Monday, March 31, 2014

Saintly...& Cute

A brother priest just forwarded me the link to this wonderful video (18 minutes) on the life of Br. André.  It's entirely narrated and acted out by children--and so well done!  Watch it when you've got the time.  You'll love it!

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I see that I wasn't the only one who decided that today was as good a day as any to do a little math and "render unto Caesar...



Since in the Church it's Laetare Sunday, and in New York State it's Maple Weekend, and in Malone it's still snowing, I decided today was the day to attempt to recreate a taste from my childhood and make maple syrup dumplings.  It's been quite a few years now, but my grandmother would make these once each year at this time for the extended family, and always pair their rich, super-sweet goodness together with her famously sour pickles.  I had just a few of her pickles left in the jar...and that's what got me to thinkin'.  I found a recipe online (not sure how close it is to my Memère's).  They sure smelled right--warm maple sugar filling the air--and tasted pretty darn good, too, but they came out a little darker than I recall them.  (Of course, as I said, it's been a long time!)  Very, very tasty, all the same...

To See

The rose vestments of this Fourth Sunday of Lent are meant to remind us to rejoice, because "it's beginning to look at lot like Easter"...but the very wintry weather this morning had us singing a slightly different tune around here.

   Fourth Sunday of Lent   A 

I got glasses when I was in the fourth grade.
I had been told for a long time,
“Don’t sit so close to the TV!  You’ll ruin your eyes!”
But I was only sitting so close
because otherwise everything was just a blur.
The eye doctor diagnosed me as nearsighted:
not able to clearly see things at a distance.
I distinctly remember the drive home
from picking up my new glasses:
looking out the car windows
at sights I’d passed hundreds and hundreds of times,
but which I had never seen before.

This Sunday’s gospel revolves
around the healing of a man born blind…
…but he’s not the only one in the story who’s visually impaired.
There are the Pharisees who clearly have a case of tunnel vision:
their self-righteousness and their preconceived notions
about who God is and how God operates
prevent them from recognizing the Lord
when he’s at work right before their eyes.
And Jesus’ own disciples, too, have some trouble seeing:
they’re nearsighted:
wanting to identify the man’s blindness as a divine punishment;
all they can see is the man’s immediate problem,
and not the possibilities of what God might accomplish.

Why is God punishing us?
No doubt, a few folks are asking that very question
as they wake up to yet another snowy morning!
It’s pretty normal for us to look at things
from such a cause-and-effect perspective—
and we do it with things much more serious
than a late winter storm:
Why did she get cancer?  Why did I lose my job?
Why did our marriage fall apart?
When bad things happen,
we search for someone or something to blame.
Jesus tries to change this kind of thinking among his disciples.
That’s not to say, of course,
that we don’t need to take responsibility for our actions.
But when challenges arise, when a crisis must be faced,
why start pointing fingers, finding fault,
and pouting, “Why me?”
Jesus wants to cure us of such nearsightedness.
He wants us see such moments as graced opportunities:
moments not for laying blame,
but for spotting new possibilities;
a chance to make visible the workings of God.  (cf. H Brock)
Faith in Christ ought to expand our vision
and change our perception of things.
That doesn’t mean that faith is a pair of rose-colored glasses,
which help us avoid looking at
the very real hardship, struggle, and pain
which are part of our lives.
No, faith is more like x-ray goggles:
it helps us to see right through tough times out to the other side,
where God can do unexpected and astonishing things—
not to mention walking beside us every step of the way.

One area where many Catholics
ought to try this hope-filled way of seeing
is when it comes to confession.
Most Catholics look at the Sacrament of Penance
and can see only a torture chamber,
filled with guilt, embarrassment, and shame.
What a pity!
Because if we were able to take the long view,
if we allowed Jesus to heal us of our short-sightedness,
then we could see confession from God’s perspective:
not as a means to dwell glaringly on the dark moments of our past,
but as an invitation to walk with Christ from now on
as a child of the light.

to return to this sacrament of God’s healing mercy—
and not merely by his impassioned words.
He’s said before that he confesses about twice a month,
but on Friday, on his way to hear a few confessions, 
the Pope himself stopped at an ordinary confessional
right in the middle St. Peter’s Basilica:
the first Pope in modern history
to be seen publically receiving the sacrament.
(Imagine what was going through the mind 
of that unsuspecting priest!)
Inserted in this Sunday’s bulletin,
you’ll find a message from Pope Francis,
a detailed examination of conscience,
and other helpful hints on going to confession.
A week from tomorrow,
we’ll be hosting a regional Penance Service for Lent.
Give it some real thought and prayer.
Allow the Lord to cure your nearsightedness,
and see this sacrament not as a matter
of harsh judgment and condemnation
to be feared and avoided,
but an opportunity for a fresh start given by God,
who wants to embrace you with his tender love.

