Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Couple Tall Ones

So...back on Thanksgiving my brother told me he had some "sermon material," and said I should check out this song:

For some of the story behind the song, check this out.

Not too bad...although I guess I always thought of Jesus as more of a wine drinker.


Back in September, I received a surprise email: someone had found my blog and wanted permission to use some of my photos.  (Those who know me well know I've never been that big of a picture-taker, so that makes this all the more remarkable!)

Yesterday, I received word that those photos are now being used.

I took some pictures while skiing last winter at the Paul Smiths VIC, and you can see those photos here, here, and here in the winter edition of the Visitor Interpretive Center website.

Pretty cool, no?  Not to mention, I hear they're skiing in that neighborhood already (at least until it gets warm this weekend), so maybe I'll be able to sneak out for a spell into the winter woods myself...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Seeing Red

As I think is only right and just, my family's Thanksgiving table was graced by a superabundance of things cranberry: three of them from my kitchen (clockwise from the top: cranberry chutney with maple syrup, apple, and thyme; fresh cranberry relish with citrus and cinnamon; and classic whole cranberry sauce), and one from a can.  The more adventuresome gave the first three a try; the less adventuresome made sure I had some to take back home.

From the same region on my color wheel, my "Christmas" cactus seems to have gotten a bit confused: it started blushing right about Halloween, and looks like it'll be almost through blooming by the First Sunday of Advent.  There's an overachiever in every crowd, isn't there?

Dancing King

In my enthusiasm for Matt's work, I even sent the link for his video to Bishop LaValley.  I don't think he'd mind me sharing his reply:
I know that I’d break something were I to try even one of those steps.
That's surely a reaction Matt got again and again: "But I don't know how to dance!"  (Watch for just a bit, and you'll realize that Matt doesn't know how to dance, either.)  You don't have to know how to dance, because we all know how to laugh and how to smile--skills we perfected in our first weeks of after birth.  The world needs a does of joy!  Laugh and smile enough, and people will wonder what you're up to.  And when they ask, tell them about the King who is the cause of such great rejoicing.

Thanks a bunch, Elizabeth, for sending me that link last Sunday!

   Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe   B 

If you use email, it happens all the time:
somebody forwards you a YouTube video.
You’ve gotta watch this!  It’s the best!
Now—and please, take no offence if you’ve sent me a link before—
but since these videos are rarely
quite as funny or inspirational as they’re made out to be,
I usually watch just the first minute or two
with my finger hovering over “Delete.”

Last weekend, one of you—a parishioner—
sent me an email that said, “This is really fun to watch.”
As usual, I reluctantly pressed play and assumed the position…
…but quickly realized that this video was different.

You see, there’s this guy—Matt Harding, 36—
from Seattle, Washington.
And throughout this five-minute video, Matt is dancing.
As it turns out, this is the fourth video of Matt dancing
to make its way across the Internet in the last few years.
The first two are series of scenes of him
dancing alone in famous places around the world—
something odd and mildly entertaining.
In the next two videos,
Matt still travels widely
but now gets other people—total strangers—
to join him in front of the camera and dance.
And it’s totally captivating.
I’m talking here about thousands of people,
following Matt’s lead in clip after clip.
In that fourth video alone,
Matt dances in 11 U.S. states 
and 55 different countries.

Many of the locations are pretty predictable:
folks in Boston, Berlin, and Beijing, 
bopping to the beat.
Matt starts dancing with a few folks—
some who’ve contacted him earlier online—
and then a curious crowd starts to gather.
Before you know it, 
they’re all mimicking his crazy moves.
And they’re smiling—big smiles.  
And laughing—a lot.
While the dancing is certainly catchy,
more infectious yet is the raw joy 
which accompanies it.
What makes this more remarkable still 
is that Matt has made a point
to go and dance in places 
that we often hear about in the news,
but not for being particularly happy—
places like Rwanda and North Korea, 
like Cairo and Kabul and Gaza.

I’ve been thinking about this video all week.
And whenever I do, I smile.
And I’m clearly not alone:
millions and millions of people 
have watched Matt and shared his videos.
And they’ve left all kinds of comments:
– You’re my hero!
– Matt for President!
Some of the comments run much deeper:
– Sometimes I feel that Matt 
is the only hope for the human race...

