The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost
Sunday May 23, 2021
In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.
After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they were cowering behind locked doors,
despondent, worried, fearful, bewildered, devastated.
“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted
and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind. The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.
The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”
Often at night as I’m sitting in my chair, or laying in bed, I’ll just pay attention to my breathing for a while. Sometimes I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.
What a wonderful image is breath. Breath is life itself. No breath, no life in the body.
The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up and the church was born. The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women were given enthusiasm. (We’re told the mother of Jesus was there.) No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church. The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth that we cannot understand each other, so much discord, so much disharmony.
The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened. People were gathered together. Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.
On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm. It was the day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969. (It will come the day after this year –beginning my 54th year of priestly service.
I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel back then . . . .
“I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the servants and handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)
Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church. Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.
The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first full three years of my priesthood. The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day as me.
Nine years later, the opposite happened. My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.
“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord: “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again. Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way.
There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story. A tongue of fire rested individually on the heads of each person as is visualized in the image above. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do. The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents that each of us possess.
So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!
The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.
“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The body is one and has many members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the one body. All of us have been given to driniftsk of the one Spirit” I Cor. 12.
In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class. And for me it was a powerful devotion. I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts. I realize that is still true some 49 years later. If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!
But I also realize that there were times in my priesthood when I experienced a great deal of powerlessness. I felt like Samson who had lost his strength. My soul had become like the valley of dry bones. I didn’t like my own mediocrity. I felt ashamed at times.
It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again. I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment. In each instant, I hope that I will discern and follow the Spirit’s lead.
And so, an important role of the Holy Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”
The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Sienna (a woman religious!) chastised the pope and she was only 33 years-old when shed died. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to treat Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.
They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like the apostles at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted / disturbed / prodded / led them/ inspired them / and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment who would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.
Our world, our country desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. I pray that as I enter my fiftieth-fourth year of holy priesthood next week, I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people! Please pray me!
And may we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
May it be so. May it be so.
Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
And before you go, here is the Australian group Hilsong singing Come Holy Spirit. It’s a young people’s group filled with love of the Lord. (A little different than “Come Holy Ghost” for a change.) Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity–thus, he worked as a tentmaker wherever he went. After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because, as I tried to learn from him . . . .
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:13
Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, “I persecuted this Way (i.e. Christians) to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.” And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.) Or the alternative version given in the Mass readings below (Acts 9:1-22).
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in the early church says about Paul in the divine office for today . . . .
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.” (There’s a lesson for us here, isn’t there?)
I never paid much attention to Paul until my later years. And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m writing this blog in his honor, despite the passages that show his Hebraic attitudes toward women and the misuse of his words about gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .
Chrysostom goes on to say that the most important point of all is . . . .
St. Paul knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and yet the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love than be among the great and honored. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet. (Another lesson for us, isn’t there, especially during this pandemic when we’re in lock-down mode for weeks on end?)
A few years ago, a priest-friend sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and still sits on my dining room table that I often glance at. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for in weakness power reaches perfection.”
And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord ~ or rather to realize in tears of joy that Jesus loves me deeply and richly ~ as I am, weak and sinful. He has raised me up and heals me, granting me the wonderful grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor ~ if in no other way.
And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not. Our God is love! Know that–despite whatever else you’ve been taught, despite how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are. YOU ARE LOVED! THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE!
We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word that really grabbed me, Paul “became a vessel of love filled with fire to carry and preach God’s Word. Amen. Amen!
And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.” It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for the slide show that accompanies it.
And here are all of today’s mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Sunday, January 10, 2021
This feast is part of the epiphany cycle of feasts ….
It reveals a bit more of the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that is, our God entering our world and becoming flesh and blood like you and me.
By way of introduction, our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay offers a short commentary on today’s Gospel story from Matthew about the Baptism of Jesus . . . .
For thirty years Jesus waited patiently for the moment to embark on his mission. He waited for the hour to strike. And when John emerged, Jesus knew it was time.
Barclay asks why should this be so? For one very simple reason.
