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.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Say Kids, What Time Is It?

66 years ago today, the kids in the Peanut Gallery responded to this question for the first time with, "It's Howdy Doody time!" Yes, the Howdy Doody Show premiered on NBC on December 27, 1947.

You might wonder why I would celebrate such a seemingly trivial anniversary. I have two reasons. First, that premier show is among my earliest memories. I was all of three years old at the time. Because my dad worked for General Electric back then, we had one of those early TVs with its tiny screen on which we could watch grainy, black and white images. To help capture the signals transmitted from New York City, Dad had installed a rather impressive antenna high above the roof of our rural Connecticut home. It worked...sort of. And among the shows we watched in those days was Howdy Doody. I remember being more than a little envious of the kids in that original Peanut Gallery, a memory that leads me to my second reason for celebrating today's anniversary.
Within a year we had moved to Larchmont in suburban New York. Under circumstances I cannot recall, my parents somehow obtained one of those coveted passes so I could sit in the Peanut Gallery. I suppose by this time I was about five or six. And so I got to watch the show up close and personal and actually meet Buffalo Bob Smith, Clarabell the Clown, and the rest of the cast. The mute Clarabell in those early days was played by Bob Keeshan, later of Captain Kangaroo fame.

It was a wondrous experience, although there was a downside. Because the shows were transmitted live, the folks in charge worried that we kids might cause embarrassing problems. Accordingly we were threatened with instant expulsion unless we did exactly as told. Scared the heck out of us little ones. But following the rules was still a bit of a challenge since the relatively small studio offered many distractions  not evident when watching the show on TV. Chief among these were the women puppeteers who worked the strings of the marionettes. We were supposed to watch the puppets rather than the women on the platform above them, not easy to do when you're only five. But the threats must have worked since I don't recall any of us being evicted from the Peanut Gallery.
My parents managed to claim another pass to the show a year or so later and so I joined the Peanut Gallery once again, this time as a veteran. I enjoyed this second visit far more than the first since I could pay more attention to Howdy and his friends. I suppose I'll always treasure the memory of these two happy days at NBC's New York studios, quite a privilege for a little guy, and a good reason to celebrate this anniversary.

Homily: Christmas Vigil

For the second time in a week, the readings for a Mass at which I was asked to preach included the genealogy the begins Matthew's Gospel. And so here's my second homily on this wonderful passage that spans the history of salvation from Abraham to the birth of Jesus.

Readings: Is 62:1-5; Ps 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-25

A lot of folks, when they first turn to the New Testament, get discouraged because right there on the first page of the first book of the New Testament they encounter Matthew’s genealogy. And so they skip it and jump ahead to the Nativity story.

That’s really unfortunate because, this rhythmic poetic passage is included by Matthew to tell us some very important things. For through this genealogy and the Nativity story that follows, Matthew presents the Gospel as the New Genesis. Indeed, in both sections of our passage, he uses the same opening words we find at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. And just as Genesis offers us two sides of the Creation story, so too does Matthew. He relates the New Genesis story in two very different ways.

Matthew’s genealogy summarizes the entire history of Israel, almost 2,000 years, from Abraham all the way to Jesus Christ. Then, in the first line of the Nativity story, he proclaims that we are reading about “the beginning” – yes, the beginning, the Genesis of Jesus Christ. Here Matthew presents us with a major Gospel theme: the New Testament doesn’t replace the Old; it fulfills it. And at the very core of this understanding is the “Good News” for it permeates both Old and New Testaments.

Matthew first aims this Good News directly at you and me: at sinners. He does so by drawing our attention to Judah, Tamar, Rahab, and David. He reminds us that the sinful relationship between Judah and Tamar led eventually to King David and ultimately to Jesus Himself. He reminds us that Rahab, Boaz’s mother, was a prostitute, and that Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. And we recall how David seduced her and had her husband killed so he could marry her.

Yes, Jesus’s family tree is littered with sinners, just like mine and just like yours. But through this revelation we come to realize the depth of God’s mercy. Despite our sinfulness, we’re all called into God’s family. What a gift!

Through Matthew God pleads with us to extend mercy to others. For in that genealogy we encounter those who went far beyond the demands of the law:  Judah, Boaz, Uriah, and especially Joseph…It’s a plea expressed explicitly a few chapters later in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.” Christmas, then, is the perfect time to repair shattered relationships, the perfect time to extend mercy to others and to yourself.

But Matthew’s not finished. He also reminds us that God’s ways are not man’s ways. Throughout the genealogy we find God rejecting our human laws, tossing aside the patterns of inheritance and choosing whom He will choose. Jacob is “the father of Judah and his brothers” –Yes, here and elsewhere Matthew reminds us that God often bypasses first sons and chooses younger brothers like Judah to lead His People. This, too, is Good News, for unlike man, God is not only merciful, but His ways are just.

God continues to pile Good News on top of Good News…for the family of Jesus, the family of the Kings of Israel, is not a family of ethnic purity. It’s filled with Gentiles. With the sole exception of Mary, the women mentioned are all Gentiles: Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites, Ruth a Moabite, Bathsheba a Hittite. God’s plan of salvation, then, is universal. Humanity, and that includes every one of us, is called into God’s family.

This is the message of Christmas, brothers and sisters, the message of the angel: "You shall name him Jesus and he shall be called Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."  God is with us – not some nameless, faceless them, but us…and not some of us, but all of us. This is the message of a passionate God. It’s the message of a God whose love is overpowering.

This is what we celebrate: God’s fierce zeal for us, His commitment not to leave us abandoned. It comes down to this: God is unwilling to leave us in the darkness of our own sinfulness. What we have in Christmas is a terrible desire on God's part to "be with us," to be part of the human condition: God with us in our entirety. Quite simply, God just won’t let us alone. He wants to be Emmanuel.

And it’s this remarkable action on God’s part, this divine decision to become one of us, that so many have trouble accepting. Inundated by materialism, by the spiritual sickness of the world, so many forget why the Magi carried those first gifts to a newborn baby in a manger. The true Christmas message isn’t amazon dot com. It’s Emmanuel, God with skin on and a human face. God became one of us to turn His face to us, to speak words of comfort, reconciliation, and redemption, words we can understand. It’s this gentle birth we celebrate tonight; it’s this gentle birth that heralds our salvation.

Not long ago at the soup kitchen, while schmoozing with our guests, I spotted a mother and her little baby girl. As I approached, little Alisha saw my smile and reached out her arms to me. I couldn’t resist. I picked up this beautiful child and she just snuggled right up against me and buried her little head into my chest with her tiny hands gripping my shoulders.

My first thought? “Here’s a little baby that needed some hugging.” Then I realized how wrong I was. Alisha had been perfectly happy being held by her mom, with whom I could never hope to compete. No, Alisha didn’t need my hugs; but she knew that I sure needed hers. You see, brothers and sisters, in a very real way, this little baby is the meaning of Christmas. God with us. God with Alisha. For that brief moment Alisha is God’s love. Alisha is Christmas. She’s God's arms; she’s God’s zeal; she’s God’s passion for each of us.