Maybe these folks 
are overstating things just a bit.
It’s not like Matt’s dancing 
has ended war or relieved hunger.
He is, after all, making moves, 
not starting a movement.
And yet I can’t help but think that Matt’s dancing
is really making a difference in the world.

Does that sound far-fetched?  Sure it does.
But so does the fact that a Jewish peasant from a backwater town,
condemned to die on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago,
should be honored by more than a billion souls—
one in six people now alive on planet earth—
as humanity’s only Savior and our universal King.
And that, of course, is precisely
what’s happening in the Catholic Church around the globe this very day.

One person can change the world.

Just two weeks ago,
500 of them for you to keep,
500 of them for you to give away.
I was on retreat then, so I didn’t see them go out…
…but I have already started to see the results coming in.
If you’re sitting in this church right now
because a friend or neighbor invited you back
(and I’ve been told some people are),
I want you to know:
we’re so glad you’re here!
But I’ve also been moved by the active parishioners
who have come to tell me about their experience
of giving a book away.
They’ve all had the same look I saw in Matt’s video:
every one of them has been beaming;
there’s been a light of joy on each of their faces.
In encouraging somebody else,
they’ve been renewed and encouraged themselves.

We live in a world 
where there are plenty of things
that bring out the worst in people.
True confession:
I went out with my mother and my brother 
to Wal-Mart at 8:00pm on Thanksgiving night.
Bad, bad idea!
We were there less than five minutes, 
we didn’t buy a thing,
and we all went home pretty disturbed.
It might be the closest I’ve ever seen 
human beings come to behaving like animals.

Why not, instead, be people who go out
and help change things for the better?

Matt Harding has found an incredible way to bring people joy.
But while I’m greatly inspired by his work,
I don’t think one man’s dancing is going to save the world.
And it doesn’t have to.
Because I believe one man’s death already has.
And believing such good news,
in a world where so much news is so very bad,
how could I possibly keep that to myself?

This Sunday’s solemnity
of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,
is the perfect time to recall
that we are called to be part of a cosmic choreography.
God’s only begotten Son, the Alpha and the Omega,
who from the first set the world firmly on its foundation
and will come in glory amid the clouds at its end,
lived, died, and rose again in human flesh and blood
to teach us a few essential steps,
that we might dance on earth to the music of heaven.
There is great joy in joining this dance,
and even greater joy in inviting others to join, too.
We don’t think twice
about forwarding silly videos to everybody we know.
Why do we hold back
when it comes to forwarding our faith?
Sure—somebody might quickly hit, “Delete.”
But why keep from them something
that could bring more than just a smile—
something that could bring them salvation?

When I look out into the pews during Mass,
“joy” is not, unfortunately, the first thing I see on most people’s faces.
But if we’ve come to hear our King’s voice speak the truth,
if we’ve come to take our place at his royal table,
then shouldn’t our joy be just as evident, just as contagious,
as it is with all those people watching and dancing with Matt?

My friends, let’s recapture the joy!
And let’s not fear to spread it around.
Do so, and we can change the world.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Dance!

And while we're at it, here's another smiler...


On Ice

I'm not even sure how to introduce this, other than to say: Enjoy!  (And don't you like their hats?)


Sunday, November 18, 2012

For the Future

Pulling into the parking lot for 10:30am Mass today, I heard a radio interview with Willie Nelson during which they played a bit of his song, "Come on Back Jesus," which says: "Come on back Jesus / and pick up John Wayne on the way."  

It seemed at least half appropriate this Sunday.

   Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

A pair of books came out back in 1989 and 1991
(which is practically prehistoric 
to whippersnappers like Fr. Tom):
the first was Future Stuff,
and then came its creatively titled sequel, 
More Future Stuff.
In both, the authors made predictions
about all kinds of gismos and gadgets
that people would enjoy in the future—
the “future” being the early 2000’s. 
They foresaw things like computers 
that would be voice activated,
or that could help you find your way 
driving on unfamiliar roads,
and even cars that would park themselves—
all things we actually do have today.
(Of course, they also predicted 
we’d now have bathing suits
which would change colors with our mood. 
I’m kind of glad they were wrong about that one!)

How is it that people are able to make
such fairly accurate forecasts of the future?
It’s not, of course, by magic,
not by looking into some crystal ball.
It actually involves only two simple steps:
first, taking careful note of what we human beings are capable of,
and then taking careful note of what we human beings desire most.
It’s one thing to recognize what’s humanly possible,
yet another to make out what we actually
have the motivation to accomplish.

In the gospel this Sunday,
we find Jesus making predictions, too—
not about the marvelous technology of tomorrow,
but about the end of time.
And I think it’s relatively safe to say
Jesus uses much the same technique to reach his conclusions:
predictions based on both what we human beings are capable of,
and—in a significant twist—on what God desires most.

Now—at first glance, anyway—Jesus’ peek into the future
isn’t quite so optimistic as those books.
In fact, it sounds pretty grim:
full of distress and tribulation and deep, deep darkness.
What gives?
Are things really that hopeless?
Isn’t there at least some chance for an eternally happy ending?

Let’s scratch beneath the surface of these predictions.

First, there will be the tribulations.
In other places, Jesus speaks of these
as being like the pangs of birth (Mt 24:8).
(And from what I hear,
such things are more than minor “pangs”!)
Like the painful labor that accompanies the delivery of a child,
so most of us—unless we’re perfect saints
or unless we’re sinners who’ve put ourselves
beyond the reach of God’s mercy—
can anticipate at least some distress
in passing from this world to the next.
It’s not about punishment, per se;
it’s a matter of God’s desires and our desires
needing to be better lined up…
…and just guess whose are going to have to be adjusted a bit.
(For the individual soul,
this experience is what we call purgatory.)
God knows well what we’re capable of—for good or ill—
because he’s the one who made us.
And God made us with a distinct goal in mind:
that we would know the fullness of joy in his presence forever.
That’s God’s desire! 
That’s meant to be our inheritance!

And then there will be darkness.
Jesus speaks of losing the sun and the moon and the stars
in an era when you couldn’t just flip a switch
and turn the lights on at will.
His first hearers would have quickly recognized
that darkness and light are part of a natural rhythm.  (cf. J. Lienhard)
And as the old saying goes:
“The night is always darkest before the dawn.”
Jesus, then, is not predicting a darkness of endless doom,
but one of expectation—of hope-filled longing—
as we await the return of him who is Light from Light.

We would do well—each one of us—
to attempt to make some predictions about the future:
not about possible hi-tech advances;
not even about our own probable accomplishments.
We need to look toward the end:
the end of time, the end of our lives.
And we need to seriously consider our prospects for eternity.
That is THE question, isn’t it?
It’s the only question that ultimately matters—
the one that’s not going away
no matter how we try to avoid it.

This Year of Faith is a perfect time for each of us
to take a good hard look at our own potential.
It should be like seeing
the first tender leaves sprout in the spring:
a hint of what can, what will be.
Despite our limitations, despite our hesitations,
we are all capable of pretty amazing things.
And then we need to take a good hard look at our motivations.
Where is my heart leading me?
What direction is my life taking?  What path am I on?
And if we realize we’re off track—whether by a little or a lot—
now is the time to find our way back:
to make sure that what God most desires
is what we desire, too.

Outside of Lowville, 
where I was once assigned,
some folks had 
a large, hand-painted sign
next to the road which read, 
“Christ is coming.  Are you ready?”
It was a good, clear reminder 
whenever I drove by.

Likewise, in the fall of every year
the Church invites her children 
to reflect on the “last things”—
on death and all that comes after.
And in a few moments, 
as we do every Sunday,
we will again confess our faith
that Christ “will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead.”
Let us look to this future not with fear,
but with readiness and hope.
We know not the day nor the hour,
but we know what God is capable of.

And so we dare to pray:
Come, Lord Jesus!
Come in great power, accompanied by your angels!
Come to gather your scattered people!
Through tribulation and darkness,
come and lead us into joy and light!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On the List

The following article (by yours truly) appears in today's edition of the Malone Telegram...

*  *  *

Our modern English word, “canonize,” comes from the ancient Greek word, kanon, meaning, “a measuring stick.”  Since the early days of Christianity, a “canon” has been a sort of sacred list—such as the canon of Scripture: the authoritative inventory of books in the Bible by which authentic Christian teaching can be measured.  Likewise, to “canonize” a person is to single him or her out for the official list of saints: the roll call of holy men and women against whom Christians can reliably measure themselves.

I consider myself blessed to have been in Rome just one month ago as the Catholic Church added seven more to its list.

None other than the New York Times (10/14/12) pointed out that this recent canonization brings to 12 the number of Catholic saints we can reasonably claim as American (although most were born elsewhere, and a few died long before the U.S. ever came to be).  And of that even dozen, we can champion seven of them as New Yorkers, including two of those newly added to the list: St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope.

Tekakwitha was born in the Iroquois village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville) in 1656.  (This was just a few years after three Jesuit missionaries from France—also on that list of U.S./N.Y. saints—were martyred nearby.)  Smallpox left her orphaned at the age of four, as well as severely scarred and almost blind.  (By many accounts, Tekakwitha translates, “she who bumps into things.”)  Having been adopted by a Mohawk uncle, she encountered Jesuit missionaries as a teenager and eagerly embraced Christianity.  Despite the objections of her uncle, she was baptized in 1676 and took the name Kateri (“Catherine”).  Harassed because of her newfound faith and her persistent desire to live as a virgin united only to Christ, Kateri moved north to a community of “praying Indians” outside of Montréal (now Kahnawake).   There she continued to grow in holiness before her 
                                                                                                               young death from fever in 1680.

Barbara Cope was born in Germany in 1838, but immigrated with her family to these shores as a very young child.  She grew up in Utica and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse in 1862, taking the name Marianne.  Having already successfully run two Catholic hospitals in central New York, when the call went out for sisters to care for the isolated leprosy patients on Molokai, Hawaii, she went simply to get the new mission started—but then decided to stay.  Remaining for more than 30 years, she proved herself a compassionate mother to both those suffering from leprosy and her fellow sisters.  Mother Marianne died in 1918 among the people she had so lovingly served.

Even in these very brief sketches of their lives, it’s fairly easy to see why these two women have been included in the Church’s canon of saints.  But why did I go all the way to Rome to see firsthand that they’d made the books?

Because these locals give me hope that I, too, might measure up and find myself on the list.

No—I have no pretensions of ever being formally canonized by the Pope in a solemn Vatican ceremony.  We New Yorkers, after all, are not generally celebrated for our outstanding holiness.  Yet with seven already in the official register, and knowing that these are but a select few out of the vast catalogue of those enjoying eternity in God’s presence, there is considerable hope that we—whether city slicker or country bumpkin, native-born or transplant, saintly now or still considering our options—might even eventually make the cut.

While saintliness may be officially recognized of those who’ve already made it to heaven, it’s a reality that’s first worked out right here on earth in responding to God’s call and cooperating with his grace.  For St. Kateri, that meant sticking with her faith when others were less than supportive—even outright hostile.  For St. Marianne, that meant going where she was most needed and standing up for those whom society would sooner abandon.  These two women may have lived in other times, when New York was a far different place, but the lessons we can draw from their lives are very much lessons for today.  That’s why they’re saints!  Whenever and wherever, their lives provide us with a dependable yardstick by which to measure our own.

May the example of these holy New Yorkers and their prayers from above inspire us each day to live as those the Lord can list as his own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Plain Sight

So, I made it back from my retreat on Sunday evening...but I probably shouldn't say "back."  You see, I went on retreat...but never left.

As I mentioned a week ago, I was scheduled to make my retreat with the Sisters of Bethlehem at their monastery in the Catskills, but their power was still out from Superstorm Sandi.  When some parishioners heard of my plight, they very generously offered me their cabin along the Salmon River about seven miles from here--either to tide me over until the sisters could take guests again, or for the entire week.  So I accepted their offer, not knowing how things would go.  But by the time the monastery called on Tuesday to say that the electricity had come back on, I was already hooked and decided to stay put.

I managed to do everything much as I would have: spend my days in silence (with only the music of the river in the background), read a lot, take long walks each day (and a few naps, too).  St. Helen's (our parish church in Chasm Falls) became my "private chapel" for the week, where I could offer Mass and adore the Blessed Sacrament.  It really was quite delightful.  I was a happy hermit, indeed!

Thus I ended up making my retreat more or less hidden in plain sight (which was both a good lesson and an unexpected treat)...meanwhile discovering some beautiful spots here in the parish that fit much same description...

"There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time.  It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of one's own thoughts."
 —Saint Syncletica

"Holy solitude is, after all, not the absence of the world, but the presence of God."
Madeleine Delbrel

Sunday, November 4, 2012

All Your Mind

So...I'm supposed to be heading out on retreat this afternoon (thus, no homily next Sunday)...but the Sisters of Bethlehem (down in the Catskills)--with whom I was to spend the week--have no power in the aftermath of "Superstorm" Sandi.  So please pray for them and all who are still suffering because of last week's tempest.  And please pray, too, that I find a quiet place to hide out and pray this week.

   Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments
with her very young class.
After explaining, “Honor thy father and thy mother,”
she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us
how to treat our brothers and sisters?”
Which is when a little boy from a big family immediately answered,
“Thou shall not kill.”

If Jesus were taking questions today,
chances are he wouldn’t be asked,
“Which commandment is the most important?”
Much more likely would be,
Why are there so many commandments?
Why are there commandments at all?
Couldn’t we drop just a few?  (And I’ve got suggestions!)  (cf. G. Rutler)

The scribe who approaches Jesus in the gospel
is someone who clearly 
knows and loves the commandments.
He already knows the answer to his own question.
Every Jew did—and still does—
because it is repeated daily:
Sh'ma Yisrael 
Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ead;
“Hear, O Israel: 
the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
Twice each day—at its beginning and its end—
this statement of faith 
is dutifully recited from memory.

So…why did the scribe ask?
Maybe he recognized in Jesus
someone who knew and loved the commandments
even more than he did;
maybe the scribe recognized an opportunity  
to keep these from being just another string of well-worn words,
but to find in them a message
with the power to change his life—
even to change the world.

I am the product of 22 years of Catholic education—
for which I’ll be forever grateful.
I’ve earned three separate degrees in religious fields.
And yet—I’m embarrassed to admit—
I can’t list the Ten Commandments in order—
never could, actually.
You see, I grew up in an era
(one which I don’t believe is quite over yet)
when religious education spent a lot more time
on creative craft projects than teaching creeds.
Memorizing things—like the sacraments or the commandments,
like works of mercy or gifts of the Holy Spirit—
simply wasn’t a priority.
And I—along with a few generations of Catholics—
suffer for it still.

The Catholic faith, of course, is much, much more
than a series of memorized prayers and lists.
But—like the alphabet or multiplication tables
when it comes to general knowledge—
such carefully studied religious knowledge is absolutely foundational
to a truly adult and flourishing faith.  (cf. D. Impasto)
Take the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
It’s certainly not the only way in which I pray.
But it does set a pattern;
it has taught me how—like Jesus—to approach my heavenly Father.
And in those moments when words escape me—
times when prayer is generally needed most—
it provides me with a sure and comforting way to speak to God.

One of the reasons we need a new evangelization—
why our Pope has called for the current Year of Faith—
is that so many Catholics these days know so very little
when it comes to the fundamentals of our tradition.
In the greatest of his commands God has asked for our all…
…and yet part of us wonders, “What’s the least it’ll take to get by?”
We human beings tend to look for shortcuts;
we try to jump ahead to the happy ending.
And so we’ve attempted to hand on the faith
without all that much serious study or disciplined practice.
The result?  A fast-growing religious illiteracy.
Studies show that U.S. Catholic youth
now rank lower in religious knowledge
than any other group—including nonbelievers.  (cf. Gallup, Pew, CARA)
It’s little wonder so many wander away!

The good news?  It doesn’t have to be this way!
We can change this!

As individual Catholics, as a Church,
we must be well-grounded in the basics
before we can make any real progress;
souls must first have firm footing
if we truly want to see them soar.  (cf. N. Goldstein)
As famous convert G. K. Chesterton once put it,
“The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth,
is to close it on something solid.”

When was the last time you made a personal effort
to learn something new about the faith?
When was the last time you went out of your way
to help a young Catholic do the same?
And why shouldn’t that be a regular part of our lives?

We should never settle for a purely “rote religion”—
one of rituals and repetition without any real depth.
But there’s a good reason we call it “learning by heart.”
Like the scribe in the gospel,
let us never tire of asking questions,
of looking for answers, of digging ever-deeper.
It’s evidence that we long to love God
with all our heart and soul and strength…
…and with all our mind as well.