Tuesday, May 27, 2014


On the way to a burial this morning, I heard the Writer's Almanac on NPR, and Mr. Keillor read a most delightful--and even inspiring--poem, which I thought was worth sharing with you:

"Grace," by Linda Pastan

When the young professor folded
his hands at dinner and spoke to God
about my safe arrival
through the snow, thanking Him also
for the food we were about to eat,
it was in the tone of voice I use
to speak to friends when I call
and get their answering machines,

chatting about this and that
in a casual voice,
picturing them listening
but too busy to pick up the phone,
or out taking care of important
business somewhere else.
The next day, flying home
through a windy
and overwhelming sky, I knew
I envied his rapport with God
and hoped his prayers
would keep my plane aloft. 

Monday, May 26, 2014


Saturday found me back in the Hudson River Gorge, this time with Boy Scout Troop #61, sponsored by the Malone Catholic Parishes.  Eight of our Scouts, along with some of their Dads and siblings, joined me whitewater rafting again with ARO.  We've been talking about takiung this trip for a long time, and I'm so glad we finally made it happen.

As you can see, a good time was had by all (including our guide).  I'll post more photos when I get them.

UPDATE (5/28): As promised, a few more shots:

I did a bit of "scouting" today, too, as I went to check out the lean to on on Osgood Pond, along with sites on nearby Little Osgood and Church Ponds.  I'm hoping to take my nephew out camping with me some time this summer, and have been trying to find an appropriate spot.  As I walked 4-5 miles along the looping Red Dot Trail (named for the--well--red dots which mark it...although I think I followed at least as many yellow ones, and a few pink besides), I realzied that the Osgood Pond lean to was, in fact, the very first lean to in which I'd spent the night...and the only one, too, until last September...


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Just Ask

   Sixth Sunday of Easter   A 

Two stories—both from Monday.

Monday afternoon,
we began our annual Assembly of Priests in Lake Placid.
Our speaker, a Dominican friar,
would be speaking to us about end-of-life issues:
a very important subject,
but one which could be—pun intended—rather deadly.
Not in this case.
he shared some of his life’s story.
He grew up in the Philippines
and came to the States for college.
In 1996, he was completing his Ph.D. in molecular biology at MIT.
He was also rediscovering his Catholic faith.
He’d grown up Catholic,
but Catholicism was pretty much something his parents did.
A group of other Catholic college students
helped him to learn about the faith, and learn how to pray.
It was together with them,
right after successfully defending his doctoral dissertation,
that he went to Mass.
And it was then and there that he met the Lord.
At the words of consecration,
as the priest held up the Body of Christ,
he had an incredible experience of grace.
“I knew he was alive,” he said, “I knew that he was there.”
He could see his whole life, especially the difficult times,
and see how the Lord was always there:
how all those moments were connected
and the Lord had been leading him all along.
“And I knew that he did it because he loves me,” he said.
“It blew my mind that God could love me that much.”
He had a job lined up as a biologist in London,
and was planning to be married.
Within a year, he resigned that position
and entered the Dominican novitiate.
He now works as a priest and a scientist—
or, as he describes it, a “geek for God.”
He couldn’t tell us this story without crying.
It clearly affected how we heard the rest of his talks.
It clearly has affected the rest of life.

Earlier on Monday,
as I was driving back to the rectory after Mass,
the story of a seventeen-year-old boy from Massena
whose arm was torn off at the elbow
in an accident at work four weeks ago.
He’s recuperating in a Boston hospital,
where a team of surgeons reattached his arm.
He’s had three other surgeries since, and likely has two more to go.
He’s been through an awful lot,
and knows this will be life changing.
Yet he’s remained incredibly positive.  How?
Sitting up in his hospital bed,
looking around at his mom, all the flowers and cards,
he said he never thought much about God before.
“[But] after this event,” he said,  “it really has shown me
that God is there and God is real,
because if it wasn't for God,
I don't know if I would have been able to get through this."

Two stories.
Two young men who’ve met God:
one on a day of great achievement,
one in the midst of painful tragedy.

“Always be ready,” St. Peter tells us in our second reading,
“to give an explanation to anyone who asks you
for a reason for your hope.”

Before we can each give our own explanation,
I think we each have to honestly answer the question,
“Have I met the Lord?”
No doubt, some sitting in this church today have.
But I’m also pretty certain that quite a few folks here this morning,
many of whom have been faithfully going to Mass all their lives,
haven’t really—really—met him yet.
How is that possible?
Well, for one thing, many of us
didn’t even know that we could meet the Lord.
It simply hasn’t crossed our mind this is an actual possibility.
For others, we’ve let other things get in the way:
maybe it’s a sinful habit which we cling to;
or maybe it’s a life full of distractions;
or maybe it’s fear—fear that, if I get serious about God,
things are probably going to have to change.
Of course, for some people, they haven’t yet met the Lord
because they feel don't they deserve it.

