Saturday, October 15, 2016


 “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin, and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will. This point of nothingness and of ABSOLUTE POVERTY is the pure glory of God in us...It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in EVERYBODY, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely...I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” These are the famous words of Thomas Merton which I first read as I was reading a book of Henri Nouwen's thoughts. They really startled me, and have been food for thought over the years. What great treasure lies, sometimes undiscovered, in our spiritual tradition. Thank God our Pope is leading us, as one writer has so aptly put it, down “dusty roads.” These so called “dusty roads” are leading us back so we can again be encouraged, and revitalized.

             Our Pope is not saying anything that is really new. All he is brave enough to do is to remind us of who we really are in “the unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted love” of our Gracious Prodigal Father. He is not saying in which has not already been taught in theology class. Maybe because there has been a lack of healthy theology flowing from the pulpits, that we are not aware of whom we really are in the love of our Mother/Father God. How many sermons are given on how difficult it is to commit a mortal sin?  Those words “mortal sin” are thrown around like shamrocks on St. Patrick's Day. There is no teaching of what state of consciousness is required by church law for the committal of such a sin? It appears that grave matter, perfect knowledge, and full consent are not preached anymore. This leads to people confessing as mortal sin that which is venial sin. It results in Catholics living in unnecessary guilt, because they are not informed as to the true teaching of Catholic Morality. There is a constant struggle to bring penitents to a healthy understanding of what sin really is. This actually takes up a great deal of time in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation. When asked what sin really is, so very, very few can give a theologically correct answer. There is always the possibility you are told you do not know how to do your job, because one does not buy into their messed up theology. There can quiet a conversation!!! It at times leads to the confession of a root sin, which has never been really been dealt with. It was “glamorous” enough. Really!!!!  There is so much to be done in this field. That is why now we hear so many shocked gasps when the Pope is only teaching the REAL TRUE theology of the church. Some want to make excuses, “He really did not really mean that.” Let us be honest, the emphasis has not been on what is right with us, i.e. Merton’s  words above, so we are not geared, disposed to hear the good news. We are not disposed to readily accept the fact that we are ever and always the beloved of our gracious Father/Mother creator. That is why I love that quote; “God help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful.”

      As I reflect on my days in Dr.Lennon's Moral theology class I remember that the first thing that was pointed out was that mortal sin was as the result of the human action of a person. A human act was the result of a knowing mind and a consenting will. No one can judge the individual state of mind of another person. That is why a confessor is taught to listen to the person’s story. Any story has so many levels to it. That which we are conscious of and then there is the unconscious acting out. Any action can only be judged to be such a sin by the informed conscious of the individual. Not in the estimation of the confessor. The confessor can point out the gravity of the action. What sin it is, mortal or venial, lies in the existential, the here-and-now, and state of mind. Our action will reflect the relationship, as it is being lived out right now, between us and God. Sin has to do with the frame of mind of the person at the moment, not 5 seconds later, nor 5 minutes later, nor 5 years later. We must remember all the circumstances of the moment will have an effect on our freedom, and our ability to respond, and so, be responsible.

          Sin is the free, deliberate, conscious decision to knowingly reject God's love and choose that which is opposite. It has to be the deliberate, thought-full rejection of Goodness so as to choose a destructive evil. It is to say to God, consciously, “I am by this action rejecting your love, and the possibility of heaven, and choosing to go to hell, a place where Your love is not. I want to be separated from You, beginning here and now and for all eternity.” We must also keep in mind that of all the billions who have passed through this world the church has never taught that even one of those billions is in hell. There have been some bad “dudes” and "dudettes" on this space ship of ours and we teach no one is definitely in hell. Here is something I have said so often, I can now use it in a sermon without a note:  “God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and our failings, and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says I am too sinful to deserve God's Mercy. It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride” Henri Nouwen “A cry for Mercy.”

