s right, brothers and sisters, by His death and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for us, as members of His Body, to make that desire – that  desire of God for all of humanity – to make it present and felt in our own time and in our own place. Jesus not only makes this possible, but He intends it; he expects it of us. It means that each of us is called to heal, to free, to restore, to bless, to bring to fulfillment. Have you done much of that lately?

Every Sunday we come to this place and we hear the Word of God proclaimed – and when that Word is proclaimed it is Christ himself who speaks – just as He spoke to the people gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth. But do we really believe this? If we did truly believe it, wouldn’t we be completely focused on what we were hearing? Wouldn’t we be sitting on the edges of our seats excited about what God has to say to each of us? 

In our first reading we heard Ezra read God’s Word to the people of Jerusalem, a people who had returned home from a long exile. In our Gospel passage, we find Jesus returning home to read and preach God’s Word in the synagogue of Nazareth. Today we listen to these same words – to this same Word – but does it change anything? Or are they just nice, comfortable words that we hear again and again, year-after-year, Sunday-after-Sunday, changing nothing but making everything familiar and comfortable? What does this Word have to do with us? What does this Word do to us when we hear it? “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free?”

Are you and I oppressed? Do we need to be set free? Are we imprisoned or exiled, or downtrodden? Nope, none of that applies to me. And, anyway, all those folks in prison…isn’t that where they belong? And the poor? Well, the poor could stop being poor if they’d only go out and get jobs. And the blind? The disabled and the disadvantaged? Don’t we have laws and government programs to take care of them? What do these people have to do with us? Jesus was obviously speaking to someone else…maybe next Sunday’s readings will actually apply to me.

But what if Jesus had said: “I have been sent to pay off your mortgage and your credit card balances, to correct those terrible mistakes you made years ago, the hurt you caused, the damage you did, to cure your cancer, your heart disease, your diabetes.”? Would that make a difference? Would Jesus have our attention then?

But that isn’t what he said, is it? And so maybe those real words of Jesus were meant to unnerve us. Maybe those words were supposed to make us sit up and think, to examine our behavior, and to get us to live our lives differently. Maybe Jesus was trying to challenge our attitudes and confront our biases. Just maybe Jesus was attempting to show us that our faith has everything to do with justice, with life, with illness, with pain and hurt, with poverty…

Does hearing His Word really make a difference to us? Do we try to live better lives? Are we more understanding, more generous in our community and our parish? And as Jesus said, His words are supposed to be fulfilled in our hearing. That can happen only if we bring those words to life — if we give them voice, if we walk with them, if we act with them. Without us, brothers and sisters, those words become barren and lifeless. We make them real. You and I. And for us it’s a matter of faith. Do we really believe the words we hear?

Moved by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to Nazareth to preach the Kingdom. For the first time, Jesus preached a living Word to the people of His home town. Some rejoiced, some repented, others became hostile, and all wondered what this Word was going to do to them when they heard it.

Well, what about us? God has sent us His Spirit, brothers and sisters. And the Spirit speaks to us through His Word. He speaks to move us, to change us, to lead us to repentance and conversion. Just remember, coming here every week isn’t a social visit. When we enter this sacred space every Sunday, when we open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to God’s Word, we place ourselves at grave risk. You see, God expects His Word to bring about change in us.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Homily: Wednesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Sm 17:32-33, 37, 40-51; Ps 144; Mk 3:1-6

Years ago, when I taught pre-Confirmation classes of ninth-graders, I learned never to be surprised by either their questions or their answers.

I recall once, during a discussion on the gift of faith, one young lady asked, “How come the Pharisees didn’t have faith, but the Apostles did?” It was actually a pretty good question, and so I thought it might keep the discussion going in a good direction if I let the rest of the kids in the class offer their answers.

But instead of just turning the question over to the class as a whole, I thought it might be best to prepare the ground a bit. So first we read today’s Gospel passage from Mark. And then I asked them if they noticed anything different about Jesus before he healed the man with the withered hand? It took few minutes before one girl said, “Jesus is angry.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Mark is the only Gospel writer who mentions the anger of Jesus. Oh, John tells the story of Jesus driving the buyers and sellers from the Temple, but he never explicitly says that Jesus was angry. Only Mark does that.”

Let’s take a moment to picture the scene as Mark describes it. Jesus had just asked the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” From a commonsense point of view, it’s a pretty simple question; and from a charitable point of view as well. Only from a close-minded, self-serving, hateful point of view can one say “No” to this question.

