Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Since it's a little hard to tell in the photo: that's a flamingo on my head.  (What else would it be?)  And then, there's Fr. Stitt...

...who kept saying (WARNING: Bad Priest Humor), "I am your Father..."

Sunday, October 30, 2011


While listening to the great CBC radio show, The Vinyl Café, on my drive to retreat last Sunday afternoon, I heard this GREAT song by the Québecois folk band Mes Aïeux.  (That means, "My Ancestors," by the way.)  I loved the song just for its sound (I guess some of those traditional rhythms are just in my blood), leave alone the few lyrics I was able to grasp while keeping my attention on the thruway.  But reading all the words on this subtitled video...Wow!

I'll be checking these folks out, for sure.

I've realized that the video I've embedded doesn't have the subtitles.  Sorry!  Turns out, the one with the English lyrics can't be embedded...but you can watch it on here on YouTube.

Bad Joke

On Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI met in Assisi with religious leaders of many faiths from around the world--something Pope John Paul II had first done there in 1986.  They came together to give a common witness to peace.

The Holy Father has taken some flack for doing this.  Which is what immediately came to mind when I came across the following poem.  It was written by Br. Isaac, one of the Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee.  There was a folder of some of his poetry at the retreat house, this gem among them...
Like A Bad Joke 
So this priest invites a group of buddhist
monks to his parish where
they chant to raise awareness
and funds to free Tibet--but 
a gang of angry catholic
fundamentalists crash the party and,
like raucous soccer fans, vendors
contending in a crowded market 
belt out fervent aves, to drown
'the pagans' and (this is a quote, no joke)
their demonic prayers for world peace.
When the police arrived, the monks 
were ushered to safety in the basement
while upstairs the pious rioters
patted themselves on the back, compared
their little coup 
to Jesus' attack on the Temple...
but if in that case Christ cast out
(and only those who made House into
market) he was more often 
God of the out-cast.
So here's the punch-line: you'll find me
(and likely Him) downstairs
in the parish basement 
amid assorted soup-kitchen visitors
the 12 step fellowship of local drunks
and this latest company
of monks.


To give you a little context...and understand why I really needed that retreat last week...

Bishop LaValley has granted our parochial vicar--at his own request, and for personal reasons--a leave of absence from priestly ministry, effective immediately.  Certainly the prayers and loving support of our parishes go with him.

Aware of the needs of our parishes, Bishop LaValley has now assigned Fr. Bryan Stitt as parochial vicar here in the Malone Catholic Parishes.  Fr. Stitt has been serving fulltime as Diocesan Vocation Director since June of last year.  He will continue to work as Vocation Director, splitting his time and energy 50/50 between that assignment and our parishes.  This may require a few sacrifices from us along the way, but the circumstances which bring him here point to the truly critical nature of his vocations work.   As we’ve learned all-too-well during the past year, things can and do change, but the current plan is that Fr. Stitt will be with us until next May or June.

Since 2003, Catholics in the U.S. have been observing the last Sunday in October as “Priesthood Sunday.”  May I be so bold as to ask you to please set some time aside this Sunday to pray for your priests—past, present, and even future ones?

May the Lord give the Church the shepherds she needs: give us shepherds after his own heart.

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

With Thanksgiving approaching,
a family had received a lovely card for the holiday
depicting a Pilgrim family on its way to church.
Seizing the opportunity,
Grandma showed the picture to the kids and said,
“Look here!  The Pilgrim children liked to go to church
with their mothers and fathers.”
“Oh yeah?” one of the boys replied.
“Then why is their dad carrying that rifle?”

Call no one on earth your father.
Many would, no doubt, assume
that that’s the hardest line for a priest to preach upon this Sunday.
But we mustn’t forget these words were spoken
by the very same lips which also said,
If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out;
if your hand, cut it off.  (Matt 18:9-10)
Like many a preacher,
Jesus was known to use a little exaggeration for effect.
Since the New Testament shows
that the title, “father,” continued to be used—
in both family and religious settings—
by Christians during the days of the apostles,
the title itself doesn’t trouble me. (e.g. Acts 7:2; Eph 6:4)

The real trouble is in living up to that title.

And that would seem to be the preoccupation
of the Scripture readings we’ve just heard.