Monday, September 19, 2016


Another birthday approaches. I am an old-old, that is according to an article I just read. To use John Denver's words "I have become what I never thought I would be." It is so appropriate those words are from "Some days are diamond, some days are stone," which describes perfectly the reality of my life. It is not either/or,  but/and. On reflection, there was a time I did not see life beyond the 30's, because, anyone over thirty was not to be trusted.  So Joe, "you have come a long way baby." Now the obvious question is, "What now"? How is life different, and what are the challenges to be faced? How prepared am I to become aware of, and accepting of, the gifts that come with the aging process? Aging is not all about loss. There are gifts to be recognized and accepted, celebrated, and shared. What are the responsibilities I have to those who have yet "to trudge the road of happy destiny"? So the truth of the matter is that as one gets older one loses, and one gains. The physical prowess slowly ebbs away. I cannot do now the hikes I was able to do. I found out, this week, that what was once seen as an easy, level hike, is now a slow ascending climb. It was once, so easy, I had the impression it was a level trail, now I see that reality in a different light? I cannot change the topography, so Joe has to accept, and adjust to this new reality. The revelations of the limitations of my humanity is more and more part of my daily living. Yes, while reflecting on this journey, this hike, through life one sees so much disappear, caught up in a Paschal Death. This means, thanks to the mercy of a gracious God, where loss, death is a reality, there appears a new, and a more spiritual understanding of the real realities of life. In Paschal death, death is not the end but a beginning of a new way of living. We become, no, that is not right, why? I have, just now, forgotten the words "of ourselves we can do nothing, but we can do all things in Him Who strengthens us." I must remember, and daily renew my belief in the creative power of The Higher Power. The power, the miracle of Grace strengthens us ever anew. We are ever new because of what we lose, or surrender, whether forced or of our own volition. The whole spiritual journey is all about letting go, surrendering. How I detest those words, surrender, let go. I, my egocentric ego, wants control, and is not a happy camper when it has to surrender, let go. Learning to let go is a process. It is made just a little easier sometimes, when we are faced with a lack of energy."The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," and weakening. There is now a greater reliance on a gracious God Who never leaves us. That Power of creative is ever active, often in ways we will never understand. We do not need to understand, just accept, and have gratitude. Where there is gratitude there cannot coexist resentment, and bitterness. When we surrender to those latter feelings then the way out, to serenity, is gratitude. This does work.

                    Neither the physical world, or the spiritual world can tolerate a vacuum. Something must fill the space created by loss, and that is ALL LOSSES. There are no exceptions to this rule. The loss, that creates this vacuum, may be the death of a pet gold fish, or a child, a beloved, a friend, a lost job, a lost school, a lost parish etc. etc., the list is endless. Into the vacuum created ,must be welcomed The Creative Spirit. Why is that necessary? It is necessary, no, essential so that the miracle of new life may be revealed in us, to us, and through us, to others. The miracle of new birth may happen within us but it is NOT for us alone. It cannot, must not stop with us. That is for our benefit and others. "The gifts we have been giver are NOT for ourselves but for the building up of the common good"(Paul).  That is the opposite of "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own." There lies the cause of so much unhappiness, war, and mayhem. This is true of our own lives, our family's life, and is being revealed to us in the struggle between nations. We must always be reminded that the line between war and peace runs through the middle of the human heart. Yours and mine. War begins with me, peace is a gift to be chosen and it lies deep with.

                We are part of a greater picture, a greater story. Life is not about me, I belong to a greater reality. My story is part of a greater story. Our story is the continuation of the story first begun many million and billions years ago. The story of creation is about 14 billion years old. The story of our world is now about 4.5 billion years in it's telling. What is so awe-full, so wonder-full each person adds a unique flavor to its telling. Each and every thought, each and every actions adds a new word, a new sentence, to the ongoing mysterious story of God both hidden and revealed in the history of creation. We will be "life givers or, death dealers," dependent on the everyday actions of our every day life. This gives each action, each event a value that must come to appreciate, and reverence. This is a process that happens when life is lived, and lived to the fullest. For this we have been called. For this mysterious journey we have been chosen. For this we have been taken and set apart, as the beloved. You the beloved. In so far as we claim and live that reality will we live our lives in union  with, The Beloved. The Beloved has loved you and me from eternity.  A reality we must claim each and every moment, of each and every day. In this claiming we not only come to believe we are the beloved but we begin to live our lives reflecting that reality.

Here is what Henri Nouwen wrote in his book, "The Life of The Beloved" page 36. This is our Beloved speaking to us:
                       "I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother's womb. I have carved you in the palm of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness, and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair of your head and guided your every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will satisfy all your thirst. I will not hide My face from you. You know me as your own and I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse...even your child…wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.            
                   There is so much love, tenderness, mystery, hidden in these words. They cannot be rushed through, as one may do with a novel. This is food for the depths. So read slowly. Maybe a word at a time.  A part of a sentence at a time. Let it seep into the depths of our consciousness and there awaken........

Monday, August 22, 2016


Life can be challenging at times. Then there are those moments when the challenges appear to be just too much for us. That is when we get into fear and the panic button is pressed. I see that most of the kids are now back in school. Vacation time is now a distant memory and the everyday grind has begun to grind on the nerves of so many. The everyday grind challenges us  in so many ways. Whatever resources that were built up are now being depleted and fast. We are faced with the question, how am I going to survive and keep my sanity, with all that I have to do? When is there going to be time for me, so I can have some time to breathe and have a chance to recharge the battery? On top of that, I hear announcements asking for volunteers for the many ministries that are so necessary for the well-being of others? You are being asked to be good stewards of your time, talent and resources. It is tiring just to think about all that has to be done. I am getting tired just writing this out!

It is good for us to recall this  gospel narrative. Jesus sees the large crowd. He has a very caring response as He views the many, who are coming out to see and hear Him. He asks the question "where can WE buy enough food for them to eat?” He is assuming the responsibility of finding something for them to eat. Again, the caring God-Man is revealed to us. As Jesus is, so is His Father and our Father. Such is the God that is revealed to us through the humanity of His Son and our Brother. Come to think of it, we do have a pretty neat family.  It is essential for us to take the time to think, to reflect, to meditate, on the challenges of the mission of Jesus. Where this does not happen, we will be under the illusion that just because Jesus, was The Beloved, The Son of God, He somehow got an easy ride. Everything was laid out for Him by His father. When we read the gospels carefully and reflectively we will come to see it was the very opposite.

The Gospel of Mark is a great gospel to read. The whole gospel story is about being messy. Not getting the message The Great Teacher wanted to impart, the disciples are hard of hearing and really slow in coming to an understanding on what Jesus was teaching them by word and example. They never truly "GET" the message. We are so lucky to have such a Gospel, and all the people, places and events that inhabit its pages. In John's account of the gospel event we see there is a problem, Jesus wants to feed the people, Philip has been chosen to meet this challenge. He is overwhelmed by it. He is stuck. Then, out of the blue there is a ray of hope. "There is a kid here who has food." "Wow that is great!" Yeah, but it is only five barley loaves and two fish." "Not good." Yet, it is good enough for Jesus. That human act of generosity on the part of the young boy was the catalyst for The Miracle of The Loaves and Fishes. I wonder what was going through the mind of that boy as he heard the adults discussing the challenge. He did not have "two hundred days wages," all he had was the five barley loaves and two fish. To his mind, it was a BEGINNING. "This is what I can do," he must have said to himself. So, the offer was made. What appeared to be an action of little value, turned out to have a tremendous impact on so many. The boy's so-called little offering, built on by divine power did what otherwise appeared impossible.

What can we learn from this? We do what little we can and then allow God to be God. No matter what the challenge, there is always something we can do. At times, it may be to just surrender our powerlessness to God. That is such a simple action it often triggers for us something that can be mind boggling. When life becomes so overwhelming, it may be necessary to withdraw to a "deserted place" for some alone time with, “the alone time." Not a great deal of time, just your "five loaves and two fish worth." Where there are the great challenges to be met, just realize that your presence, not words, that will be used by God to be the reality through which His Presence is channeled to the person in need. Many times, the "less" of us, makes way for the "more" of God. That "young boy" in John's Gospel is nameless. We are told by those who know that whenever a person or persons are not named, we are to place our names there. So, from now on, when the challenges appear, it is not about us coming up with the brilliant, earth changing solutions. Let us be imitators of that boy. Let us make a living presence in our daily living. Let him be the inspiration we need in time of stagnation. Let his courage be that which will strengthen us in times of fear.

When we are faced with all the messiness of our lives, let us reach out, outside of ourselves, to those in deeper need. Let us offer our little offering and then let God do the rest. No matter how brilliant our ideas, unless there is the guidance of the Creative Power all these great ideas come to naught. I have seen, over these many years (as a priest), so many ministries begin with a "simple" thought, idea and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, ended up being the source "of food" for so many. "It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness." The Christophers.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


"It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering ourselves," are the great challenging words of St. Theresa of Avila. This is not easy. It is  downright scary "to delve into the depths of who we are," for this journey we "need reckless courage"( Yeats). Today there is more and more written about the challenge of that inner journey. This journey into our innate poverty, and absolute powerlessness, which is the opposite of today's popular gospel of prosperity. The journey into what it means to be human is a hard and difficult one. On this journey, we will become afraid, disheartened, discouraged,  and depressed. All these things must be encountered, embraced, and brought to prayer. No pious words will get us through this our dark night, or desert experience. It will be prayer from our agonizing gut that will see us through to transformation. We will slowly, and reluctantly grow in the acceptance that this is the only journey worth taking. Without this journey, we will never discover who we really are as authentic human beings. We will be led to embrace the harsh reality that we are, and ever will be perfectly imperfect. We will be led to our absolute dependence on grace. Through this our own personal hell, we will  discover the source of our  serenity, real happiness and true freedom. Without plunging the depths of our nothingness and powerlessness, we will never discover The Treasures hidden deep within, each and every one of us. There are no exceptions. We are all called to "trudge the road."

