Sunday, December 25, 2011


Sorry it's been a little quiet around here lately...


Can you believe it? Some protesters showed up at Christmas Mass this year...

   The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas   

You’d practically have to have been living under a rock
to miss the near constant news during the last three months or so
of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Inspired by popular uprisings in the Middle East,
what began in lower Manhattan with a young people’s protest
of social and economic inequality,
of high unemployment rates and corporate greed,
has spread to major cities and small towns alike
across the U.S. and around the globe.

Tonight / Today, I’d like to take the movement
to one more location: to the city of David.
That’s right—we’re going to Occupy Bethlehem.

I’ve asked a few young people to help me out…

Have you ever been part of a protest before?
There’s a first time for everything…

From what I can tell,
there are two essential elements to any good Occupy demonstration:
signs and tents.

So we have signs…

Stop Fleecing
Our Shepherds

Who You Calling
Your Beast of Burden?

This Will Be No
“Silent Night”
No Child Should Have To
Sleep In A Manger!

And we have a tent…

Let’s make this a sit in…and you have a seat.

The signs seen on Wall Street have one basic theme:
things aren’t right; the world isn’t as it should be.
The precise problem can be a little tricky to put your finger on.
We’ve been told that God set this up as a paradise for us…
…but how come it doesn’t quite seem that way?

If we can recognize the need for some changes around here,
then just imagine the view from heaven!

On the outskirts of Bethlehem,
the angel announces to the shepherds:
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant…lying in a manger.
In response to this world’s many troubles,
a savior is born for us who is Christ and Lord.
Yes, he will ask us to take responsibility
for the part we ourselves have played in making a mess of things.
But he has come not just to file a complaint
about all that’s gone wrong;
no, he’s come to help us see what’s right—
what’s true and what’s good and what’s beautiful.
He has come not just to raise difficult questions or take us to task,
but to teach a new and different way of living.
He has come not just to bring
people of good will together for a common cause,
but to unite earth to heaven—
and by a new bond of love so tight
that it can never be broken.
(Talk about possibilities for upward mobility!)
And that’s because his ultimate purpose
is not economic reform or political transformation,
but to liberate us—once and for all—
from the death-dealing power of sin.

As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI,
said so well a few Christmases ago:
God’s sign is simplicity. 
God’s sign is the baby. 
God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. 
This is how he reigns. 
He does not come with power and outward splendor.  
He comes as a baby—defenseless and in need of our help. 
He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength.
He takes away our fear of his greatness.
He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. 
…God made himself small
so that we could understand him, welcome him,
and love him.  (Homily at Midnight Mass, 2006)

So God’s sign in occupying Bethlehem is a little baby.
What about God’s tent?

In sending us his Only Begotten Son—
who is “God from God and Light from Light,”
“born of the Father before all ages”—
God gives us his Word.
Now, to say that God “gives his Word,”
is not to say that he seals a spoken deal with a handshake
or signs on the dotted line—
as we might expect in business or politics…
…arrangements all-too-easily broken,
as the Occupiers are quick to point out.
Rather, God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us
or, as the original Greek text literally says,
the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.
In the mystery of the Incarnation,
God comes to us in person—in human flesh and blood—
to establish a new and eternal covenant,
fulfilling his promise to renew this weary world,
to deliver a people who have walked too long in the darkness.
And God continues to give us his Word
in the words of the Scriptures, in the life of the Church,
above all in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Christmas, my friends, is not just a look back,
as if God paid us a brief, passing visit long, long ago.
No—the heart of Christmas is something that remains present.
You see, the Lord is the most resolute Occupier of all;
our God has come to stay.
And if God has “pitched his tent” right here among us,
then shouldn’t we make every effort to stay right here with him?
After all, what God most desires to occupy is not a manger,
but our deepest thoughts, our daily words and deeds—
to dwell always in our hearts.

So…Occupy Bethlehem?
In that tiny child born to Mary and guarded by Joseph,
the baby boy announced by angels and adored by shepherds,
the God who made heaven and earth,
who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
came not to occupy only one tiny village in Judea,
nor to save a single nation.
His appearing is meant not for a few, but for many—
for 100%.
That, my friends, is good news of great joy…for all the people.

Like the shepherds,
let us praise and glorify God by our lives
that we might be signs for others
that the King of Heaven has come to occupy the earth,
that the true Light has shone in the land of gloom,
that God has pitched his tent among us—and dwells with us still.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Confess

Hail, full of grace!