Jesus’ challenge to the scribes and Pharisees
is that they’re more concerned with looking pious
than actually being holy.
What’s seen on the outside doesn’t match what’s going on within.
His comments on their wide phylacteries and long tassels
can find a modern day equivalent
in the Roman collar which I so often wear.
It’s an indispensable tool when I’m in the confessional,
at the hospital, or visiting the school:
those who need a priest
instantly know where to find one.
But a few years back my baby sister dubbed the collar, “the easy pass.”
“If I had one of those things,” she said, “I’d wear it all the time!
People push you to the front of the line; they give you discounts.
It must work wonders if you get stopped for speeding!”  (It does.)
How easily even a sacred sign can be abused.
The problem isn’t the symbol;
it’s when the one behind the symbol isn’t sincere--
when the example falls short of the teaching;
when the practice doesn’t match the preaching.
Such hypocrisy will--eventually--always come to the surface.

If that’s the diagnosis--
if that’s where religious leadership is so likely to run amuck--
then what’s the cure?
I heard a pretty good answer to that
in the homily given early on Friday morning
by Fr. Stephen, one of the monks at the abbey
where I made my retreat this past week.
His prescription?  Humility and confidence.

St. Paul was so grateful that the Thessalonians,
on hearing his preaching,
realized that they were receiving not a merely human word,
but the very word of God.
That could only be clear to his hearers if Paul the man
managed to stay out of the way of the Gospel of God.
Paul knew who he was…and Paul knew who he wasn’t…
…and he did not fear either one.
He understood that it is God and God alone
who heals hearts and changes lives…
…not apostles, not prophets, not priests.
Humility allows the Lord’s ministers to say,
“Don’t believe in me!
At best, I’m a sideshow…not the main attraction.
In fact, if I’m drawing too much attention to myself,
then I’m failing you and failing God.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of my priesthood
was when I left my last assignment and heard people say,
“If you leave, Father, then I’ll stop going to Mass.”
The only thing worse was when some actually did.
Humility makes it plain who must really be at the center of our faith.

Humility and confidence.
The Catholic priesthood has gotten quite a black eye
from the scandals of recent years.
Not at all to minimize its horrors,
but we need to realize that sexual abuse
is a crime committed by relatively few priests.
We hear the prophet Malachi confronting a far more widespread failing:
that of messengers who neglect the message.
This is not to say that priests--
in the Temple of old or in parishes today--
aren’t very bright or are poorly informed.
One way we can be tempted to neglect the message
is to show partiality--to play favorites.
People of influence, people we like, people we need,
may be allowed to bend or break the rules
rather than confront them with a difficult truth.
Nowadays, it would seem, we priests are more likely to be afraid
not of losing people with money or power…
…but of just plain losing people.
We might “adjust” our presentation of the Church’s position,
or avoid some sticky topics altogether,
because we don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable--
because we can’t afford to scare anybody off.
The temptation is to tell people what they want to hear,
rather than what they really need to hear.
Devoted parents, however, do not neglect the needs of their children,
even when what they need most is some tough love.
Given its divine source, we cannot dilute or compromise the message.
And this calls for confidence.

Now, in speaking of confidence,
I in no ways mean to imply
that God authorizes his representatives
to take a heavy-handed approach--
like a Pilgrim dad carrying a riffle to keep the kids in line.
St. Paul’s success in Thessalonica, we see,
is in large part due to his gentleness
and his sincere affection for those in his care.
As the wise pastor, St. Francis de Sales, liked to say,
“You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey
than a barrel of vinegar.”
Of course…then you’ve still got to deal with those flies!

Can I ask you all a favor?
When it comes time to arrange the next baptism,
wedding, funeral, or such in your family,
would you mind not asking your priests to make some exception
to this rule or that--“just this once, Father”?
It’s only fair to your fellow Catholics,
and being caught there in there middle
is no place I really like to be.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day
were well known, quite powerful, and much respected.
It was once that way in our society, as well,
though not so much any more.
Jesus’ rebuke--then and now--
was not against religious leadership, per se.
If he were so egalitarian,
Jesus would have never distinguished twelve apostles
from the rest of his disciples.
Instead, Jesus took issue with religious leadership
that seeks to serve itself, rather than others--
which tends to its own purposes, rather than to God’s.
Among those who follow Christ,
true greatness is found not in rank, but in service--
humble service, confident service.