             This is not a short one moment, one day or one year trip. It is our life long journey, and so, to use the words of Neil Diamond, this journey into the true and real self," is the longest journey of all."  We must not give into fear, or worry about what is ahead of us. We do not make this journey on our own, or by ourselves. From all we have been exposed to over these many months, we know we are following in the footsteps of Our Good Shepherd. This Good Shepherd will never leave His flock unattended. He cannot desert or abandon us. It is a physical  impossibility. His guaranteed faith-full-ness is ours because of the covenant relationship we have been gifted with by our Gracious God. Covenant love is  not earned, deserved, or qualified for. It is our everlasting gift that is not dependent on our goodness but on the infinite goodness and mercy of God." It is not that we love God but He loves us.  It is not that we give love but that we accept it." (John)  It is hard for some of us to accept a gift so great that we cannot match its value in a return gift. All we can say is "Thank you." I must always remind myself of this fact, when I am in gratitude then I cannot be in resentment.

                            Resentment is the killer of joy, and all that is offered in this present moment. It makes it so difficult to enjoy the blessings that come with each sacramental now. When I am caught up in resentment, what is being offered to me in this moment is ignored. We will begin to live lives of unease and disquiet. Peace of mind, and the possible serenity we have chosen to reject. Eventually, I will come up with this question, often asked in anger, Where is God? Why do I feel so alone and abandoned. Is there anybody out there that cares for me, or is concerned about me?  Yes, there is a God, a Great Spirit of Love, Who forever and always wants to communicate infinite, endless love to each soul, His masterpiece of creation. Each person is reached out to uniquely, and so each relationship with The Great Spirit is unique. We can learn from the spiritual journey of others, but we have to live it uniquely. WE must never allow ourselves to compare our journey with the journey of any one else. All we can do is reverence the mystery that is their journey, as we grow in reverence of the mystery into which we are being led into. God, Great Spirit, The Ineffable, Who is The Mystery, is ever and always present in the mystery of the right now. The Great Mystery is always being revealed in "the right now." The fullness of His love is being offered to you and me, right now. We are being brought into an ever deepening relationship through the love Spirit that has been poured into our hearts, right. Our Beloved is ever and always in a creative mode, and that creative Spirit is being creative, right now. 

             "This Beloved of ours is merciful and good. Besides, He so deeply longs for our love that He keeps calling us to come closer. This voice that is so sweet that the poor soul falls apart in the face of her own inability to instantly do what He asks of her. And as you can see, hearing Him hurts much more than not being able to hear Him...For no, His voice reaches us through words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks, and reading sacred scripture. God calls us in countless ways all the time. Through illness and suffering and through sorrow, He calls us. Through a truth glimpsed in a state of prayer, He calls us. No matter how half hearted such insight may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what He is trying to teach us." St. Theresa of Avila. She later warns us of the following: "the devil frequently fills our thoughts with great schemes, so instead of putting our hands to do what we can do to serve our Lord, we may rest satisfied with wishing to perform impossibilities." So we need to be grounded in the reality of who we are, and where we are at. It is in and through the concreteness of life, our God connects with us and we with God. This extraordinary relationship is grounded in the ordinary. In this encounter the miracle of Grace happens, and we are led ever forward to live our destiny. Our destiny, our vocation, our calling is to be a sacrament, a life giving presence, of a gracious God, Who is awakening in us all that He has called us to be. We(I) need that constant reminder of the challenge. We (I) can and do become complacent. We can get lost in the routine of our daily living, and so the mystery of who we are, and Who we have been called to be is lost to consciousness. We are on automatic pilot, on cruise control. It is necessary to stop and claim, again and again who we are. We have to "name our deaths, and claim our births." So we can be the source of hope for those who will be placed in our lives. This is an endless process, and how often have I wished that this process was not necessary. Of all the books I have read, tapes I have listened to, I have never read or heard of a short cut to transformation. Jesus, to become The Christ, did not have any short cuts. He knew what was before Him. While in His humanity He recoiled from the oncoming agony, He was able to mutter "Not my will, but Your will, will be done."  Where He has gone we are to follow right behind. The more we enter the fullness of the totality of the Paschal Mystery, we are  being fashioned into the likeness of Him, Whom we have been baptized to be. Deeper and deeper we go not by choice. It is grace Who called us and it is grace Who will free the life of The Risen Christ that lies deep within the depths of our nothingness.

                  As I started with a quote from  St. Theresa so I might as well end with this, one of her most familiar words.   "Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks (with) compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, YOU ARE HIS BODY. Christ has no body on earth but yours." So when pain and suffering comes to us with the living of life, God does not intend the agony. In time we will see this is our participation in the sufferings of Jesus The Christ. In this participation, in His suffering,  we will come to see and slowly accept, as the necessary purgation is necessary for unity to happen.