And so how do the Pharisees answer it? They don’t. “But they remained silent,” Mark tells us. And it’s easy to see why. For them to answer, “Yes,” would have been a lie and would only highlight their hypocrisy. But to answer, “No,” would be a public admission of their lack of charity. They had set out to trap Jesus and, once again, he had trapped them. Usually it was their words that exposed them. This time it was their silence.

What happens next? Well, Mark tells us that Jesus looked “around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart,” and then went on to heal the man’s hand. Virtually every scene in the Gospels has at one time or another been the subject of a painting…except this scene. I know of no painting that shows Jesus looking around at the Pharisees with anger.  

I suspect such a painting wouldn’t be very popular among those who have this distorted image of a warm and fuzzy Jesus who roams through Galilee and Judea dispensing hugs.

“And so,” I asked my ninth-graders, “Why was Jesus angry?” Well, I got all kinds of answers from them, but the evolving consensus was that Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because, as one young man remarked, “They were jerks.”

Now the Gospel doesn’t use those exact words. One translation says, “Because they had closed their minds.” “Because of their hard-heartedness,” says another. Now these only seem different. The mind is open by its very nature. Notice how young children are very open-minded, always ready and able to learn. It’s only when they grow up and get stupid that they do otherwise; for it is the heart that closes the mind.

These Pharisees, these sullen, joyless and loveless people in front of him, had lost any sense of compassion for others. They had ceased being childlike. They had stopped loving. And because love couldn’t penetrate their hearts, their minds were closed as well. Hate and selfishness had so closed their minds that couldn’t even recognize the hand of God in the miracles that occurred right before their eyes. They had created an almost impenetrable barrier to the gift of faith.

The Apostles, on the other hand, were in a sense more childlike, more open to the Spirit’s urgings, more open to receiving the gift, more willing to love. You see, brothers and sisters, hatred closes and love opens. Indeed, love is itself an opening, a kind of wound. The mystic, Julian of Norwich, prayed for “the wound of true compassion.”

God grant that we may never be healed of it! And keep us from being jerks.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jefferson Brian McCarthy, 1941-2010, R.I.P.

Today when I went to look in on my brother, Jeff, I found that he had passed away overnight. Jeff had suffered from a number of physical illnesses along with some other problems, so we moved him up here from South Florida a few months ago. He stayed with us for a while, until we found him a place of his own just a few miles away. I'd stop by every day or two to make sure he was OK, and he'd join Diane and me every Thursday as a volunteer at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. He also attended Mass with us at our parish and seemed to be doing rather well. Indeed, on Monday evening my son-in-law, who had been visiting with us, and I picked Jeff up and shared a wonderful dinner with him at a local steak house. Even though he looked tired, Jeff was in remarkably good spirits and truly enjoyed his time with us. When we dropped him off at his place, there were hugs all around...a fine end to a nice evening. I suspect he died that night sometime, probably in his sleep. (I took this above photo of him about a month ago.)

He was a wonderful brother and a generous, intelligent and loving man. A man of faith and strong beliefs, he expressed his opinions openly and firmly. You never had to guess what he felt or believed. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point (class of 1962), he served in Vietnam as a company commander, where he earned a Bronze Star. He had a gift for learning languages and spoke French and Spanish fluently, an ability that served him well during his assignments with NATO in France and with the Military Assistance Group in Paraguay. He also earned his masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona. After leaving the Army, he joined Motorola where he spent a productive career in semiconductor sales and marketing in Florida and Latin America.

Estranged from his wife, Elena, for some years now, he is survived as well by two sons, Marshall and Brian, and two daughters, Maria and Ileana. I am Jeff's only sibling.

Diane and I and the entire family will miss him terribly, and entrust his soul to the care of his loving and merciful Father. Rest is peace, Jeff. You will remain always in our prayers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More on Dating the Old Testament

Yesterday I included a link to a Fox News story on an archaeological find in Israel that indicates the Bible may have been written four centuries earlier than many scholars had previously thought. The Fox video also included some interesting commentary by Fr. Jonathan Morris, a regular religion contributor to the network.

The archaeological find  was a relatively small pottery shard on which was an inscription in ancient Hebrew. The shard dates from the 10th century B.C., the time of King David's reign, and the inscription is similar to the kind of prophecies found in the Bible.