We’re all visually impaired, in one way or another.
Which means that there are many amazing possibilities
we simply fail to see.
Jesus cured the man born blind;
he can certainly cure you and me.

Lord, open our eyes!
Help us to see!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I'm posting this under "Funnies"...but it isn't exactly funny.  Suddenly, trying to drink less/go without coffee during Lent seems much more poignant.  And to think that this strip first appeared back on March 30, 1967...


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Glad Tidings

Today's solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is always a feast of great hope...but especially for us northerners if you take into account the old folksy proverb:

Saint Gabriel to Mary flies:
This is the end of snow and ice.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


This weekend brought with it a certain kind of racing that isn't ordinarily part of my hectic schedule:  SnoX came to Malone, and it brought with it my niece (6-years-old) and nephew (8) who raced around the rectory and raced in the youth competitions.  (Nathan's been doing this for a few years, but they were Payton's first races).  As you'll see, they both went home with plenty of hardware around their necks...

Budding friends...and budding fans...


Don't catch it! But if you do, don't spread it around. And don't let it keep you down.

   Third Sunday of Lent   A 

There’s a nasty sort of illness going around these days…
…and I’m not talking about the violent stomach bug
that’s laid so many people low.
I’m talking about a chronic outbreak of crabbiness.
I’m not pointing fingers here!
I admit that I have been afflicted with it myself.
My fuse has grown quite short, my patience worn quite thin.
Thankfully, only a few
of the snide remarks passing through my mind
have made their way out across my lips.

Now, I don't want you to think
that you should be afraid to shake my hand on the way out of church!
I'm well on the way to recovery,
and believe I'm past the contagious stage.

This illness is not good.
And I know that other people
have noticed this disorder on the rise lately, too.
No doubt, for many folks it’s brought on by the weather.
The calendar now says it’s spring,
but spring isn’t exactly what you see outside the window...
...if you can still see out the window.
It’s been a pretty tough winter,
and it doesn’t look quite ready to let go just yet.
Before Mass yesterday, a parishioner came into the sacristy and said, 
"I sure hope we're praying for spring at this Mass.
Even my cat is depressed!"

I don’t think winter is the source of my problem.
I made peace with the cold and snow years ago.
I actually like a number of winter activates, 
and have even gone out winter camping a few nights.
No, the problem for me 
is that this time of year has gotten extra busy.
I'll spare you the details, 
but I’ve let myself get overwhelmed—
racing about, trying to do too much in too little time.

I’m certain this sort of thing sounds familiar to you,
since this dis-ease I’m calling crabbiness is nothing new.
In our first reading, we hear about a time (certainly not the only one)
when the Israelites were a bit cranky, too.
They’ve escaped from slavery in Egypt,
but now they’re wandering about thirsty in the desert.
The people grumble against Moses,
and Moses then gripes about it to the Lord.

Someone who isn’t grumpy
is the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
She easily could be.
She’s out doing a daily chore at about noon, we’re told—
when it’s getting to be the hottest part of the day.
It’s safe to assume that she simply wants
to fill her water jar and get back home.
But sitting there is this chatty man—
a hated Jewish foreigner, no less—
who’s only going to slow the whole process down.

And yet, in the midst of a routine task—
and a fairly grueling one, at that—
she has a completely life-changing experience.
There, at the well, where she’s gone to draw water
hundreds and hundreds of times before,
she very powerfully encounters God
and will never, ever, be the same again.

Looking at the woman at the well,
I recognize a couple of potential cures for my own case of crabbiness.
I share them, in case they might help alleviate someone else’s, too.

The first is a question of priorities.
Getting extra busy throws mine way out of whack.
Here’s a woman taking care of necessary business.
According to most sources,
a healthy person can survive a month or more without food,
but only a few days without water.
Did you notice, about three-quarters of the way through the story,
how the Samaritan woman leaves her empty water jug behind?
She has discovered something even more fundamental
than a drink of water, and without it,
nothing else is going to make any sense any more.
The woman at the well reminds me
to be more careful about setting my priorities:
to determine what’s essential,
and to make sure it stays at the top of the list.

The second is a question of presence.
When I get extra busy, I might still get a lot done,
but I’m not fully “with it”—
I’m going through the motions,
but without my head really in the game.
The Samaritan woman could have done the same:
filled her pail and walked away.
But because she shows an openness to this mysterious stranger—
one which increases as their conversation goes on—
she receives a lot more than she bargained for.
Sitting there in the full light of midday,
Jesus opens her eyes
to the truth about herself and her deepest desires:
that she has an immeasurable dignity as one loved by God…
…it’s just that she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places;
and Jesus opens her eyes to the truth about himself:
yes, that he is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world,
but also that he cares for her very passionately and very personally.
You never know who you might meet over a cup of water.
The thirsty, crabby Israelites put God to the test by distrustfully asking,
“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
This daughter of Samaria has no use for that question!
The woman at the well reminds me
to be more present, to be more fully in the moment,
lest I miss out on God’s presence here and now.