For all those times when I’ve failed
to live up to that high title of, “Father,”
when I’ve not been as humble as I ought to be,
when I’ve not been as confident as you needed me to be,
when I’ve not practiced what I’ve preached,
I’m truly sorry.
But while I’m sorry about my failings,
I’m not at all sorry about my priesthood.
I love being a priest!
I love being your priest!
St. Paul asked the Thessalonians
to recall his toil and drudgery, that he was working night and day--
not to complain, mind you,
but as a living reminder that what he wished to share with them
was not only the gospel message, but his very self as well.
I’m striving to do the same.
I think the Peace Corps had it all wrong;
in my experience, anyway,
it’s the Catholic priesthood that’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Pray for priests.
Pray for more priests.
Pray that we’ll be the fathers we ought.
Pray that we’ll be the fathers you need.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some Reassembly Required

I'm back from retreat...and so thankful for the renewal it offered!

You know, some folks think of retreat as a vacation with a little religious icing on top, and that may work out just fine for them.  But I've come to really treasure making a monastic retreat, which is a little more like spiritual least the way I approach it, anyway.

The living arrangements for those making retreat at The Abbey of the Genesee are more than adequate, but very simple: the rooms are small, and so are the beds; the walls are thin, and the mattresses thinner; and then there's shared space for taking care of matters of personal hygiene.  (My years as a summer camp counselor have proven good preparation on this front!)

I'm always amused whenever I return to the abbey by the number of signs which the monks post all over the place.  I guess, given their silent lifestyle, this really should come as no surprise.  My very favorite is the one on the main door, which lets you into the gatehouse of the monastery:

I can assure you that 2:00am is NOT a typo.  And thus it's in the daily schedule where the rubber really meets the road.  My basic routine each day went pretty much like this:

2:00am      Wake
2:25am       Vigils (50 minutes)
5:00am      Wake...again
6:00am      Lauds (35 minutes)
                      Lauds + Mass (M/W/F)
                      Read / Reflect / Nap (?)
11:15am      Sext (15 minutes)
12:00pm    Lunch
                       Read / Reflect / Nap (?)
                       Walk + Rosary
4:00pm      Vespers + Mass (T/T)
4:30pm      Vespers (30 minutes)
5:30pm       Supper
6:40pm      Compline (15 minutes)
8:00pm      Retire

Yes...I did take two naps some days, especially early in the week...but I think that's allowed when you're getting up at 2:00am!

I always do a lot of reading on retreat, and this time was no different.  I re-read Msgr. Michael Heher's, The Lost Art of Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood (2004); with a few more years of experience under my belt since first reading it, it was an inspired choice for me at this time.  I spent a while each day studying the new English translation of the Order of Mass, which will go into use at the end of November.  Closely related, I finished reading Dr. Edward Sri's, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (2010), which we're now using for a six-week course in the parishes.  I also finished reading the very funny and yet very astute, The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins (2010), by John Zmirak, working my way through sloth, vainglory, envy, and their opposing virtues.  And before bed each night, I read Flannery O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood (1949), which--bargain shopper that I am--I acquired for next to nothing at a Border's going-out-of-buiness-sale.

I also do a lot of walking on retreat.  The retreat house is 3/4 of a mile from the abbey, so I would walk that round trip a few times a day for some of the daylight liturgies.  There are also many miles of farm roads and recreational trails which cross the vast monastery property, and I like to take a long walk along those in the afternoon.  I was doing 5-7 miles a day altogether...until it was not only raining (which I could have handled), but down in the 30's...which had that rain acting suspiciously know.

Stuck inside, I did have a little "rainy day" project: rosary restoration.  A friend had given me a lovely olive wood rosary from the Holy Land before I headed off to study theology in Rome.  That rosary spend the next--oh--15 years or so in my pocket, visiting all kinds of places with me.  At the beginning of the summer, the cord which held all those beads together was coming perilously close to disintegrating.  Now I certainly have plenty of other rosaries around...but I wasn't ready to let this one go yet.  So I brought along supplies, since I'd finally have time to work on this.  Some of those knots took more than one frustrating patience-building attempt to get right...but I think the thing came out OK for my very first rosary repair.  I wouldn't say it's "like new"...but it wasn't a new rosary I was after.