Today I found a few additional articles that should interest those of you who, like me, have never placed much credence in the theories of most scriptural scholars.

MSN News


University of Haifa

God's peace...

Brit Hume, Profile in Courage

Brit Hume, the senior Fox Network newsman and commentator, made a remarkable on-air comment a few days ago when he suggested that Tiger Woods embrace the Christian faith because only through Christianity could he receive the forgiveness he needs. As you might expect, the secular humanists were apoplectic, accusing him of about every worldly transgression imaginable. (In the words of one wag, Hume violated the "separation of church and television.") The video clip below is of Hume on Bill O'Reilly's show in which he expands on his comments. The clip also includes Hume's original statement on Fox News Sunday.

The following link will take you to an excellent commentary on Hume and his courageous statements that appeared on Catholic Online (

INSPIRE: Brit Hume's Courage: An Example to All Christians

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bible Written Earlier Than Thought?

Here's an interesting video from Fox News on a recent archaeological find of a tenth-century  B.C. pottery shard on which was written ancient Hebrew. Interesting stuff.

Click the below link to watch the video with Father Jonathan  Morris...

Bible Written Earlier Than Thought

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Clerihew for Martha Coakley

I've long been a fan of an odd little verse form called the Clerihew. Named after its inventor, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, it consists of a pseudo biographical quatrain of two rhyming couplets. The lines are of uneven length and prose-like in rhythm. Bentley was a schoolboy chum and lifelong friend of G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton even illustrated many of Bentley's published Clerihews. Here's an example of one of Bentley's many Clerihews:

"I quite realized," said Columbus,
"That the earth was not a rhombus,
But I am a little annoyed
To find it an oblate spheroid."

Anyway, I was thinking about Martha Coakley and the remarkably inept campaign she has run for the US Senate seat of Massachusetts previously held by Ted Kennedy. Two months ago she had a 30+ percentage point lead in the polls over her Republican opponent, Scott Brown. And now the latest poll shows her trailing Brown by four points -- a truly extraordinary development for which she has only herself to blame. And so I wrote a Clerihew celebrating this fact...

Ms. Martha Coakley
Is no Annie Oakley.
It seems she can only shoot
Herself in the boot.
...and that's all I have to say.

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 62:1-5; Ps 96; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-12

Some years ago in my previous parish on Cape Cod, a couple, both in their nineties, marked 70 years of marriage by receiving a blessing right after the homily at Sunday Mass. It was a brief, happy moment in the life our parish – a moment when we joined together to celebrate both the presence of God's enduring love in our lives and the presence of this couple among us, the example of their faithfulness and perseverance in a world increasingly hostile to these virtues and to the very sanctity of the sacrament of marriage.

I can recall looking into the faces of the congregation as the celebrant administered the blessing and seeing a sea of smiles. And yet, in the midst of that shared joy, more than a few faces had expressions that ranged from impatience to dissatisfaction to outright hostility.

I suppose some, who came to Sunday Mass solely out of a sense of obligation or even habit, were upset because the blessing might have delayed their departure by a few minutes. These are some of the same folks who after receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood head immediately for the parking lot. How sad that they think so little of God's remarkable Eucharistic gift that they don't take the time to thank Him. It's like a dinner guest who leaves immediately after taking his last bite without a word of thanks to his host.

Perhaps others were just the sort of dour, cynical people who can't stand to see others happy, who see no reason to celebrate anything – the kind of folks my mother called "plain old grumps, whose faces would fall off if they ever cracked a smile." Again, how sad; for a cynical, gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christianity is a joyful faith, founded on the Good News of Jesus Christ: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Later one parishioner approached me, very upset about that we had, in his words,”interrupted Mass” for the blessing. I won't embarrass myself by describing how I responded, but I totally mishandled the situation, and missed a wonderful opportunity. What I should have said was that, yes, the Mass is a Holy Sacrifice, but it’s also a celebration, a ceremony of thanksgiving. Indeed, that’s what the word, Eucharist, means: Thanksgiving. 