For God loves us despite our foolishness. He loves us with our broken lives, our selfishness, our tattered relationships, our foolish sins. God is two tiny arms determined to break into our lives. He’s a fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but embraces the least likely along with most likely.

This is what the feast of Christmas is about -- an enormously unrelenting love feast. And not a sappy sentimental love, but a love as searing as any passionate romance. Christmas is God's fulfilled desire to be with us. This is what and why we celebrate. This is His gift.

If God isn’t Emmanuel, if He’s not with us, if He hasn’t embraced our tattered lives, then woe unto us. If God isn’t with us, there’s no hope, no light, only darkness and despair. If God isn’t with us, we’re here tonight out of fruitless hope, or pressured routine, or empty sentimentality.

But if we’re here out of love, if we’re here like ragtag shepherds to kneel and rejoice and let God take us in His arms, then we’ve caught the meaning of Christmas: Emmanuel, the passionate God, has had his way and has hugged us fiercely. When sin, suffering and death scatter our souls far and wide that’s when we need God the most. And that’s when Jesus comes to us to guide us to His Father’s loving arms.

It’s all grace, brothers and sisters. It’s all gift. What more is there to say on this Christmas Eve? And so tonight, as we sit quietly and let God’s love comfort us, as we gaze upon the scene of that first Christmas Eve so long ago, we invite the words of the carol into our hearts…

Silent night, Holy Night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia”
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born.

A blessed, peaceful and holy Christmas to each and every one of you, and to all your loved ones, near and far.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Dragons, Men...oh, yes, and a Wizard and a Hobbit

Sunday afternoon Dear Diane and I sat in the very comfortable seats at one of our many theaters here in The Villages, munched overpriced popcorn, and watched the 3-D version of the latest Hobbit movie, the second of the trilogy. Unlike many Tolkien purists who have criticized the film on pretty much every level, I have to admit I kinda enjoyed it. Let me explain why.

Before watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I knew that one can't expect Hollywood to follow any book very closely. Film versions of books will always include unexpected and inexplicable omissions, gratuitous additions, and odd changes. I knew that any movie based on a book that I truly enjoyed will always disappoint. All the producers, directors, screenwriters, and actors just can't help themselves. Overflowing with self-importance, they're certain they can improve any story, particularly one written by an old Oxford academic. And so they refashion the story to suit their own whims and to cater to their concept of what the prevailing marketplace wants. Today's mover-makers are also very taken by all the remarkable and very cool technology that allows them to create worlds and beings that most of us can't even imagine. They create these things simply because they can, resulting in a dumbed-down finished product, a sort of fantasy of a fantasy.

Despite all this I enjoyed the LOTR movies and even purchased a DVD set which I've since watched a few times. I enjoyed them because I sat down knowing I'd be disappointed unless I tried mightily to suppress any expectations based on Tolkien's three volumes. I decided to view the movies as stand-alone stories, divorced from Tolkien's books, and was at least partially successful. I'm sure Diane will agree that I didn't gripe too much about the differences. I tried doing the same with the first Hobbit film, but failed horribly. Overwhelmed by special effects and action scenes that lasted far too long, the story and the characters suffered. I left the theater disappointed.

On Sunday I entered the theater hoping that part two would be an improvement and that I would be less critical. I can honestly sat that I came away far less disappointed than before. I realize that's hardly a rousing endorsement, but it's very difficult to set aside Tolkien's wonderful tale, especially when I've read it many times over the years.

What did I like? The dragon. Smaug was wonderfully depicted, the perfect CGI creature and I truly enjoyed him and his interplay with Bilbo. The film is also visually striking, almost overwhelming in its depiction of the places encountered by Bilbo and the dwarves. Some folks have objected to the CGI versions of the orcs, but I found them perfectly nasty if a bit incompetent in carrying out their evil work. But the good guys are always supposed to be more capable than the bad guys.

My disappointment centers on the needless changes to the story itself, especially the diminished roles played by Bilbo and Gandalf. Neither seemed to know what they were doing. It was as if they were along for the ride and were simply thrust from one dark crisis to another by a sadistic screenwriter. And the dwarves just didn't look like dwarves. Indeed one was so good looking he attracted the attention of a female elf who was apparently added to the story for a bit of inter-species romance and to demonstrate that females are equal opportunity warriors. In truth the dwarves acted more like the seven dwarves of Snow White fame as they stumbled and bumbled their way through the script. Legolas, his she-warrior sidekick, the elfin king, indeed all the elves we encounter, are not at all very elf-like. They lack any of the ethereal, almost angelic qualities Tolkien attributes to them. They become instead merely super-warriors, and are diminished as a result.

But I can't help it, for I am far too easily amused. I enjoyed all the cool CGI and the 3-D effects, so if you too like that sort of thing, go see the movie. Just don't expect to find very much of J.R.R. Tolkien there.

First Things Erasmus Lecture: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

I've embedded below a video of this year's Erasmus Lecture, sponsored by First Things magazine. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks delivered this lecture on October 21 to an audience of 500 people gathered at the Union League Club in New York. Rabbi Sacks explains that in today's world faith is considered irrelevant at best and that Christians and Jews must learn to live in the world as creative minorities. I found the talk very interesting...lots to think about.

You'll need about an hour to watch the entire video; but really, think of how many hours you waste doing non-productive things. I trust you'll find it worthwhile.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Renewing Your Spiritual Life

Despite the ever-lengthening Christmas shopping season and all the hubbub surrounding it, this holy day always seems to arrive suddenly. Advent, the liturgical time of preparation for the Lord's coming, just flies by and I'm usually left with a sense of spiritual incompletion, of things left undone. Here we are, just three days from the celebration of Our Lord's birth, and I find myself wishing I had done a better job tuning out all the commercial noise that tries to overwhelm any expression of the true Christmas message. Pushing aside these distractions, I have decided to look ahead to the New Year and the opportunity to change things, to grow spiritually. 

When it comes to the spiritual life, I've always believed it best to keep things simple, and so I was particularly pleased to stumble across an interesting piece written by Fr. Thomas Bolin, OSB, a Benedictine monk of the Monastery of San Benedetto in Italy. His article offers us seven simple principles of the spiritual life. Three principles address our relationship with God and four focus on how we should live our lives. Here they are in brief:

  1. To keep God in mind at all times.
  2. To trust in God as much as possible.
  3. To do all things for the love of God.
  4. Not to trust in oneself.
  5. Not to seek oneself.
  6. To do all things with joy.
  7. To be as energetic as possible.

