Thursday, November 28, 2013


I found this reading Ann Lander's over breakfast this morning, and found it meaningful enough to share at I thought I'd share it here, too...
     by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1896) 
We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
Of pleasures sweet and tender. 
Our cares are bold and push their way
Upon our thought and feeling.
They hang about us all the day,
Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives
And conquers if we let it. 
There’s not a day in all the year
But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
While living hearts can hear us. 
Full many a blessing wears the guise
Of worry or of trouble.
Farseeing is the soul and wise
Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
To gladden every morrow. 
We ought to make the moments notes
Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
A grand Thanksgiving chorus.
As you count your blessings today, be sure not to overlook those which are so commonplace that we often take them for granted, nor neglect to thank God for his graces which wear the mask of worry, trouble, or sorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Not That Kind

Sorry I'm a little behind my usual schedule today.  Since getting back from retreat (which was great!), it's been go, go, go...

My jokes this week are really bad.  REALLY bad!  I could hardly get a groan out of 'em at early Mass; I gave the folks a "bad joke warning" at the next two.  You can't say I didn't tell you...

   Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe    

Q. When is a piece of wood like a king?
A. When it's a ruler.

Q. What member of the royal family should always carry an umbrella?
A. The reigning monarch.

Q. Why did the king go to the dentist?
A. To get his teeth crowned.

As an article I just read was pointing out,
we Americans have an awkward relationship with royalty—
even more awkward than those unfortunate puns.
The very founding of our nation goes back
to fighting for our freedom from an unjust king.
And things don’t get much better if we look north of the border:
our Canadian neighbors live in a very modern democracy,
yet their head of state is in fact the Queen of England.
We’re left with two rather divergent views of monarchy:
cruel tyrants who exploit their subjects
and ought to be overthrown,
or smartly-dressed figureheads whose curious family dynamics
add some intrigue and elegance to the evening news.  (cf. J. Martens)

Where do such perceptions leave us on this solemnity
of our Lord Jesus Christ the King?

Oh, there are some who are quick
to write Christ off as a divine dictator—
always telling us mere mortals what to do.
That would make him the worst sort of despot of all:
one who actually is almighty.
How many in the world today fancy themselves revolutionaries
as they incite their compatriots to throw off
the purportedly oppressive shackles of true religion!

But when the “good thief” turned to get a look
at the man crucified beside him,
was it is a tyrant he saw?
Christ is not that sort of king.

And we’ve got plenty of folks around
all-too-happy to let Jesus be little more
than a charming figurehead of heaven on earth.
His life provides us with nice stories
with a good message to tell the kids.
And it makes for some pretty pictures, too,
especially at Christmastime.
Attractive to look at, pleasant to think about,
but without much real influence—and even less real power—
to make much of a difference in day-to-day life.

But when St. Paul writes about the all-important “image” of this ruler,
do you suppose he had in mind
maintaining a high standing in popular culture?
Christ is not that sort of king, either.

Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father,
is the flesh-and-bone image of the invisible God:
the perfect embodiment of divine sovereignty.
No mere figurehead 
(he won’t be dismissed that easily),
he’s an absolute monarch.
He’s absolute in his power—
a power he employs, not to keep us down,
but—on the contrary—to save us and set us free:
to rescue us from the power of darkness—
the darkness of error, the darkness of sin,
the darkness in which we enslave ourselves
to so many false kings and so many false regimes—
and instead to transfer us into his kingdom of light;
an absolute power he wields 
not by shedding the blood of his enemies,
but by shedding his own.
That’s because Christ’s power
isn’t the only thing about him that’s absolute.
So is his love.
The Lord Jesus loves us absolutely—
enough to even die for us.

Neither a tyrant, nor a figurehead,
Christ is a unique kind of king
reigning over a unique kind of kingdom.
And why does that matter?
What difference does a feast such as this make?
Because the sort of king that Christ is
dictates the sort of subjects that we ought to be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I'm leaving for my annual retreat right after Masses today.  I'll be spending the week with the Sisters of Bethlehem at the their monastery outside of Livingston Manor.  So, that means no homily for you next Sunday.  In the meantime, please keep me in your prayers!

   Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A man and his—shall we say—“difficult” wife
took a trip to Jerusalem.
While there, she unexpectedly died.
A local undertaker told her husband,
“I can bury your wife here in the Holy Land for just $150,
or we can send her back to be buried at home for $5,000.”
In the blink of an eye, the widower responded, “Send her home.”
“But sir,” the undertaker continued,
“why go to such great expense?
We can provide her with a beautiful funeral and grave right here.”
To which the husband replied, “Long ago, a man died here,
was buried here, and three days later rose from the dead.
I just can’t take that chance.”

Not all the Jews of Jesus’ day believed in it.
Acceptance of the idea had been growing for some time,
but the Sadducees—the old guard—would have none of it.
They could not believe in an afterlife.
Any rewards or punishments we human beings were to receive
would be dished out in this life.
(That’s why they were so “sad, you see.”)
Faith in the resurrection—
that we, like Christ, will rise again to live forever—
became a rather distinguishing characteristic
of the earliest Christians.