First and foremost, we are thankful for God's gift of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We are also thankful for His presence in His Holy Word, which was just proclaimed in our presence. And finally, we are thankful for His presence with us as we gather here as a community of faith. "For where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

The Mass, then, is a moment to rejoice, a moment to come together in prayer, to give thanksgiving and praise, to present our petitions to God, to lay our individual and collective worries and fears at the feet of the Father. You see, God wants us to celebrate when we come together in worship. He wants us to share not only in the remarkable gift of the Eucharist, but also in each other's joys and sorrows.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He didn't begin with, My Father. He began with Our Father. And He didn't end by saying, "…deliver me from evil," but with, "…deliver us from evil." He didn't choose one apostle, He chose twelve. And He didn’t send them out alone; He sent them out in pairs. For God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that we need each other to accomplish His Will, that we need His Love, manifested through the love we have for each other, to achieve salvation.

St. Paul recognized this. In today's second reading he celebrates the various spiritual gifts that we, as Christians, receive from the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, works of mercy, prophecy, discernment, prayer in the Spirit…all wonderful gifts. But each person, each gift, by and of itself, needs the others to make a whole. Later in that same letter to the Corinthians, Paul states emphatically that the Body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many. He goes to say: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

We see this as well in today's Gospel reading, in which we find Jesus, accompanied by His Mother and His disciples, at a wedding feast at Cana. Yes, Jesus joins His people in a joyful celebration of marriage between a man and a woman. But more than that, He sanctifies this marriage by performing His first public miracle – not at a time of human sorrow, but of human happiness. 

John draws the picture of a Jesus who could enjoy Himself. Jesus chose to be there, to take part in this very human celebration, this party. It wasn’t beneath Him, but was something He sought. The Christian, who goes through life with a long face, spreading gloom behind him, should meditate long and hard on this Gospel reading.

When, in the midst of the wedding celebration, Mary notices that the wine has run out, she turns to her Son and says, "They have no wine." Mary doesn't tell Jesus what to do, she merely states the problem: They have no wine. Once again Mary is our model in prayer. God expects us to come to Him with our problems and worries, but how often do we insist on our solution? But not Mary. She lays the problem at her Son's feet and lets Him provide the solution. How does Jesus respond? "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come."

What is this "hour" about which Jesus speaks? – none other than that hour of the Last Supper, that hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, that hour as He awaits death hanging on the cross. It is this "hour" when he says: "This is my body, take it; this is my blood, drink it." It is this hour when He takes us, His people, as His spouse in an unbreakable marriage that nothing, not even sin or death, can overcome.

"I will love you," Jesus assures us, "no matter what." Even if you scourge me, crucify me, and put me to death, I will come back from the grave to love you, because nothing can make me not love you. 

This is the hour that at Cana is yet to come. But even when Jesus apparently turns her down, Mary doesn't give up. No, she simply turns to the waiters and instructs them to stand ready. Her faith and trust in God remain firm and solid.

You see, the dialogue between Mother and Son wasn’t about wine. It was about setting events into motion, events which would lead to Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection. Mary, moved by the Spirit, wordlessly tells her Son, "No, that hour has not yet come, but it is time to begin what you are here to do." And as the Gospel tells us, it was at Cana that Jesus "revealed His glory and His disciples began to believe in Him." For once the people saw Jesus' glory, they would proclaim him as Messiah, making his hour, his death, inevitable.

In reality, then, Mary was more concerned about us than she was about herself or the bride and groom. For in asking Jesus to perform this miracle, she is asking him to begin His work of redemption, a mission that can end only on the Cross. And so Jesus changes water into wine, anticipating His gift to us, changing wine into his precious blood. Jesus, then, is a gift in time from the very heart of Mary, and a gift from all eternity from the very heart of the Father.

A gift, yes; but also a demand, an urgency…"Do whatever He tells you," Mary instructs us. For with this gift we are challenged to believe in Him, to do what He does, to be what He is. This, brothers and sisters, is our vocation, the vocation of every Christian: to spend our lives changing the dark waters of despair into the wine of hope; to celebrate our joy over God's enduring love for each of us.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Curt Schilling, Yankee Fan?

Until this morning I really didn't think that Republican Scott Brown had a chance to win Tuesday's senatorial special election in Massachusetts. But now? Well, all has changed. His opponent, Democrat Martha Coakley, has committed perhaps the one unforgivable sin in that great New England commonwealth: she publicly dissed retired Red Sox pitcher and 2004 World Series savior, Curt Schilling, by calling him a Yankee fan. This could lead to a major change in voting patterns. Many of those knee-jerk Democrat machine voters who normally vote a straight party line simply because...well, they've been told to do so, might find it more than difficult to vote for someone so ignorant of one of the true heroes of Red Sox Nation.