I guess reassembling that rosary is a good metaphor for retreat: a time to examine the old pieces, and maybe string them together in a new way...which is a project you plan to get to for some time...but it's a matter of setting aside some time to focus on this work and nothing else.  I'm so grateful to the Trappists for giving me a place to put myself allow God to put me back together again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Retreat! Retreat!

No homily to post for you this Sunday, folks!  I took this Sunday out of the pulpit in preparation for my annual retreat.  I leave after Masses today for the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY, to spend a few days soaking up some sacred silence among the Trappist monks who call that wonderful place home.  I've been going to the Abbey for retreat--generally, every other year--since I made my pre-ordination retreat there back in early August 2000.  (I must say, my retreats with the Trappists aren't quite as silent as they used to that most of the monks know me!)  My days will be occupied with Mass, chanting the Divine Office (they start at 2:30am), long walks, a stack of good books, and many slices of delicious Monks Bread.  So this blog will be going silent, too, in my absence.  Pray for me, and I'll be praying for you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

5/12 + JP2 = Zzz

Have you ever wondered what a priest does all day?  Ask my father, and he'll tell you we only work on he'd surely be pleased to see my Saturday line up:

6:30am     Get up, shower, do laundry, eat breakfast, pray
10:00am   Funeral Mass [St. Joseph's Church]
11:45am     Anointing in the ICU (emergency pager went off as I was leaving the cemetery)
12:05pm    Confessions start 5 minutes late [Notre Dame Church]
1:00pm      Wedding Ceremony [Notre Dame Church]
2:00pm     Lunch
3:00pm     Confessions [St. Joseph's Church]
4:00pm     Grocery shop
5:00pm     Baptism [St. Joseph's Church]
6:00pm     Supper (cook first, then eat)

Whew!  The sacramentally astute will note that that's five sacraments in the twelve hours or so listed there.  Grace was just a-flowin' around here!

Today--besides being busy--is the very first feast of Blessed John Paul II.  (October 22 was chosen since it was the day of his installation as Pope back in 1978.)  In the midst of my crazy schedule, I nearly forgot about today's commemoration...till I was standing at the altar and realized I was offering Mass with a chalice first used by him during the Jubilee Year 2000.  Then, since the second round of confessions were moving a little slow, I fished my rosary out of my pocket...only to realize that our late Holy Father had blessed those beads in 1992.  (The rosary was a gift from the bishop very shortly after I entered the seminary.)  And then, after I was into that rosary a bit, I realized that the Luminous Mysteries upon which I was meditating had been promoted by none other than--yup, you guessed it--JP2.  So when it came time to make supper and enjoy it, I knew it was time to pull out this candle which a parishioner kindly brought back for me from his beatification back in May.

Viva il Papa!  But now I want to go to bed...


We have a funeral this morning for which the family made the unique request of a song about or by St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  A little snooping around online brought me to this lovely song, based on a poem (Mon Chant d'Aujourd'hui) by the Little Flower:

Oh! how I love thee, Jesus; my soul aspires to thee;
And yet for one day only this simple prayer I pray.
Come reign within my heart, smile tenderly on me, 
Today, dear Lord, today!  Today, dear Lord, today!

What care I for tomorrow, whatever it may bring?
Let not your love forsake me and worries have their way,
But let my heart stay pure, enfold me in your wings,
Today, dear Lord, today!  Today, dear Lord, today!

O sweetest Star of Heaven, O Virgin, spotless, blest; 
Shining the light of Jesus, guiding him my way.
O Mother 'neath thy veil, let my tired spirit rest, 
For this brief passing day!  For this brief passing day!

Soon shall I fly away, to praise you my desire;
Then shall be mine the joy that never knows decay,
Then my lips shall sing with Heav'n's angelic choirs,
The'eternal glad today!  The'eternal glad today!

It's far and away the perfect fit as we remember and pray for a dear woman of beautiful faith.  May she rest in peace.

