Friday, October 31, 2014

Making Faces

From the pumpkins and the priests of St. André's Parish...

Walking the Line

Yesterday afternoon I took a walk in the woods at The Gulf, a most definitely "unique" area near Cannon Corners in northernmost Clinton County.

After parking off a back road off a back road (that's not a typo), there's a 2.6 mile meander through woods and wetlands dotted with some rather unusual rock formations--almost like the earth heaves just below the surface from time to time.  In spots, the trail is over bare sandstone bedrock.

And then you get to The Gulf: a chasm formed when the last ice age melted off some 12,000 years ago.  It's 3/4 of a mile wide, 2 miles long, with a maximum depth of 1,000 feet.

And what makes The Gulf even more"unique" that it cuts straight across the U.S./Canada border.  (I did say this was northernmost Clinton County!)  The red DEC markers stop just as you get in sight of Border Monument #688, and you can easily see Monument #687 at the top of the wall on the other side of the chasm.  (You can see #687 in the upper right of the photo above, too.)

I didn't run into anybody else while hiking, but I still felt like someone certainly must be watching me standing there at the international border, so I walked back just a bit along the trail before stopping a moment to eat my lunch.

There's a waterfall which flows down the side of the The Gulf.  Since I found myself at the top of it, and the chasm was so steep and deep, it was hard to get much perspective on it--or take a good picture.  But then I noticed this:

And I couldn't resist.  Using that rope to climb down may not be the smartest thing I've ever done...but it was a fun little challenge, and it got me halfway down the chasm so I could get a look at the falls (which are a whole lot higher than this photo would lead you to believe).

Not a bad way to spend part of a late fall day.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What is truth?

For some reason, I'm thinking we should post this on the door of the confessional...


Sunday, October 26, 2014


I guess Our Lady has been wrapped up like this most of the day out in front of Notre Dame Church:

If she'd only told me she was cold...

Attention, Please

   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

Laurie had been a good kid,
but things changed when she grew into a teenager—
becoming uncooperative, argumentative, even aggressive—
and things were only getting worse.
All her mother’s lectures and threats
weren’t making any difference whatsoever,
and she didn’t know what else to do.
“Life is hard enough,” this single mom thought,
“holding down two jobs so I can give her whatever she needs
and even a few of the things she wants,
while trying to manage the housework besides.
But she won’t listen to me!
Doesn’t she see how much I love her?
Doesn’t she care at all?”
One day, Laurie’s mother just gave up.
The teen had disobeyed her again,
and was leaving the house to visit friends
without finishing her homework or chores.
Since she didn’t have the strength to scream anymore,
the tired mother simply asked sadly, “Why, Laurie?  Why?”
And in a calm voice, Laurie responded,
“Do you really want to know?”
Her mother nodded.
And Laurie told her, “Because you never listen to me.
You’re too busy with work all the time.
And when you’re home, you’re always telling me what to do.
Whenever I start to tell you my thoughts or my feelings,
you interrupt me with more orders or take off for work again.”
And that’s when the mother realized
that she hadn’t been listening to her daughter.
She’d been so busy trying to provide the best for her
that she failed to give Laurie the things she needed most:
her time and her attention.  (adapted from a true story told by D. Carnegie)

Most of us have a pretty good sense
that love—true love—is much more than just a feeling.
It’s never enough for us to make loving promises;
we must follow them up with loving deeds.
And yet stories like those of Laurie and her mom
make it crystal clear:
neither does love consist solely in doing things—
even extraordinarily generous things—for another person;
love, rather, means being there for them.
Love is often more a matter of our attention
than it is of our actions.
Beyond gift-giving, love calls us to self-giving.

We 21st century Americans are very busy people.
We’re in constant motion,
running from one project or event to the next.
Our whole society is hyperactive!
A parishioner—a retiree, mind you—
recently said to me with a sigh,
“I don’t have a life; I have a schedule!”
Even in our spare time, we act like we do on the job—
as if our worth is measured by our ability to do and produce.