Such a faith ought to distinguish us just as much today.

What we believe about resurrection
affects how we think about the future.
The most enduring and perplexing question
faced by the human race in every generation is:
What happens when we die?
The Sadducees weren’t willing to take a chance
by believing in a life beyond this one that they knew,
and so even their questioning of Jesus on the subject—
“Whose wife will that woman be?”—
is pretty convoluted and confused.
Thinking about heaven and hell,
about the last judgement and purgatory,
about “the life of the world to come,”
is likewise pretty muddled in our own day.
But if you belong to Jesus,
if you area child of God rather than a child of this age,
then faith tells you that you are but a shadow of your future self.
In the here and now, sin distorts and death downgrades us.
But in the new creation, in our totality—in both body and soul—
we will experience a life that is full and glorious;
we will know an intimacy—with God and with one another—
that far surpasses that of earthly marriage;
we will not suffer loss,
but will be made more and more alive.  (cf. N. T. Wright and J. D. Franks)

And what we believe about resurrection
also affects how we live today.
Just look at the noble and courageous example 
of those seven martyrs in the second Book of Maccabees.
They remain steadfastly faithful to their religion and its law
in the face of a most cruel death,
not because they have some peculiar taste for suffering,
nor because they wish to flee from this world, 
but because they firmly believe 
that the God who gives us life
will also sustain it well beyond
the narrow limits of our understanding.  (cf. J. Martens)
We will all die—from the greatest to the least;
it’s living that’s the trick.  (cf. R. Smith)
Believing in resurrection,
believing that we are made for another world,
necessarily transforms the manner
in which we make our way through this one.

We who put our faith in the God of Jesus Christ
willingly take a chance in believing
that he is not God of the dead, but of the living.
Because to God “all are alive,”
we can “look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”
It’s an article of faith about the future
with immense power to shape the present.

William Penn, the seventeenth century founder of Pennsylvania,
composed a prayer which captures well
the faith that ought to distinguish us:
            We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.
            You did not lose them when you gave them to us,
            and we do not lose them by their return to you.
            Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal,
            and love cannot die.
            So death is only an horizon,
            and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.
            Open our eyes to see more clearly,
            and draw us closer to you 
            that we may know we are nearer to our loved ones,
            who are with you.
            You have told us that you are preparing a place for us;
            prepare us also for that place,
            that where you are we may also be always,
            O dear Lord of life and death.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Open Door

   Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time    


On Prayer 
Part III:  Why We Pray

Many of you know Fr. Scott Fobare and Fr. Scott Seymour,
both of whom served here in Malone in years past.
(When they’re out somewhere together,
they like to joke about one being Fr. Scott the Greater
and the other being Fr. Scott the Lesser…
…but there’s always debate about which is which.)
These two priests are just back from leading a pilgrimage to Rome,
and only a few weeks before their departure
did they get word that they would have the opportunity
to concelebrate morning Mass with Pope Francis.
What a treat it was to see them in a video online,
sitting right there in the front row of the chapel
at the guest house where the Holy Father resides.
At first I saw them and thought, “My, they look serious and pious!” 
(That’s not how I’m used to seeing them.)
And then I realized what was really going on:
the Pope was preaching in Italian,
and they had absolutely no idea what he was talking about…

It’s really too bad they couldn’t understand
the Pope’s homily that morning,
because his words that day were particularly powerful:
            And we ourselves, when we don’t pray,
            what we’re doing is closing the door to the Lord.
            And not praying is this:
            closing the door to the Lord,
            so that He can do nothing.
            On the other hand, prayer,
            in the face of a problem,
            a difficult situation, a calamity,
            is opening the door to the Lord
            so that He will come.
            So that He builds things,
            He knows to arrange things, to reorganize things.
            This is what praying is:
            opening the door to the Lord,
            so that he can do something.”  (10/8/13)

This is our third and final Sunday
when Fr. Tom and I are preaching about prayer.
We’ve talked about preparing to pray.
We’ve talked about how to pray.
And now it’s time to talk about why we pray.
It rather simple:
we pray because prayer will change your life.

Let’s take a look at Zacchaeus:
that little man with the big bank account
who’s up in a sycamore tree.
Climbing trees is for young boys, 

not grown men of prominence.
Zacchaeus was willing not only to act foolishly,
but to look foolish in front of others
just to sneak a peek at Jesus.
And what a thrill it must have been for him
to hear Jesus call him by name!
The one about whom Zacchaeus is so curious
takes a very personal interest in him.
And what does Jesus say?
“Today I must stay at your house!”
So Zacchaeus opens the door to Jesus…
…and that changes everything for him.

If you’re driving by Notre Dame rectory at night
and see a warm, red glow
in a few of the third floor windows, don’t worry:it’s not because Fr. Stitt is up there playing with matches again;
it’s because, with Bishop LaValley’s permission,
we’ve taken one of the spare rooms in that big old house
and turned it into a simple little chapel.
It just happens to be directly above my bedroom.
I can now lie in bed, look up at the ceiling,
and think, “Jesus is right there!”

The words of the Mass have taken on
a new and deeper meaning for me:
Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof…

I’m well aware that it’s an extraordinary privilege
to have the Most Blessed Sacrament reserved in our home—
and it’s one I won’t take for granted.
But no matter where we live,
we are all able to open the door to the Lord
and invite Jesus in.
He wants to stay with us today—
as he did with Jericho’s chief tax collector—
at home and at school, at work and in the car.
Jesus stands ready to enter in
wherever and whenever we would pray.

Why do we pray?
Sometimes it’s because we have an urgent request to make—
whether for ourselves or on behalf of another—
like the persistent widow in the parable two weeks ago.
Sometimes we pray because we’ve screwed up
and need to repent of our sins—
like the tax collector in the temple last Sunday.
And sometimes we pray because we realize the huge debt
of gratitude, adoration, and praise we owe the Lord
for all the good he’s done for us—
like Zacchaeus, who lays his entire life and livelihood at Jesus’ feet.
Regardless of the particular circumstances,
it really does all come down—as Pope Francis put it so well—
to “opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something.”

There are as many different ways to pray
as there are different people who do it.
The only way to do it wrong is not to pray at all.
So make a decision to pray.
Speak to the Lord from your heart.
Open the door to welcome God in.
And then watch—watch very carefully—
because your life will change.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Telling Stories

My NPT partner, Lawrence, put me onto this interesting article/study.  Go figure that in the midst of a 120 mile hike we'd be talking about what makes some people more resilient than others...

   Solemnity of All Saints    

It comes as no surprise to hear someone say that the family—the very building block of society—is in crisis.  So it should also come as no surprise to hear that many studies have been done on this troubling situation.  Most of these studies focus on what it is that’s tearing modern families apart.  But a number of years ago, a few psychologists decided that it would be much more helpful to study strong, successful families to see what was keeping them together.

Their research began by studying the children.  They gave the kids a “do you know?” test, and the focus was on their family stories.  The children were asked questions like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up?  Do you know how your parents met?  Do you know about a serious illness or other family tragedy?  Do you know the story of your birth?

The result?  They found that the more kids know about their family history, the higher their self-esteem and the stronger their sense of control over their lives.  Children are happier and far healthier emotionally when they know their family story.

As the researchers took their study deeper, they realized that there are essentially three different family stories.  The first is the upward climb: “When we came to this country, we had nothing.  But we worked hard, and your grandfather opened this store.  Your father graduated from high school.  Now you’re headed off to college…”  The second is the downward spiral: “Once upon a time, we had it all!  Then there was the fire, and we lost everything…”   But the happiest, healthiest kids heard a third story—one marked by both ups and downs: “Our family has come a long way.  Your grandfather built a strong business and was a pillar of the community.  And your mother served on the hospital board.   But we’ve also had our setbacks.  Your uncle went to jail.  And your father lost his job.  But no matter what has happened, we’ve always stuck together as a family.”  (cf. B. Feiler, NY Times, 3/15/13)

I think we’d find pretty much the same thing if we did a study of the children of God.

Today is a feast of family as we celebrate the Communion of Saints.  We—as St. John reminds us—are God’s children now.  Which means that all the holy ones who’ve gone before us are our elder brothers and sisters.  Today is a feast for retelling their story—for recalling our family history, the history of the Church.  It’s so very important for us to know where we’ve come from!  The saints need to be for us more than a collection of dusty statues.  Our origins have a huge impact on who we are now—living in the world—and who we long to be—living forever in heaven.

How would you do on a “do you know?” test when it comes to our saintly ancestors?  What so you know about the saints after whom our churches were named?  What do you know about the saint after whom you were named?  Believe it or not, the lives of the saints and the history of the Church make for some very fascinating reading!

But it makes a difference how we hear this family story.  There are some who speak of the saints in a constant upward climb; they make them so otherworldly that we could never hope to follow their example.  Then there are others who get caught in a downward spiral; they can see nothing but corruption in the Church’s past and crisis in her present.  But the Catholic family story that is most healthy and helpful—and which just also happens to be most accurate—is one marked by both ups and downs.  (Doesn’t that sound like the Beatitudes, where Jesus can declare the poor and the mourning, the thirsty and the persecuted, to be “blessed”?)  We must never forget: every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

If you want to have a stronger family, if you want your children to be able to bounce back better in the face of adversity, then keep retelling the family story—including both the good times and the bad.  What is needed in our homes is just as much needed in our Church.  Learn the Church’s history!  Get to know the saints!  Do so and, as God’s children, we’ll build a much happier, healthier, and holier family.