On his official blog, Schilling wrote, "I've been called a lot of things, but never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could." You can listen to candidate Coakley's exact words below.

It's all very interesting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nancy Pelosi: There She Goes Again

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and part-time theologian, just can't help herself. It seems that every time she discusses her supposed Catholic faith, she misrepresents Church teaching in favor of the inherent evil of abortion. In the course of a Newsweek interview conducted by Eleanor Clift, Pelosi was asked about her disagreements with the Church's bishops. She responded by saying:

“I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have the opportunity to exercise their free will.”

And once again, as a result of such uninformed and scandalous comments, her bishop, San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer, was forced to correct her, lest these comments cause confusion among the faithful.

The archbishop responded by writing an article for his diocesan newspaper. It's well worth reading and can be found here: Catholic San Francisco: Archbishop's Journal.

Letter to all Priests

The Secretary of the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy, Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, has written a letter to all the world's priests. It's a beautiful letter and one that every priest should read. Pray for your parish priests and consider giving each a copy of this letter.  

Letter for All the Priests in the World

“Almighty Father, grant to these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness. As co-workers with the order of bishops may they be faithful to the ministry that they receive from you, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct.” Pontificale Romanum: De Ordinatione Episcopi, presbyterorum et diaconorum, Edition typical, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis 1990)

From the Vatican, 15th January 2010

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

A central part of the prayer of ordination recalls how the Priest is essentially a gift, and, exactly in view of that “supernatural gift”, he carries himself with a dignity which everyone, clergy and lay faithful, are called to recognise. One has in mind a dignity which is not the work of man but which is the pure gift of grace, to which one is called and which no one can demand as a right.

The dignity of the priesthood, bestowed by the “Almighty Father”, must be evident in the life of priests: in their sanctity, in their welcoming humanity full of humility and pastoral charity, in the clarity of their faithfulness to the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church, in the sobriety and solemnity of their celebration of the divine mysteries, in their ecclesiastical garb.

Everything in the priest must lead him to recall, to himself and to the world, that he is the object of an unmerited gift beyond any merit of his, which makes him an efficacious presence of the Absolute in the world for the salvation of men.

The Spirit of holiness, which one begs might be poured forth anew, is the guarantee to be able to live the vocation one has received in “holiness” and, at the same time, the condition of the very possibility to be “faithful to the ministry”.

Faithfulness is the wonderful meeting of the faithful freedom of God and the created but wounded freedom of man, which, however, through the power of the Spirit, becomes sacramentally capable “to be to others a model of right conduct”.

Far from reducing the ministerial priesthood to a moralistic category, such an exhortation shows the “fullness” of life: a life which is really thus is a life that is integrally Christian.

The Priest, clothed with the Spirit of the Almighty Father, is called to “guide” the journey of sanctification of the people entrusted to him by teaching and the celebration of the sacraments and, above all, with his own life, with the certainty that this is the only end for which the priest himself exists: Paradise!

The gift of the Father makes of the “sons-priests” his beloved; a portio electa populi Dei, which is called to “be chosen” and also to gleam by the holiness of life and the witness of faith.

May the memory of the gift received, always renewed by the Spirit and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Handmaid of the Lord and Tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, allow each Priest to “faithfully fulfil” his mission in the world, in joyful expectation of the heavenly reward kept safe for the chosen sons, who are also heirs.

X Mauro Piacenza
Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana

Friday, January 15, 2010

The World Turned Upside Down: Massachusetts' Senate Race

Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts for the U.S. Senate pits Republican State Senator Scott Brown against Democrat State Attorney General Martha Coakley. The seat has been held by a Democrat since 1962 and the idea that a Republican could win was considered ludicrous...until recently. The momentum seems to be all Brown's as the election nears, with a recent poll giving him a four-point lead. Should Brown actually win -- and President Obama will visit Massachusetts on Sunday to try to prevent this -- the repercussions will be significant. It would remove the Democrats' super majority and give the Republicans the ability to use the filibuster. This could stop health care reform and other Democrat legislation in its tracks.

Coakley, by the way, seems to shoot herself in the foot whenever possible. Yesterday she made the remarkable statement that those who for religious reasons (that is, Catholics) don't want to give rape victims an abortifacient, shouldn't work in emergency rooms. A pro-abortion Catholic -- assuming such an animal can actually exist -- Coakley pushes the abortion agenda at every opportunity. Click here to read the article from the Catholic News Agency.