Your spouse and your kids, your parents and friends—
are they only interested in the things
you can do for them or give to them?
Or would they rather have some of your time and attention,
to have you fully present and really listening?
The finest compliment I’ve ever heard paid
by one friend to another is,
“When I’m with him/When I’m with her,
it’s as if I’m the only other person in the entire world!”
(That experience is increasingly rare
with folks forever glancing at the latest text on their cell phones…)
If such genuine availability is prized among our dear ones,
might it not also be appreciated
by our coworkers or classmates or the clerk in the store,
by our fellow parishioners or even a stranger?

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
You’ll notice that Jesus commands us
to love our “neighbor,” not “humanity”—
to love real, live people, those with whom we cross paths,
and not some nameless, faceless crowd
held off at a safe distance.
It’s one thing to anonymously give money to a soup kitchen;
it’s quite another to sit at table
with someone who’s down on their luck.
The first gets stomachs fed—
don’t get me wrong, a rather important thing to do;
but the second keeps hearts alive—
the hearts of both who are involved.

That second commandment of Christ
is based upon one which is both first and greater:
You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Love of God involves giving our full attention, too, does it not?
Sr. Marie of the Trinity was a Carmelite novice
under the care of St. Thérèse, the “little flower.”
When God was calling her deeper into prayer,
she heard him say, “It’s easier to find laborers to work
than children to play.”
With God as with our neighbor,
we need to spend quality time—to “waste” some time—freely,
purely for the joy of being together.
We are called not only to be the Lord’s servants, but his friends:
to share his life, to be close to him,
over and above any way we might be useful to his purpose.
God doesn’t need us to get busy
as much as he longs for us just to be with him.

Simple and straightforward,
Jesus has spelled out his two great commandments of love.
Let us fulfill these greatest of the Lord’s commands
by giving God and neighbor our very best:
our precious time, our undivided attention, our very selves.

relying heavily on a meditation by Fr. J. Philippe

Friday, October 24, 2014

Messy...but God's still in charge

The recently concluded "Synod on the Family" in Rome caused quite a dust up in both the secular and the Catholic press...making it kind of difficult to get a handle on what was really going on or what one should begin to think about it all.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, has posted a few random reelections on the Synod that are both refreshingly succinct and sane.  Check them out here.

Talking Again

I spent last evening at St. Patrick's Church in Colton, where I was invited to give a talk on Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as part of their adult faith formation series for the fall.  This was essentially the same talk I gave at a diocesan workshop marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the end of the Year of Faith (see here and/or here).  You know it's quite a  compliment to a cook to ask for a second helping of what's being served; likewise, it's quite a compliment to a speaker to ask him to give the very same presentation all over again!  Deep thanks to my hosts for the kind invitation (along with a really wonderful meal beforehand), and to the fine group of folks from the parishes in Potsdam and Colton who came out on a "dark and stormy night" to listen, discuss, and ask questions.

A Time to Dance

Even though it doesn't look or feel anything like Indian Summer out there this morning, Snoopy's optimistic outlook had my toes tapping just a bit this morning...

And then I heard about this fancy footwork coming out from my alma mater:

Help these two priests go truly viral and watch the original YouTube video here.  Then be sure to dance your way on through the day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What it's Worth

   Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  
Two well-worn bills arrived at the Federal Reserve to be retired:
a twenty and a one dollar bill.
As they traveled together down the conveyor belt,
they struck up a conversation.
The twenty reminisced about
what an interesting and exciting life he’d had,
traveling all over the country.
“I’ve been to the finest restaurants, Broadway shows,
Hollywood and Las Vegas,” he said.  
“I even went on a lovely Caribbean cruise.
Where have you been?”
“Oh,” said the dollar bill, “I’ve been to the Catholic church,
the Methodist church, the Baptist church, the Episcopal church…”

Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and to God what belongs to God.

Jesus asks those trying to trap him
if he might see a Roman coin—
cleverly proving that he doesn’t carry any,
but that the holier-than-thou Pharisees sure do.
(They may not want to pay taxes to a pagan government,
but its money isn’t so tainted
that they won’t carry some of it around in their pockets.)
The coinage bore the emperor’s likeness 
and his inscription—
much like our American currency is marked
with portraits of presidents and patriots
and the signature of 
the Secretary of the Treasury.
But there’s an important difference
between a U.S. dollar and a Roman denarius:
the emperor, right there on the coin, 
claimed to be divine.
What we have here is not a conflict 
between Church and state,
but between the true God and a false one.

“Whose image is this?” Jesus asks.
You won’t find him asking for a Jewish coin
to hold up alongside the Roman one—
a depiction of the heavenly Lord of Hosts
to contrast with the picture 
of an earthly emperor.
No—on their money as on anything else,
Jewish law strictly forbade making any image of God.
Because a sharper image of God could be found elsewhere:
not carved into statues or painted on canvases
or minted as spare change,
but in human beings themselves.
As God says on the sixth day in Genesis:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
God then looked at what he had made,
and he found it very good (1:26, 31).
This deeply embedded faith of the Jewish people
was quite the opposite of the idolatry that surrounded them:
instead of creating gods that resembled human beings,
they believed in a Creator who made human beings
so that they would resemble God.
That’s a faith, of course, which would be perfectly fulfilled
when the Word became flesh, when God became man.
From the very beginning,
God had been modeling the human race on Christ.  (cf. J. Lienhard)

Jesus’ teaching here is thus not so much
about taxation or the interplay of politics and religion;
it’s about belonging.
These coins bear the image of the emperor;
give him all the coins he wants;
they belong to the emperor.
But you have been created in the likeness of God;

give him your heart and mind, your body and soul, 
your energy and resources—your entire self;
you belong to God.

As it is with money,
to whom we belong determines what we’re worth.
A woman who had suffered long and intensely
once approached her pastor and said through her tears,
“I have come to realize that I’m like an old twenty-dollar bill:
crumpled, torn, and dirty, scarred and abused. 
But I’m still a twenty-dollar bill. 
I am worth something. 
Even though I may not look like much,
and even though I’ve been battered and used,
I am still worth the full twenty bucks.”

I’m thoroughly convinced
that all the hurtful things done in the world today
are done because people don’t recognize
this innate, God-given dignity:
their own, or anybody else’s.
And that’s why, on this World Mission Sunday,
we must recognize the urgent need to spread this Good News.
We are living in mission territory!
We desperately need to help people—starting here and now—
to see their true dignity:
that they’re worth something;
that they’re worth everything—genuinely priceless, in fact.
And that this immense value of theirs doesn’t come
from what they own, or who they know,
or the things they might be able to accomplish.
They are worth something
because God has grasped them by the hand, called them by name,
given them a title—even if they know it not.
They have a Father who has chosen them because he loves them.
They have been marked as God’s own
simply by being formed in the likeness of his Son.
And if they receive Baptism,
and if they endure in faith, in hope, and in charity,
then that image can be restored to its original glory.

But if we’re ever going to help anybody else
to believe this astoundingly good news,
we must first believe it ourselves.

Do I belong to God?
Have I given my whole life to him, or only certain portions of it?
Do I recognize God’s image in me?
When I look in the mirror, do I see the likeness of Christ?
Do I believe that God made me, made me out of love,
made me for a specific purpose in his plan,
and made me good—very good?
Can I see my true dignity?
That real value comes not
from power or popularity or possessions?
That every person I meet is a priceless treasure?

You are worth so much more
than any pile of coins or stack of bills.
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
Repay to God what belongs to God.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Than Guests

A parishioner came up to me after the first Mass this morning and said, "Thanks for that homily, Father.  My mother's not Catholic, but she's come with me to Mass many times.  And she always says, 'I'll never understand you Catholics!  When you come back from Communion, you just don't look happy.  Some of you actually look miserable.  I'll never figure you guys out!'  Father, I can't wait to get home and tell her what you said..."

   Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  
I turned 40 on Wednesday,
and on Friday night my family threw a party.
It was a real feast, with lots and lots and lots of food.
But what made the celebration
wasn’t nearly as much the cuisine on the table
as it was those who were gathered together to share it.
I would have been a bit disappointed, of course,
if any of the invited guests had failed to appear.
But just imagine if all the balloons were hung,
the table was set, the cake was baked…
…and I hadn’t shown up.
I sure would have had some explaining to do!

Now, my birthday party was no royal wedding—
as we hear about in Jesus’ parable this Sunday—
but there is a parallel in imagining a grand banquet
to which the guest of honor never comes,
or arrives not properly disposed.

When Jesus tells a story,
we know it isn’t just a story…and this one is no exception.
The king is God, and the king’s son is Jesus.
The wedding banquet is an image of heaven—
but it’s also the new life God offers us here on earth,
one that we taste most unmistakably in the Eucharist.
The king’s servants are prophets and apostles.
The first guest list is made up
of those who fail to heed their message;
the second, of those on the margins.

So much for what’s in the story.
How about what’s missing?
All this talk of a wedding,
and there’s not a single mention of the bride.
Where is she?
Better yet, who is she?
Well, if the king’s son is Christ,
then we know that the bride is his Church.
The bride is you and me.

No matter the outward appearance of the building—
however humble or opulent—
whenever we come to church for Mass,
the Lord is taking us into his house
and spreading a table before us
with juicy, rich food and pure, choice wine.
But the King gathers us in not just as so many guests:
we are to enter into an intimate union—a holy communion—
with his Son.
This is where heaven and earth, God and man,
come together to be joined as one.

That’s how we can make sense
of some of the stranger twists in this Sunday’s parable.
The king reacts so strongly to news of his deadbeat guests
because it’s actually the bride
who’s failed to show up for his son’s wedding.
And the king’s feelings are so intense
about a missing wedding garment
because, in fact, the bride now shows up…
…but without putting on her dress.

A priest friend recently shared with me
an insight that he’d read or heard
on our sense of being “invited” by the Lord
to come here to Mass.
Someone who receives an invitation to a dinner party
is free to take it or leave it,
depending on how interested they are or if they get a better offer.
But the Eucharist is less like a dinner party
and more like a family supper.
You aren’t invited to a regular family supper;
you’re expected.
Your absence is noted
because your presence has been anticipated.
And if you show up to the table in body
but your attention is obviously elsewhere,
that will certainly be noticed, too.
You’ll be missed when you’re missing
only because you’re so deeply loved.
You are so much more than an invited guest!
Although born a commoner,
you have been chosen to become a member of the royal family.
Your place at the king’s supper table is reserved,
and this is a standing appointment not to be neglected.

When I look out into the pews on most Sundays,
I must say I don’t see folks who look like they’re at a wedding;
to tell the truth, I see folks who look a lot more
like they’re at a funeral—quite possibly their own!
What ought to be seen—on my face as much as yours—
is the look I see on a bride’s face
as she takes her walk down the aisle:
smiling, beaming, unable to hide her happiness and excitement
at the wonderful thing about to take place.

In light of Jesus’ challenging parable,
we all need to stop and ask ourselves:
Why am I here?
Do I come to church because of some sense of duty,
to fulfill a stern obligation, out of fear of hell?
Or do I come to Mass 
because I’m filled with love, joy, and devotion
at the thought of the one who awaits me here?
If you’re happy to be here,
then make sure your heart gets the message to your face!
Your disposition in coming to Mass
will affect what you’re able to take from it.
It will also affect who else decides to join us here.
We certainly don’t want to leave Jesus jilted at the altar.
But neither is it enough for us to simply show up.
A little preparation is required of each one of us.
It matters how and why we’ve come.

When Jesus tells a story, it isn’t just a story.
And when Jesus serves a meal, it isn’t just a meal.
The Eucharist is a royal marriage banquet—
it is the wedding supper of the Lamb of God.
Don’t get caught having to explain your absence!
Come clothed in joy to be joined again
with the Bridegroom of your soul.
You've not only been invited
you've been chosen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Comes & Goes

This one is cute...but also makes me a little sad.

As the post says on YouTube:
I grew a beard until my wife proclaimed it's robust awesomeness was overwhelming for her heart. RIP Beard. You were loved.
I have not yet been overwhelmed (although I think a few were last winter--my mother included).  Keep bringing on the awesomeness, I say.



This one was a really big win...


Friday, October 10, 2014

10 x 4 = 40

This being the 10th month of my year-long project, 4 of us (Fr. Stitt, Fr. Scott, Paul and I) headed into the woods on Wednesday--my idea of the perfect way to mark my 40th birthday.

On the way to Duck Hole just a couple of weeks ago, Fr. Scott and I discovered a practically perfect campsite: a rather new lean-to overlooking Lake Henderson with a nice open site and a small waterfall very nearby.  We knew we need to come back and camp there...and this seemed to be just the right opportunity.

It had only been two weeks since hiking to this spot, but the place looked very different: so many of the leaves we had earlier admired brilliantly glowing in the trees were now dull and wet, lying scattered on the trail.  Nonetheless, the place was still beautiful.

We hiked in the 2 miles to the lean-to with our gear on our backs, but with a little something extra in our hands: firewood.  We knew we wanted to have a campfire, and we also knew how hard it can be to find dead, down, and dry wood for one around a campsite--especially when it's been raining.  We all agreed the extra burden was well worth it...and spent a lot of time discussing how we could improve on our transport system.

After leaving off the gear and wood, and eating lunch, we left on a 6.8 roundtrip up into Indian Pass.  I had hiked into the Pass once before from the other end...but that was 20 years--half a lifetime--ago!  It was the first solo hike of any significance I ever took, so it somehow seemed like a good fit on this auspicious occasion.

The trail was very wet (so wet it was actually flowing in places), and the streams were running very high and fast.  In fact, at one point, finding no other way across, we took off our boots and waded through a rather chilly and swift stream.  (Of course Paul had to be different: being rather sure-footed, he managed to jump across on a few stones lying just beneath the surface of the water.)

It was raining now, too, as we made our ascent in the last half mile of the trail, up to Summit Rock, near the height of the Pass.  It's a scramble over and around giant rocks (many of which are the size of most folks homes), tossed all about with abandon.

At Summit Rock, you're given quite a unique perspective, as that primordial rock pile tumbles down beneath you about 1,000 feet, and the cliff face of Wallface Mountain (the northwest side of the Pass) rises another 1,000 feet above you.  We also had a nice view to the southwest back toward camp.

As a visitor in the 1840's said of this wild spot:
I lay on my back filled with strange feelings of the power and grandeur of the God who had both framed and rent this mountain asunder.  ...How loudly God speaks to the heart, when it lies awe-struck and subdued in the presence of His works.  In the shadow of such a grand and terrible form, man seems but the plaything of a moment, to be blown away with the first breath.  ...[T]hat wall of a thousand feet perpendicular, with its seams and rents and stooping cliffs, is one of the few things in the world the beholder can never forget.  (Rev. J. T. Headley)
We made it back to Henderson a little later than we'd hoped, but agreed the sacrifice of time and dryness was well worth it.  We warmed ourselves by the fire with food and good humor...and maybe even a Birthday toast or two.

The night was windy, which gave us occasional glimpses of the nearly full moon (that had been in total eclipse just before sunrise).  There were forecasts of potential snowfall, which did materialize on some nearby peaks but not where we were staying.  (I don't think the temperature fell too far below 40° F.)  A little sleet during Morning Prayer was all the frozen preciptation we got.

We took our morning at leisure--very leisurely, actually--before hiking back to the car, visiting the massive ruins of the blast furnace of McIntyre iron mine , and getting a hot lunch at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake.

I'm glad I've got such good friends who were willing to join me in such a beautiful place as I made my way "over the hill."