The sheet music for My Song of Today can be found here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stay Right There

A "senior" priest I used to work with had very little patience for those who left Mass right after Holy Communion.  He's been known to shout to the back of the church, "I should be the first one to leave!" or even, "Judas left early, too!"  I wonder if he's ever considered trying this...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chain Reaction

It was a pretty impressive sight to behold on Main Street in Malone this morning: a couple thousand school children holding a couple miles of paper chain (about 21,000 individual links), each link representing a distinct act of kindness done by one of our young people over the course of the last few months.  Horns honked and church bells rang to celebrate this unique achievement.

Our own Holy Family School students and staff took part in the Rachel's Challenge/Karen's Hope event. Rachel's Challenge was inspired by Rachel Scott, the first student to be killed during the Columbine High School shootings back in 1999.  The anti-bullying/peace-making program was brought to Malone last year by Karen Bourdon-Clark, a much beloved local counselor/educator who poured her heart and soul into implementing Rachel's Challenge in all of Malone's schools--both public and parochial.  Tragically, Karen herself suffered a violent death early last May.
What happened today had been Karen's dream, and is now also her legacy.  She envisioned not so much a paper chain, but a chain reaction of kindness that started with students, moved through their families, and then across the entire community.  This morning--in multicolored splendor--we witnessed that hope beginning to be fulfilled.

Monday, October 17, 2011

St. Ignatius of Antioch

This blog post is rated PG-13 for graphic violence.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Like the prophet Daniel, it's hard to find an image of St. Ignatius (d. 107) without lions.  But whereas with Daniel the lions are always tame and tight-lipped, with Ignatius they're usually fierce and feasting...on him.

Ignatius was well aware of his fate when he was whisked away from his native Syria to face execution before the emperor in the amphitheater in Rome.  All along his journey, he wrote letters--seven in all--to different church communities.  They provide us with a unique window into life in the early church...and into this bishop and martyr's soul.  In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius writes:
I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God's wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread....He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire....Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God....My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing.
Small chance that we'll ever--literally--have to face the lions.  But there are many moments in life when we feel chewed up and spit out.  May the faith-filled courage of Ignatius be wholesome bread to help us--as he did--draw all our strength from Christ.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Here's Your Sign

Another sign I found floating around on the Web...not exactly like the ones seen on Wall Street these days...

Clear Image

Latin scholars will remind me: Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, "All Gaul is divided into three parts"--the opening line of Julius Caesar's memoir of the Gallic Wars, and one of the first things any budding classics scholar has traditionally learned to translate.

Historians (especially of the Biblical sort) will remind me: Julius Caesar (100 B.C.-44 B.C.) was not the emperor to whom Jesus was referring in the Gospel; that was Tiberius Caesar (42 B.C.-37 A.D.).

Now that we have THAT all cleared up...enjoy the story!

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Among the regions conquered by Julius Caesar was Gaul--
that part of Europe we now know as France and Belgium.
By the time the Christian era began,
the Gauls were supposedly under the empire’s complete control,
but this warlike people never much liked being conquered…
…which just might explain their frequent uprisings.

In due course, Christian missionaries ventured into Gallic territory 
and--over time--began winning converts to the faith.
The legend goes that,
whenever a newly converted warrior was baptized,
he would hold one arm high in the air
as the rest of him was dunked under water.
The missionaries soon discovered the reason
for this quite curious practice.
It seems that, when the next battle or skirmish would break out,
the warrior would proclaim, “This arm was not baptized!”
and, grabbing his club or axe or sword,
then ride off to destroy his enemy
in a most unchristian manner.  (cf. M. A. Powell)

I can’t be sure that this story is historically accurate…
(and being of French extraction myself, I kind of hope it’s not)
…but there’s no doubt that the point it makes is true.
How often we try to hold back some part of ourselves
to be kept free from the effects of our baptism,
free from the influence of our Catholic faith.

There are lots and lots of ways to spin the story
which we hear in this Sunday’s gospel:
that it’s about obeying government authority,
or the proper use of money, or the separation of Church and state.
To get hung up on the details and read it in any of these ways
is, in a sense, to get caught in the same trap
which the Pharisees set to snag Jesus.

