Thursday, November 29, 2007

The wisdom of dogs

For all the dog lovers who read this blog: This was sent to me today and I love it! The dogs pictured belong to Fr. Mike and me (Bubba (front) and Fenway (back)):

The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue. - Anonymous

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. - Ann Landers

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went. - Will Rogers

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face. - Ben Williams

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. - Josh Billings

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person. - Andy Rooney

We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made. - M. Acklam

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult. - Rita Rudner

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around threetimes before lying down. - Robert Benchley

Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like never washed a dog. - Franklin P. Jones

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons. - James Thurber

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise. - Unknown

My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That's almost $21.00 in dog money. - Joe Weinstein

Ever consider what our dogs must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul -- chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth! - Anne Tyler

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man. - Mark Twain

You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, 'Wow, you're right! I never would've thought of that!' - Dave Barry

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. - Roger Caras

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them. - Phil Pastoret

My goal in life is to be as good a person my dog already thinks I am.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus, remember me


Anyone who subscribes to the Catholic Digest knows that every issue usually contains a story or two describing how someone became a Catholic or returned to the practice of the faith. There was one story not too long ago about a young man who grew up in a strong Catholic family and had been very active in his church during his young years. So strong in faith was he, that he eventually entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. But, then came the turmoil of the Vietnam years, college protests, race riots, the resignation of the president. Suddenly, everything seemed unglued. The young man left the seminary, joined the antiwar movement, left the Church and began to ridicule the faith he once so proudly proclaimed.

His family was shocked by his change, and when his behavior became more and more hostile towards religion and the Church, they all but gave up hope.

Then came Holy Week and Good Friday in 1974. The young man, now 22 years old, was driving past a Catholic Church. He recognized the name of the priest on the sign in front of the Church. It was a priest he had once respected very much. Something prompted him to stop his car and go inside the Church. As he walked through the door, the Good Friday adoration of the Cross was beginning. He sat down in the very last pew and watched the people file up to the front of the Church to reverence the Cross while the choir sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Then something remarkable happened. The young man wrote, “Something inside me snapped and I began to cry. Overcome with emotion, I remembered the peace I had felt years ago in Church. The simple faith I was witnessing now seemed more meaningful to me than what I had been professing. I got out of my seat and went down to kiss the Cross. The priest recognized me, came over, and hugged me. On that day, I became a born-again Catholic.”

I like that story because it fits so perfectly with the readings for today’s Solemnity of Christ the King. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Our Gospel passage today from Luke describes another angry, irreligious young man whose life was completely turned around on the very first Good Friday more than 2,000 years ago.

And what turned that young man’s life around was the same thing that turned the life of the young seminarian around. It was the crucifixion of Jesus; the crucifixion of Christ our King. And what the crucified Christ said to the young man on the cross next to Him, he also said to the young seminarian: “Amen, I say to you. You will be with me in Paradise.”

There could hardly be a more appropriate reading to bring our Church year to a close today. It summarizes why Jesus came into the world. It was to forgive sinners, like the young criminal next to Him, like the young seminarian 30 years ago. And, what Jesus did for those two young men, he also wants to do for each of us. He wants to forgive our sins, no matter how great they are or how long-standing they may be. He wants to say to us what he said to the good thief, “You will be with me in Paradise.”

This is the good news contained so simply in today’s Scripture: Jesus wants to enter our lives and do for us what he did for them. St. Paul expresses that good news in this way in the second reading today, God “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is the heart of what we have celebrated for the past 52 Sundays of our Church year – that we say continually to Jesus, “Remember me,” and He responds to us, “You will be with me in Paradise.” These words sum up and celebrate this past year of grace and growth, this year of joys and sorrows, this year of pain and gain. Let us make these words our daily prayer as we head into the new Church year ahead. Let us begin each day saying, “Jesus, remember me,” and “Today, you will be with me.”

May God give you peace.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You


“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” I think as we gather this morning to begin this Thanksgiving Day, it is important for us to remember the roots of this holiday – after all the first Thanksgiving took place less than 200 miles from here. In 1623, Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts made the following proclamation for Thanksgiving:

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at the meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

This proclamation is all the more extraordinary when you know how destitute the circumstances were for the Pilgrims. Only 47 of the original 121 Pilgrims had survived the harsh winters, lack of food and disease. They had gone through a time of great difficulty; gotten to a point where many people would have quoted elsewhere in Scripture, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Instead, they never lost sight of their gratitude to God who is the source and giver of life. They knew that even their horrible experiences could never outweigh all that they had to be grateful for from God. And so they gathered and gave thanks.

We have all probably been in the position to have someone do something for us that was really special. We want to express our deep gratitude and yet we often find that the only thing we can do is say, “Thank you.” Even as we say it, those two words seem somehow inadequate to the task of expressing our deep thanks.

If we have ever felt that way about another person, I think most of us feel that way when we think of all God had done for us. We would like to express our gratitude to God, but we struggle with how to do it. What could we ever do to properly express our thanks for life? For Creation? The joy and love of our families and friends? For salvation? For the forgiveness of our sins? The grace of the Eucharist?

It boils down to this: The best way to show God we are grateful is to live our lives as He wants us to. As St. Paul said in our second reading, “God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Showing our gratitude for God’s blessings means coming together and worshipping as a Church family. It means telling others of God’s love and all He has done for us. Have you told anyone what God has done for you lately?

We show our gratitude to God when we give nothing but our very best to the Lord – in terms of our time, our talent and our treasure. Do we give generously to those in need, to the Church, and in service to our brothers and sisters?

Being thankful means to live by faith, trusting in the Lord, being dependent on Him for all things.

Today is a day to give thanks. It is also a day to renew ourselves in gratitude, to outdo one another in gratitude and thankfulness. Our thankfulness is rooted in what God has done for us. He came to earth and made His way to the Cross where He suffered the agony of paying the penalty for all the sins of the world; the sins of you and me. He did this because He loved us. And because He loved us, we can have life, forgiveness of sin and Heaven. Nothing compares to what our God and our Savior did for us.

We are reminded today that we are called to cultivate gratefulness as our basic attitude toward life; as the very ground of our being. Gratefulness is extraordinarily powerful. It is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Gratefulness makes all the difference between going through the motions and really being alive.

“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” No Lord, we your sons and daughters have returned and to you we say simply, profoundly, from the very depths of our hearts, “Thank You.”

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Worth the wait

You may have seen the article in the papers over these last few days that two separate scientific groups have been able to create human stem cells without the destruction of human embryos ( I wanted to take a moment to comment on this breakthrough.

First, let the congregation say, "Amen!" This is truly a significant moment in the whole challenge and controversy over the issue of stem cells. If there is a way to use the incredible, adaptable, healing nature of the human body to find cures or treatments for some of the most difficult diseases that people suffer with, then let us all pray for this success!

What I want to comment on though is how important it is to wait, to listen, and to follow God's law and God's way. You know those in favor of embryonic stem cell research (now I'm talking about the bad kind that results in the wanton destruction of human embryos), tried to create a dynamic that pitted those in favor (or those who care about the poor folk who are sick with illness) against religious nuts (who could care less about the suffering of others). This of course, was and is a false dynamic.

The Church in its wisdom of course said all along - we are in favor of using our God-given talents to find ways to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters, but we always have to ask: at what cost? The cost of the human embryos sacrificed for this was just too much and outweighed any potential advantage.

And, thankfully, these scientists appear to have found a way to use what benefits there may potentially be in embryonic stem cells (remember, still there isn't a single treatment or cure from these), and be able to explore that potential without the destruction of life.

I know for me, this serves as something that strengthens my resolve to stand up for what is right, especially in the cause of life. I hope it does for you too.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beware: The Golden Compass

A film called "The Golden Compass" opens December 7. It is based on the first book of a trilogy titled His Dark Materials. The author of this children's fantasy is Philip Pullman, a noted English atheist. It is his objective to bash Christianity and promote atheism. To kids. "The Golden Compass" is a film version of the book by that name, and it is being toned down so that Catholics, as well as Protestants, are not enraged.

The second book of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is more overt in its hatred of Christianity than the first book, and the third entry, The Amber Spyglass, is even more blatant. Because "The Golden Compass" is based on the least offensive of the three books, and because it is being further watered down for the big screen, some might wonder why parents should be wary of the film.

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

"The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked" is the Catholic League's response. It provides information about the film, "The Golden Compass," and details what book reviewers have said about Pullman's books; a synopsis of his trilogy is also included.

Copies are currently available of the electronic edition of the booklet. To order, use our online form or call 212-371-3191 (a pdf will be emailed to you). The cost is $5. It is important that all Christians, especially those with children or grandchildren, read this booklet. Anyone who does will be armed with all the ammo they need to convince friends and family members that there is nothing innocent about Pullman's agenda. Though the movie promises to be fairly non-controversial, it may very well act as an inducement to buy Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. And remember, his twin goals are to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity. To kids.

Please get the word out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The end is near!

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 18, 2007:

Two priests from the local church were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that read, “The End is Near! Turn yourself around now before it’s too late!” The first driver to pass by yelled, “Leave us alone you religious nuts!” as he sped by. Then, from around the curve, they heard the screeching of tires and a loud crash. The priests looked at each other and one said, “Do you think maybe our sign should just say, ‘Bridge Out.’”

My brothers and sisters, the end is near! (In case you haven’t noticed.) The leaves falling from the trees signal that the warm weather is over and cold of winter is around the corner. Thanksgiving next Thursday reminds us that November is almost over. The Christmas decorations that have been out in the stores for a month already tell us that Christmas will soon be here and another year is almost over. As I said, the end is near!

As we enter today into the final two weeks of our Church year before Advent begins, our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!” And Jesus is asked in the Gospel, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”

There is within us a very natural anxiety about “the end.” Will we be ready? Will we be among the chosen? Will we make it to Heaven? I spent some time with a few of our religious education classes this past week, and when I met with one of our fifth grade classes, there were a lot of questions about this very topic – they wanted to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. And in the day-to-day life of the parish, I can’t tell you how many times good, active, practicing Catholics will bring me articles written about the End Times seemingly able to predict when it will all end. Surely everything going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Iran seem like signs that the end is indeed near.

Personally, I think that if there are any signs pointing to the Second Coming, it is the fact that all at the same time, the Red Sox have won their second World Championship in four years, the Patriots and Celtics continue to go undefeated, and the New England Revolution soccer team is in the Major League Soccer Cup. There’s many a voice in Boston saying, “Surely, the end is ne-ah!”

But, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

There are, I think, two main points to what Jesus wants to convey today. The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world. We tend to do this far too often, and when we allow ourselves to go down this road of thought, we are not following the word of God. We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties. We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives.

The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. For example, if you’ve ever seen Pastor John Hagee or others like him on TV, you know that he will tell you exactly when the end is coming. But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come. Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets. Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.” The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Our world today is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices. Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.”

A true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us.

And this is what Jesus says today; that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. These seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life. Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message of hope dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth.

The end is near….or not. But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Atheist Holiday

I have no idea if there is any truth to this story, but I like it just the same:

In Florida, an atheist became incensed over the preparation of Easter and Passover holidays. He decided to contact his lawyer about the discrimination inflicted on atheists by the constant celebrations afforded to Christians and Jews with all their holidays while atheists had no holiday to celebrate.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the long, passionate presentation by the lawyer, the Judge banged his gavel and declared "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood and objected to the ruling and said, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and many other observances. Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah. Yet my client and all other atheists have no such holiday!"

The judge leaned forward in his chair and simply said, "Obviously your client is too confused to even know about, much less celebrate his own atheists' holiday!"

The lawyer pompously said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any such holiday for Atheists. Just when might that holiday be, your Honor?"

The judge said, "Well it comes every year on exactly the same date April 1st! Since our calendar sets April 1st as 'April Fools Day, consider that Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53 state, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, in my opinion, if your client says there is no God, then by scripture he is a fool, thus April 1st is his holiday!"

The Bible

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Blogging Cardinal

If you haven't checked out his blog before, I encourage you to become a regular reader of Sean Cardinal O'Malley's blog ( I don't know of any other bishop in the Church who blogs regularly and Cardinarl Sean's blog is a great insight into the daily life of a bishop, as well as an incredibly holy voice in the Church. Also, it doesn't hurt that he's a Franciscan too! Check it out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Schilling resigned for 2008

By Steve Silva, Staff

Curt Schilling and the Red Sox finalized a one-year, $8 million contract today.

According to Schilling, who first posted the confirmation on his web site, the deal includes a possible $6 million in incentives in addition to his $8 million base salary: $2 million in weight incentives (based on six weigh-ins), $3 million based on innings pitched, and $1 million if he receives even a single Cy Young vote.
"How we project him for next year... we thought $8 million was a reasonable number," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told the Globe's Nick Cafardo. "If there's a downside or things don't go well next year than $8 million seems reasonable under that scenario. If everything goes right, if he gets himself in great shape and pitches the whole season, then we're comfortable with the higher number (up to $14 million) which is why the contract is structured that way."

Schilling, who made $13 million in 2007, added that the weight clause was added by him, not the Red Sox. According to the Cafardo, Schilling's weigh-ins will be very difficult to make. He would have to really be in outstanding shape to make all six weigh-ins and earn the $2 million extra, according to a source familiar with the contract.

"I inserted the weigh in clause in the second round of offers, counter offers," Schilling wrote. "Given the mistakes I made last winter and into spring training I needed to show them I recognized that, and understood the importance of it. Being overweight and out of shape are two different things. I also was completely broad sided by the fact that your body doesn't act/react the same way as you get older. Even after being told that for the first 39 years of my life. Now I can't get on Dougie [Mirabelli] anymore, which sucks, and I am sure the clause will add 15-100 more jokes to Tito's Schilling joke book."

Schilling will get a $375,000 bonus for pitching 130 innings, and an additional $375,000 for every 10-inning increment up to 200.

The final step of the deal, according to Schilling, was an MRI, which he said took this morning and passed.

Schilling wrote that he thought he could have earned more money and gotten a longer deal elsewhere.

"Did I 'leave' money on the table, yes. Could I have gotten another year? I think so," he wrote. "In talking with my advisor Ed Hayes, assessing the market place and current free agent crop as well as existing contracts. Looking at the teams that called, my best guess would be around $14-15 million for a 1 year deal with the potential to get 25-30 for a two year deal."

Schilling did, however, say that money played a role in his decision.

"Saying it's not 'about the money' is a lie too," he wrote. "Both sides have a price, at some number I was not a viable option for the Red Sox, and at another number the Sox might have become a non-contender to us, but we both wanted this to happen and it did."

Schilling, who turns 41 on Nov. 14, went 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA in the regular season. In the postseason, the veteran righty went 3-0 in four starts, with a 3.00 ERA, improving his career postseason won-loss mark to 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.

"Bottom line is Mr. Henry, Mr. Werner, Mr. Lucchino, Theo, Tito [Francona] and John [Farrell]wanted me to come back, and I wanted to be back," Schilling wrote. "So it’s all good."

With Schilling back in the fold, the Red Sox starting rotation for 2008 appears set with Josh Beckett, Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield competing for the five starting slots.

The return of Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was also a factor for Schilling when deciding where to pitch in 2008.

"John Farrell is a huge part of the equation, not just for me either," Schilling wrote in an e-mail on Friday. "He's as good as anyone I've ever worked with and probably the most over qualified pitching coach in the world ... While I would claim we are very close friends, he was always my coach first, which is something I desperately need at this point in my career."

Youk wins Gold Glove

By Steve Silva, Staff

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis today became one of five first-time Gold Glove winners in the American League.

The gritty Red Sox first baseman did not make an error in 1,080 total chances and recorded 990 putouts for the Sox.

Youkilis joins Tigers 2B Placido Polanco, Angels SS Orlando Cabrera, and Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre as AL infielders who are receiving the Gold Glove honor for the first time.

Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, Mariners center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, and Twins pitcher Johan Santana round out the 2007 AL Gold Glove winners.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Go climb a tree


I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid you couldn’t get me out of trees. Trees had an unstoppable, magnetic quality to them. I couldn’t be near one without resisting the urge to climb it. Growing up we lived right on the edge of the woods and I loved nothing more than climbing up a tree as high as I could. It seemed like you could just keep going, if you got high enough, it almost felt like you could fly. Everything, the whole world, looked so different from high atop a tree. It gave a new perspective to everything. I don’t recall any feelings from my childhood that felt quite as free and exhilarating as climbing a tree. Somewhere along the line though, as we grow up, we hear a very “anti-tree climbing” message. We hear that this is dangerous, you might hurt yourself, the tree might break, you really shouldn’t be doing it! But the memory of those eternal moments of freedom high atop the branches swinging in the wind lingers in my happy memory.

And today we hear from Luke, “Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” Luke gives us this simple, yet powerful image defining our faith journey quite basically as tree climbing. Let’s look at that image. We have this man - of “short stature” as the Gospel writer puts it – named Zacchaeus. As the chief tax collector of the city of Jericho, Zacchaeus would have been disgustingly rich. He would have been a combination of Donald Trump and Al Capone – hideously wealthy.

You see, the chief tax collector was not a worker on a fixed salary, but rather the sole proprietor of a business empire. The way things would work were like this: the Roman government would levy a city the amount of money they expected the city to contribute in a year in taxes. The chief tax collector would pay that amount to Rome and then have the sole right and freedom to impose and collect taxes from the inhabitants of the city. He himself determined how much each person would pay. He would employ the individual tax collectors to go round and collect the taxes. Whatever money they collected over and above the lump sum he paid to the Roman administrator was his profit.

Despite his extreme wealth, the chief tax collector was hated in the city, not only because he overtaxed the people purely for his own benefit, but also because he was helping the equally hated Romans to exploit his very own people. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. Although he was financially well to do, the chief tax collector lived of life of loneliness, alienated from his own people and alienated from God. As they say, money can’t buy you love. Imagine now, this Zacchaeus, and think about the scene Luke lays out for us. Here is perhaps one of the most feared men of his community, a noble image, someone who would be more likely surrounded by an entourage, and yet here he is running like a child and climbing a tree to see who? The Emperor, the Governor, another wealthy and powerful individual? No, instead, Jesus – a poor, relatively unknown preacher who was passing through town. And yet, this new perspective, found high up in a tree, changed everything for him.

Jesus looked at Zacchaeus up there in that tree and spoke: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for today I must stay at your house.” He hurried down the tree with a big smile on his face and the crowd made way for him as he went to hug Jesus and lead the way to his house. Take note that at dinner Jesus did not preach to Zacchaeus. He did not say, “Repent or you will find eternal damnation.” Instead Jesus’ non-judgmental and unconditional acceptance of the sinful Zacchaeus and love for him spoke more eloquently to his heart than the best sermon ever could. Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord in the full view of everybody, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Let’s do the math – by giving half of his wealth to the poor and using the other half to repay fourfold all those he had defrauded, Zacchaeus' wealth would be all but gone. But he has realized that all the money and power in the world cannot compare with the salvation brought to his household that day.

Zacchaeus learned what many of us learn once we take the time to climb the tree and see things differently – that only Jesus can bring things that are truly meaningful into our lives. The world wants to sell us a way of life that is ultimately empty; that promises lavish wealth fame and fortune, but never comes through on the promise.

How many of us have our priorities in the wrong order? How many of us spend our days accumulating wealth, working endlessly to have a better job, a nicer home, a newer car, a flat screen t.v., a better position, one that offers more wealth, more power, more prestige; only to discover at the end of the day that it is empty, that it does not bring any greater level of happiness or peace at all – in fact, it may be the very thing robbing us of quality relationships with family, friends and ultimately with God. The author, Jack Higgens, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there's nothing there.”

There are many people like Zacchaeus around us every day; some days we may be a hidden Zacchaeus – putting God on the back burner for another day pursuing in the meantime things that are merely the appearance of a happy life. Jesus challenges us to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb a tree and see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a true perspective, a Christ perspective. There are trees in front of us all the time just begging to be climbed. There are the chances to gain a new perspective in our faith life with God, but how often we walk past because we fear that we might get hurt, that we might not be strong enough, that it might be dangerous, that it might call us to surrender or change? But, if we take the time to climb the tree that leads to a deeper faith, we just might find a greater freedom than we have ever known in life. Climbing that tree gave Zacchaeus the opportunity to see Jesus instead of being stuck gazing at the false world that he knew all too well.

If we have the courage to take our lives of faith to this new perspective we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

May God give you peace!

Friday, November 2, 2007

We are defined by whom we have lost


Columnist Anna Quindlen, reflecting a few years ago on death after the passing of her sister-in-law at a young age wrote, “My brother and I . . . were both teenagers when our mother died, we know that if anyone were to ask us, ‘When does it stop hurting?’ we would have to answer in all candor, ‘If it ever does, we will let you know.’...As a writer, I wrote my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts suffice, not only to describe the dead but to tell what they will mean to the living all the rest of our lives. We are defined by whom we have lost.”

As I reflect on this All Souls day, I kept hearing Quindlen's words, “we are defined by whom we have lost.” As we gather here today and in particular call to mind all our loved ones who have gone to their eternal rest, the words can almost become a prayer, we are defined by whom we have lost.

We live in a culture that wants us to “get over it”, move on, or the current favorite word of pop psychology “to find closure” - as if such a thing actually exists. But, the Church, in its long held wisdom, gives us this Feast, asking us to not “get over it,” but rather to give voice to our grief and sorrow. Today is a day that respects our love for those who have died, both the grief of losing someone close to us, perhaps over the course of this year, or the loss in our world due to hunger, poverty, violence and war.

As Christians, we believe that our dear ones are now safe in God's care. As followers of Jesus, we believe He will strengthen us while we live. No need for heavy theology tonight, or extensive explanation of our scriptures for we know what we believe. Instead, just three small things to do at the end of the day:

1. Remember - Jesus gave his disciples those powerful words, “Do this in memory of me,” in other words, remember me. So too, our loved ones must be called to mind, we must keep them in our memory and keep our love for them alive. Angels appeared to the disciples after the resurrection telling them to remember that He prepared them for this moment. From Luke’s Gospel, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Then they remembered his words. We too, in our tears and sorrows, remember that Jesus understands our hurt, our sorrow, our heartache. We can bring all of it to Him and He will heal us.

2. Give Thanks - In Sirach, we hear the remembrance of people who lived their faith and touched others. The memory fills him with a sense of gratitude and praise. When we remember those who have died, so many thoughts come into our mind: things we did, or did not do; regret; words that may or may not have been spoken. Tonight we are asked to dismiss it all; just for tonight. We remember our dead and for them and their lives we are grateful. For what; for whom are you grateful? Whether their life was a long full one, or ended with too many roads untravelled; whether they died suddenly, peacefully, after a long illness...for what are you grateful. Just relish it and hold it to the Lord.

3. Live - We are defined by whom we have lost. Those we have loved and lost, have contributed to who we are, so who are we? How can we allow the memories and the gratitude to shape us? Maybe that is the privilege, the blessing of those who have embraced loss: we know that we cannot live like we have all the time in the world. We cannot let words go unspoken, gestures of love go undone. Like the disciples, we realize we cannot wear grief like a badge that exempts us from living. No, our grief gently, but firmly, calls us to live.

The great Sojourner Truth once said, “I'm not gonna die, honey... I'm going home like a shooting star.” Just for tonight we pause, and think about those stars, those lights that have shaped us, and gone home. And we take a deep breath, and continue our lives, knowing that Jesus, the Morning Star, will safely guide us home. Tonight we remember, give thanks and live as those who will also be joined with them in heaven one day.

Eternal life grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

May God give you peace.

Be a saint

SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2007:

I'd like to start with an impromptu poll among the congregation. By a show of hands how many here would like to be a saint? And again, by a show of hands, how many think that when all is said and done, you will in fact, be a saint?
Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.

“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic.

Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

Thomas Merton knew his friend was right. Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century. His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself -- and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.

But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.

You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.

Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard. But the message Christ sends to all of us is an invitation to be something more. In the words of the old Army recruiting ad: be all that you can be.

Be a saint.

If anyone has any doubts how to do that, Matthew’s gospel today is a helpful how-to guide. You might call it “Becoming a Saint for Dummies.”

We know it better as The Beatitudes.

“Blessed are they...” With those two words Jesus begins a beautiful instruction in how to live the life of a saint. Pope Benedict has taken that a step further: in his remarkable book “Jesus of Nazareth,” he suggests that the beatitudes are nothing less than a self-portrait of Christ.

It is a portrait of what all of us should aspire to.

To be poor in spirit…to be meek…to be merciful.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness.

To be clean of heart and to make peace.

Taken as a whole, the Beatitudes also sum up the beautiful refrain of today’s responsorial psalm.

Because “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

This is the people that want to be saints.

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenal saintly stories of the Church. We grew up hearing of how John was beheaded, and Stephen was stoned; how Francis got the stigmata, or how Therese suffered humiliations and disease to die an early death. You hear stories like that and you can’t blame Thomas Merton for not really being eager to be a saint. It’s not only hard work, it often doesn’t have a happy ending.

But those are the stories we hear about. There are countless stories – millions, throughout the centuries – that we don’t. They are the anonymous saints who go about their daily lives quietly, peacefully, joyfully, finally entering into the fullness of grace without doing anything more dramatic than merely living the beatitudes.

They are the unsung saints.

About a year and a half ago, I had the oppotunity to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. This is the new cathedral built a few years ago after the old cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquake in the 1990s. One of the most spectacular aspects of the cathedral are the magnificent tapestries lining the walls. And they really are magnificent – they are dramatic, realistic, and contemporary depictions of ordinary people of extraordinary character. And they adorn the walls of the cathedral the same way that stained glass windows once decorated the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. In the tapestries, you can see all the familiar saints whose names we know, in a row, facing toward the altar, as if in line for communion. It is – literally and figuratively – the communion of the saints. There is St. Nicholas, St. Gregory, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, St. Clare…and on and on, with their names over their heads.

But scattered among those saints are people without names – people you won’t find in Butler’s “Lives of the Saints.” A teenage girl. A young man from the barrio. Children in contemporary clothes. They are the saints whose names are known only to God. It is a beautiful and eloquent depiction of the day we celebrate today: All Saints.

And the message of those tapestries is the message of this feast day: these unknown saints are just as worthy as they ones who are known. They look like us. They look like people we might pass on the street. If they can be holy, can’t we all?

What does it take to join them?

As Bob Lax explained, to a man whom some people today consider a saint: All you really need…is to want to.

And God will do all the rest.

May God give you peace.
(Slightly adapted from

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Our Beloved Dead


Our Beloved Dead

This time of year, beginning with Halloween and extending through the month of November, is one that has roots which if called ancient would be an understatement. Virtually every culture in the world has had some history of making special remembrance of the dead during this time of year. For example, Guamán Poma de Ayala, a missionary in Peru in 1615 wrote this, "November is the Month of the Dead. The deceased were removed from their graves, redressed with rich garments and feathers. They gave the dead food and drink. The people danced and sang with the dead, parading them around the streets." While that may seem a bit extreme to us today, it does underlie the same basic reality that we know today - that the dead are not forgotten; they are not gone forever; the dividing line between Heaven and earth is not has concrete as we might think.

On Thursday and Friday we celebrated All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day respectively. Both of these days remind us to pray with and to all of our beloved deceased who have made it to the glory of Heaven (All Saints' Day); and to pray for all of our beloved dead who are perhaps on their way, but not quite there yet (All Souls' Day). But, the Church goes farther than that making November a month dedicated to praying for the dead.

Now, on the surface this can sound dismal. But, it would be a great pity to think of commemorating the dead as morbid. Rather, remembering and praying for our beloved dead is an act that is profoundly full of hope and joy. What we celebrate as we remember our faithful departed - that they have attained the joy of Heaven - is what God has promised for each of us - that we will join them one day in that same glory. If we feel any sadness it is the sadness of separation; we do not see them right now. But, it is a temporary sadness.

The traditional teach of the Church speaks of the Church in three ways: the Church Militant referring to all of us Christians living today; the Church Triumphant, all the saints in glory; and the Church Suffering or Expectant meaning those souls in Purgatory awaiting the glory of Heaven. In a way, November is a month that brings these three aspects of the Church purposefully together in prayer. The Church Militant remembers and seeks the intercession of the Church Triumphant for the needs of the Church Expectant.

We believe that these aspects of the Church communicate with each other through the bond of prayer. We ask the help of the saints, we believe that they remember us before God in Heaven, and we also pray for those who are being made fit for heaven. Although God can act without these prayers, we believe that he regards them dearly, as a precious sign of the communion of believers.

There are many ways of remembering the dead: the two days we just celebrated (Saints and Souls), praying for the deceased at our cemetery; we also keep a Book of the Dead and remember them in prayer throughout the month; praying the rosary for them, and so on.

It is profoundly good for us to not shun, but to embrace these beautiful holy traditions in the month of November (and always). We will probably never imitate the Mexicans who keep their Dia de los muertos or Day of the Dead with sugar-candy skulls and crossbones, heaps of marigolds (the flower of the dead - some cultures use chrysanthemums) and tequila parties in cemeteries where the dead are invisibly in places of honor for the feast. But it would be unfortunate if our memorial of the dead was swept away, regarded as something morbid in our current culture that fears death.

We Catholics have always had a tradition of being on easy terms with death and the dead and why not? For the dead are not dead; they are well and truly alive with God. A good idea would be to spend half an hour making a list of all the dead known to us whom we wish to honor, and then to read out their names quietly to ourselves each day - our own little Memorial.

May God bless our beloved dead this month and always. May we pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. And may our beloved dead rest in peace. Amen.

Fr. Tom

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