The Jews knew and used baptism only for proselytes who came from another faith. It was natural for the sin-stained proselyte to be baptized but no Jew ever conceived of a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God’s salvation, should ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut off from God. Now for the first time in their national history the Jews realized their own sin and their own pressing need for God. Never before had there been a unique national movement of penitence and search for God. This was the very moment for which Jesus was waiting and he slipped into the line of pilgrims waiting to be baptized by John. The others there were conscious of their sin and conscious of their need for God as never before. In Jesus’ baptism, though not not for the purpose of repentance, he identified himself with the people he came to save.
When he approached John, he objected, saying, “I should be baptized by you” But Jesus replied, “Allow it for now for it is to fulfill all righteousness.” (Barclay Gospel of Matthew – Vol. I pp.59-60.)
Pope Benedict XVI also has an interesting commentary on this feast . . . .
The Baptism of Jesus was held in great importance by the apostolic community, in that circumstance, for the first time in history there was the manifestation of the Trinitarian Mystery in a clear and complete way, but also because that event began the public ministry of Jesus on the roads of Palestine. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan is the anticipation of his baptism of blood on the cross and it is the symbol of the entire sacramental activity by which the Redeemer will bring about the salvation of humanity.
This is why the early Church Fathers have dedicated such great interest in this feast, which is the most ancient after Easter:
“Christ is baptized and the whole world is made holy,”sings today’s liturgy, “he wipes out the debt of our sins; we will all be purified by water and the Holy Spirit.” (Antiphon to the Benedictus)
There is a strict relationship between the Baptism of Christ and our baptism. At the Jordan the heavens opened to indicate the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5) accomplished in baptism. The commitment that springs from baptism is therefore to “listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
(As recorded in the “Meditation of the Day” in the Magnificat liturgical magazine January 2019 issue, p.179.)
Thus, God sent his only Son to become one with us.
What better way to do this than to show acceptance of the human condition by being baptized for the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus has no personal sin. Yet he got in line with hundreds of pilgrims to be baptized by the prophet John by the River Jordan.
In this we see Jesus’ humility. He is willing to accept ALL of the human condition. He willingly presents himself for baptism.
Imagine this scene . . . .
There he is: John at the edge of the desert, wading out into the waters of the Jordan River.
A crowd has gathered on the banks. Jesus is among them. He’s unknown at this time because he’s yet to begin his ministry. He has chosen this meeting with the Prophet to inaugurate his own mission.
Jesus waits patiently amidst the crowd. There’s a line of people eagerly waiting to meet individually with John. Jesus is to receive his baptism of repentance ~ not because there’s sin in him, but in order to model for us the authentic way to approach the Father.
He goes to the Baptist as a beggar because the Mystery is mercy. Jesus surrenders to mercy by submitting himself to baptism in order to invite us to share in his relationship with the Father.
The Lord Jesus lowers himself in his baptism and, as Nothingness, acknowledges his Father so that we will never hesitate to do the same. (Source: Magnificat /Jan. 2019 issue p. 173.)
An astonishing thing happened; the two of them were privileged to a vision. The sky opened up and John saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove and hover over him.
With that, a voice from the heavens said,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In our immersion into the waters of baptism, we are consecrated, set apart and made holy. In Jesus’ immersion in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the opposite becomes true. Jesus consecrates, sets apart and makes holy the waters of baptism. Jesus as Man consecrates the movement of divine grace that flows just as rivers flow.
Sometimes the river has abundant waters that give life to all living things that share its banks. But sometimes the waters dry up and become like a desert.
So, too, with grace. Grace flows like a river bringing wonderful fruit to all who drink and are immersed in it. But sometimes grace seemingly dries up and we live in a desert for a while. But the river is still there, unseen; it just moves below the surface.
So we have to be willing to be immersed. To be immersed in divine grace. To be immersed in God. To be immersed in love.
But that precisely is the problem. We are scared of being immersed in love. We are scared of being immersed in God. We prefer to stand on the banks of the river and watch the waters of grace flow by, without having direct contact with it.
So this feast day is about us as well. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in God. Don’t be afraid to be immersed in love.
If we are immersed in God, in love, we will hear the voice of God say to us . . . .
“You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Now, before you go, here’s the traditional spiritual Wade in the Water. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
Advent Day 16 ~ Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent
I have learned to be intrigued by the shadows of my life, Lord.
The stronger the light, the deeper the shadow.