Fr. Thomas
If, like me, you want to deepen and renew your spiritual life, following these principles is certainly a wonderful way to do so. To understand better how to incorporate them into your life, read Fr. Bolin's article. It's not long and well worth a few minutes of your time. Here's the link: Seven Principles of the Spiritual Life. By the way, for those who are interested in topics related to Holy Scripture, Fr. Bolin's book, On the Inerrancy of Scripture, is available in an online version.

Father Bolin, an American who graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California (from which our eldest daughter, Erin, also graduated), earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria, and is now working on his doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. 

Best wishes for a holy and happy Christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Strange, Unexpected and Tragic Things

(Late Note: my apologies for the bad links in the earlier post. They have now been fixed.)

Every once in a while I can't help myself and I get "political". Here are Just a few interesting and strange things I encountered in the news today...

John Kerry. It seems our Secretary of State, a man by the way, who shopped for combat decorations and told some whoppers about his service on swift boats in Vietnam, apparently doesn't realize that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. In an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, Secretary Kerry said, "To have a nuclear weapon, potentially, in the hands of somebody like Kim Jong In - Jun just becomes even more unacceptable." Potentially? Uh, Mr. secretary, the North Koreans have tested nuclear weapons at least three times. Kim Jong Un already has these weapons. Ain't nothin' potential 'bout that. Read the transcript here.

Presidential Polls. As of today polling shows that a sizable majority of Americans believe the president lied when he repeatedly told the nation that under the so-called Affordable Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- we could keep our health care plans and doctors, period! The 2014 election cycle should be really interesting, especially for the Democrat House and Senate members who supported Obamacare and are up for reelection. Oh, yeah, as I recall every single Democrat in the Senate and the vast majority of Democrat House members voted for the act...without ever reading it.

Duck Dynasty. Interesting stuff. Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch, has been placed on indefinite hiatus (i.e., fired) by the A&E Network for his blunt comments about sin and the homosexual lifestyle in a GQ magazine interview. Since then, the vast majority of TV's talking heads have labeled the interview a big mistake by Robertson, who they believe didn't consider what his "inflammatory" words might lead to. One wag, Howard Bragman, of stated, "There's too much money at stake. Although he plays kind of a hick on TV, I don't think he's dumb. I think he gets what's at stake here. And I hope people on his team, the network and his producers get the message that what he did was wrong." Dana Perino, a regular on the Fox News show, The Five, just couldn't stop wringing her little hands over the fact that gays and many others were so very offended that Robertson called homosexual activity sinful and lumped it together with greed, bestiality, adultery, terrorism, and other sins. Well, Dana, duh! Orthodox Christianity -- and here I'll include Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most Evangelicals, etc. -- all believe and teach this. These things are sinful, but like Phil Robertson, we hate the sin but love the sinner. And like Phil, too, we know we're all sinners.

I suspect most of these inside-the-beltway folks have never watched the show or they'd realize what is truly important to the Robertsons. What all these upwardly mobile, dollar-driven, and PR-obsessed media flacks don't realize is that for Phil Robertson and his family, the money, the show's success, and the "bad" PR resulting from his comments are all secondary concerns. This family is a Christian family that accepts Christian moral teaching. Living and professing their faith is more important to them than a TV show and they will gladly walk away from their lucrative A&E gig rather than compromise their beliefs. Phil Robertson may have been overly graphic in his choice of words, but he spoke only what he and many Christians believe. Personally, I consider him a courageous man. May his tribe increase!

And for those homosexuals who see Phil Robertson and other believing Christians as threats, I suggest they look east and see what's happening to homosexuals in Islamic nations. Indeed, even in India Muslim clerics are issuing fatwas against homosexuals, calling for the execution of gays and unmarried couples who have live-in relationships:  "A person may be burnt alive, pushed from a high wall or be beaten publically with stones if he indulges into either of the two behaviours." I predict the gay activists who have been so vocal about the Robertson clan will say nothing about these atrocities since they're not committed by Christians. The photo below shows two young homosexuals, Mahmoud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, about to be hanged in Iran. Read more here.

Lying is OK. That's right, according to some in the mainstream media it's okay to lie if by doing so you support the progressive agenda. Several media types have recently stated openly that it's perfectly acceptable to lie for politically correct reasons. During a panel discussion, MSNBC host, Toure Neblett, stated, “If a lie is being told to a corporation, it’s not really a lie" -- an interesting comment coming from an employee of Comcast, a major corporation. Panel member Josh Barro agreed, saying in effect that corporations lie in their advertising so we can lie to them. And then there was Matt Yglesias, the liberal blogger at JournoList who confidently included this missive on Twitter: “Fighting dishonesty with dishonesty is sometimes the right thing for advocates to do..."  It's all reminiscent of an interview with Dan Rather back in 2001 when, speaking of Bill Clinton and honesty, he said, “I think at core he’s an honest person...but I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”

Killer of Christians Convicted. Two years ago, on Christmas Eve, a bomb exploded in St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a suburb of the Nigerian capital. The attack killed 37 Catholic parishioners and wounded 57 more. It was carried out by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, a group that believes Christians must either convert or be killed. This week a Nigerian court sentenced Kabiru Sokoto to life imprisonment for his role in the deadly attack. This was a courageous decision by the court since Boko Haram has not hesitated to target government officials who act against it. Read more here.

The devastation of Nigerian Christian communities is ongoing and over 200 Christians have been murdered by Islamist terrorists in the past six months. Condemning the attacks on Christian communities, Bishop Michael Apochi of the Diocese of Otukpo, stated that “Life has become unbearable for our church members who have survived these attacks, and they are making worship services impossible.” You can read more on the persecution of Nigerian Christians here.

Prince Charles Surprise. The future King, assuming he outlives his mum, is usually very careful not to utter a disparaging word against anything Islamic. But even Charles has apparently been forced to admit that Islamists are systematically killing Christians. For Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the so-called Arab Spring has resulted only in dramatically increased persecution. At a London reception at Clarence House, the prince informed his guests that "For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding...The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time." Read more here.

Inside the Beltway...They Really Hate Us. The Washington Post, the fish-wrapper of record in our nation's capital, has let the cat out of the bag by revealing how the DC types really feel about those who live elsewhere. Because much of America disapproves of how these parasites feed greedily on their money, the Post calls them "haters". (Click here to read the Post piece.)  

Republicans winning big among haters, Post-ABC poll finds

It's been an interesting year. I have a feeling 2014 will be far more interesting. Reading about all the strangeness in the world, I find myself especially comforted knowing that God is in charge...because we sure aren't.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Homily: December 18

Readings: Jer 23:5-7; Psalm 72; Mt 1:18-25

St. Joseph's Dream
As we move toward the end of our Advent journey, today’s readings give us a glimpse into what this season is all about. Pausing to get closer to Jesus, we ask for the grace to let Him into our hearts.

In doing so we join with St. Joseph, the righteous man who always seeks God’s will. He was a man who trusted, one who remained continually dependent on God’s next word. For Joseph, the just man, must learn to grow in God’s love and grace. He must experience, as we all must, the trial of faithfulness, the trial of perseverance in seeking out the will of God in his life.