By the way, Brown's earlier proposed legislation was for contraceptives not abortifacients, and also included a conscience clause for pro-life emergency room personnel.

Should be an interesting election.

Pray for the People of Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti just might turn out to be the most disastrous event in the Americas in recent memory. As of today, nobody knows how many people have perished or the full extent of the damage. The latest estimate I've heard is perhaps 200,000 deaths, an estimate that could well be on the low side. The almost unbelievable devastation, and the simple fact that Haiti's infrastructure was remarkably primitive to begin with, will make any effort to rescue survivors that much more difficult. Although aid is beginning to pour into the country, it still took valuable time to get the airport up and running 7x24. Thanks to the US Air Force for its quick response in setting up an air traffic control system, no simple task. The real problem, though, will be getting the aid to those who need it. Lacking drinkable water, a large number of survivors could literally die of thirst or disease before essential water and food can be distributed.

Apparently there were upwards of 45,000 Americans in Haiti at the time of the quake and only a small percentage have been located or contacted. I suspect it could be weeks before all are accounted for. In the aftermath, of course, the number of Americans on the ground will increase dramatically. I heard today that the the 82nd Airborne is arriving not only to assist in the distribution of emergency aid, but also to provide some semblance of security. It seem the Haitian police and other emergency services are virtually non-existent.

Archbishop Joseph Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, was killed in the quake, falling from a balcony of his destroyed residence. The archbishop was apparently a well-loved shepherd, a humble man who was close to the poor among his people. According to the Apostolic Nuncio, not only the cathedral, but all of the major churches and seminaries in Port-au-Prince were completely destroyed. Here's a link to a story via Catholic News Service: Haitian Archbishop Killed in Quake. The above photo shows the archbishop celebrating Mass with teachers and schoolchildren.

I saw that TV evangelist Pat Robertson made a rather unusual comment regarding the disaster in Haiti: "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French'." Robertson continued: "True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other."

I won't spend much time on what Robertson had to say (click here to view the video of his comments), but probably the best commentary on the subject is that by Father Dwight Longenecker on his blog, Standing On My Head.

And then there were the even more bizarre comments by actor Danny Glover, who seems to believe the earthquake in Haiti was the result of global warming and climate change: “When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m sayin’?” Should you feel the need, you can hear his complete comments here: Danny Glover and Haiti. I don't think anything else need be said. (The above photo show Mr. Glover with his friend, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.)

This sort of strangeness aside, the Haitian people are in dire straits. They need our help and I would suggest sending your financial contribution directly to Catholic Relief Services, one of the key agencies already on site in Haiti. Click here to donate. And, most importantly, the people of Haiti need our prayers. They have suffered so much, and not just from natural disasters, but also from a series of corrupt and oppressive governments. Ask God to give them the strength to withstand this calamity and to bring good from this evil.

God's peace...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Homily for Wednesday of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20; Ps 40; Mk 1:29-39

Whenever I read today’s passage from First Samuel I’m taken back to January of 1976 when our elder son spent almost a month in the ICU at the Naval Academy Hospital suffering from meningitis. For weeks Diane lived in that ICU to be with our boy. And every morning before work I’d go to Mass at the Redemptorist church out in town and pray for his recovery. And it was during those weeks that I and the rest of that small, early morning congregation heard the story of Hanna and Samuel and Eli. And, morning after morning, as the story progressed I found myself rethinking my prayer.

In those days – and I suppose this is true for too many Christians – I really knew very little about prayer. Prayer to me was largely a form of mental begging – you know, pestering God with requests, pleading with God to make changes to all those things and people in my life that didn’t seem to line up the way I thought they should. In other words, in my prayer I was focused on asking God to recreate my little corner of the world to my specifications.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking God for help in our lives, nothing wrong with offering those intentions for good things. Indeed, God encourages us to do so. And in a few moments, as a parish community, we’ll do just that. But if our prayer stops there, we run the risk of being self-centered instead of God-centered. Of course, back in 1976 I didn’t know this…until I encountered Samuel…

Yes, this child who’d been given to God by his mother, this child who would become one of the great prophets, this child taught me how to pray. For little Samuel’s prayer was so very different from my prayer. Samuel didn’t pester God with personal requests and petitions. No, he simply turned to his Lord and said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Now, this was a revelation to me. I had read these words from the Old Testament many times before, but for some reason they simply hadn’t clicked. I had never thought of these words of Samuel as prayer.

