Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trust Your Cape

It's not much of a "video" here...but what a great song!
He did not know he could not fly...so he did...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Out of Water

   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

One fisherman noticed another
take a small mirror from his tackle box
and shine it on the surface of the water.
Being curious, he rowed over and asked, “What’s with the mirror?”
“That’s my secret way to catch fish,” came the reply.
“The fish notice the bright spot on the water and swim to the top.
Then I just net ’em and pull ’em into the boat.”
“Wow!” said the first fisherman.  “Does it really work?”
“You bet it does.”
“Would you be interested in selling that mirror?  
I’d give you $30 for it.”
“You’ve got a deal!”
After the money changed hands, the first fisherman asked,
“By the way, how many fish have you caught this week?”
“You’re number six,” he said.

Come after me,
and I will make you fishers of men.

When we hear this Sunday’s gospel passage,
we quite naturally focus on the fishermen.
But what about the fish?

What happens when a fish is caught
and then taken out of the water?
Whether you’ve snared it with a net,
reeled it into your boat,
or pulled it in on a line through a hole in the ice,
when you catch a fish and take it from the water,
it dies—plain and simple.

Taken out from the water, a fish dies.
And so it must be for us to enter the Kingdom of God.

Trying to live a truly Christian life
in a world that isn’t wholly Christian
(even in those areas which think that they are)
is like a fish trying to live on dry land.
What worked underwater just doesn’t work in fresh air.
Gills and fins become useless;
what you need are lungs, hands, and feet.
To live in this new environment,
a fish would need to be given an entirely new nature.
And before you can be given a new nature,
the old one must die.

There’s good reason the first sacrament we receive—
our entrance into new life in Christ
and membership in his Church—
is Baptism.
Baptism is, of course, a wet sacrament.
We’re pulled from the water.
And—depending on how much water has been used—
we can find ourselves gasping for air,
like a fish taken out of the sea.
A new life lies ahead of us:
one different from, even opposed to, 
that of the world around us.
Christ offers us a new nature, a redeemed nature:
one adapted to breathing the fresh air of the Holy Spirit.

Are you living this new life?
Have you fully embraced this new nature?
Or do you go back and forth between the water and dry land?
Do you sometimes have a hard time breathing
because you live in a sin-soaked world?
Do you flounder about a bit trying to lead a holy life,
or do you instead fit in perfectly
with everything and everyone around you?
Maybe you’re still floating around 
in the baptismal font.
Maybe you’re still swimming with a school of fish
which has so far avoided being caught.
Maybe you—your old self, your unconverted life—haven’t yet died.

Before Simon and Andrew, James and John,
could becomes fishers of men,
they had to be fish.
They had to be caught by Christ
before they could think of catching others.
They had to abandon not only their boats and their nets,
but everything about their life before Jesus.
They had to thoroughly repent
and wholeheartedly believe in the gospel.
They had to die.

And so do we.

The people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah,
and thus their city was saved.
Our world, St. Paul tells us, in its present form—
drenched as it is in godlessness—
is passing away.
The time is running out.
Today is the day to start living like a fish out of water!
Let your old self die—completely.
Learn how to walk about on the dry ground of the Promised Land
and never turn back.
Learn how to breath the fresh air of the Kingdom
and never be the same again.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

When I moved to Old Forge
to serve as pastor there nearly 9 years ago,
it was the first time in my life that I’d lived on my own.
And the biggest adjustment for me—of all things—
was regular grocery shopping.
Now, I knew how to cook fairly well,
and I could find stuff in the supermarket alright,
but I’d previously done those things only for an occasional meal—
not three meals, every day, every week.
It took me awhile to get my head around it.
The process sped up a bit when I miscalculated one night
and went without supper because the only store in that tiny town
had closed ten minutes before I got there…
I also quickly discovered what a dangerous thing it was
to go to buy groceries without first making a list.
I needed a plan.  I needed to know what I was looking for.

What are you looking for?

Jesus senses he’s being followed,
and turns to utter the very first words we hear him speak
in the gospel of John: What are you looking for?
Two men respond, Rabbi, teacher, where are you staying?
They’re not, of course, asking Jesus for his address.
Instead, they’re asking him, Where can we expect to find you? 
Where can we go to learn from you? 
To become familiar with our true home? 
Is there a place where you might show us how
to find favor—even friendship—with God?
And Jesus simply answers, Come, and you will see.
How trusting are these men!
And how quickly they realize that Jesus
is indeed the one they’ve been looking for—
the one who has the answers,
who maybe even is the answer himself.
That’s why we see Andrew
running to fetch his brother, Simon:
We have found the Messiah!
He’d have never been able
to share the great joy of his discovery
if he hadn’t already known what he was looking for.

As Catholics, as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ,
we need to be clear about our expectations.
What are our deepest desires?
What are the real longings of our hearts?
We can get more specific:
Why did you come to Mass this morning?
What do you hope to get out of this hour spent here in church?

What are you looking for?

People come to Mass 
with all kinds of expectations—
many of them unconscious 
or never actually expressed.
Some come looking for a good feeling,
others for new knowledge or inspiration,
still others to be moderately entertained.
Neither Christ nor his Church
has a corner on any of these markets;
you can find them more easily
and with far fewer strings attached
in lots of other places.
(The empty pews in our churches
tell us that people can and often do.)

But if you come to Mass 
looking for meaning or mercy,
for purpose or peace,
to express gratitude or experience grace,
then you’ve come 
to precisely the right place.
That’s because here—
in Word and Sacrament—
we encounter the Lamb of God,
who came not to pamper 
or enthuse or amuse us,
but to take away the sins of the world
and grant us peace.
He is the one 
to whom John the Baptist points:
To follow him is to find your way.

When we’re not exactly clear about what we’re looking for,
we find ourselves looking in all the wrong places.
St. Paul warns us to avoid “immorality”;
the Greek word he’s using literally means, “fornication”:
sexual intimacy without the life-commitment of marriage.
It’s a false road to follow—as if the outward life of the body
could be kept separate from the inner life of the spirit.
Some people turn to drugs or other distractions,
which only serve to dull their loneliness or pain.
Many more fall pray to overworking—
as if they could earn or achieve the most important things in life.
So much fruitless searching!

But if we know what we’re looking for—
if we’re searching for the right things,
and pursuing them in the right places—
then we make a most amazing discovery:
like young Samuel, startled from his sleep,
we realize that while we’ve been seeking the Lord,
the Lord, in fact, has been seeking after us.

I still probably go to the grocery store
more often than most other people.
But I normally come back with what I need,
because I always go with a list:
I know what I’m looking for.

Jesus’ question to those first disciples
is still his question for us today.
It’s his question for us
not just this Sunday, not even each Sunday,
but every single day,
because following Jesus—living as his disciples—
is an everyday affair.

What are you looking for?

Saturday, January 17, 2015


With inspiration from Snoopy, I spent Wednesday night camping in the Kagel lean to, just up from Marcy Dam (seen here) with Fr. Scott and Zack.  The forecast had been for a low of 15˚ F overnight...which it was at 10:00pm...but it was only 3˚ F at 9:00am, leading us to figure we'd bottomed out at zero or a little below.  It sure felt that way in our sleeping bags!  Thanks be to God that there wasn't any wind.  While I've camped at lower temperatures, it was the chilliest night I've spent out yet.  (Too cold, in fact, to take time to take pictures.)  On the upside: it was a spectacular night for looking at the stars.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I don't think you're crazy at all, Snoopy.   And you don't need to worry about where to store that sleeping bag if you take it out to use it...

If you can't tell already, there might be some more camping in my future.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Crossing the Border

   The Baptism of the Lord   
I’m always afraid
that I’m going to slip up when reading that gospel passage
and say:  “Jesus was baptized by Jordan in the john…”

Near the end of October,
I went for a short hike about 30-35 miles northeast of here,
this side of Mooers Forks.
The place is called The Gulf, and for good reason:
it’s a vertically walled chasm, ¾ of a mile wide, 2 miles long,
with a maximum depth of a 1,000 feet—
all carved out of the sandstone bedrock
when the last ice age melted off about 12,000 years ago.
Standing at the rim, looking down into the dark waters far below,
it’s quite an imposing sight.
But The Gulf isn’t only geologically interesting;
this chasm actually cuts right across the US/Canadian border.
Just past the last red DEC trail marker
there’s a white concrete international border monument—
no fences nor flags, no guards nor customs post.
While I hadn’t seen another soul all along my hike,
I just couldn’t shake the feeling that somebody must be watching me.
I also couldn’t bring myself to step past that monument,
and turned back on the trail a little ways
before I was comfortable enough to sit down and eat my lunch.

The Jordan River is not nearly as impressive a waterway as The Gulf.
When I saw it for myself on pilgrimage a number of years ago,
it looked an awful lot like a shallow drainage ditch—
not at all like I’d pictured it!
What makes the Jordan significant, though,
is that it’s a border, a boundary:
this river marks the edge of the Promised Land.
The Jordan was the final line to cross
after the Israelites escaped Egypt
and wandered through the Sinai desert.
When they’d made it to the other side of the Jordan,
they officially passed from slavery to freedom,
from exile to their God-given homeland.

While there are certainly far more scenic
and impressive bodies of water in the Holy Land,
I think we can see why this is the one
in which Jesus chose to be baptized by John.

Today’s feast, you see, is about crossing boundaries.

It was not a receding glacier but original sin
which carved a deep gulf between God and the human race.
Previously, we’d enjoyed an unparalleled friendship with God—
we creatures walking freely with our Creator in Paradise.
But sin, by definition, breaks that bond of intimate communion—
cutting us off, putting up a barrier—
a painful divide of our own construction.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” says the Lord,
“nor are your ways my ways.”
God and his ways are so far above and beyond us—
not in a measurable distance, but in glory and majesty,
in mystery and might, in purity and holiness.
God is God, and man is sinful.
However could the two meet again?

God—it’s been revealed to us—is love.
And love, we know, is blind—perfect love so blind, in fact,
that it cannot see differences and distinctions;
true love doesn’t recognize any otherness.  (cf. G. Feuerstein)
And so this God who is Love
tears open the heavens and crosses the border—
not only coming to us, but becoming one of us;
God’s beloved Son was born of Mary;
the Word became flesh, and dwells among us.

Such is God’s love, and it creates a nearness
of which man could have never conceived, leave alone achieved.
From the depths of our sin to the heights of God’s holiness,
his descent—in Bethlehem, in the Jordan, into the grave—
draws us upward.
The baptismal font is most traditionally located
near the church door:
it is a threshold, a point of entry.
As we are visibly plunged into the sacred waters,
we are invisibly immersed in a saving mystery:
in Christ Jesus, God has shared with us
our human life and destiny,
that we might then share in his—both eternal and divine.

This was once also powerfully symbolized in the altar rail,
which one used to find in every Catholic Church.
Kneeling to receive Holy Communion at this symbolic barrier,
representing the border between earth and heaven
in a most tangible, visceral way,
we could experience God reaching across the boundary 
in the Eucharist.

Since December 25th,
we’ve gazed with wonder on the babe lying in the manger—
so small, so fragile,
having so completely taken on our poverty and weakness
that he can be cradled in our hands.
Coming to the end of the Christmas season,
we behold him now a man
at the beginning of his public ministry.
And yet, how wondrously, in the Sacrament of the Altar,
we can hold him still.

Almighty God, the Maker and Ruler and Judge of all things,
has cut across the gulf—and is never going back.
Not only on this solemn feast,
but whenever we dip our fingers in holy water at the church door,
and every time we approach the altar at Communion,
let us recall with great gratitude and awe:
“We can cross the border
only because God crossed it to come to us.”  (Romano Guardini)

Sunday, January 4, 2015


   The Epiphany of the Lord   

I can’t be sure if this story actually took place,
but in the deepest sense—as you’ll see—it’s certainly true.

Kahua lived in the hills overlooking the plains of East Africa.
One day he came down to the village below.
He knocked on the church door, asked for the priest,
and then asked the priest for a job for the next six months.
The priest just happened to be in urgent need of some help,
and hired the stranger to work with him closely.
Kahua quickly proved to be an honest, hardworking, and reliable man.
Most impressively, he seemed to get along with just about everybody.
Which is why is was so shocking, just shy of six months later,
that he told the priest he’d be leaving the following week.
“No, Kahua, you can’t go,” the priest pleaded.  “I need you!”
Recognizing his guilt, he continued,
“I know I’ve been cranky
and difficult to work with much of the time. 
And I’m quite sure I haven’t paid you nearly enough
for all the good work you do. 
But I promise to make it up to you now
and do better in the future!”
Which is when Kahua explained it was never about the money.
You see, from his home in the hills,
he had looked down on the village
and saw the Catholic church and the Muslim mosque.
He knew they represented two of the world’s great religions,
and figured they might help him in his search for direction in life.
Kahua had thought he’d go
to work for six months with the Catholic priest,
then for six months with the Muslim imam,
and so figure out which religion would be best for him.
“Now it’s time to go work for the imam,” he said.
“But you didn’t tell me!” the priest replied.
“If I had only known…”  (cf. N. Connelly)

The magi—like Kahua—were spiritual seekers.
They had a star to lead them to Jesus.
But the people of our day:
where can they look for guidance?
How do they find their way to Christ?
Generally, it’s not by following a star,
but by what they see in us.

To the ancient Israelites, Isaiah said,
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come!
God’s chosen people were to shine brightly,
that all the nations might come to know the Lord.
Likewise, we can hear the prophet say to us,
Rise up in splendor, Malone!  The glory of the Lord shines upon you!
You see, we, like St. Paul,
have been given stewardship of God’s grace—
and not for our own benefit alone.
The mystery of God’s plan of salvation has been revealed to us,
and we are to make it known to others.
And since we never know who is seeking
or when they’re looking to us,
that mystery should be revealed
in how we live at every moment, in everything we do.
Here’s a somewhat silly example…
It was early in my priesthood that I learned
that tipping the wait staff in a restaurant
could be a form of evangelization—
especially when you’re wearing a Roman collar. 
Folks may not know my name or the address of my church,
but they have an idea of who I’m supposed to represent
and what I’m supposed to stand for.
What would a stingy tip say?

We often associate religion fairly exclusively
with what occurs within these four sacred walls…
…but if faith doesn’t influence all we’re doing outside these walls,
then what happens here is, in large part, in vain.

My thoughts can’t help but turn to our patron, St. André Bessette,
who died on the feast of the Epiphany in 1937.
When people came to him—and so, so many people did—
Br. André saw them for what they were: people searching for God.
He always treated them accordingly.
“If you save only one soul,” he used to say,
“you will save your own.”
One soul at a time, he led countless people to Christ.
At the funeral of this simple, uneducated, sickly man,
born not so very far from here,
a million people filed past his casket.

Rise up in splendor!  Let your light shine!
We, my friends, ought to be as so many stars
that the many nations on earth may see us
and come to adore the Lord.