When Jesus asks for a Roman coin--
and we shouldn’t miss the humor here
that his questioners are able to produce one while he cannot--
Jesus’ question is very simple:
Whose image is this, and whose inscription?
After they’ve pointed out the likeness of the Roman emperor,
does Jesus then ask for another coin--
this one bearing the image of God--
to drive home his point about repaying both Caesar and God alike?
No…for the very simple reason that no such coin existed.
You see, Jewish law forbade making an image of God--
on a coin or anywhere else--
because God had already stamped his own image
on one very particular part of creation: on human beings.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.”
So we read in the very first chapter of the Bible (Gen 1:26).
What a drastic contrast there is
between the Jews and their Gentile neighbors!
The Gentiles--including Caesar--
would make statues of themselves and say, “These are our gods!”
The Jews, on the other hand, believed that God
made little images of himself and said, “These are you!”
The Christian tradition takes this notion a step further.
Saint Paul tells the Colossians
that Christ is the image of the invisible God (1:15).
We believe that God, then, has modeled man on Christ
and--by baptism, as we put on Christ--
renews the image of our creator within us (cf. 3:10).  (cf. J. T. Lienhard)

Thus we are to give to each that which bears his image:
Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and to God what belongs to God.
It’s far easier, far safer, and even far more affordable
to pay our taxes to the government
than it is to render unto God his due.
To God, we owe more than just a portion;
to God, we owe it all--
and not simply what we have, but who we are.

Am I giving God 100%?
Or have I kept an arm, or an attitude, or a sinful habit
out of the baptismal waters
to be used for a less-than-Godlike purpose?

The image of Christ--
in whose likeness we have been made and remade again--
is to be inscribed ever-so-clearly on our lives.
Every single part of me--the tiniest members of my body,
the smallest thoughts of my mind, the least desires of my heart--
first and foremost belong to God.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)

A few years back,
someone made me this neat little pillow when I baptized her baby;
it reads:

My friends, recognize and celebrate
in whose magnificent image you have been created.
Recognize that, because of your baptism,
you are called and chosen to reveal in yourself
the image of Jesus Christ to the world,
that people today
might come to know what is good and what is true--
might come to know God through you.
If there are aspects of your life
where Christ’s image has gotten a little tarnished,
there’s no time like the present
to break out the polish and make ’em shine.

You owe it to yourself.
Even more--you owe it to God.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

St. Teresa of Ávila

A message clearly meant for me today:
If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us....   
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side?
--St. Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582)

I'm Not Taking Sides

...but this is a pretty funny sign coming out of the Occupy Wall Street protests:

Photo taken in Saranac Lake by Carol Kepes; borrowed from the NCPR website.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


After Monday's escapade, I thought any outing I attempted today should be on surer I headed out this afternoon for a walk through the woods at the VIC (Visitors Interpretive Center) in Paul Smiths.

It wasn't the prettiest day we've had lately...but is there really a bad day to be in the woods?

Walking along the heron march, I ran across a placard that brought me face-to-face with an old friend.

"The tonic of wilderness."  That's just what I was there for!

Yes, I think I'll have another...

Prayers, Please

I received word on Monday of the very sudden death of Michael P. Fallon.

In his first semester at Theological College (the Sulpician seminary at Catholic University in Washington), Michael was recently accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington...and he couldn't have been happier.  (It was the subject of the last email I received from him back in May.)  In the face of many challenges--and big ones, besides--he desired nothing more than to be a priest.  It seems that Michael suffered a heart attack while exercising in the seminary gym on Saturday.  He was just 40 years old.

Though his Mom and Dad live in Maryland, Michael had some longtime family connections here in the Adirondack Mountains of the Diocese of Ogdensburg.  During an "in between" time, he stayed with me for several months in the rectory in Old Forge.  Michael was deeply devoted to his family, and will no doubt leave a gaping hole in the midst of his parents, his brothers and sister, and the next generation of little ones...of whom he could never stop bragging speaking.

Michael's funeral will be celebrated tomorrow at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, MD, with burial to follow in St. Michael's Cemetery in Mount Airy, MD.

Please join me in praying for Michael, for his grieving family, as well as for the seminary community he leaves behind.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soggy Bottom

Well, today's adventure was particularly...shall we say...adventuresome.

I took my kayak out this afternoon on the Salmon River, putting in on Studley Hill Road not far above Chasm Falls.  The autumn colors and late-day sun couldn't have been much more spectacular.

I was paddling upstream, and the current was a bit stronger than I had anticipated, resulting in a decent (and much needed) upper body workout.  From the maps, I knew that I was heading toward the spot where Hatch Brook (a lovely stream I've seen from shore) flows into the Salmon, and thought it would be nice--if I had the stamina--to paddle that far, and then enjoy a leisurely float back to the car.

But just shy of a mile into my excursion, the river narrowed and a few downed trees snagged on some rocks resulted in a swift-flowing tight spot. (I hesitate to call it a "rapid," since that sounds so dramatic.) From the water's surface, it didn't seem like anything to much worry about, so I tried to attack it from this angle, then that, but couldn't get quite enough steam to win the battle with the current.

I guess that the river got tired of this little game before I did and decided, "Enough of him!" And there I was, taking an unexpected (and rather scary) October swim. What had first seemed such a blessing--that there was absolutely no one else anywhere around--suddenly felt like a big ol' curse. (These pictures were taken after, when I returned by car to the scene of the crime. It looked a lot worse from the roadside. What in the world was I thinking?)

I managed to rescue myself (most importantly), along with my kayak and all of my gear. (One of my Crocs got away from me for a bit, but was recovered later not too far downstream.) A not-so-graceful swim to shore with all this stuff allowed me to get about half of the water out of the boat (the banks were kind of steep here, so that was the best I could do) and start the drippy trip back.

Now, I've been kayaking for more than a decade (always with lifejacket, by the way), and while there's been some extra splashing on a few occasions when getting into or out of my boat, I've never actually flipped the thing before.  I'm hoping it's quite a while (and maybe a good bit warmer) if I ever do so again.

Once again safe, dry, warm, only slightly sore (so far), and with most of the riverbed scraped out from between my toes, the whole thing has increased my appreciation for (1) footwear that floats, (2) the seat warmers in my car, and (3) dry underwear.  The incident affirmed my longstanding adventure habits of packing the camera in a ziplock bag and throwing a dry towel in the car.  Not to mention that--above all--this close call has renewed my respect for The Water--vividly reminding that, if you choose to tango with her, you'd best be ready to let her lead.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


There was hearty laughter ringing through the rectory when I played this little ditty one night last week, premiered over on the Korrektiv's blog.  Now, maybe it's just a comment on my sick, snarky sense of humor...but who can really resist a song featuring the Pope, an antelope, and a six-shooter orthodoxy gun?  (You're kinda interested now, aren't you?)  Then there's that lyric which boarders on the truly mystical:
For the thing about God
Is his mercy is odd,
And it's rarely if ever expected...
Just be sure to hang in through the gloomy part for the hope-filled finish.  Enjoy!  (Or at least politely smile and nod...)

All Dressed In White

I know, I know...the fashionistas insist that one shouldn't wear white to a wedding...or after Labor Day, for that matter. But since when have I been a slave to fashion?

We were blessed to have a young man from the parish receive his first Holy Communion this morning--allowing us to watch the gospel play out right before our eyes.  Congratulations, Fernando!

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Attending a wedding for the very first time,
a little girl whispered to her mother,
“Mommy, why is the bride dressed all in white?”
“Because white is the color of happiness,” her mother explained,
“and today is the happiest day in her life.”
The child thought about this for a moment before asking,
“So…why is the groom wearing black?”

Proper wedding attire.

Unless you’re the bride, the groom, or in the wedding party,
the dress code for a wedding isn’t so strictly defined.
And yet--in the parable we’ve just heard--
it seems that which clothes one chooses to wear
can be a rather crucial decision.

A king gave a wedding feast for his son.
When Jesus teaches with parables,
it’s pretty easy to figure out who the king is: God.
So, too, the king’s son: Jesus himself.
But what about this “wedding feast?”
To help us better understand that part,
let’s turn to a couple of texts we’ll soon be using
from the new translation of the Mass that we keep talking about.

Just before Holy Communion,
as he holds up the Sacred Host,
we’re accustomed to hearing the priest say,
“This is the Lamb of God… 
Happy are those who are called to his supper.”
In late November, those words will change slightly:
“Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”
Why the change?
You’ll find it in the Bible--in the Book of Revelation,
where a heavenly marriage is being described:
“The wedding day of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
            She was allowed to wear
a bright, clean linen garment.”
            (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) [19:8]
Then an angel says to John:
            “Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” [19:9]

Jesus is the Lamb of God,
offered in sacrifice for the sins of the world.
True God and true man,
in Jesus we see the human and the divine perfectly joined together--
we see the marriage of heaven to earth.
And thus the words of the Mass help us to see in the Eucharist,
not just some ordinary supper, but the Lamb’s wedding feast:
the banquet--whenever it is set before us--
which celebrates, seals, and deepens
the union between Christ and his bride, the Church.

When I know whose wedding this is,
I can begin to see the great significance of how I am to dress.
It’s really the question of how to dress to meet God--
eventually in eternity, for sure, but even now, in space and time.
And I’m invited to meet God for more than just a casual conversation;
it’s been arranged that my soul is to be wed to God:
to enter into an incredibly intimate relationship with him.
I’m not just one guest among many; I’m the bride!
(Didn’t you find it strange that in Jesus’ parable
only a groom was mentioned?)

This understanding should affect our outerwear when we come to Mass.
Now, I’m not saying church every Sunday should be a black tie affair.
In my last parish assignment--
down in Old Forge, where things are rather casual--
we used to joke about the “Adirondack tuxedo”:
a clean pair of jeans and your best flannel shirt!
Nonetheless, I’m always a bit perplexed
to hear people say they’re headed home after Mass
to get dressed up for their next function…as if their next function
could somehow be more important than this one.
Yet far, far more critical than the clothes on our backs
are the garments with which we outfit our hearts.
At Baptism, we were dressed all in white
as an outward sign that, inwardly, we had put on Christ
and been completely clothed in him.
The real issue, then, is:
How crisp and clean have I kept my Christening gown?

In a recent interview, Archbishop Charles Chaput--
installed just a month ago in Philadelphia--
had this to say about those
who would call themselves “faithful Catholics”:
Baptism brings us into the Christian community,
but our fidelity is determined
by how we live our lives after baptism.
If we don’t give ourselves to the Lord at Mass every Sunday,
if we don’t seek out the sacrament of penance,
if we don’t follow the teachings of the Church,
if we rarely read the Bible or pray
or support our parish and the wider Church
with our time, talent, and financial resources--
then we should stop imagining ourselves as “faithful,”
because we’re not.
We need to prove what we claim to believe by our actions. 
It’s a simple matter of integrity.  (National Catholic Register, 9/11/11)

Which leads us to another of the new texts of the Mass.
At the very heart of the Eucharistic Prayer,
as we recall the words of Jesus at the Last Supper,
we’re used to hearing Christ say that his blood
“will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.”
We’ll soon hear this a little differently,
with Christ’s blood “poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.”
This change in language better reflects the words of Jesus
as we find them in the Gospels.

But what about this shift from “for all” to “for many”?
Didn’t Jesus come to die for everyone?
Doesn’t this wording seem to limit salvation to a select few?
The new translation points to a reality we’d much prefer to overlook:
that while Jesus did, indeed, die for the sins of all,
not all choose to accept the gift.
As crazy as it sounds in the parable,
there are folks who refuse the king’s invitation
to attend the royal wedding:
some are hostile, violently rejecting both message and messenger;
but most of those who ignore the summons
are just indifferent or uninterested--
preferring to be busy with other business.
As Jesus concludes, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

To take our place in the Lord’s banquet hall--
at his altar here on earth, at God’s table in heaven--
is not automatic,
though the invitation is so widely extended;
to be counted among “the many”
requires our repeated, faithful response.
God has provided us with a most worthy garment.
It remains up to us to put it on,
and to keep it carefully washed--
not just once in a lifetime, or once in awhile,
but again and again each day.

The King of Heaven is giving a wedding feast for his Son,
and you are invited.
Consider wearing white--
it’s the color of happiness,
and this ought to be the happiest moment of your life.