And then the very next verse…“Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” Do you see what it’s telling us? That Samuel spent his life in prayer, not so much talking to the Lord, as listening to the Lord. Remember the responsorial verse of our psalm?  “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

To do this, though, to be open to God’s will in our lives, we must learn to make our prayer a prayer of listening. We must step away from our lives, immersing ourselves in God’s life so we can better discern His will for us.

“Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” What a great refrain for anyone, any day, but especially for us now as we begin a new year. I can think of no better resolution than to strive to imitate Samuel, making our lives God-centered.

In Samuel we also see a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself, for it is Jesus Who in perfect obedience does the will of the Father. It is Jesus Who, in His humanity, becomes the servant and like Samuel can pray to the Father: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And like Samuel, Jesus rises early from His bed, left the others and, as Mark tells us, “went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Yes, we can learn from the little ones, the holy Samuels with the simple but constant faith of the child, the faith that Jesus told us to imitate.

Indeed, St. Hilary of Poitiers, whose memorial we celebrate today, recognized this when he wrote: "Little children follow and obey their father. They love their mother. They know nothing of covetousness, ill-will, bad temper, arrogance and lying. This state of mind opens the road to heaven. To imitate our Lord's own humility, we must return to the simplicity of God's little ones."

Back in 1976 my prayer changed as a result of little Samuel, but God who is unchangeable – immutable as the theologians say – still healed my young son. It was His will to do so.

Lord, let us pray today that like Samuel, we may hear your call to do Your will today, this new year, for the rest of our lives. Let today be the beginning of a new awareness that you are with us in our ills and troubles, in our hopes and happiness, so that we, too, can pray, “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Comments: Policy Change

Because of the many rather crude comments I received in response to my posts on the Texas Bowl (Navy 35, Missouri 13), I changed my comment policy so I would have to OK a comment before it was published. It seems, however, that the more rabid sports fans have since departed this blog for venues more suited to their interests; and so, I have decided to open up the comments once again. I will still, however, delete those that are rude, crude, offensive or inappropriate to the purpose of this blog. I have no problem with comments that disagree with me, as long as they are not disagreeable.

By the way, the Navy and Missouri fans were, in general, fine in their comments -- enthusiastic, passionate even, but not rude. It was all those Big-12 Missouri-haters who tended to go overboard. Interestingly, every single comment that related to the Texas Bowl -- the good and the bad -- was sent anonymously. 

Ah, well, I suppose there's no rule that says sports fans have to exhibit sportsmanship. I know this is true because I have been in the stands on many occasions at Yankee Stadium, old Ebbets Field, and Fenway Park.

Blessings...oh, yes, and Beat Army!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homily: Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29; Acts 10:34-38; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

Mary Queen of Scots, as she waited those long years in prison before being executed by her cousin, Elizabeth, had the following words embroidered on her cloth estate: “In my end is my beginning.” …words that, for Mary, symbolized the eternity of life that awaited her after death.

But they are fitting words, too, for many of this life’s transitions, for those times when something significant has ended only to be followed by something even greater. In my end is my beginning.

In that sense they are fitting words for today’s very special feast: the Baptism of the Lord. For on this day we celebrate a day of major transition in the life of Jesus. With His Baptism by John, Jesus leaves behind that part of his life about which we know so very little. His Baptism brings those early years to an emphatic end.

But His Baptism is also a beginning, the beginning of His public ministry, a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing that will culminate in God’s great redemptive act. For now Jesus begins to walk the road that ultimately will lead to His passion, death and resurrection.

In my end is my beginning.

It wasn’t John who decided to Baptize Jesus; no, it was Jesus’ decision. Just as, in the Incarnation, Jesus humbled Himself to become one of us, so too does the Son of God lower Himself to undergo Baptism at John’s hands, a Baptism in which we all share. It is this humility that Isaiah describes in today’s first reading, in words uttered hundreds of years in advance: He does not cry out; he does not shout; he does not make his voice heard in the street; he does not break the bruised reed; and he does not quench the smoldering wick.