We must avoid these stumbling blocks
and get rid of the excuses.

If you haven’t met the Lord,
just ask to meet him.
Come to Mass fully engaged.
Get yourself to confession.
Spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration.
Read the Bible or a spiritual book.
Pray—in your car on the way to work
or as you’re heading home after practice,
when you get up or when you go to bed.
You will meet him.
“I will not leave you orphans,” 
Jesus promises.
“I will come to you.
The world will no longer see me, 
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.”
Yes, you will meet him!
You’ll know it when it happens.
And you’ll never, ever be the same.

That Dominican priest who spoke to us in Lake Placid
said that he was attracted to the Catholic group at MIT
because they were so joyful.
He envied them for it.
“Why are you so happy?” he asked them one day.
And one of the young women simply answered,
“Because we’ve met Jesus Christ.”

Ask to meet Jesus.
And then get ready to explain to anyone who asks you
the reason for your hope.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

No Scars

I've spent the last fews days in Lake Placid, taking part in our annual Assembly of Priests.  We've had wonderful talks from our presenter, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., on the subject of of bio-medical ethics and end-of-life issues (which he has kept not only interesting, but downright inspirational).  But we've also had some time for some good priestly fraternity and Adirondack-style recreation.  Yesterday, Fr. Stitt and I spent the afternoon climbing Scarface Mountain in Ray Brook (between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid).  We made the 6.8 mile roundtrip to the summit and back--including the nearly vertical climb up a rather mossy and muddy rock face--but somehow managed to miss the side paths to the slides which give the mountain its name (but certainly not for lack of trying to find them).  A few views from our Tuesday afternoon climb...

Our destination from near the start of the trail 
You can see some the "scars" from here

The High Peaks as seen from near the top...since at the summit there really isn't any view

Sunday, May 18, 2014

If We All Light Up

I heard this on the radio this evening...and it's great...

"Scare Away The Dark"
Passenger (Michael Rosenberg)

Well, sing, sing at the top of your voice,
Love without fear in your heart.
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

We wish our weekdays away
Spend our weekends in bed
Drink ourselves stupid
And work ourselves dead
And all just because that's what mom and dad said we should do

We should run through the forest
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry,
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I'm saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice,
Love without fear in your heart.
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

Well, we wish we were happier, thinner and fitter,
We wish we weren't losers and liars and quitters
We want something more not just nasty and bitter
We want something real not just hash tags and Twitter

It's the meaning of life and it's streamed live on YouTube
But I bet Gangnam Style will still get more views
We're scared of drowning, flying and shooters
But we're all slowly dying in front of computers

So sing, sing at the top of your voice,
Oh, love without fear in your heart.
Can you feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

Going & Changing

   Fifth Sunday of Easter   A 

I come from a family that’s really good at visiting,
but which kind of struggles when it comes to making an exit.
For example…
Every Sunday evening,
my parents go to see my grandparents:
to catch up on the week’s news and play a game of cards.
As children, we always went, too—
and, as an adult, any time I’m home on a Sunday, I still tag along.
It’s leaving to head back home that’s the tricky part.
It always happens in several stages.
First, my dad pushes back his chair from the kitchen table:
“Well, I guess it’s getting to be that time…”
Several minutes later, he’ll stand up.
It’s awhile again before he reaches to put on his coat.
Next, there’s standing at the door with your hand on the knob.
You get the picture!
I have no idea how this long, lingering good-bye developed.
Among ourselves, it’s not really a problem:
we know the routine; we understand the ritual.
But taking this same track can be troublesome
when you’re visiting outside of the family,
since it comes with the danger of overstaying your welcome.
I know there’ve been times when I’ve missed my hosts’ cues
that it’s high time for me to be going…
…and they haven’t quite understood
my drawn-out, Giroux-style departure.

Wouldn’t it be grand to be invited to a place
where this could never happen? 
Where you wouldn’t have to worry
about leaving too early or staying too late? 
Where your presence would always be welcome
and never a burden?  (cf. L. Donohoo)

Jesus has prepared just such a place for us.

This Sunday, we hear a short portion
of Jesus’ long farewell address to his Apostles at the Last Supper.
(It makes a Giroux family good-bye seem brief!)
And it’s in this setting
that he promises us room aplenty in his Father’s house.