The current outbreak of crabbiness will eventually pass
come a break in the weather or a break in my busy schedule
or a break in whatever brings it on for other folks.
But in the meantime,
I’m going to work on priorities and presence
as this Lent continues on.
If I can always remember
that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts,”
then whatever could there be to be cranky about?

Friday, March 21, 2014

St. Joe & Snow

I wouldn't generally spend the feast of my holy patron in such rustic fashion, but St. Joseph's Day looked like it might be my only reasonable opportunity in March to stay on track with my year-long quest of staying overnight in the woods.  Over course, a little winter camping seemed like the perfect way to welcome the official start of Spring, too!  So on Wednesday afternoon, Paul Poulin (who works here in the parish) and I headed out to the lean to on Copperas Pond, between Lake Placid and Wilmington.  (Despite what you see on the trailhead sign, the spelling I'm using seems to be the correct one.)

The forecast wasn't for the best of weather, but it was more than "good enough" to stick to our plan for an overnight.  Packs and snowshoes strapped on, we started mid-afternoon on Wednesday along the trail which took us first to Owen Pond.  Heavy cloud cover kept things a little warmer...but also meant my photos are a bit dreary from this expedition.

From Owen, it's on to Copperas, which comes into view in the spectacular shadow of the cliffs of Wilmington Notch and Whiteface Mountain.  Our accommodations were across the pond, tucked into the trees at the base of this beautiful scene.

With plenty enough daylight still available to us, we dropped off our gear in the lean to and completed the hat trick with a jaunt to Winch Pond.  (I'd visited the first two ponds in other seasons, but had never made it to this one before.)  There, we discovered the sturdy lodging of a year-round resident who made quick retreat as we approached and never responded to our invitations to come out and chat.

The evening did not quite include a traditional "St. Joseph's Table," but the holy carpenter of Nazareth was not far from our thoughts as we shared a camp supper under his watchful gaze...and I had already fried up a batch of bigné in his honor to share with the parish staff mid-morning.  We hung a tarp (handily left for us by some previous occupants) across half of the lean to's open face to cut some of the breeze overnight...and found that it also served as a buffer against the warm, pinkish glow of Lake Placid, only about 6 miles away.  (Oh, the long arm of civilization!)  Breakfast the next morning came with a lovely (if still kind of grey) view, and renewed gratitude for that tarp as some snow began to whip up across the pond.

Even with a fair amount of snow in the air on our return trip this first day of Spring, we left our temporary Adirondack abode as rather happy campers.

This overnight came at a particularly good time.  The last few weeks have been unusually hectic (and I don't see much sign of things letting up for a while).  With so many, many important things all vying for my attention, it's hard to feel like I'm giving any of them their due.  I've been reflecting on the way camping requires careful focus--especially when planning and packing--and even more how it's a opportunity to do just one thing while you're out there.  (Not to mention the great blessing of silence!)  Hopefully some of that wilderness wisdom will spill over into my busy workaday world.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Mass should be like the Transfiguration: a beautiful glimpse of heaven here on earth. Yet so often when I look out over the congregation, the expressions on people's faces don't say that they just got a good look at heaven, but that they're on a long forced trip to...well...let's just say "somewhere else." 

One of the most beautiful things on all of planet earth is the human smile. When we're at Mass, our faces should say, as did St. Peter on the mountaintop, "It's so good to be here!" So, smile when you're in church and thus make the liturgy that much more beautiful. It's a simple enough contribution, and one we can all afford. 

God certainly deserves it, and the world desperately needs it.

   Second Sunday of Lent   A 

All eyes are on the Ukraine these days,
and we do well to pray for peace in that troubled region.

This is, of course, far from the first time
that corner of the world has been affected by violent unrest.

I’d like to take you back—way back!—more than a 1,000 years.

Prince Vladimir Sviatoslavich was born around the year 956,
the son of the grand duke of Kiev and his housekeeper-mistress.
His native land was in a near-constant state of civil war.
Vladimir’s rise to power there
involved much treachery and bloodshed,
including the assassination of his own half-brother…
…who himself had previously slain another half-brother.
Vladimir was a brutal ruler in an even more brutal society.