I have come to realize there will always be shadows.
I must accept the shadows of my life as well as the light; they will just always be there.
And so I now pause for a moment when a shadow greets me;
and take in its beauty.
Teach me to stop and be confronted, to be changed, by them.
This day, Lord, help me to realize what the shadows of my life can teach me about You and Your great love for me.
Editor’s note: This was my very first blog post on December 5, 2007.
I had two priests write back and say: “Thank you, Bob.
I wonder what they were saying?
I pay a lot of attention to shadows in my photography.
It’s “both ~ and.” That’s the way life is.
Carl Jung in psychology got us to pay attention to the Shadow side of life.
And in one’s prayer life, the mystics like St. John of the Cross talk about the “dark night of the soul.”
If we deny the shadows are there, we’re in trouble.
If we embrace our Shadow, make friends with it,
we can be on the way to wholeness.
And now before you go, here’s an excerpt from Handel’s Messiah to put you in an Advent mood. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because this favorite feast day of mine brings me back to a long association with the Cistercian Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville,Virginia, nestled on the Western side of the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shore of the Shenandoah River. I’m also thinking of the issue of Dying to Self these September days because of some personal issues as I’m preparing to move back to my home diocese of Orlando.
If you name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years . . . how did you deal with them? How did they affect you? What about Dying to Self? Can you ~ do you ~ do that?
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.) Does this make sense to you?
For you? In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . .
If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)
Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions. A priest-friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:
My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:
I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.
II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. I
II / When I am powerless, then I am strong.
What is a koan, you might ask? A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices: “To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution is supposed to come suddenly.”
So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world, why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idle, waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I somehow receive the gift of some in wisdom, as I have from time to time when I have been attentive to my prayer-life.
Jesus, of course, shows us the way. Let’s look at the famous “Kenosis” passage of Philippians Chapter 2:6-11 “Kenosis”—meaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
There it is, dear friends! Jesus gave his life for us. The movement was downward. Earthward. Earth-bound. Into the muck. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning muck. So, that’s what Dying to Self involves—getting down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and those of our loved ones and those we are called to serve. Being obedient to what life demands of us. And beckons us to, whether we might like it not. Real Life elicits from our inner depths our best resources. Then . . .
Then . . . God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And so, too, with us! We will be lifted up! I have experienced this several times.
But Jesus is faithful! Dying and rising is a continual process in nature and in our lives as well. We are taken down in some burden or crisis but, through faith, we are lifted up again! This is the Paschal Mystery. The Pasch ~ Passover ~ Passage ~Transition ~Transformation ~ Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives is celebrated for us Catholics throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.
Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery ~ this dying and rising ~ in your own life. And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross. I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!
Lift high the cross The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world Adore His sacred name
Led on their way By this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God In conquering ranks combine. Refrain:
Each newborn servant Of the Crucified
Bears on the brow The seal of Him who died. Refrain
O Lord, once lifted On the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.
So shall our song Of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified For victory. Refrain:
Now here is the hymn for your listening pleasure. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
The Birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – 2019
in quiet silence,
And when night was
in the midst of
her swift course,
Your Almighty Word,
Leaped down out
of your royal throne,
~ And the Word became flesh
and lived among us. John 1:14
Our waiting is over.
Christmas is here!
This Christmas I want to share with you an excerpt from one of my favorite Advent authors ~ Brennan Manning entitled Shipwrecked at the Stable.
God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.
God comes as a newborn baby, giving us a chance to love him, making us feel that we have something to give him.
The world does not understand vulnerability. Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.
The Spanish author José Ortega puts it this way:
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from fantasy and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth—that to life is to feel oneself lost. The shipwrecked have stood at the still-point of a turning world and discovered that the human heart is made for Jesus Christ and cannot really be content with less.
We are made for Christ and nothing less will ever satisfy us. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created by him and for him.” And further on, “There is only Christ: he is everything” (3:11). It is only in Christ that the heart finds true joy in created things.
Do you hear what the shipwrecked are saying? Let go of your paltry desires and expand your expectations. Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than himself and his name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling next Christmas to settle for anything else. Don’t order “just a piece of toast” when eggs Benedict are on the menu. Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of himself. Don’t be contented with a ‘nice’ Christmas when Jesus says, “It has pleased my Father to give you the Kingdom.”