Yes, Jesus, the perfect servant, teaches us something significant on this feast of His Baptism. For in that servitude Jesus shows us how to live the Christian life. In that servitude Jesus places Himself in the presence of the Father and the Spirit. In that servitude Jesus is loved by the Father who tells the world that this is His Son, the perfect servant, in whom He is well pleased. And in that servitude Jesus is loved by the Spirit who through His presence manifests the perfect love of the Trinity to a sinful world awaiting redemption. Yes, Jesus, the Son, was loved.
Before the first leper was ever healed or a single parable was told, He was loved. Before any sinner was embraced; before the crowds began to gather; before palm branches were cut; He was accepted. Before Jesus began His mission; before He called even one disciple, God tore open the heavens, sent down the Holy Spirit, and cried, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” What an ending! And what a beginning!  In my end is my beginning.

God’s love was present at the beginning of the journey, long before the ending was revealed.
God’s approval came from the start -- before Jesus calmed the storm or set one captive free. Jesus was beloved, even before the water became wine and before that wine, before that precious blood, was offered up for us. God’s love surrounded Jesus, not because Jesus did something, or said something, or proved something, but because He was something. He was the beloved Son of the Father.

For most of us, this kind of love is hard to understand and even harder to accept. The kind of love poured out for Jesus at his baptism…Is it really meant for us? Somehow, in our sinfulness, we’ve come to believe that God’s love must be earned, and that God’s blessings, like bonuses, are carefully calculated and rationed.We see God as a sort of heavenly CPA, keeping track of our debits and credits, instead of seeing Him as the loving Father He has revealed Himself to be.

Like Isaiah’s bruised reeds, we only feel loveable after we’ve walked on some water or fed a lot of hungry people. Smoldering wicks, we only feel accepted after we attract a crowd or successfully complete a journey.  The kind of love poured out for Jesus — if it comes to us at all — should come as a benediction, not a beginning. 
When Jesus plunged into the waters of the Jordan, he had nothing to repent. There were no sins to wash away, no emptiness to be filled, no brokenness to be made whole. But he came to the water, anyway. When Jesus plunged into the waters of the Jordan, he was not thirsting in the desert or yearning to be healed. But he came to the water, anyway.

Jesus waded into the river to join prostitutes and thieves, to join gossips and liars and haters. He joined rough soldiers and dishonest shopkeepers. He joined and tax collectors and tax cheats. Jesus doesn’t go into the waters of Baptism alone. He joins us in the water to show us that God’s love is our birthright. God’s blessing is our gift, right from the start. He comes into the water to tell us there is no village too remote, no river too foul, no place of temptation so terrible that God is not already there, waiting to take us by the hand, to lead us to salvation.

Recall the revealing words of Isaiah: “I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

Paul recognized this when he asked the Romans: “…are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Yes, brothers and sisters, in our end is our beginning. And we are truly brothers and sisters, because through our Baptism we are the Father’s children, brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This Jesus plunges into the water to open our eyes – to show us that heaven has been torn apart for us. Jesus wades into the Jordan to open our hearts – to show us that the love we are given must bear fruit. You see, the love we are given also sends us out — out into the desert, out into the crowds, back into the river with prostitutes and gossips and petty thieves. 

We are sent out — not to earn God’s love and approval, or even to bring Christ to the world – but to proclaim that Christ is already with us. We are sent out to proclaim, along with John: “Rise up! Shake the water from your eyes! God is with us, not because we did something, or said something, or proved something, but because we are something!”

Yes, brothers and sisters, through His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus shows us that God’s love is eternally present for us. The beginning of our journey came about through an act of creative love. And the end of our journey? Well, thanks to that same love, our end is just the beginning.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


      It didn't seem important

It didn’t seem important –
not at the time.
Just another poor man
dressed like the bums
who came knockin’ at the door
when I was a kid.
You do if you’re old enough,
and didn’t live in a fancy house
with a fence and a gate
to keep the riff-raff out.

It didn’t seem important.
We gave him a meal,
a good hot meal,
with a nice dessert,
and seconds, until we ran out.
That seemed like enough.
It really did.
I even brought him coffee
cream, lots of sugar
when he came in early,
as he always did.

It didn’t seem important  
at least not to me.
Handing him the cup
I could smell the booze,
the old stale smell
of cheap booze.
He’d slur a “thankya,”
but missing all those teeth
he was hard to understand,
so I’d just nod and
hurry back to the kitchen.

It didn’t seem important
until he died.
They found him lying there,
early on a cold morning,
curled up on the hard ground
behind the bushes,
right outside the door
of the soup kitchen.
It just didn’t seem important
to talk with him
or pray with him...

…and so I never did.

- Deacon Dana McCarthy