After consolidating his control
over a wide swath of eastern Europe in 980,
he noticed how the local pagan religions
gave rise to so much of the chaos and violence.
So Vladimir sent out envoys to Muslims, Jews, and Christians
dwelling in other kingdoms,
searching for a way to break the cycle of slaughter,
searching for the true way to worship God.
Having encountered the majesty of Christian worship—
the glories of the Divine Liturgy—
his ambassadors came back testifying:
            We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. 
            For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty,
            and we are at a loss how to describe it. 
            We know only that God dwells there among men.

And so, in 988, Vladimir was baptized.
(It didn’t hurt that he was required to do so
when he asked to marry the Christian emperor’s daughter!)
Many of his subjects soon followed suit,
accepting the faith for themselves.
Vladimir removed the old pagan idols from the land,
and cleaned up his own act—morally speaking.
He built churches and monasteries,
and established a remarkable measure of peace with neighboring rulers.
The splendors of the Church’s liturgy continued to work on him,
and when he died in 1014,
this man once feared for his vicious brutality
was instead revered for his great holiness.
He is now honored as Saint Vladimir of Kiev. (cf. J. Janaro)

Beauty had proven its amazing power 
to convert the most barbaric of hearts.

Traditional theology points to three distinct doorways
which lead men and women to God.

The first doorway is truth.
God is Truth itself, and truth attracts us.
Because of this, the Church is responsible
for what is arguably the most widespread and effective
educational system on the planet—
dedicated to the pursuit of truth.
But many people today have a rather fluid understanding of truth:
“That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”
And so they’re unable to pass through the first door.

The second doorway is goodness.
God, of course, is perfectly good,
and what is good draws us in, too.
As a result, the Church maintains
an unbelievable network of charitable organizations—
hospitals and homeless shelters and soup kitchens—
second to none, and dedicated to doing much good.
But since we often find it such a struggle to be good ourselves,
folks stay standing outside of that door, too.

The third doorway is beauty.
We don’t consider this one nearly as often
as we do truth and goodness—
and that’s a shame
because genuine beauty irresistibly disarms us.
The Church once had a real corner on the market
when it came to beauty, too:
most of the masterpieces of sculpture and painting,
of music and architecture, produced by western civilization
were created with the patronage of the Church
and for the service of the liturgy.
But you don’t have to look very far
to see that our approach has radically changed in recent years:
old churches have been stripped;
new churches have been built very plain—even severe;
sacred vestments aren’t too rich; sacred vessels don’t sparkle;
sacred music sounds more and more
like every other kind of music we hear.

There are a few explanations for this remarkable shift.
Ours is a scientific, technological, rational age;
we prefer things we can take apart and understand.
The arts don’t work that way.
Our era is a utilitarian one;
we like things to be practical, useful, and efficient.
When it comes to the liturgy,
that means we’re willing to settle for the least required,
rather than strive for the very best possible.
And our times also place immense value
on the things we find most entertaining. 
(Just consider how much we’re willing to pay
athletes, Hollywood personalities, and rock stars!)
While sensual enjoyment easily gratifies,
true beauty requires much of us—
both in its creation and its appreciation.

The question that lingers in my mind is:
If Vladimir had sent out envoys today,
would his kingdom have ever been converted?

Jesus took Peter, James, and John…
…and led them up a high mountain.
Jesus takes his closest companions to a beautiful place.

And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
Jesus is now seen by these three friends
in the radiance of his divine beauty.
In pagan mythology,
it’s common enough for the gods to change their form—
to take on the likeness of a human being or an animal
in order to move about on earth undetected.
In Jesus, quite the opposite takes place:
the true God becomes true man
(rather than simply appearing to be one),
not so as to disguise his glory,
but in order to allow that eternal splendor to shine through.

Peter said to Jesus…, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”
Peter has been captured by beauty,
and wants to capture it himself—
ironically hoping to preserve this extraordinary moment
in three rather ordinary and transitory tents.
It’s the same instinct which once motivated Christians
to make their considerable investment in the arts.

We’ve all seen what happens to a society
that substitutes popular opinion for honest truth,
and which strives only to be nice, rather than to, in fact, be good:
before long, it looks a lot like the chaotic, violent country
into which St. Vladimir was born.
We suffer, too, for lack of real beauty:
when deprived of its lofty spiritual benefits,
we turn instead to base carnal pleasures.
(Or, as someone put it quite cleverly:
“The more mediocre the show,
the greater the consumption of refreshments.”)  (cf. M. Huddleston)

There can be nothing more beautiful than God—
the God who has shown us his radiant face
in Jesus Christ.
Let’s be sure that our worship
is always the best possible reflection we can muster
of that all-surpassing beauty.
It should have a glory like heaven come to earth…
…since that’s precisely what’s taking place!
Beautiful liturgy is God’s due.
And it has the incredible power besides
to convert even the most savage heart.