Our deacon is preaching this Sunday, giving me a little late-Advent break...

   Fourth Sunday of Advent   

"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus."  Luke 1:31

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cookies...Revised (3rd Edition)

Fr. Stitt just forwarded this sweet little gem to me.  You can find the original here and some great commentary here.  He, he, he...
Christmas Cookie Recipe
(New, Corrected Translation) 
Serves: you and many.
Cream these ingredients, that by their comingling you may begin to make the dough:
1 chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar 
In a similar way, when the butter is consubstantial with the sugar, beat in:
1 egg 
Gather these dry ingredients to yourself and combine them, so that you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make:
2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla 
Mix the precious dough with your venerable hands. 
Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough so that it may be chilled, for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and cutting of the cookies. 
When, in the fullness of time, you are ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
Roll out the dough and, taking up a cookie cutter or stencil of your choosing, fashion the cookies into pleasing forms. 
Sprinkle colorful adornments over cookies like the dewfall. 
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have just begun to manifest the brownness that is vouchsafed to them by the oven’s heat. 
May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table, there to be served with milk or hot chocolate, or with your spirits. 
Merry Christmas!

Let there be light

Last night saw the high solemn lighting of the lamps here in the rectory: 60 battery-operated, self-timed, flickering candles for the windows (replacing an equal number of antique electric ones with equally aged timers that had me living in fear of house fire last Christmas).  Before and after:

I'm not sure which to sing: Twinkle, Twinkle or This Little Light of Mine...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


My front porch right now.  No...not gifts for the clergy, but just one of several HUGE piles of presents for needy neighbors brought in by parishioners.  Human kindness is overflowing...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

txt 4 xmas

Funny as a joke...sad because it's just a little too true.  (And, no, I don't know these people!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Change for a Dollar

Well worth 10 minutes.  If only we all made such good use of whatever we've been given...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Nation Rejoices

...the Colbert Nation, that is.  An extra note of joy for your Gaudete Sunday.

Folks: please don't try this at home church.

Joy? Make mine a double.

Last evening, Brianna (one of our altar servers) said, "True men wear pink." 

I've never felt so manly.

   Third Sunday of Advent   B 

I’ve had a hard time getting in “the mood” for Christmas this year.
Now, I’m not exactly ready to declare, “Bah, humbug!”
but when I look at the next two weeks
and think about signing cards, decking the halls,
and shopping for—leave alone wrapping—presents…
…well, I tend to feel not so much merry as stressed.

I suspect I’m not alone.

This Third Sunday of Advent comes right on time.

That’s the clear message today—
from the Scripture readings we hear
to this rose-colored vestment I’m wearing
(which—I could see—instantly brought smiles to most of your faces).

There’s a smile-inducing movie in theatres right now
that I very much look forward to seeing: The Muppets.
(I grew up on their show,
and it’ll be a nice trip down memory lane.)
From a review I just read, it seems that the film
finds none other than Kermit the Frog also in a funk.
Attempting to pull him out of it, Walter, a longtime fan,
tells him, “You give people the greatest gift of all.”
“Children?” Kermit replies.
“Ice cream?”
“No.  Laughter,” Walter reveals.
“Laughter is the third greatest gift of all.”

While he might quibble with that ranking just a bit,
there’s another world-famous figure
who made a similar point a few years back: Pope Benedict XVI.
In the course of a rare 2006 TV interview,
the seemingly serious and scholarly Pontiff said:
I’m not a man who constantly thinks up jokes.
But I think it’s very important
to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension
and not to take everything too tragically.
I’d also say it’s necessary for my ministry.
A writer once said that angels can fly
because they don't take themselves too seriously.*
Maybe we could also fly a bit
if we didn’t think we were so important.  (August 5, 2006)

There are plenty of misconceptions about joy.
One of the most common among us Christians
is that our faith shouldn’t leave much room for it.
The work of paving a straight way for the Lord
that he might save our souls from hell
is, in fact, about as serious as it gets.
But spend too much time choosing to be miserable here on earth
and…well…I think you’ll find yourself a bit uncomfortable
adjusting to heavenly bliss.
As the great Saint Teresa of Avila once prayed,
“From sour-faced saints, O Lord, deliver us!”