The shipwrecked have little in common with the landlocked. The landlocked have their own security system, a home base, credentials and credit cards, storehouses and barns, their self interest and investments intact. They never find themselves because they never really feel themselves lost. At Christmas, one despairs of finding a suitable gift for the landlocked. “They’re so hard to shop for; they have everything they need.”
The shipwrecked, on the contrary, reach out for that passing plank with the desperation of the drowning. Adrift on an angry sea, in a state of utter helplessness and vulnerability, the shipwrecked never asked what they could do to merit the plank, and inherit the kingdom of dry land. They knew that there was absolutely nothing any of them could do. Like little children, they simply received the plank as a gift. And little children are precisely those who haven’t done anything. “Unless you… become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The shipwrecked at the stable are captivated by joy and wonder. They have found the treasure in the field of Bethlehem. The pearl of great price is wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
So here we are at Christmas once again,.
And so, dear friend, it’s time.
Open your heart.
Take some quiet time over the weekend to prepare yourself and be ready receive the Lord into your heart as if for the first time—in humility and the joy and wonder. As you see from Brennan Manning’s wonderful story, Christmas is really not about giving gifts, but about receiving the one that Jesus want to give you.
Try to be receptive to God as Mary was. She just said, a simple Yes! to the angel:
”I am the servant of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”
I pray so very earnestly that you receive the special gift God wants to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments—of preoccupations with unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what is the real meaning of life—your life.
For me the answer is to love as best I can, as meager as my life may be in the sunset years of my life. But I suppose I have some wisdom and compassion to share arising from my own crosses over the years. But it’s all gift; it’s all grace!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the posts I’ve been able to create this Advent. They are my gift to you.
May you have a wonderful Christmas with your those you love.
And if your Christmas is lonely with no one really special with whom to share, know that you have someone here who understands and who reaches out to you across these pages. I will remember each of you and your intentions and your needs in my Christmas Masses.
Be sure to open yourself to the holiness—
the wholeness—the peace of this Christmas.
It is there beneath all the craziness and hype.
It is yours if you seek it and ask for it.
Dearest Lord Jesus,
O how wonderful you are to me—to us.
May we feel like children again for you said
that we must be childlike before the Father
and you called him Abba—Daddy.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus,
for my priesthood, for my home
for the food on my table,
for my little furry friend Shoney,
for you my readers and so much more!
Please bless my friends and readers,
especially those who are missing a loved one this year,
or who are lonely or sick or in need in any way.
We ask you this, Jesus, always,
in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Now, before you go, here is a very special Christmas music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
If you would like the Scripture readings for any of the several Masses for Christmas. Click here.You’ll find a list of the Vigil, Mass at Night, at Dawn, etc.; click on the one(s) you want.
Monday of the Third Week of Advent
We’ll take a deeper turn in this Advent blog beginning today.
Christmas Eve is one week from tomorrow.
As I get closer to Christmas, my prayer is opening up and enriching from the reading I’ve been doing. I pulled an old favorite book off my shelf and reading it again after nearly fifty years was sort of like a mini-retreat.
It’s bringing me a deeper realization of my sinfulness and frail human nature.
Also an ongoing surrender to the process of transformation that’s occurring in me as I turn my life and my will over to God once again.
That, ongoing dual process ~ “a kind of coincidence of opposites” ~ sin and grace ~ dear friends, is always what gives meaning and joy to my life.
The Church invites us to enter into that process of ongoing repentance and conversion each year during Advent ( and Lent as well, of course).
Advent is counter-cultural. A time to step out of the rat race. To take a look at our maneuvering ~ scheming ~ elbowing for status or power or success or prestige. Or any of the things American society tells us we’re supposed to “have or or possess ” to make us happy.
The wise person realizes they won’t!
Let’s reflect a little more on what we can learn from John the Baptist tell us it’s all about . . .
He was a pretty successful preacher. People were streaming out into the desert to listen to him; he was persuasive. People were willing to change their lives after listening to him.
But he didn’t let it go to his head. He realized what his role was. He was just the “advance man” ~ the Messenger of the Son of God. And he was content with that.