We can experience that here-and-now
in an imperfect way in the Church—
this spiritual house built upon Christ, the cornerstone.
Certainly, Pope Francis has been calling us to that:
to live as a God-centered community
to which all are called and in which all are welcome.
In the two listening sessions we’ve have in recent months,
you have said the much same thing, too:
that the new parish we’re soon establishing
should be a place noted for its friendliness and hospitality.
No doubt, St. André, the humble doorman, would approve!
But our experience of the Church,
of this place where God and man can dwell happily together,
will always be an imperfect one in this world:
imperfect, because it’s built of living stones—
built of you and me.
Its strengths will be God’s strengths;
its weaknesses will be our own.

Built of human, living stones,
the Church is always marked by change.
We’ve certainly seen that in our parishes—
realigned just over a decade ago,
and officially consolidating in just a month and a half.
We must remember: 
July 1st won’t mean that the changing is over.
The longer I’m your pastor,
the sooner I think we’re going to have to face
some of the tough questions we’d all prefer to put off:
our overloaded Mass schedule,
our large number of aging buildings—churches included—
and whether they’re still serving us or we’re now serving them.
But there are changes afoot
which we will have to face even before these.
As you may have already heard,
we will soon have to say an uncomfortable good-bye of our own.
On Wednesday, Bishop LaValley informed Fr. Tom
that he is giving him a new assignment:
he will become the Parochial Vicar of the parishes
in Saranac Lake, Lake Clear, and Bloomingdale, 
effective August 1st.
But we will also soon have the opportunity
to extend a warm welcome.
Bishop LaValley has also announced
that Fr. Justin Thomas, a young priest from India
belonging to the missionary order of the Heralds of the Good News,
has been assigned as our new Parochial Vicar, effective July 9th.
Both Fr. Tom and Fr. Justin
will be here during the month of July to ease the transition,
especially during the first days of St. André’s Parish.
Please keep them in your prayers—
and me, too, if you don’t mind!

Jesus himself is our faithful companion 
along the winding paths of life,
the trusty roadmap that keeps us on course,
and the sure destination 
toward which we’re heading.
He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Pleased to be known as the carpenter’s son,
and to build his Church 
from living stones in this world,
he has far more enduring materials 
with which to work in the next.
What hope, what comfort, 
what joy there is in believing
that what we enjoy only imperfectly on earth
awaits us in eternal perfection in heaven—
where there is no more 
saying awkward good-byes,
but only the Father’s warm welcome home!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The View

   Fourth Sunday of Easter   A 

I was quite touched when Fr. Tom asked
if he could wash my feet on Holy Thursday—
the first time, I think, in my priesthood
since, more often than not,
I’m the one on my knees doing the washing.
After we’d taken our places in front of the church
and removed our shoes and socks,
the parishioner sitting next to me scanned the room and said,
“The view is rather different from up here.”

His comment has stayed with me the last few weeks.
I couldn’t agree more!

Have you ever tried to point out something at a distance—
a building, a mountain peak, a star—
only to have the other person say
they can’t see what you’re talking about?
More often than not,
the problem is that you’re not looking from the same spot.
Even if only slightly,
you’re seeing things from a different angle,
a different perspective, a different point of view.

On this “Good Shepherd Sunday,”
I think it’s helpful for both you and I to remember
that shepherd and flock stand in different places—
we each take in a different view.
Let me start with a concrete example.
Most every member of this congregation
will see one priest at one altar in one church this weekend.
But I’ll see between 700 and 800 parishioners
at four Masses in two churches before noon today.
Multiply that by every baptism and wedding,
every anointing and funeral,
every check signed and meeting attended,
every word of counseling given and complaint received,
and I think you can begin to understand what I mean.
From where your priests—and in particular, your pastor—sits,
there’s a rather different view of life in our parishes
than the one you can get in the pews.
And this difference of perspective allows your priests
to see a wider angle, to take in a bigger picture.
Try as we might to point things out,
we don’t always succeed in helping you to see what we see.

Nonetheless, this Sunday, I’m going to try again.

From where I sit, I think we need
to make some pretty significant changes around here.
Last August, when I announced
that our four parishes would be merging into one,
I assured you that most things—
in particular, Mass schedules and use of our church buildings—
would remain unchanged, at least at the beginning,
as we transition into the new St. André Bessette Parish.
I sincerely meant what I said at that time.
But with the passage of another year,
I’m afraid the “beginning” may be shorter
than originally anticipated.
I know that some of you are seeing it, too.
At our brainstorming session not quite two weeks ago,
several folks raised concerns about our Mass times—
in particular, that they don’t fit for many working people and families. 
Of course, some of the same people were quick to add,
“…but don’t touch my Mass.”
Other parishioners suggested
that we consider closing some of our churches,
at least during the winter heating season.
(I’ve heard this idea circulating around town in recent months,
and even received an anonymous note about it in the collection. 
By the way: that’s not the most effective way to communicate.)

I’ll admit: I’ve thought some of these same things,
but not so much for reasons of job and sport schedules or fuel economy.
For one thing, seeing what I see from where I stand,
I don’t think we’re living up to our potential as a parish flock.
We’re focused more on protecting what’s within
than on reaching out to the wider community.
Our energy and efforts have been directed
toward matters of maintenance—
of looking back and hanging on to the way things were—
instead of toward matters of mission—
of moving forward and making sure
we’re where God wants us to be today.
And another thing: your shepherds are tired—
exhausted, actually.
We’ve often joked in the rectory
that we must have the youngest rectory in the country—
possibly the world!
And even we are hitting the wall.
It’s not good for us or for you that, on Sundays,
we’re always running in at the very last minute
and running back out as soon as it’s over
because of the tight schedule of so many Masses.
It breaks my heart every time someone comes up to me
and says, “Sorry to bother you, Father… 
I know you’re so busy, Father…”
You shouldn’t have to apologize
because you want to talk to your priests!
We can’t keep doing things the way we have been;
it’s simply not sustainable.

Jesus didn’t suffer that we might just scrape by;
he died that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
We’ve been scraping by for long enough.

I don’t have any specific plan to announce to you right now.
We’re not going to rush into anything.
I will continue to work closely with Bishop LaValley,
our parish staff, and Pastoral Council.
And I’m going to have to ask you to trust me;
no longer a stranger after four years here,
I hope that at least a few of you already do.
We’ll need to take a few chances—
as Pope Francis likes to say, “make a mess.”
We’ll probably fail a few times.
I know that I won’t make everybody happy—
but I don’t really think that’s my job,
and besides, not everybody’s happy now
and some folks simply never will be.
As I’ve said to you before: there’s no standing still;
we’re either sliding back or moving ahead.

On the U.S. calendar, this Sunday, of course, is Mothers Day.
And on the Catholic calendar, this “Good Shepherd Sunday”
is the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
A neat story makes it clear just how well
these two celebrations fit together.

Pope St. Pius X died just 100 years ago.
His family was so poor that his mother
worked as a washerwoman and a school janitor
in order to raise enough money to put him though the seminary.
When he was elected pope, he was a bit uncomfortable
with all the pomp and circumstance of the office.
“Look how they’ve dressed me!” he said to a friend.
His mother was present
on the day of his coronation (as it was known then),
and kissed his large papal ring, as was the custom.
But she then presented her tiny hand with her simple wedding ring
and said, “Now kiss my ring—
for without it, you never would have received yours!”

When we think or talk about vocations,
we often focus on the differences between them.
That can lead us to think that the roles
of clergy and laity, of shepherds and sheep,
are somehow at odds
when, in fact, they’re meant to compliment each other.
In a book I’m now reading, a clever French priest jokes
that priestly celibacy and the Sacrament of Matrimony
are actually very much alike:
in celibacy, a man renounces all women,
while in marriage a man renounces all women but one!  (cf. J. Philippe)
All kidding aside…
Whether you’re single or married, divorced or widowed,
a mother or a father, ordained or in religious vows,
we’re all called to live the same mystery:
the mystery of Christ and of his Cross.
Although expressed in different ways,
it’s all about generous self-giving, about sacrificial love,
about laying down one’s life for another,
about giving flesh again to the love of God
revealed for us in Jesus, his Son.

Precisely because we stand in different places
and, therefore, take in rather different views,
we need one another.
The shepherd needs his sheep;
in fact, he’s no shepherd at all without them.
And if his sheep are intent, each one, 
on going its own way
rather than looking to the good of the flock,
he’ll be left rather weary and discouraged—
an unhealthy situation for all involved.
Likewise, the sheep need their shepherd—
to keep them together, to guide and protect them.
But if the shepherd is merely concerned
about his own comfort and gain,
or if he lacks the courage to correct or direct when needed,
or if he’s basically run ragged,
then the good of the whole flock is put at risk.
We must learn from one another.
We must support and encourage one another.
We must love one another.

Trust me: the view is rather different from up here!
And, please, trust me as I try to be a pastor—your pastor—
after the heart and mind of the Good Shepherd,
leading us into a new and more abundant life.