Another mistaken notion about joy
is that it can’t coexist with struggle.
“Only after I work through all my problems,
only after I’m free from all trials and tribulations,
can I expect to find any gladness in life.”
So the thinking goes…
But notice how Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks.
Some of the most joyful and prayerful and thankful folks I’ve ever met
were living in deep poverty or confined to their sickbeds.

As the Pope reminds us,
living with joy comes from keeping things in perspective.
I know that my not yet being “in the spirit”
isn’t because I’m lacking for cookies or carols,
and can’t be fixed by a favorite TV special
or an extra cup of eggnog.
What I need is not to revive a holiday tradition,
but to refocus my attention
on why I’m doing any of this in the first place.
At this halfway point of Advent,
the Church encourages her children to rejoice,
not because Christmas is getting close,
but because Christ has come close:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.  (Entrance Antiphon/Phil 4:4-5)
Christ is close—not above or beyond the fray,
but right here in the middle of all our turmoil,
that his joy might be in us
and our joy might be complete.  (cf. Jn 15:11)

Experience has taught me that my doldrums will pass.
They’re a sign that I’m taking myself—
and my Christmas preparations—too seriously
and that—like those who questioned John the Baptist—
there is One among us whom I do not always recognize.
The trick, of course, is to let go of passing things
so that I might then cling more closely to Jesus.
In God—and God alone—is the true joy of my soul.

That’s a happy lesson,
not just for this special season,
but for every circumstance of life.

* "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."
G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Last evening, another priest and I headed up to Montréal to enjoy a performance by the Montréal Symphony Orchestra.  A last minute, generous offer of two tickets from a parishioner had us enjoying a performance of Gustav Holst's, The Planets.  (I'm a rather big fan of both Mars and Jupiter.  But do note that these YouTube recordings are nowhere near as good as what we got to hear yesterday.)

We both knew that if we had tried to plan this ahead, it probably would never have worked out...but on 24-hours notice, everything just seemed to fall into place.  The orchestra recently completed construction on a new hall, which is both visually and acoustically stunning.  A perfectly delightful evening...except for a slight unplanned detour on our way out of the city.  (We always seem to get just a little lost on our way home!)  Now, it's back to earth...

Monday, December 5, 2011


Buried somewhere in the small print of my assignment as pastor here in Malone is that it included becoming a Boy Scout.  I never was involved with scouting while growing up (farm chores didn't leave much time for that sort of thing), but I now find myself as the Executive Officer of Boy Scout Troop 61, sponsored by the Malone Catholic Parishes.  Last Monday I went to the Cub Scouts Pack meeting, and last night it was a Court of Honor for the Boy Scouts.  To help this officer look more official, a while back they gave me my own shirt.  The trick was, I had to sew my own patches.  I didn't get them all on before yesterday's ceremonies (it took more than a few tries to get some of those patches on straight), but I wore the shirt anyway...and then stayed up late to finally the finish the job.  Trouble is, when some of the other adults who work with the troop saw me in my new scout duds, the said they'd be getting me some more patches to fill in the blanks...

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I'm just a sucker for "Happiness is..."


I don't care who says they taste like chicken...

   Second Sunday of Advent   

It seems that every so often a new fad diet goes around.
In recent years, lots of folks have been trying
the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet—
everybody going low-carb or even no-carb.
Stretch back a bit and some might remember the Grapefruit Diet.
One that never caught on too widely
was the Cabbage Soup Diet.
You can surely understand why…

Here’s another diet that’s a hard sell:
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
That’s the John the Baptist Diet, of course.
But he wasn’t marketing a weight loss plan,
so why the odd menu?

Let’s start with those locusts.
Where else do these insects—
and their other grass-hopping cousins—
show up in the Bible?
Well, we find them in the Book of Leviticus
on a list of kosher foods. (11:21-22)
Yup—seems that John the Baptist
wasn’t the only one eating bugs!

But we most famously find locusts in Exodus:
the eighth of the ten plagues God’s visited
upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt.  (10:1ff)
The locusts descended so thick that they covered the ground,
eating up whatever crops were left
after the seventh plague of hail.  (cf. Psalm 105:34-35)
In the Scriptures,
locusts are an instrument of the Lord’s judgment;
they’re a not-so-subtle reminder of the need to change your ways.

How about honey?
It seems that every time
God speaks to his people about the Promised Land,
he describes it as “flowing with milk and honey.” (cf. Ex 3:8, Deut 6:3)
Honey is gathered when a people
are settled, secure, and prosperous.
Thus honey is a symbol of peace and plenty:
the comfort and consolation which God promises
to those who walk in his ways.  (cf. Magnificat, 12/2011)

John’s unusual diet plan, then,
is one meant more for our souls then for our stomachs.

We have a hankering for spiritual honey.
When things turn sour,
we turn to God asking for something sweet.
Lord, let us see you kindness,
pretty well sums up the majority of our prayers.
Comfort, the Lord says to Isaiah,
give comfort to my people;
speak to them tenderly.
Doesn’t that sound good?
We’re rather taken with this idea
that God is there to reassure and soothe us—and he is.
But left on its own, this can lead to the lopsided notion
of spirituality as a sort of relaxing spa treatment
or a comforting diet which lets us continue
to eat anything and everything we want—
no calories, no consequences.

Yet notice how Isaiah lays out the path
which leads to this land of milk and honey:
Make straight a highway in the desert;
fill in all the valleys;
level the mountains and bring low hills.
This is not a gentle, soothing pastime;
it’s a job, rather, 
which calls for a bulldozer. (cf. A. Giambrone)
Instead of comfort food and a massage,
this is a spirituality 
of heavy-duty construction.

Thus the Messiah’s final messenger arrives on the scene
wearing camel’s hair and dining on grasshoppers to teach us:
if we want to taste the honey’s sweetness,
then we must first face the locusts;
if we want to truly enjoy the good things God promises,
then we must first submit ourselves—
submit our way of thinking and our way of life—
to God’s judgment.
We can’t reasonably expect the Lord and his glory to get though
if we’ve put up roadblocks and left obstacles in his way.

Not a fad in the least,
Christ has given us a tried and true menu on which to feed our souls:
the menu of the Mass, of his Body and Blood.
John the Baptist’s unusual diet of locusts and honey is an apt reminder
that we need to be properly prepared
to even approach the Lord’s table,
leave alone profit to the full from the nourishment it provides.
Once upon a time—not really all that long ago—
every single Catholic who intended to go to Holy Communion
would first go to confession.
That—admittedly—may have been a bit excessive.
But nowadays, the vast majority of Catholics
come to Communion Sunday after Sunday,
but never, ever confess their sins.
Now, I’d like to think that’s because
people just sin a lot less in the twenty-first century.
Yet what we’ve lost is not our sinfulness,
but our willingness to face and acknowledge it.
And if we’ve lost our sense of sin,
then the coming of One to save us from our sins
becomes really rather meaningless.  (cf. M. Casey)

Unrepented, serious sin is a road-blocking obstacle
to the spiritual nutrition God has prepared for us in the Eucharist.
When was last time I openly, honestly examined my conscience?
How long has it been since I received the Sacrament of Penance?
And just what am I waiting for?

John’s urgent message of repentance
is echoed by Saint Peter.
God is immensely patient with us, he writes.
And God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.
But since this world will pass away with a mighty roar
and be dissolved in flames,
what sort of persons ought we to be while we’re waiting?
We are to be holy people, devout people—Peter tells us—
people eager to be found without spot or blemish,
people at peace.
We are to be a people who find the courage
to straighten out what is crooked,
to level our excuses and flatten our pride,
to fill in our valleys of idleness and unbelief.  (cf. A. Löhr)
We are to be a people who prepare
an unobstructed way for the Lord into our hearts.

Locusts and wild honey.
Judgment that opens us to joy.
Conversion that paves the way for comfort.
That’s a well-balanced diet for Advent, and always.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Marching In

Given my early life experience on the farm, I know just what they're thinking: Will there be refreshments after this?  (Expect, maybe, the bull...who's hoping none of his ladies decide to run off with the band.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

"As soon as I believed there was a God, I understood that I could not do anything other than live for him."  So wrote Charles de Foucauld.  Born a French aristocrat, he passed early adulthood as a fun-loving playboy and military officer.  But by way of a brief stint as a Trappist monk and then as a carpenter in Nazareth, he ended up a priest leading a solitary life among the Tuareg people in the Sahara desert of Algeria.  It was there that he was shot by Bedouin marauders on this date in 1916.  Despite his "hidden" life (not unlike the early years of another carpenter from Nazareth), his profound writings and humble example have had a wide influence.  His "prayer of abandonment" (composed in Nazareth in 1897) captures well the heart of his spirituality:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only you will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.