He knew who he was. He didn’t want to be the star. Even though many thought he was “The Man.”
The saying of John that I love and pray often myself is:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
My spiritual director at the time reminded me to stay focused on Jesus. To make all my plans provisional.
I was a young, cool, creative priest. I was a rising star. I thought I was pretty hot stuff.
A bishop once told my father, “He’ll be a bishop someday.”
But God had other plans.
Today, I’m just a little guy, content with a tiny flock to care for, and to write a little blog few know about.
Arrogance was my greatest character defect and it has taken till recently to whittle that away.
And so today I pray inspired by the one who was content to live in the wilderness . . .
Jesus, You are the light of my life.
Without You I would be nowhere. Nada. Nothing.
And that’s okay with me.
I want You to be in all my relationships,
in all of my writing,
You help me to be humble, Lord.
You cast me down and raised me up again.
You chastise me; You heal me.
With St. Paul, You’ve helped me realize in the midst of my brokenness,
it was ~ and is ~ You who make me strong.
Whatever flows from my relationship with You will be good
if I allow You more and more to increase
and allow my false self, my little (Big) ego to fall away.
To be humble is to be close to the “humus” — “muck”.
So, I’ve finally learned to be content with the muckiness of my life.
And You have surprised me ~ delighted me ~ ravished me with Your love.
And you know what?
It’s there that I found You!
You raised me up! You drew me to Yourself!
You bound up my wounds! You clothed me with Your LOVE!
What a joy!
And now I’m eager once again to share Your Love.
To help others know that You love each and everyone ~ no matter what.
Yes, Lord Jesus, You must increase; I must decrease.
Let me never ever forget that. No matter what.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
In this last week before Christmas I’d like to have us take a deeper look at the mystery of the Incarnation — God’s love affair with our messy ~ mucky ~ crazy human race, as it appears in Matthew’s and Luke’s stories of how God came into our world as a vulnerable, homeless baby who cooed and pooped in his pants like the rest of us. That story ~ even if you just accept as a story ~ has much to teach us. Let’s take a fresh look at it and go down to a deeper level.
Before you go, here’s an inspiring YouTube orchestral and voice arrangement of J. S. Bach’s lovely Advent piece sung by Josh Groban. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Prepare to be goosebubbed!
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
THANKSGIVING DAY 2019
Thanksgiving Day. What’s it for? For some it’s a time get away for a few days—maybe to visit family in a different part of the country, or just chill out. For others it’s a family dinner followed by football watching and beer drinking. For still others it’s the dread of the first or the many holidays after the loss of a their Beloved in tears and in just plain shattered, empty loneliness.
For some children it’s like having to please of both divorced parents by being “shared” by both families on holidays. For still others—they’re always alone; some enjoying their solitude—others though perhaps sharing it with a bottle or pills.
How ‘bout you? Do you take the time on this holiday to Offer Thanks? Do we even think about the things in our life for which we are grateful? Or do we not care what this day means or should mean any more?
Here’s the Thanksgiving Proclamation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942—a year after Pearl Harbor and entering World War II.
“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God.
The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the Nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty.
In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our Nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States.
It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy Protection,” and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven.”
Note that he, as many other presidents before have, had no qualms about addressing the Almighty in his decree for the holiday, though we may also note he had no qualms about dropping a mighty bomb on Hiroshima three years later.
When I was in AA many a year ago, we were taught a very simple way to pray ~ to say “please” in the morning and “thank you” at night. What could be simpler and more heartfelt? Thanks is on my lips and in my heart whenever I can accomplish something that I need to do ~ usually after I’ve said “Please help me do this, Lord.” And that little conversation will take place quite often. So, for me, every day is a thanksgiving day! I get down on my knees every morning and thank God for another day and for other specific things.
I’m now in the fiftieth year of my priesthood, by God’s holy grace. As many of you, my readers know, mine has been an unconventional priestly journey as I have dealt with manic-depressive disorder along the way and later Parkinson’s that somehow disappeared after three years—again by the grace of God. I’ve also struggled from time to time with severe financial issues too. So, indeed, this has been an unconventional priestly journey, but one I’ve accepted as a grace, and for which I give thanks every morning and at every Eucharist.
Jesus has been so faithful to me and has lifted me up when I have fallen so, so many times.