Yes, Joseph waits patiently for God to speak, just as God waits patiently for Joseph to grow in fidelity to His will. And God makes a promise to Joseph, the promise of Emmanuel: God With Us. What a promise it is, what a revelation. And like Joseph we often can’t imagine what that promise means for us...because this promise is given to all of us, brothers and sisters, God is with us.

It's a promise God has made to His people from the beginning. We hear it in our first reading from Jeremiah: “…the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David” And despite all the darkness all the uncertainty he faced, Jeremiah trusted in God’s promise.

It’s right that Joseph and Jeremiah should trust because this promise is at the core of the Good News which is meant for all generations. When we see the world shrouded in so much darkness, we can trust completely in the light of Christ to guide us. When we experience deep discouragement in our lives, when we’re overcome by fears or worries, when the challenges seem too great to face, we need to recall God’s words to Joseph: God is with us.

We are not alone. Like Joseph, we need only accept God’s presence. Turn to Jesus today and let Him enter your heart. Push aside the obstacles that you and world place in His path. 

Pope Francis recently wrote that many today act as if God doesn’t exist. 

A “practical relativism”, he called it, “a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost.”  Say no to selfishness. Avoid the pragmatism that transforms us into “mummies” – lifeless beings who deny the reality and the hope of Jesus Christ.

In the pope’s words: “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds…Say yes to a new relationship with Jesus.”

This is our Advent call: to open our hearts to Jesus’ coming today, in the midst of our darkness, often a very personal darkness.

If I let him love me, forgive me, tell me I’m not alone, then I can face any challenge with hope, even when our union with Jesus leads us to the Cross, we are with him on the path to eternal life.

“Come, Lord Jesus,” into our hearts today.

Homily: December 17

For the past few evenings our pastor, Father Peter, conducted a mission in the parish on the meaning and spirituality of the Eucharist. It was a wonderful mission in which he shared many insights into God's gift of this special sacrament, the "source and summit of the Christian life." Yesterday evening we completed the mission with a Mass of Thanksgiving, at which Father Peter was assisted by the deacons of the parish. I was honored to be asked to preach. The following is my homily.


Readings: Gn 49:2, 8-10; Psalm 72; Mt 1:1-17

One of our sons is very into genealogy. So far he’s limited his efforts to my wife’s side of the family. Among her ancestors – and sadly they’re all very English – are many early settlers in Virginia, officers who fought in the American Revolution, and even an adviser to the first Queen Elizabeth.

I hope our son tires of all this before he begins to investigate my family, mostly Irish dirt farmers who probably worked as serfs for Diane’s ancestors. I’d prefer to leave them in the fog of family history.

My Grandfather, Father and Great-grandfather (1911)
And yet, our roots, even when they’re not very distinguished, have real meaning, don’t they? Indeed, one of my favorite family photos was taken over a century ago, in 1911. It’s a photo of my father, who was just a toddler, standing with his father and grandfather. Looking at it the other day, my grandchildren came to mind. For them, that same photo will be even more remarkable, since it depicts their great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great grandfather.

Now for the McCarthys, that’s something, since in their poverty my ancestors didn’t generate a lot of genealogical material. But that’s better than a friend. Adopted as an infant he never knew anything about his birth family. And then sadly, when he 16, his adoptive parents died in an accident. He was again an orphan. As he liked to say, “I’m a man with no roots.” He said it as a joke, but always with a trace of sadness.

I once told him he was wrong – that as a Catholic he had deep roots, spiritual roots that stretched back 4,000 years to Abraham, our father in faith. Not only that, I told him, but you can trace that spiritual lineage from the priest who baptized you, through the bishop who ordained him, all the way back to the apostles and to Jesus Himself. And from there he need only turn to the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel and follow the path all the way back to Abraham.

Through his faith his roots are deeper, stronger and longer lasting than any family roots. Indeed, they’re so strong they’ll carry him all the way to eternal life. And do you know something wonderful? You and I share those roots, we have that same family tree.

What a gift this is! And it’s one of the key messages of the Gospel. The Gospel takes us deeply into those spiritual roots, and binds us in a living connection with Jesus Christ Himself.

In many respects, each of our four Gospels begins with the same message: each identifies Jesus, and each in a different way.

Mark, in his usual Sergeant Friday, just-the-facts-Ma’am approach, begins by saying: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” [Mk 1:1] Yes, Mark wastes no time telling us who Jesus is.

Luke, well he’s much more subtle and takes half a chapter before he finally gets to Jesus, and then he lets the angel Gabriel do the honors: “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” [Lk 1:35]

And John? He echoes the opening words of the Book of Genesis and proclaims the eternal divinity of the Logos, of Jesus, the creative Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” [Jn 1:1]

But Matthew is different. Writing to a Jewish audience, he offers them a very Jewish family tree of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. He begins by proclaiming: “...the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” [Mt 1:1]

Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham…These are titles any Jew would recognize, for these are Messianic titles. At the very start, Matthew is declaring Jesus to be the Messiah, the chosen one.

Then, filled with the Spirit, he presents us with a family tree, one generation after another…right here in the very first verses of the New Testament. It’s as if God can’t wait to tell us all about His family.

Realize first that Matthew didn’t intend his genealogy to be complete. And his Jewish readers would know this too. No, Matthew wants to make a point. He wants his readers to understand and accept Jesus’s messianic roots. And so he divides his genealogy into three sections of 14 names, or 6 sections, each with 7 names. To the Jew 7 and 14 symbolized completion or perfection. And so Jesus would complete this by being the first and only name in the 7th group. For a Jew that was about as perfect as you could get.

Many of the names we recognize, although some sound a bit strange to us; but they’re all real people and they give us a glimpse into the entire history of God’s People. As we run through that list of names we encounter every aspect of human life, and not just the good parts, but also murder, treachery, incest, adultery, prostitution…

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary
Among these names are those of 5 women, not something often found in ancient genealogies. The last is Mary herself, but the first four – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba – are all Gentiles: 2 Canaanites, a Moabite, and a Hittite. Yes, Jesus’s family wasn’t so purely Jewish, was it? Those Gentiles among His ancestors highlight the fact that He came from all of us, for all of us.

And it was also a family of sinners. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to fool her father-in-law, Judah, and ending up giving birth to his twin sons. Rahab was a prostitute, and yet a faithful woman. And Bathsheba? King David watched her bathing from the roof of his house, invited her in, seduced her, and had her husband killed, so he could marry her. And Solomon, their son, who started right with God, eventually joined his many wives in worshiping idols.

Some members, like Mary and Joseph, are extraordinary; others, Ruth and Josiah, are faithful; some, like Manasseh and Rehoboam, are despicable; others, like Eliud and Azor, are anonymous, nondescript, men about which we know nothing.

Yes, welcome to my family, Jesus tells us, welcome to my world. It’s the world we encounter when we open the Bible and realize how forgiving our God is. We discover that Jesus’s family is a human family and like most human families, has its share of saints and sinners. But from this, we learn that God’s plan was accomplished through them all, and that He continues to work through us, His people.

Matthew completes his genealogy with the words: “...Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” [Mt 1:16]

The genealogy relates father to son, father to son, father to son…except here. For Matthew does not declare Joseph to be the father of Jesus. Jesus, the Christ, is born of Mary, the virgin, with God as His Father.

Abba! Father!
I’ll repeat myself: what a gift this genealogy is, to be members of God’s eternal family! Indeed, what a gift all of Revelation is!

Do you realize how blessed we are to be Catholic Christians? What we believe and how we worship are not things that we’ve concocted. For Christianity is really a revelation rather than a religion. Christianity is God’s Word and God’s Work; it’s not something we came up with. It’s not a collection of man’s feeble attempts to placate some higher power. It comes totally from God Himself.

We believe that God revealed Himself to us through all those many generations that Matthew enumerates in his genealogy. It’s a Revelation that runs from Abraham to Moses to David through all the prophets and eventually to Jesus Himself – the fulfillment of it all. Yes, it’s a revelation that reaches its climax in the Incarnation when Mary gives birth, as Matthew describes it, to “Jesus, who is called the Christ.” [Mt 1:16]

You see, brothers and sisters, it’s all a gift. As St. Paul asked the Corinthians: “What do you possess that you have not received?” [1 Cor 4:7] The answer, of course, is “Nothing!”

And right there at the top of the list of God’s gifts, is that which we receive through our Baptism: the gift of adoption. We became sons and daughters of the Father, part of the Family of God. And so we can join Jesus on that same family tree described by Matthew. We become heirs and can inherit the fruit of the promises God made to Abraham and to all those who followed him. But as members of God’s family we must behave as any good son or daughter would behave. We must live in a way that honors the father, in a way that doesn’t dishonor the family.

Another great gift that comes out of this adoption is the privilege of eating at the table of the Family of God. Yes, we can take part in the Eucharistic Feast, the Mass. And what a gift this is! For here, at this altar, Jesus Christ, gives Himself to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, and allows us, members of His family, to join Him in the most intimate way imaginable. Here, as we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we also join each other in a unique Communion.

Pope Benedict wrote that “Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us His Body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated, where the Lord Himself never ceases to be found anew; in the Eucharist the Church is most completely herself – in all places, yet one only.”

Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, is like a great family Thanksgiving dinner, and yet far more wonderful and fulfilling than any family meal at home.

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God!

Let us rejoice that our names are written in heaven, as members of the family of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homily: Third Sunday of Advent - Year A

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy, a day on which we’d normally wear rose-colored vestments, but unfortunately we don’t have any. Perhaps after we move into the new church, some kind and generous parishioner will donate a set for the priest and deacon.

I’m starting to sound like the pastor now, aren’t I? I’d better begin my homily…

Back in the seventies the wife of a friend just upped and left him and their children, saying that she had to “find herself.” There was a lot of that going around back then – men and women leaving their families in search of something else, presumably something better.

I’ve always found that a bit odd – people going off in search of themselves, when what they really seek is right there in front of them and within them. Certainly as Christians we believe no one can encounter themselves until and unless they encounter Jesus Christ.

But who is this Jesus? Is He God? Is He man? Is He both? Do we accept or reject Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we acknowledge Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God?

Our answers determine both our entire worldview and how we view ourselves; for once we accept Jesus for who He is, those identity crises disappear. In a word, we find ourselves.

When we find ourselves in Jesus, He becomes the very center of our being. It’s then we begin to experience the distance between who we are and who we’re called to be.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist has his disciples ask these same questions of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” [Mt 11:3]

I’ve always believed John knew full well the answer to his question, but his purpose was to release his disciples, to turn them into Jesus’ disciples. After all, wasn’t John the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease”? [Jn 3:30]

Didn’t John, as an unborn infant, leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived at his mother’s doorstep? [Lk 1:41] If the infant knew who Jesus was, then surely the adult knew as well. And hadn’t John, as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, watched the Spirit descend and heard the voice of the Father praising the Son? [Mt 3:13-17]

No, John he knew his mission was ending. Locked in Herod’s prison, facing execution, John had only to convince his disciples of this same truth. Indeed, this would be the final act of his mission: to send his disciples to Jesus, He who must increase.

John’s question was not about himself; it was about Jesus. John didn’t need to find himself; he needed to help others find Jesus. That had been His mission all along.

How fitting this all is. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just sent out his disciples to evangelize, to bring His saving presence to others [Mt 10]. And then John sends his disciples to Jesus, seeking answers: Is Jesus the One revealed by the prophets, the fullness of Revelation? John teaches his disciples one more thing: “Go to Jesus. Ask Him yourselves, and you will see.”

“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”
Jesus’s answer, neither “Yes” nor “No”, must have disappointed some, but John understood. For in answering the prophet’s question Jesus turned to Isaiah, another prophet. The passage, originally written to celebrate the return from the Babylonian Exile, is also a revelation describing the reign of the Messiah.

Calling on Isaiah, Jesus testifies to the signs that are taking place…by Him, in Him, and through Him. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; the poor—those who are outcasts, those without hope—hear the Good News. The Kingdom of God is at hand. And Jesus adds a beatitude, a blessing: tell John that those who take no offense at me, who are not disappointed in me, are blessed.

After this we hear no more of John. Stripped of his disciples, his mission complete, he dies at the hands of Herod: “He must increase. I must decrease.”

The Messiah has come, but, we still wait don’t we?  Yes, Jesus is present and working through His Body, the Church. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses. Jesus forgives. Jesus brings back to life that which was dead. Jesus brings good news to those who despair. And He will come again in glory, but He must still come more fully into each of our lives.

In a few moments Father will pray these words in today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Payer: “It is by His gift that already we rejoice…so that He may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise.”

Are we doing that? As individuals, as a Catholic community, are we “watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise?” In the words of Pope Francis, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

But do we share our joy, and do so with the same patience and love urged by St. James in our 2nd reading?

You see, our Christian vocation is not unlike John’s. We’re called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our hearts, and into the hearts of others, so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation", that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone give real meaning to our lives. 

How many have yet to know the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ? What will be the message they receive about your life and mine? Do our lives bring hope to others?

What about those who are searching? So many today search in vain, looking in all the wrong places, seeking themselves, but finding nothing.

Or those for whom Jesus is simply a name? When they ask, “Is Jesus the One, or do we look for another?” -- How do we respond? Will our lives, our voices, open their ears to the Word of God?

Do we give the answer Jesus gave? Do we offer them the light of Christ, the light of hope that helps the spiritually blind see, the light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives?

And the lame, those crippled by hatred. Or today’s lepers – the ostracized, the cast-offs, the forgotten – those filled with self-hatred. Will you and I take Jesus and the hope of salvation to them, or will they look for another? Go to the nursing homes, the soup kitchens, the shelters. Bring hope where there is despair. Bring the good news to those who hear so much bad news.

We’re also sent to raise the dead, but don’t look for them in the cemetery. No, to find the dead, the spiritually dead, go to the prisons and jails. There you will find the hopeless, those who have never known love.

Put all that is hurting, stained, impoverished, and dead and lay it at the Lord’s feet. He’ll pick it up, so nothing will come between us and Jesus Christ.

Shame and hatred and sin paralyze, brothers and sisters. Only the love of Christ brings healing.

This is our vocation: to be healers and prophets, to pave the way for Jesus Christ in the world.

Our lives must reflect God’s Love within us, so the world might experience conversion, and know that the Kingdom is here, in Christ and in His Church!

Christmas is a time of gifts -- giving and receiving…so let’s include the Christian joy we’ve received among the gifts we take to others, the joy we celebrate today on this Sunday of Joy.

The world doesn’t need to find itself. It needs only to find Jesus Christ. And you and I are the ones God sends into the world so those in search of Jesus need not look for another!

Blessed are those who are not disappointed in us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homily: Wednesday 2nd Week of Advent - Year 2

Readings: Is 40:25-31; Psalm 103; Mt 11:28-30

“…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

When I first heard these words as a child, I asked my dad what a yoke was. I thought it had something to do with eggs. Well, he was a big believer in showing rather than telling, so he opened the family encyclopedia to a picture of a pair of oxen bound together with a yoke and pulling a very large wagon. Now, that yoke didn’t look very easy and that wagon didn’t look very light, so I asked why Jesus would want us to be pulling heavy wagons.

That when my dad gave me my first lesson on metaphors. Hey...I was only seven. And at that age I had yet to learn that for many, life can be very hard, so I just took my dad’s word for it. He was, after all, the smartest person I knew. Now, decades later, I’ve experienced a few of those hardships myself, and have witnessed many more in the lives of others.

I find it especially interesting that the Church selects this Gospel passage from Matthew during Advent, the season when we seem always to be asking God to come to us; because here in Matthew’s Gospel, it’s Jesus who’s doing the calling.

“Come to me,” Jesus calls to us.

“Come to me,” He says to the single mother working two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

“Come to me,” He says to the cancer patient undergoing an exhausting regimen of chemo.

“Come to me,” He says to the prisoner facing years behind bars.

“Come to me,” He says to the unemployed father of three who doesn’t know how he’ll support his family.

“Come to me,” He says to the wife who’s watching Alzheimer’s take her husband of fifty years from her.
Yes, Jesus calls all those who labor and are oppressed, all those who suffer under such horrific burdens. And did you notice what He tells them, what He tells us? He calls on us to take up His yoke. That’s right, not our own yoke, not the one under which we labor and are burdened, not the one the world tries to crush us under...but His yoke.

Jesus wants to take our yoke, all our burdens, from us. “I’ll handle it,” He says. “Look, you take mine…Oh, and the only way you can do this is by learning from me.”

What are we to learn? The answer's right there in the Gospel passage we just heard: meekness and humility. And once again Jesus is in conflict with the world; for meekness and humility are certainly not prized commodities.

But it’s only when we’re meek, only when we’re humble, that we can allow God to take our burdens from us. Only when we set aside our pride can we, in all humility, accept the gift of His easy yoke, his light burden.

The arrogant and the proud don’t want to accept that gift. They want to hold onto their burdens: “Not so fast, God, those are my burdens You’re trying to take. I can handle them. I don’t need You.” Of course, they can’t handle them, and with grace, they just might come to learn that they do need God.

That’s the key, brothers and sisters; that’s the open secret: No matter how heavy they are, we need only lift all of life's burdens from our shoulders, and in all humility hand them to Jesus.

He’ll replace them with something so light we won’t even feel it.

God doesn’t make things hard for us. He makes things easy. We need only ask.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Just Some Things Worth Mentioning

Every so often I like to make the readers of this blog -- a tiny but most influential group of folks with far too much time on their hands -- aware of some recent developments that have caught my interest. Despite all the weirdness that percolates through the media and seeps into the common understanding, there are many interesting things happening in the world. Here are just a few that have attracted my attention.

G. K. Chesterton Canonization Cause. One of the great Catholic converts of the 20th Century is being considered as a candidate for sainthood. Check out this statement on the Chesterton cause by Father Ian Boyd, C.S.B., President of the G. K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture at Seton Hall University.

I was first introduced to Chesterton when I was in high school and accidentally came across a few of his books in my dad's library, and I've loved him ever since. I suppose I can say without fear of contradiction that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have read Chesterton and those who haven't. If you fall among those in the latter category your life is woefully incomplete. Pick up a copy of Orthodoxy, first published in 1908 before Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism, and still in print, and then just go on from there reading any of the dozens of books written by Chesterton. If you're a Kindle user, try this remarkable collection of 21 Chesterton works: The Chesterton Reader. And if you still want more, you can turn to Ignatius Press which is publishing an ambitious multi-volume edition of Chesterton's complete works.

Atheists Tell Pope Francis Not To Pray. The very presence of atheists has always amazed me. After all, if one believes we're just evolutionary accidents, well, what's the sense of living? Why suffer life's difficulties and pains when one's ultimate end will be just oblivion? I suppose that's why so many atheists end up committing suicide as they begin to experience the physical and mental complications that often accompany old age. But until then they seem to get all excited about anyone who believes in anything more than nothing.

For example, when Pope Francis prayed for those in the Philippines who were suffering from the effects of the recent typhoon, atheists in Southern California came unglued and spent their loose change on a number of billboards. Their complaint? Instead of asking his flock to engage in meaningless prayer, the pope should have asked Catholics to do something constructive by sending money to the storm victims. According to Dave Muscato, spokesman for, "We want to make sure that people understand that when you pray the only thing you are doing is making yourself feel better...but if you want to help, you actually need to do something." Of course, Mr. Muscato conveniently overlooks the fact that believers give huge amounts to charity, far more per capita than atheists, who it would seem prefer to spend their money on billboards attacking the pope. Ah well...pray for them.

Obama Administration Fines Catholics for Being Catholic. Yep, that's right...if a Catholic institution does not comply with the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare), it can expect to be fined big bucks. For example, Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, a Catholic college run by Benedictine monks, is suing the federal government, charging that Obamacare unconstitutionally forces the college to violate its core religious belief in the sanctity of human life. The act mandates that the college would have to offer contraceptive and abortifacient services in its employee healthcare plans. The fine for the college would be a tidy $7 million. This is just one more example of the increasingly open hostility to religious freedom exercised by our government in general and by this administration in particular. Three loud cheers for Belmont Abbey! Oh, yes, it's worth mentioning that the University of Notre Dame is also suing the federal government for the same reason. To read more, click here.

Euthanasia for Children? Just in case you still believe that civilization is alive and well in the once Christian continent of Europe, here's a news story that should give you pause. A Belgian parliamentary committee overwhelmingly voted to approve euthanasia for children of all ages. It is expected that the full parliament will pass the law easily. How unfortunate for the children of Belgium whose lives will soon be at risk from the moment of conception until old age. Any nation that kills its children simply because they are inconvenient -- and sadly, this includes our own nation -- is inherently evil. Of course I am politically incorrect to the extreme. I also believe that any nation that sends its women into combat is a nation of cowardly men.

Pakistan's Sharia Court: Death for Blasphemers. In one more example of Islamic barbarity, the federal Sharia Court in Pakistan has decided that the only permissible sentence for those convicted of blasphemy is death. It's important to understand that Islam's idea of blasphemy also includes saying anything that insults the name of the prophet Muhammad. Christians and other non-Muslims obviously do not believe that Muhammad was a true prophet. If we accepted him as a prophet, we'd have to throw out the entire New Testament and most of the Old Testament. Since much of Christian belief contradicts what Muhammad included in the Koran, just stating these beliefs could easily be considered a blasphemous insult deserving of the death penalty. It's easy to see why so many Christians have been imprisoned in Pakistan as a result of the blasphemy law. Read more here.

Pope Francis on Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters

In response to the recent (October 2013) meeting of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis wrote and released an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel). The document presents the pope's thoughts on the New Evangelization and encourages the faithful to experience again the joy of proclaiming the gospel to the world. It's a wonderful document which you can read in its entirety here: Evangelii Gaudium.

I was especially struck and pleased by the Holy Father's comments regarding the Church's relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters. I have included the applicable sections below:

247. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.

248. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.

249. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Always a Time for Thanksgiving

On Thursday I sort-of helped Dear Diane as she cooked an absolutely wonderful meal for our guests at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen operates Monday through Saturday, with a different cook assigned to each day of the week. Since Diane is the Thursday cook, we are always blessed to be able cook and serve the Thanksgiving meal. I've included a copy of the menu below...

As is our custom on Thanksgiving, we gave our usual crew of Thursday volunteers the day off and solicited others to join us on this special day. We always have far more Thanksgiving volunteers than we can handle, and have to turn away some folks; otherwise we'd be tripping over each other. This year we probably accepted more volunteers than usual, and divided them into two shifts: one from seven to ten a.m., and the other from ten a.m. until one p.m. This made things a bit more manageable, but even then we still had a crowd.

The first shift -- which must have included at least 20 people -- assisted Diane as she prepared the meal. Diane and our regular Thursday team had already done much of the necessary prep work in advance. And many other regular soup kitchen volunteers had cooked and sliced turkeys earlier in the week. As I recall, these good folks cooked twelve or thirteen large turkeys for us. This still left a lot of work for our first shift volunteers, and as "Thursday Captain" (a rather overblown title), I tried to organize them into effective work groups. Everything seemed to go pretty well and the meal was ready on time. The first shift then served up 140 meals for delivery to shut-ins who live in Wildwood. Our volunteer drivers, who use their own cars (and gasoline), each deliver 30-40 meals...and what wonderful and generous folks they are!

At this point we encountered out first challenge: trying to get the first shift to quit and go home. They were enjoying themselves so much they didn't want to leave. Unfortunately we had about 30 people in the second shift waiting to take over. Finally Diane and I had to order all those happy first-shift volunteers to get out and make room for others.

At 10:30 a.m. we opened the doors to our guests, and served the meal between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Once again, though, we did things differently on Thanksgiving. Instead of having the guests pick up their own meals as they walk through the serving line, we met and greeted them as they arrived, took them to their seats, got them a drink -- coffee, iced tea, lemonade, etc. -- and then asked them to check off the menu items they would like. A volunteer then went through the serving line, filling the order, and took the meal to the guest. Another group of volunteers carried trays of desserts in the dining room, letting each guest choose which dessert he or she would like. It's really quite an operation, but thanks to all our enthusiastic and giving volunteers, it all went very smoothly.

The result was a record Thanksgiving Day. I never know whether to be pleased or upset when we break attendance records at the soup kitchen. I'm pleased and thankful that we have always been able to feed all those who come through our doors; but the fact that we must serve so many says a lot about the state of the economy. Including our delivered meals, we served nearly 330 meals on Thursday. On previous Thanksgivings our numbers were always much lower then this.

As always, our guests were truly appreciative and raved about the meal. Indeed, they liked it so much that many took a second meal home with them -- so many, in fact, that at the end of the day, we had virtually nothing left, another very rare occurrence. Next year we'll just have to cook more turkeys.

Of course, Diane and I couldn't have done any of this on our own. It was truly a joy that we were joined by all those good people who volunteered to give up part of their Thanksgiving to help others. What a blessing that so many were willing and able to be with us on this day of thanks!

Take some time today, and every day, to thank God for all that you have been given, and for your very being, for the gift of life you have received. Recall the words of St. Paul:
"What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?"[1 Cor 4:7]
If you're interested in knowing more about the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, click here.

God's peace...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homily for Today: Wednesday, 34th Week of Ordinary Time

Usually I spend quite a bit of time preparing my homilies. Before I sit down to write, I pray, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me. And as I write I dig deeply -- too deeply some might think -- into the Scriptures and Church teaching. After I've written the homily, I inevitably revise and rewrite a few times before I'm comfortable with the finished product. Then I give it my final test, I have Dear Diane read it. If she's happy with it, then I am as well. This is what I usually do.

But this morning I didn't realize I was scheduled to preach until after I arrived at the church. And so I had about five minutes to give the readings some thought and decide what I would say about them. The two readings: Dn 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 and Lk 21:12-19. As well as I can recall my words, here's what I had to say:


Last night I had a dream, a very strange dream. I woke up at about 2 a.m. with the dream fresh in my mind. I was in a church, not this church, but a very large church, and as I walked up to the ambo to preach I saw that the church was filled with people. But as soon as I began to preach, everybody in the church simply stood up and left the building. I'm not kidding. That's exactly what least in my dream.

Now as I lay there in the dark at 2 a.m. I had no idea what this might mean. I think perhaps I need a Daniel to interpret it for me. But after reading today's Gospel passage from Luke earlier this morning, I began to think that it might relate to how well I'm doing as an evangelist. And, apparently, if the dream is accurate, not very well.

How about you? Are you an evangelist...yet? You do know that as a Christian you are called to evangelize, don't you? Indeed, the last three popes -- John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis -- have all made evangelization a key priority of the papacy and, therefore, of the entire Church. For evangelization is the Church's one mission, the mission that Jesus gave to the disciples and to us with His last words before He returned to the Father:
"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 28:19-20].
He addressed these words to all of us, brothers and sisters. Yes, you and I are called to make disciples and to teach. We are all called to evangelize. And Jesus, in those last words of His, gives us the consolation of His presence. He will be with us until the end of the age, just as He is with us now. He is with us in the Eucharist until He returns in glory. We have Him, the Real Presence,  in our presence every day. What a consolation that is!

And we will certainly need Him because evangelization comes with a cost. Did you hear what Jesus said in our Gospel passage?
“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name...and they will put some of you to death...You will be hated by all because of my name" [Lk 21:12,16-17].
Not very comforting is it? But this is the cost; this is the price you and I must pay if we are to evangelize in a world that rejects Jesus, a world that rejects the Word of God. And so we need His presence if we are to answer Jesus's call to evangelization.

Recall, too, that He will inspire us through His Holy Spirit. How did He put it?
"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." [Lk 21:13-15]
Lord knows I didn't prepare these words today, so if they're of any value, they are the Spirit's words. not mine.

And so, today, perhaps you and I should take some time to think about this call issued by Jesus, this call to evangelization.

Are you an evangelist...yet? If not, why not? And don't worry, because God will be with you always, leading the way.

God love you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Land Ho!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013 -- At Sea

Okay, not quite. Our first sighting of land is still several hundred miles to the west, but today is our last full day at sea before our arrival in Nassau tomorrow morning.  We had another in a series of time changes last night so, of course, I awoke at 4 a.m. ready to start my day. Once again I sit here in the dark tapping away while Dear Diane sleeps soundly.

Last night, for the first time since last week's transit of the Bay of Biscay on the way to La Rochelle, the seas have been other than calm. I believe we're feeling some of the residual effects of the storms that have been moving up the east coast of the U.S. Overnight the ship developed a distinct roll, one that helped me sleep well, just like a baby in a cradle, at least until 4 a.m. We're still rolling, and because it's quite dark outside, I can't see whether we have an overcast or clear skies. I could certainly get a better view by sliding open the noisy door to the balcony, but that would surely awaken Diane, not a wise thing to do.

Yesterday, extending the celebration of our anniversary a bit, we gave ourselves a treat and had lunch at one of the specialty restaurants, the S.S. United States. The restaurant seems to be a kind of shrine to that once famous ship that carried folks across the Atlantic back in the fifties and sixties. I remember when it was first put into service and, if I recall correctly, it set a speed record for the transatlantic voyage between New York and Southhampton. I'll have to look that up and see if my memory is correct. Anyhow, the meal was wonderful, the best since we've been aboard Infinty. 

Other than that, our day was just one of those relaxing, do-nothing days. We napped (well, Diane napped), we read, we watched the sea roll past our little balcony, we sampled some of the gelato served on deck five by a lovely Italian girl (coconut and cinnamon turned out to be a great combination), and we met with a couple -- friends of a friend -- whom we looked up a few days ago. I expect today to be more of the same, except we will probably do some initial packing so we won't be too hurried our last evening aboard.

It's still dark. Diane still sleeps soundly. More later, assuming there's anything worth writing about.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013 -- Nassau, Bahamas

We arrived in Nassau this morning under sunny skies and tied up at the pier along with four other cruise ships. With all those ships in port, Nassau's downtown streets were clogged with tourists anxious to part with their money in the jewelry stores, craft stalls, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Diane and I did our small part to aid the local economy by purchasing a few baubles and other little things. We also sat on an outside deck at one of those noisy and fun waterfront eateries and ate huge and tasty hamburgers. But Nassau, at least its downtown, could only hold our interest for a few hours so by mid-afternoon we decided to stroll back to the ship. The ship departed at 4 p.m in a wonderful display of seamanship and now we're on our last leg, a short trip to Miami. 

We've had a wonderful month, but it's time to return to our home and once again take up the routine of our lives. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Bath Revisited

I just realized that, despite my promise to do so, I never posted anything describing our weekend in the beautiful city of Bath. I'll try to rectify this omission by offering a few comments on our brief stay over the weekend of 18-20 October.

We had booked a room at a lovely B&B, The Bath House, located only a block or two from the city's center. Because we had made our reservation a bit late (rooms in Bath are always in demand) we were given a room on the top floor of the house. Fortunately, our host was a strong, young man who happily carried our bags up the two flights of stairs. The room was very nice with a king-size bed, an en suite bath, and also included a wonderful English breakfast delivered to our room each morning. And most conveniently, and a true rarity in Bath, the B&B also had free on-site parking. The only problem we encountered that weekend was the weather: it rained almost constantly. 

After our late afternoon arrival, we walked into town, passed by the Jane Austen Center which we decided to visit the next morning, and strolled up Gay Street to the Circus, one of Bath's many architectural wonders. The first photo below shows only one of the three segments of the Circus. In the second photo you can see the three types of classic columns present on the three levels of the building. It had started to drizzle so we stopped by a pub, grabbed a bite to eat, and then returned to our B&B. It had been a long day and so we called if a night, hoping to see all the sights on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, after our in-room breakfast, we walked the few short blocks to the Jane Austen Center where we were greeted by the doorman dressed in Regency period clothing, but looking more like a character out of Dickens. Here are a couple of photos...

The Center itself is well worth a visit. First we listened to an interesting talk delivered by a lovely young lady who spoke eloquently about Jane Austen's time in Bath; then we spent about an hour browsing through the museum which focused on various aspects of life in early 19th-century Bath. Of course we also stopped by their gift shop and contributed to the economy of 21st-century Bath. I've included a photo below of Diane standing alongside a faceless mannequin wearing a period dress, and a young boy writing with a quill pen. For one so young he actually did quite well. Bright lad.

We spent much of the day roaming about the city trying to stay dry. We walked to the Royal Crescent, another of those uniquely designed Bath buildings. In the photo below you can see the ha-ha, the depressed wall in front of the Crescent, an unusual construction commonly used at the time to keep animals and other undesirable critters from desecrating the front lawns of the wealthy. It could not be easily seen from above; hence the name.

We visited the Bath Abbey (see first photo below) and spent quite a while in the ancient Roman baths, another must-see when visiting Bath. The museum takes one through the early history of the city from pre-Roman times to the present.

Sadly, the poor weather prevented us from seeing many of the sights we had hoped to visit, and I was particularly disappointed in missing out on a planned boat trip on the River Avon. Indeed, late that afternoon we were caught in a downpour that, despite raincoats and umbrellas, completely drenched us as we hurried back to our lodgings. We were thoroughly soaked and quite cold by the time we returned to our room. It continued to rain throughout the evening and the next morning we had to drive to London's Gatwick Airport to drop off our car. Perhaps we'll be able to travel to Bath again someday, and see all those places we were unable to visit. I've included a few random Bath photos below...

Now...back to our ocean voyage.