I cannot tell you how much joy, how much love, how much gratitude I have for Jesus and my Diocese of Orlando for ordaining me a priest of Jesus Christ.
I have often referred in this blog to a short quote from St. Paul who seemed to struggle a lot too in his life too:
“ My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection,”and so I willingly boast of my weakness instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless I am strong. (2 Cor. 2:9-10)
I’ve lived a life of solitude for the past thirteen years—just me and Jesus and my two furry companions—first Shivvy, who passed away in November 2013 and now my little Shoney, whose already ten years old who still looks like and acts like a puppy.
I’m grateful for the solitude, too. It’s nice. People ask me what I watch on TV, and I tell them, I don’t have a TV and they’re astonished. I get my news online; that’s enough.
The silence can be penetrating. It connects you to the universe, you know. I love it. But I do hope to return to active priestly ministry for a few years. I am a good preacher and teacher and I still have many gifts to offer.
I am also very grateful for my dogs. A dog is a wonderful companion and my dogs have been designated as service animals, so they can go anywhere with me.
And Shoney gives thanks too, ya know. I often put my plate on the floor for him to lick the scraps. Well, the other night, he went to get one of his kiddies and bring it over to “share” in the goodies! He often he puts one of his kiddies in his food dish, but the other night he went across the room and brought one around to my plate just for a special treat. Wadaya think o’ dat?
I’m also very thankful for my condo-home. It feels just right for me. I’ve been here eleven years now. Like my mom before me, the walls of my house are painted my favorite colors; my living room and my bedroom are tiele; my master bedroom, which is my office is burgundy and my kitchen and bathrooms are goldenrod. I also have about ten of my own photographs professional framed throughout the house.
Oh, and I have a different car now. It’s a 2011 Ford Mustang and they tell me its Candy Apple Red. It’s a coupe, not a convertible, like the Mitsubishi was, but unfortunately, it’s been –um—through two accidents since I’ve had it.
So, I am very thankful for my home, for an enjoyable ride, for good companionship in my dog and, right now good healthful food on the table.
But most of all, for Jesus gift of love as a baptized Christian and then later, that he called me to his sacred priesthood—happy of trying to be his obedient priest-son for fifty years and beyond.
Last night, laying in bed waiting for sleep, I was reminded of a couple of important things for which I have been very grateful again and again—my ongoing education and the four freedoms we enjoy in our country and which I’m afraid we could very easily lose.
First of all, here’s a bit about my Catholic education. I went to St. John’s Parish grade School a few blocks from my home on St. Pete Beach and remember my excellent teachers fondly. Then I went to Bishop Barry High School in St. Petersburg and graduated as Salutatorian with a life-long tête-à-tête by email with the Valedictorian, (now Dr.) John O’Brien.
I entered the seminary directly after high school and was first assigned to St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut for my first two years where I met my first best-friend (now Dr.) George Ducharme. From there for six years I was under the influence of the Sulpicians, whose only task is the formation of seminarians. First, at St. Mary’s Seminary in downtown Baltimore, I had a great teacher there in Father Bill Lee who really taught me how to write.
For my final four years, Archbishop Hurley assigned me to Theological College of the Catholic University. During those years, my formation for the priesthood was broadened in many ways, particularly in regard to liturgy. The staff of the University asked me to initiate a Sunday Mass for the students in the crypt church of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I came away from T.C. with several life-long friendships—my closest one—Father Phil Stegeman who was ordained with me for my Diocese of Orlando died suddenly of a heart attack at age 47, a friendship that I’ve never been able to replace.
I did go away in my fifties in 1992 to get a second Masters degree in Professional Writing from Towson University (a suburb of Baltimore.) That was fun. I brought my father up there with me and made lots of friends up there too. I also helped out in a local parish and two convents. And that’s where I met my first doggie Shivvy.
Now let’s turn to our appreciation, our gratitude, for what we have in our country. Our president keeps telling us to make America great again. But ought we not give thanks for the greatness that we have been for over two hundred years and the freedoms we’ve been given by the Constitution and that I fear we could so easily lose?
Riffing on President Roosevelt’s famous speech about four freedoms for the entire world in 1941, we have the same here:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of worship
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear