Sunday, August 1, 2010


Late one night, a lifetime ago, upon returning from a business trip I found that my car would not start. I thought I would be stranded at the airport. Then I noticed that it had rained recently, and I ‘knew’ the distributor cap had probably allowed some moisture to seep in so that the points would not allow the spark plug cables to make the necessary contact to start the engine. (This was not an uncommon problem with the make of my vehicle.) I called a good friend, Jeff, for help. He soon arrived with a hair dryer. We removed the distributor cap, applied some heat, and in an instant the engine roared to life.

The next day I sent Jeff an e-mail saying that there was no need to thank me for taking him from the comfort of his home, even though I had given him the opportunity of being a hero. It was sent in jest. And yet there was much truth to that statement.

We often think that helping another is for their sake, when in fact we are the principal beneficiaries. I often remind folks when seeking funds for the poor, “It’s not about the poor…it’s about us and how we respond to their plight.” The poor help us to open our hearts…to bring out the God in us…to be our happiest.

I remember watching a PBS special with Deepak Chopra, the renowned spiritual writer, wherein he spoke on “Happiness”. He said that there are different levels of happiness: if we get up in the morning without any pain we are happy; if we have a job ~ especially the job we want ~ we are happier; if we are in love, we are happier still…but the highest level of happiness, based on studies he said, is when we make another person happy. Is it any wonder that for us to have the “abundant life” Jesus promised, his legacy to us is to serve one another?

My own experience echoes this essential message of life, particularly in my ministry with both Food for the Poor and Mustard Seed, helping kids (and being ministered by them)…many of whom suffer from a variety of diseases, some with a head twice the natural size, their little hands swollen, their fingers twisted. They cannot dress themselves or feed themselves. They cannot wash themselves. I have been so blessed in my life, but one of my greatest blessings has been to get up at four in the morning to help bathe some of these children and to feel their hugs…of unconditional love…and to hug them right back.

First time I walked into one of these homes, Hogar Belén (Bethlehem Home) outside Managua, Nicaragua, and I saw the children on their cots and mats, writhing in their pain, I thought, “My God, what kind of hell are they in?” It was almost too much. I started to walk away. But, thankfully, I saw a little hand inviting me to get closer. And I was drawn to that little girl like a magnet. When I got there and touched her hand, it was like an electric current had gone through me. I had goose bumps all over my body. And I knew, as I had never known before, that I had just touched the hand of God.

God is everywhere. God is in each of us! But God reveals Self in a most beautiful, powerful way in the little ones. Perhaps moms experience this when they give birth. Perhaps that is why God came to us as a baby, and why Jesus said, “Whenever you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me…I was hungry and you gave me to eat…I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” (Mt 25:41)

One of the caregivers at Hogar Belén said, “Padrecito, these kids didn’t ask anyone to be born this way, but it’s not right that they be left abandoned in the streets. It’s not right.” Last year I went to Little House of Jesus in Cité Soleil, Haiti. I brought some balloons thinking to blow them up to give to the children, and perhaps bring a smile to their little faces; perhaps play with them, tapping the balloons back and forth ever so gently to bring some joy into their life.

And so I tried. I would tap the balloons as gently as possible. But, because of their condition, they were swinging at the balloons…sending them left and right, and every which way. I started to run after the balloons to try to catch them. As I was running after the balloons, I heard the most life-giving…the most beautiful laughter coming from the kids. It stopped me in my tracks. My eyes welled up with tears. My heart was racing. And I remember thinking, “Yeah right, I thought I was going to bring a little bit of joy to them…and they have filled me with joy.”

It is such a blessing to serve. It has been a blessing to share some of my stories with you. Thank you for your accompaniment and for your comments from time to time. On this day, my birthday, I begin packing to embark on another journey. I am not sure what this next year will bring. I enter it as a “Sabbath in the Lord”, open to new encounters and spiritual growth perhaps in ways I cannot even imagine. I’ll sign off for now…I may have more to share as the year progresses. A parting salutation might be, “Happy trails to you”, but better yet, may your own journeys be filled with blessings and tears…of joy.

Friday, July 30, 2010


One of my most thrilling adventures took place on the south island of New Zealand, a land blessed with a bounty of variety and beauty, including fjords, snow-capped peaks, crystal clear lakes, rain forests, and rolling green hills covered with 70 million sheep (and a human population of about 3 million). I was driving a solitary road that snaked around a river or lake when I came upon a solid wall of fog. I stopped the car, got out and walked to the fog, trying to see through it. I could not. Even my hand disappeared as I stuck my arm into the fog. After waiting a while, I decided to venture forth slowly with bright lights, while honking the horn. Driving through the thick fog was like entering the Twilight Zone ~ part of me in the present, part in the unknown. Thankfully the fog disappeared after about 50 feet.

Life can sometimes feel that way: transitioning from one point to the next, one foot here, the next seemingly nowhere. As a missionary and even prior to my religious vocation, I have had a number of these transitions. They can be a time of anxious moments, perhaps even frustration. But, mostly I have discovered that they are a time to most fully experience the Holy Presence…and get some real direction in life.

When I first ventured on blind faith from suburb to inner-city I had no clue where life would lead. During that first summer I accompanied my son, Steven, to a camp for teens preparing for a mission to Belarus and Poland. One night I sat in my cabin reading a Pauline letter calling us to be “ambassadors”. Looking up from the Bible the first object my eyes focused upon was a painting of Jesus standing as tall as the United Nations Building behind him. I had been in this cabin for more than a week, yet this was the first time I had noticed the painting. I wondered if there was a message here.

Later, at my new parish, Sacred Heart on the near south side of Indianapolis, I attended a parish retreat. After a morning of lectures and spiritual exercises we were given time for rest and reflection. I laid down near a window where sunlight warmed the carpeted floor. As I dozed, I dreamed that I had entered a huge mansion (like the White House). Upon entering the house I heard someone playing a piano. I followed the music and saw Jesus at the piano. After he stopped playing, I reported to him (much like an ambassador) that the violence in Southeast Asia and Africa was getting worse, did he want me to go there to help bring peace. He said, “No. Just bring peace wherever you are.”

It did not take long for me to be quite active in the parish and in the neighborhood. I was also a daily communicant, attending the 6:30 morning Mass. I would usually go around 6:00 a.m., take about 20 minutes in silence with our Lord before entering the chapel for daily Mass. On one occasion, I closed my eyes and saw myself, as if in a dream. I was standing in a park-like setting, with a river or lake separating me from trees on the other side. Then I noticed Jesus and Mary across the water. It was an odd sensation. It was as if I was in a movie and at the same time I watching myself in that movie.

Jesus motioned for me to come across the water. I remember thinking, “Will I walk on the water or through it?” I began to walk on water until I got about half way, and then I fell through the water, yelling, “Jesus, save me! You know I can’t swim.” He said, “Frank, you need more faith.” Then he elevated me and I crossed to the other side.

When I got to him, I hugged him and embraced Mary. And then I looked at him eye-to-eye and asked him, “What do you want from me?” He said, “Share my peace and joy, so that all will see me.”

I don’t know if it was a dream or a vision. What I do know is that when I went to Mass that morning, the Gospel reading was of Peter walking on water, falling through, and being told of his little faith. When I heard those words, goose bumps immediately covered my arms and the back of my neck.

Peace and joy…PACE ALLEGRIA (in Italian). It has been a goal and a challenge.

As I wrote in my last blog, this is one of the reasons for my work with Food for the Poor ~ to help to build peace by bridging the gap between rich and poor…and to feed the hungry…but most especially to help bring out the Christ in those to whom I preach.

Others in our lifetime who strove to build a peaceable heaven on earth, such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero did so by imitating Jesus and his message of non-violence and of truth. As Gandhi said, “What I believe, I think. What I think, I speak. What I speak, I do.” He also said, “If there is peace in our hearts, then at least in one place on earth there will be peace.”

We have lots of good advice and faithful models to achieve this illusive dream. But in the end all these words and examples become just as empty as those of Jesus, unless we ourselves enflesh them. Peace begins with us…within us…by being true to who we are and whose we are.

Peace and joy is my wish for you. But may these words be more than a wish…may they evermore become a part of your life and mine.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Recently, LeBron James, a very talented professional basketball player, held the sports world in suspense until he announced “The Decision”, regarding which team he would join. Interestingly he based his decision on where he thought he would have the best chance to win a championship, rather than where he might best further develop his talents and personal attributes, and leave his mark on the game and in society.

We, too, are called to make “The Decision”. Our vocation is not basketball nor is our goal to win a championship, but rather to be peace-makers and to help build a peaceable kingdom…a heaven on earth…and to leave our own mark in the world.

During my days at Catholic Theological Union (CTU ~ a seminary in Chicago), a renowned theologian from Sri Lanka visited. At a special gathering there were about 100 of us in attendance in a large L-shaped hall. In the larger part of the room there were some folding chairs set up in rows for us to sit. As he began his presentation he asked for about 20 volunteers. Quickly hands went up and he asked the 20 to go to the short part of the L-shaped room where there were very plush chairs, love seats, and sofas. There was more furniture there than the number who volunteered. He pointed to an empty corner in the larger room and said to the rest of us, “Go to that corner and squeeze in so tightly so that there is not even room for you to sit on the floor.” We did. Then he said, “This is the reality of the world. Twenty percent who have far more than they need; and eighty percent who sorely lack the bare necessities.”

Many of us are perhaps aware that a third of the world’s population lives on four-fifths of all the foodstuffs available in our world. Two-thirds of all humankind however has to make do with the remaining one-fifth, which is woefully inadequate. Millions of people die of hunger each year…over five million children alone. Given this deplorable situation how can there be peace on earth?

All too often we have heard that the primary challenge to world peace is the ideological conflict between East and West…or more recently between the religious fanaticism of fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. But the real source of division is between North and South…the ‘haves’ of the northern hemisphere and the poor countries of the southern half. As I have visited places of dire poverty I have pondered, “What would I do if I were in their shoes? Would I remain committed to nonviolence?” I’m not sure.

We are called to be makers of peace...a meaningful and lasting peace. Pope Benedict XVI said in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, “Isn’t the problem of feeding the world the primary, true yardstick by which redemption is to be measured?” And it isn’t only to help feed the hungry…it is indeed to work for peace. President Carter, upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, said, “The greatest obstacle to world peace is the growing chasm between rich and poor.” This year’s Nobel Laureate, President Obama, added in Oslo, “True peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.”

If we want true peace, it bears asking, “Who is the God we worship…the God of Jesus Christ…or the almighty dollar?” All we need in order to discern the answer is to look at two things: our calendar and our checkbook. Where do we spend our time…which is of greatest concern to us…our investments and comfortable life style or our poor sisters and brothers?

During those days at CTU I had many discussions with friends about the comfortable life style of those of us who had taken the vow of poverty…no worries about food, shelter, medical attention, car, etc. I was told that we couldn’t simply give it all up. It would not be reasonable. Seems there are always ‘reasons’ why we cannot live our commitment radically. Perhaps in one sense the fundamentalist fanatics have that advantage over us: they are living what they truly believe, distorted as their faith may be.

Jesus said that he came “to bring good news to the poor…to set the captives free.” Probably because of my own experience, I am particularly impassioned about freeing those imprisoned by golden hand-cuffs…by their comfortable life style. As I have previously written, if we want to measure our relationship with God, it is not in how much we give, but how much we hold back. All too often we are afraid to give too much; and this compromise in our commitment is the greatest stumbling block to our holy encounter with the discovery of Christ within…to true peace in our world.

During my theological studies I wrote my dissertation on “Rich and Poor ~ Love and Justice”, stating that the Church could do more to address the plight of the poor if we had greater focus on the conversion of hearts of those with power and money. I still believe this. I wonder what our world might look like if we made this conversion our personal mission…our calling from God. Of course the most important heart to convert is our own. Can we live a simpler life…to help another with theirs? The decision is ours.

Monday, July 19, 2010


A team building exercise many of us have seen, and perhaps participated in, is to be blindfolded and to be guided by another as we maneuver around the room. It is meant to enhance trust in the other…in the team…especially when confronted with unforeseen obstacles or set-backs to the group’s objectives.

This past weekend as I flew from Chicago to York, PA (our nation’s first capital, and where the Articles of Confederation was signed on November 15, 1777), I sat across a man who was blind, deaf, and mute. He had begun his journey in Seattle. As I gazed upon him, with his serene appearance and half-smile, I was in awe at his trust in himself, in others, perhaps in God, that he would manage to get to his destination without a hitch. Despite his physical limitations he seemed to have a keen awareness that he was not alone on his journey.

This gentle soul certainly brought to life the scripture readings of this Sunday: Abraham, who gave generous hospitality to three strangers, whom he perceived to be messengers from God. He, too, had a sense that his journey of life was not a solitary one. Perhaps, that is why he had the trust to uproot his family to seek a new home in an unforeseen territory. Perhaps, that is why he also had such great trust in God that when put to the test to sacrifice his own son, he knew that God would not see it through. (Perhaps, trust in his father allowed Isaac to place himself without protest on the sacrificial altar.)

In the Gospel passage we hear of Jesus’ visit to his friends, Martha and Mary. We find Martha slaving away in the kitchen to provide food and warm hospitality to a dear friend, while Mary sees more than a friend and cannot be drawn away from him, even when tested by the dictates of social custom or a sister’s complaint.

We are gifted in so many ways, not the least of which is the gift of sight. But, perhaps, this gift can also blind us to the reality of whose presence we are in…of the holy encounter with every friend, stranger, or foe. Mother Teresa said she saw our Lord’s face in the forgotten and dying poor she attended. Now that is a special gift of sight. No doubt we all long for this gift. What a difference it would make in our life…in our world!

A refrain from a popular liturgical hymn is “We walk by faith and not by sight…” May it be so.

Monday, July 12, 2010


From the time of our baptism, we have been anointed to be “prophets”. No doubt we have heard that word a lot in life, but may have no idea what it means for us. Perhaps we know that a prophet somehow is both a keen observer of the “signs of the times” and acutely attuned to the heart of God…sort of like having one foot (or ear) in heaven and the other on the ground. The great prophets of old seemed to speak a truth…truth that was often uncomfortable and unwelcome, yet always essential and life-giving. Still, we might ask, what does this mean for me?

We are not alone in being unsure and puzzled. So, too, were they. Beginning with the first, Samuel, who heard God calling his name one night, but had no clue. With the guidance of Eli, he begins to understand. Later, he is told to tell King Saul that God is not pleased and is going to make a change. But fearing for his life, he tries to avoid carrying out God’s order.

Jonah doesn’t fare any better. His marching orders are to go to Nineveh and preach the Word of conversion, but he wants no part of it. He would rather jump in the ocean. We, too, can have our fears and doubts about a perceived call from God.

We want to serve God, but perhaps we would like to be like Daniel or Esther who recruit relationships with those at the highest level. Though maybe at times we feel like Ezekiel who felt his words fell on deaf ears, though God impelled him to speak of the urgency of the moment, to awaken, to inspire, to raise dry bones to new life.

Perhaps we would like to be like Isaiah whose words are lofty and poetic, compelling and majestic; or like Hosea who hears the divine words, “Get thee a prostitute” to marry. Yet this command, in its own unique way, reveals God’s desire for intimacy with each of us, despite our persistent infidelity.

God’s love and mercy remain unshakable. And that ultimately is what being a prophet is all about…manifesting God’s presence and God’s love…speaking for, and to, the oppressed AND the sinner, bringing them both hope, healing and nourishment!

There is a little song that captures the heart of our prophetic call:

Tell my people I love them
Tell my people I care
If they feel far away from me
Tell my people I’m there

Of course, no one did this better than the greatest prophet ~ Jesus ~ our Savior, our teacher, our model. And there has been no better student than a fellow Italian who lived about 800 years ago. I refer of course to Marco Polo. [My apologies to all the devotees of my Patron Saint: Francis of Assisi.]

Marco was the first prophet to the Orient, who bridged East and West. Upon his return to Venice, he went to his king and said, “My Lord I bring you silks, and spices, and noodles.” The king replied, “Of silks and spices I am well acquainted. But what are noodles?” “You cook them, my king, and they are delicious.”

The king called his chef and said, “Prepare these…al dente.” Shortly the chef returned. When the king tasted his first bite he exclaimed, “MA…MA…MA…CARONI!”

Now we must understand that the word, “caro” in Italian mean “dear”. “Caroni” means “very dear”. WE are God’s MACARONI! WE are very dear to God. As prophets this is the message we are called to proclaim: how much we are loved by God, and how greatly God wants to feed us all ~ those who lack what they need and those who appear to have more than they need. There is a hunger in each of us…for love and peace, happiness and fulfillment.

We are not the only ones who are hungry. God is hungry too…for us…our love and fidelity. That is why we gather at the Lord’s Table to be fed; and we for our part commit to give our all to feed God…because we ARE God’s MACARONI.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There is a story about Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, brilliant and at times a little absent-minded, riding on a train when he sees the conductor approaching. Furiously he starts to look for his ticket, which he has apparently misplaced. When the conductor spots him with a troubled look on his face, he says, “Don’t worry about the ticket, Mr. Justice. I know you and trust you.” Justice Holmes responds, “You don’t understand. I need to find my ticket. Without it, I don’t know where I am going.”

Where are we going? The answer lies in part in who we believe we are…our dreams and convictions. And also in believing whose we are. In the early days of Christianity, the movement by those who built their lives around Jesus was called “the way”. Many religions have long called themselves “the way”. So, in general, to know where we are going depends on whose way we profess to follow.

Some of us may want a more specific plan of life…a discernment of our vocation. Psalm 139 says, “You knit me in my mother’s womb.” And the Book of Jeremiah states, “I chose you…Before you were born I dedicated you.” These seem to confirm that we each have a call from God. Thus, discovering our particular call ~ our ticket ~ will shed light on the path we are meant to follow.

Now some may believe that God has a specific plan for each of us, and that perhaps God somehow micro-manages life to direct our journey. And they may be right. I believe that God has gifted each of us, in many and diverse ways, and invites our collaboration.

My favorite image of God is that of a Grand Artist, who says to each of us, “Would you help me to create a masterpiece in you? Would you help me make a masterpiece of the world?” I don’t know of any artist who would say to me, “Frank, would you help me finish the Sistine Chapel? Or the Ninth Symphony? Or any other work of art?” And yet God invites each of us to be equal partners in the creation of the masterpiece that we and the world can be. WHAT GREAT TRUST GOD HAS IN US!!!

How do we discover how best to co-create this masterpiece? One sage offered the following counsel: “Know what you are good at, what you like to do, and what the world needs.” Another put it more simply saying that all we need to do is to ask ourselves one little question..."What do they need?" Thomas Merton went to the Source and wrote a simple prayer, which briefly says, “God I don’t know what you want me to do. I don’t even know if what I am doing pleases you. But I do know that my desire to please you pleases you.”

Sometimes, in our desire to please God and to find meaning in our life, we may try too hard to find the perfect ticket…that perfect vocation that we think God intends for us, rather than simply discovering our gifts and talents and using them in the most life-giving way. I have a dear friend who once said to me, “Frank, you seem to know what God wants from you. But I have prayed and prayed and still have no clue.” My response was, “Maybe God is saying to you, ‘Why don’t you surprise me?’”

How would YOU like to surprise God? How does it feel to know of God’s great confidence in you? If you really believed in God’s great trust in you, is there any masterpiece that would be too challenging?

Friday, July 2, 2010


I was in Honduras this week to witness some of the poverty there and the ministry of Food for the Poor. On the trip down and on the return there were a number of high-school and college students with various missionary groups going to Central America and Jamaica to provide ministry and to be strengthened in their faith. It was both heart-warming and inspirational to see youths and young adults who want real meaning in their life…and find it by putting their faith to the test by being of service.

While in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, we saw countless homes built on cliff edges, often at the risk of mud-slides caused by torrential rains. The poor have few options, and will climb steep mountain sides to build their abodes wherever there is a stamp-size parcel of land. How they carry blocks and other materials up non-existent trails is a wonder.

We visited several ministry sites including two housing projects where we are building homes for more than 100 families (who help by providing “sweat equity” with the men laying the block walls and the women mixing cement and applying the stucco to the walls). At one of these, I observed two little boys enjoying themselves, jumping up and down on a muddy-soft ground covered with saw-dust as if it were a trampoline. We also visited the city garbage dump which lies atop of a mountain.

Even as we were making the steep climb in a bus on a winding dirt road I noticed the sky was covered with hundreds of vultures circling overhead. When the bus door opened, the stench immediately took our breath away. There were hundreds of folks, competing with the vultures, to perhaps find food, and working to collect bottles, cans, plastic and cardboard to recycle so that they might earn some meager income. Among the folks were pregnant women and children, with blackened hands and faces that most likely had not seen water for days, weeks or longer. As 18-wheelers arrived to dump more garbage the people would make an assault to find the “goods” as if it were a hidden treasure in the hope that they might have some income and food. At one point I noticed two kids kicking a beat-up soccer ball to take a momentary break…a respite from their daily hell, which most might never leave all their life.

As I watched those two children at play, it reminded me of two others I had seen years earlier in Guatemala City. Early one morning I took a walk in the neighborhood of St. Anthony Mary Claret, our Claretian parish, and noticed two children at play. Their mom was making tortillas and tamales outside a little metal shack, one side of which was the wall that separated the brick, cement and lumber yard on which the shack stood from the sidewalk, another side of which was the wall of an adjacent warehouse, and the other two sides were large metal strips held somewhat upright by some poles. The six-by-six foot shanty had a tin roof. As the mom was preparing food for the workers to earn her livelihood, the two little boys, with beautiful black eyes, of about three or four years old were playing joyfully in sand and mud. I delighted in watching them at play. And they reminded me of two friends.

In 1999 I participated with a group of about 40 in a biblical study in the Holy Land, part of which included archeological visits of holy places. One of these was Mount Sinai. Because of the desert heat we prepared to make the two-hour climb long before sunrise, so as to be at the top to witness the rising sun, and return before the heat would make it unbearable. As we began our climb with the light of a full moon there were perhaps thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world. Some went on camel back, but most walked. The long, serpentine line that was silhouetted by the moonlight reminded me of the ancient exodus from Egypt. We had only gone about 100 yards when Fr. Pierre (from Phoenix) sat down on a large rock, saying he could not go on. His legs and strength would not permit it. His closest friend, Fr. Mark (a Canadian) said he would stay with him, to which Pierre said, “No! You must go. You have wanted to climb Sinai all your life. Go!” Mark replied, “Do you think I would leave you here alone?”

Later that day, Fr. Chris (from Australia) celebrated Mass for us and he shared this song in his homily:

Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Bravely they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course

One little chap then had a mishap
Broke off his horse’s head
Cried for his toy, they wept with joy
When his young playmate said

Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two
Climb up here Joe, we’ll soon be flying
I can go just as fast with two

When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers
And our horsed won’t be toys
And I wonder if we’ll remember when we were two little boys
Oh I wonder if we’ll remember when we were two little boys

Long years passed, war came fast
Bravely they marched away
Cannons roared loud and in the mad crowd
Wounded and dying lay

Up goes a shout, a horse dashes out
Out from the ranks of blue
Galloped away to where Jack lay
Then came a voice he knew

Did you think I would leave you lying
When there room on my horse for two
Climb up here Jack we’ll soon be flying
I can go just as fast with two

Can you feel my heart’s all atremble
Well, perhaps it’s the battle’s noise
But I think it’s that I remember when we were two little boys
Yes, I think it’s that I remember when we were two little boys

During the homily, recalling the sacrificial love we had seen earlier that day, there wasn’t a dry eye in the group. Would that we could more and more be like the young people I met on this pilgrimage, and most especially like “two little boys”.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Last night I watched an ESPN Special on “The Two Escobars” ~ Pablo, the infamous Colombian drug lord of 20 years ago, and Andrés, Colombia’s greatest soccer player at the time. The first is ultimately killed by competitors, who later also killed Andrés because in a World Cup game in 1994, the heavily-favored Colombian team lost to the U.S. when Andres inadvertently kicked the ball into his own net. The drug mafiosos had placed heavy bets on Colombia. When Andrés returned home he was confronted by some of these, but rather than keep his cool and walk away he returned their verbal volley and was immediately gunned down.

When I was a senior at St. David’s High School, my religion teacher was Sr. Philomena, a Sister of St. Joseph, elderly and wise. Our class was the last of the day, and every Friday she would say to us, “It’s easy to be an iceberg close to the North Pole, but not so easy as it approaches the Equator.” What she was advising us was that it was easy to be a good Catholic in the classroom, but later that night we would be met with hot temptations, and it might not be so easy…in other words, STAY COOL.

Losing his cool may have cost Andrés his life. Many others lose their cool…and their life…not only to violent gun fire. The program last night showed many who wept and mourned the loss of Pablo ~ the mastermind behind many killings ~ because he “had been good” to them, giving them homes and food. Some called him a hero. It is noteworthy that it was also drug money that had made the Colombian soccer team so strong, as it provided for the best of trainers, equipment, incentives for players, etc. The players and team officials simply “looked the other way”. In the end, the drug money was also its downfall. Many of the members of that team as well as the coach retired from the sport because of the threats and violence they had experienced.

Life is hard and it serves no purpose to judge any poor soul for their views on “good” and “bad”. Judging by the number of folks who confess the sin of gossiping, there is room for improvement in most if not all. Perhaps we might take this moment to ask ourselves, “How do I respond when tempted to look the other way when a wrong is committed, to perhaps praise the wrong-doer, or even participate directly or indirectly in the sin because of some financial or other benefit to me?” Do I stay cool…true to my values and faith…in the heat of temptation?

P.S. U.S. 1 – Algeria 0 What a dramatic finish!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


By now perhaps you have noted that two recurring themes in my convictions are: The Lord is with us, and heaven is here. Both are quite a challenge if for no other reason than things don’t always go the way we desire. There are countless ups and downs in our life.

Earlier this week, the NBA championship was finally decided. During the series Ray Allen, a professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics, set three records: the most consecutive three-point shots (seven), the most in one half of a game (seven), and the most in a game (eight). The next night he went zero for thirteen. He could not make one single shot. Same player…same intensity…same effort. What a difference from one night to the next. Yet while the championship remained undecided, he continued to persevere and give it his all. In that same week, an Italian just weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Francesca Schiavone, won the French Tennis Open. This in a sport dominated by teens and those in their early 20s. The pre-tournament favorites didn’t quite measure up on this occasion. On this Saturday, the one who had ‘failed’ all of her professional career, finally ‘triumphed’: Francesca had persevered and won the Trophy she had dreamed of since she was a child.

Perhaps these two examples from sports may help us to experience both the Holy Presence and Heaven, even thought there are times we are in the dumps…times when we are sorely tested.

Our journey of life is a quest to have a true experience of and now. It is like these two seeking a championship, a quest for the Holy Grail or the mythical Fountain of Youth…the Fountain of Life. Only it is not a fable.

Imagine that we are told of a Pool of life-giving water, which keeps us forever young and healthy, full of vigor and life. To get to the Pool to which the waters flow is not difficult. They have built a highway that makes it easy to get there in no time at all. Actually it is so easy that few people bother to make the effort, or they go only on special occasions…more to celebrate the special event, such as a birthday or anniversary, than out of any real belief that the waters have magical powers. For the most part these are good people, but their daily struggles or other priorities keep them from coming more regularly. The result is no surprise: no real change takes place in them.

Others do believe, or at least say that they do, and go regularly to the Pool. Some go out of habit or tradition, others to meet old friends and make new ones, to listen to stories about their ancestors…stories of wisdom and hope, lessons of life, and the legend of the Fountain of Life. These, too, are good people and tend to be a bit more involved in the community to help those in need. But in general they are satisfied with simply getting to the Pool, and as a result not much change happens here either.

There are some who are not satisfied with drinking from the Pool, but want to get to the Source of the Spring, and for this they must make a long and difficult journey. It is a steep climb so they can’t take much with them…only their faith and determination. All else that they have accumulated (and valued) must stay behind, and because they don’t know how long the journey will take, it is probably best to simply give them away.

On the journey THEY ARE TESTED time and again with challenges and disappointments, but if they persevere they discover that not only the waters but the woods and the mountains, all of nature and all of creation is filled with the Magical Powers of Newness of Life. It is a journey of ONGOING REVELATION AND TRANSFORMATION that ultimately reveals that the Source of the Spring of Life is not in some physical place, but rather within themselves…and the only way to discover it is to be tested, to not give up, to dig deep within, have faith…in God and in themselves.

This is not an uncommon path to 'success' in all walks of life – professional sports, business, the arts, marriage, religious vocation, etc. Last Spring I was giving a mission in Coachella, CA, just south of Palm Springs. It was the peak week for the cactus flowers to be in bloom. You could see them along the highway, but if you really wanted to see the majestic rainbow effect of the myriad colors you had to get out of the car and walk some long, narrow, and rocky desert trails, up and down cliffs, in blistering heat. Thank God, I did so, for once I crossed over the peak and into the valley I was surrounded by a sea of reds and yellows, purples and pinks…a holy masterpiece beyond my imagination...not unlike the beauty of the fall colors up north. Sadly, few ventured out.

At the same time, there was a major tennis tournament in Indian Wells, just up the road. Daily on TV, radio, and the newspapers there were interviews of these elite players who had dedicated many hours each day to practice their chosen ‘vocation’ from the time they were five or so in the hope of making it to a tournament, and perhaps even winning it. It is a long, grueling journey but their dreams keep them driven to succeed. It is worth pondering: how much do WE dream of the Holy Encounter…how much time do WE dedicate…how persistent are WE?

Are we there yet? St. Catherine of Siena (one of three women doctors in the Church ~ the others Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux) said, “Every step on the way to heaven is heaven.” Heaven (and God) do not await us at some ultimate destination, but are encountered in our daily walk of life, most especially in the tests we face (and in our perseverance or lack thereof) that can either blind us to the love, peace and joy within or make them even more visible.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


“Time out!” How often we hear this command from moms when their children misbehave or may be having a little temper tantrum. Even among playful, innocent children there are times when their tempers turn them from angels into little devils. These two powerful words seem to be a way for the child, and the mom, to cool off before dealing with the issue. (In my day, the advice was to count to ten before taking action or opening your mouth.) Perhaps this counsel comes from an age-old wisdom of letting “cooler heads prevail”…of acting out of an inner calmness…to get at the best solution…to discover the best in oneself and to help bring out the best in the other.

This wisdom is evident even in the games we play...where in many ways the competition mirrors the game of life. It is common in sports, especially in basketball, to call a “time out” in order to regroup the team when play seems to be moving away from the coach’s strategy. There must be something in our human disposition that all too often makes us lose our way from our game plan. This is so even among professionals who have dedicated most of their lives to their livelihood, as we see that each coach is given several “time outs” that can be used during the game. Often the last minute of a game seems to last forever as first one coach then the other calls a “time out”. Perhaps this is so because when it matters most, when the outcome of the game is on the line, it is most essential that the game plan be followed.

We find this wisdom in the Old Testament of the Bible as well. In ancient times, every seventh year there was a year of jubilee in which all debts and grievances were wiped clean, so that Israel should be a land of righteousness and love. The jubilee year was a time to start life anew, to remember the common bonds of being a people of God, and to return to God’s “game plan”. In the New Testament we are asked to put aside debts and offer forgiveness unto seventy times seven.

The wisdom and the command are there for our guidance, though we are hard pressed to obey. To say that it is not easy to put aside wounds caused by another’s brutality or folly is an understatement. Can we really turn our back every seventh year on the violence that causes so much senseless grief, destruction, and despair in our world? Can we really forgive and forget the genocides that have decimated millions of our sisters and brothers? Do we not need a sense of justice and punishment to right the wrongs that have been committed? Would it not be folly to let criminals, terrorists, pedophiles, et al cause untold mayhem and then simply forget in a jubilee year of grace?

Perhaps, if we are to return to God’s dream, we not only can, we must…by beginning with ourselves. In our respective day of remembering God in a special way ~ Sunday Mass, the Jewish Sabbath, the Muslim day of prayer on Friday, etc. ~ God is telling us, “Time out!” so that we may re-connect with God’s (and our) plan, not for anyone else’s sake but for ours (and God’s). We do this on each seventh day by committing ourselves to forgive, and to start again on the path of life we truly desire. Perhaps at Mass we sing, Let me be a channel of your peace...Let it begin with me." Difficult as it may seem, we can begin by remembering God’s gracious generosity and infinite mercy in wiping our slate clean…time and time again. This is how we discover and help build the kingdom.

Perhaps if we became disciplined enough to live our individual lives consistent with our respective faith to truly connect with God, we would find that inner calmness that would pave the way for responding to the global threats…to have cooler heads prevail before returning violence with escalating violence. As the wisdom of a sage of our lifetime, Mohandas Gandhi, tells us: if we are to have world peace, we must first have peace in our hearts.

Wouldn’t it be great if we not only told our kids to take “time out” when needed, but that we ourselves might develop the discipline to do likewise…every seventh day…perhaps even every one-seventh of every seven days…to simply, gently breathe the breath of life and re-connect with the Source of Life…forgive each other…move on with our mutual game plan (God’s and ours)…and bring out the best in one another?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


On my desk sits a prized possession: a crayon drawing by my great nephew, Nathan, which boldly says, “Uncle Frank”. Each time I see this little masterpiece of colors I’m reminded of the love and playfulness of my brother’s grandchildren…and of their innocent wisdom.

Little Vito, another great nephew, said to his mother, “Mom, I get God-mail. Sometimes, I’m just sitting not doing anything and these thoughts come into my head. I think it’s God-mail.” On another occasion, when he was about four, he asked my brother, “Nonno, what color is God?” My brother said, “I don’t know. What color is God?” Vito said, “Gray.” Somewhat surprised big Vito said, “Gray? Where did you hear that?” “In school, we learned God is good, God is gray.”

Perhaps my best lesson from children came from my son, Steven. When he was about five his best friend was Jason, a bit older and, I thought, always taking advantage of Steve, taking his toys, making him do things, etc. I tried to get Steven to stand up for himself, but was not very successful.

One time upon returning from a business trip to Japan I brought him the latest transformer toy, which had not yet made it to the U.S. It was a combination robot, jet, and gun, each made by rearranging the parts. Steve had to run and show it to Jason, who promptly took it from him and somehow broke the toy. Steve came home in tears, crushed at his loss. I did my best to console him, promising him another on my next trip. I was sad for him, but also happy that perhaps now he had learned a valuable lesson and would choose his friends more wisely.

Within the next hour I looked out into the back yard and saw the two of them playing together again. I stepped out into the deck and called Steve over, and reminded him that Jason had broken his new toy. I asked him, “What are you doing playing with him?” He didn’t say anything, but simply looked at me, with a look that said, “Are you nuts? Don’t you know he’s my best friend?” And went back to play.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Recently I gave an Easter/Pentecost Mission at St. Philomene in Sacramento, CA, to help them feel the Spirit within and experience a newness/fullness of life…a resurrection. One of the things we Catholics believe in is our resurrection…after we are dead. I often remind folks that the resurrection is meant to be experienced here and now; for even though we may be breathing, unless we experience the holy presence of the Holy Presence, we might as well be dead.

I shared that the most essential step in this resurrection is an AWAKENING…the AWARENESS of who we are. We are more than mere mortals. We are sons and daughters of God. Thus we are human AND divine. The problem is that though we profess this, we have trouble believing it. We tend to focus on our human frailties and cannot imagine our divine nature. Just as when we think of Jesus and believe that he was fully human and fully divine, yet we tend to see him only as the Son of God.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say I am?” This is who God says we are. “I made you in my own image and likeness…This is my body; take and eat it [and become what you receive]…I will send the Holy Spirit to dwell within you.” Those three images say it all: Child of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit. They tell us that there is holiness within our mortal flesh. It bears repeating: We are more than mere mortals. It is as if we have come from another world…to transform ours.

As I shared this message I unbuttoned my clerical shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt underneath. Of course, the folks laughed…and I with them. But I reminded them that this was no joke. If we really believe that God is with us…within us…could anything ever kill our spirit? Could we ever not feel fully alive? Let’s stop pretending we are just Clark Kent.

Who are we? From the very beginning of our being we were created to be one with God. WE ARE, each one of us, THE UNIQUE, UNREPEATABLE MANIFESTATION OF GOD!

All too often we are not only numb to our divine nature, we fail to experience heaven on earth. We think it awaits us after death. But if we don’t encounter God here and now, what do we think will happen after we die that will make this encounter a reality?

Yes, we not perfect…we are sinners…we are not God. But the essence of God is in each of us. Just as a wave is not the ocean, and yet is part of ~ one with ~ the ocean, so, too, we are an extension of God. The cosmic, holy stardust which originated from God, and continues to give life to our universe and to each of us is in our very genes; so, too, the very air we breathe is God’s holy breath. We are inseparable from God.

I used the following example with the folks at St. Philomene. I showed them two little jars, each partly filled with holy water (colored with red food coloring to make it more visible). I said, “Each jar contains holy water. We see that there is more in one jar than in the other. But there is holiness in each of them. So, too, there is holiness in each of us. In some it is more visible than in others. In Jesus the ‘jar of holiness’ was overflowing.”

What must we do to increase the visible holiness in our jar? We must PRACTICE what we believe! A friend once shared this expression with me: If we don’t practice what we believe, we soon believe what we practice. Settling for mediocrity in living our faith is our greatest obstacle to the discovery of who we are…the profound encounter with God…and heaven on earth. My friends, we cannot settle for the mediocrity of simply believing and being good.

Our challenge is to be our best. To give anything less than our best is to waste the gift of the God seed in us. We bring out the best in us…by living authentically what we believe. That is what Jesus taught us…and showed us. This is why the only ones he ever confronted were the hypocrites. This is why he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” If, like him, we truthfully, sincerely “walk the talk” of our faith, we will have life with him…and be one with God. Actually, we already are…we simply have to be aware of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


“Three Persons, one God”…many have tried to explain this holy mystery. Sr. Romana, my third-grade teacher at St. Genevieve in Windsor, Canada, said it was like the maple leaf ~ one leaf with its three distinctive parts. Fr. Gabriel, a Franciscan friend, told me that the Holy Trinity was like electricity ~ which gives power, warmth, and light (reflective of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). A child I was tutoring in Chicago, Jacqueline, shared her fourth grade book with me that sought to explain this mystery by reference to an apple, with its skin, meat, and core ~ each part with its claim to being an apple, but incomplete without the rest.

Just as the definition of a family seems meaningless if defined merely by the technical requirements of two parents and a child, but rather must have the glue of love to bind them…and thus makes them a real family, so, too, any logical attempt to define the Trinity without this love is incomplete.

As a youth I read Alexander Dumas’ classic, “The Three Musketeers”, who are really four ~ D’Artagnan, and his three comrades, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The novel tells the romantic story of these inseparable friends who live by the motto: “All for one, one for all” (“tous pour un, un pour tous”). Perhaps this sense of loyalty, commitment, and fellowship best captures what the Holy Trinity is all about.

Jesus gives us some insight on this in his closing prayer the night before he died, “Father, I pray that they may be one…as you and I are one, you in me and I in you.” (Jn 17:21) What makes us one with God and with each other is none other than love. Love is the very essence of God…and the mystery of the Holy Trinity tells us that love by its very nature must be shared…it is relational. God is relational…and so are we. It is our nature, too.

Recently, a dear friend and I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and we saw this relational love in action with the creatures there. We marveled at a stork which brought grass and clover in his beak to feed his mate as she sat in a nest (presumably waiting to hatch her young ones). Later, we enjoyed watching a young gorilla playing with its father, throwing straw at him, and even throwing itself at the father’s huge chest, while the proud papa playfully and gently brushed it away with his powerful arm.

All of God’s creatures seem to be hard-wired to reflect the image of God’s relational nature. This is especially true of those of us who are created in the “image and likeness” of God. We were made to be “one”…a family…not soloists. Indeed our deepest longing is for intimacy…to be able to share with another the depth and breadth of our being. As God said upon creating us, “It is not good to be alone.” Human beings need relationships. Only together in a community of love do we discover the joy of our truest self.

What is the Trinity? It is a triangle with God, Others, and Us at each respective point…incomplete unless all three are inter-related. It is God’s first and most important lesson to us, by the very act of God defining Self as “Three in One”.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The motto of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (more commonly known as Claretians) is “Men on Fire with Love”. This coming Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, when the first disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit…who appeared to them as tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” (Acts 2:3-4) Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, the special Sequence at this Solemnity, and the Gospel Acclamation each, respectively, echo this momentous event, “Lord, send our your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” and “Come, Holy spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

To be filled with the Spirit is to be on fire. There is a Greek word which captures this Holy infusion. It is “enthusiasm”, which means “in Theo…in God”, to be God-filled….to be enthused. This is the essence of Christ-like faith, to be filled with the Spirit…to be on fire with love. More than all the dogmas, rich traditions, pious rituals, countless prayers, etc. (important as they may be), what faith in God is about is being enthused with love.

I have played many sports in my time, and used to be a little league coach. More than teaching the basics about a particular sport, my goal was to convey a love for the game. As much as we wanted to win, it was not about winning but about how we played, giving our all, and having fun. My own experience tells me that when playing for the sheer fun of it, I not only enjoyed myself but I brought out the best in my game…and in myself. And I could see it in the joyful expression on the kids’ faces as well, as they played totally free of fear, with enthusiasm and reckless abandon.

The response of the first disciples was like that: they came out from behind their locked doors, overcoming their fears, and boldly proclaimed what they had experienced. They could not contain themselves…and many others were drawn to them. Sometimes we too want to help convert others. But it is worth remembering the wisdom of an old sage, “You can’t give what you ain’t got.” Before we go out to change the world, may WE first be on fire with the Spirit…and the simple test for us to know that we are is if we are ENTHUSED.

Holiness and enthusiasm are not acquired; they are discovered, for they already exist in us. Sometimes this goodness is manifested as we are tested and choose not necessarily the easier path, but the one that is most true to our passions and convictions, and most life-giving to us and others…generally by being compassionate and merciful, forgiving and nonviolent, attentive and of caring service.

But even more important than all of this, all we really need to do is to more and more remember just one thing. As I tell folks at the end of each Mass, “If you forget everything in life, never, never, never forget this…THE LORD IS WITH YOU!” Their smiles and the look of joy on their faces are just like those of the kids I used to coach.

Monday, May 17, 2010


During my year of novitiate we received weekly lectures not only on St. Anthony Mary Claret, the founder of our Claretian Congregation, but also on the Church and many other topics, including one on the image of Jesus. Our discussion leader on this last topic, Padre Teófilo, told us that most of us have a false and very romantic image of Jesus ~ tall, good-looking, more European than Middle-Eastern, etc. He asked us to reflect upon, and to write a short paper on, who Jesus was for us.

My response surprised us both. I said that Jesus was many things for me, including savior, teacher, role model, but most of all he was an obstacle…that because my focus was so much on him, the human/divine person reflected in the gospels, he seemed to get in the way of my connecting directly with God…of discovering God with me…within me…as he himself had.

There is a story of an explorer who ventured to a far-off land, discovering a beauty and a bounty never before imagined. Upon returning to his native land, he shared the good news and all were excited about this new-found paradise. They begged him to draw them a map of how to get there. He hesitated at first, but after much persistence he drew the map, and the path to get there, complete with treacherous mountain passes and raging rivers that needed to be crossed, notable sign posts to guide the traveler, etc.

It was not long before everyone studied the map and would sit at table or gather in the town square to discuss it. Many made personal copies and memorized every detail possible. They knew the map so well as if they themselves had made the journey and drawn it. The problem was that no one bothered to seek the paradise itself; they remained content in simply knowing how to get there.

How often do we study the Bible, and can perhaps cite chapter and verse of every book, know every word that Jesus spoke, and yet fail to connect with the Holy Mystery with us…within us?

In order for Jesus to most fully discover and reveal God’s indwelling Spirit in him, John the Baptist had to step aside. Perhaps in order for us to most fully discover the God-seed in us, Jesus, too, has to be taken from our midst (i.e. the ascension), so that we might focus more on the Holy Spirit within us than on the Holy Presence in Jesus.

This may seem blasphemous for some to somehow compare ourselves to Jesus, the Son of God. Of course, it is worth remembering that this is what got Jesus crucified, for the faith of the day 2,000 years ago, the faith that had stood for more than a millennium, said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord God, the Lord is One.” How could God be one if Jesus was also God? Jesus was misunderstood…feared…and ultimately blindly executed. Perhaps our faith, or at least our attempt to understand this Holy Mystery with some sense of human logic, can often blind us to the truth of our being as well.

To truly discover paradise we must make the journey…not by land, sea, or air, from here to there…but within ourselves. To reach our goal on this holy quest perhaps it might be helpful to reflect upon the following questions: Why did Jesus call us brothers and sisters? What does it mean to call God “our Father”? Who is Jesus for us? Who are we? Who would Jesus say that we are?

Friday, May 14, 2010


Generally, as I say my good-byes to Spanish-speaking folks as they leave church after Mass, we say to each other, "Hasta Luego". It is a common expression, which literally means, "Until Later", but more commonly is used to say, "See you later." However, there is little expectation of that as my ministry takes me throughout the country and most likely I will not be back. Still, there is more truth in that statement than might at first seem clear.

There is a ritual in the celebration of the Mass that perhaps will help to explain. At the beginning of Mass the priest and some of the servers will process down the main aisle to the altar. The deacon or one of the lectors will carry the Book of the Gospels from which the gospel of the day is proclaimed. After Mass, the book remains at the ambo. It is not carried out because once the Word of God is proclaimed it is hoped that the Word has taken root in the listeners, to be brought to life in their actions during the week. If the book is carried out it would seem to say symbolically that the Word was not received.

Similarly, the salutation of "Hasta Luego" (or "Arrivederci" in Italian) expresses the hope, as a result of our brief encounter in this celebration and the proclamation of the Word, that a seed has been sown which will blossom in the hearers, and the re-encounter will be evident in the daily life of the listeners, as they remember, reflect upon, and bring to life what they heard.

This week we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. Often upon serious reflection one ponders, "Where did Christ ascend to?" The only logical response is: to the source of His Being. As an angel told the first disciples, there is no need to look at the clouds above. God is everywhere...and so, too, is the Risen Christ. And so, too, are we after our earthly journey is over...we, Holy Dust that we are, return to the Holy Source of all that dust...of all that is.

What, then, are we to make of His return, the "second coming" of Christ? The common view is that perhaps Christ will return in some human form as when He first took flesh in Jesus. But perhaps another view may be that the second coming really refers to Christ taking human form in each of us, as we hear His Word and receive His Body so as to incarnate Him in all that we do and say. Thus, if Jesus had said his good-byes to a Spanish- or Italian-speaking group of faithful he, too, might have said, "Hasta Luego" or "Arrivederci"...see you you...and through you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This past weekend I was blessed to celebrate Mother’s Day in Ephrata, WA. It is a small community of about 6,000, mostly old-time residents with a few new ones from south of the border. It is apple orchard country where the Latino labor is needed. As always, I received a warm welcome. But sometimes the “welcome” given to others, whether to a new group of parishioners or even to a newly-assigned pastor, is “welcome to my parish” rather than “welcome to our parish”…as if to say, “Don’t make your stay permanent...and please don’t rearrange the furniture.”

I am reminded of my family’s own journey when I was eight from Montelepre, Sicily to Windsor, Ontario, and the warm, loving reception we received from our new Canadian neighbors, for which we were most grateful. Like so many who cross our borders to find work and a better future for their children, we were very poor, though I didn’t realize it at the time. For example, I thought we lived in a fairly decent size home. Years later I went back to the old neighborhood on Elsmere Street and was shocked to see that the house in which we lived was smaller than my garage.

My parents left family, friends, security, language and culture behind to risk their lives in a new world where they knew neither the language nor many fellow paisanos. They ventured forth in their forties in order to give my brother and me a better opportunity in life. They took whatever jobs they could find. My father worked odd jobs by day and washed dishes by night in a hotel restaurant. My mother carried 50- and 100-pound sacks of apples, potatoes, oranges, etc. in a fruit packing warehouse.

Back in Sicily my father had been a construction foreman and my mother ran a small grocery store. We also had some olive groves. It was a very difficult life, but not nearly as hard as that which we encountered in the land of opportunity. Yet, they never complained.

One night, when I was about nine I remember a knock at the door after midnight. It was the Saputos, old friends from our hometown who now lived in Montreal. They were returning home after visiting family in St. Louis, and they stopped merely to say, “Ciao”.

Of course, my parents were not going to let them leave without having a bite to eat. They invited them in, asked them to take their coats off, to sit and make themselves comfortable, and before one knew it, my mother had a pot of boiling water and soon enough there was plenty of delicious pasta for all. I noticed the joy and radiance on my parents’ faces as they entertained our friends with stories and laughter, and hosted them with a simple but delicious meal. We didn’t have much, but in sharing the little we had, there was plenty for all and a bonding of true friendship.

Years later, visiting my mom after perhaps some international trip, I would always be greeted at the door with lots of hugs and kisses. I knew I would always be welcomed.

Perhaps nothing captures the essence of a mother’s love and of our faith as much as the word, “welcome”…to give true hospitality…to make the other feel loved and at home. This is what Christ does at every Mass, becoming “Host” (in more ways than one) to welcome us, to break bread with us, to tell us how much we are loved. As Jesus did 2,000 years ago when he spotted a hungry seeker up a tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down. Today, I must dine with you at your house.” Today, Christ does the same with us, entering our "house" to make of our bodies holy temples.

Sometimes it can seem that the only ones interested in hospitality are restaurants, casinos, cruise ships, and other commercial enterprises ~ for their business motives. But that is our call…to receive the Host…and to be hosts…to welcome one and all.

Did you know that there are Hospitality Clubs all over the world, whose goal is to bring people together, foster international friendships, increase inter-cultural understanding, and strengthen peace? They do this by hosting visitors to their city…without any reciprocal obligation. How great! Would that all churches would do the same. How much more life-giving life would be.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Last night Brother Tom, my fellow Claretian at Casa Claret, was driving a friend home when someone threw a can of beer at them, cracking the front windshield and scaring both for a moment. Such is life on the South Side of Chicago, where graffiti also is as common as the wind in the Windy City. People violently destroying another’s property for their own motives, but without the courage to reveal themselves. Sometimes the “graffiti” comes in malicious comments to our words and our work. Why do people do it?

Many years ago, while still a corporate lawyer, I was in Boston to purchase about $200 million of “Affordable Housing”…a program initiated by Congress to replace public housing with private investment, which hopefully would have a more pleasing appearance and a longer life than “Section 8” Housing. After a long and successful day of negotiations, I left the office building to return to the hotel. It was pouring so heavily that I could not find a cab anywhere.

When I looked across the street I noticed a giant crucifix, perhaps three of four stories high, on the face of the sky-scraper. It was St. Anthony, a Franciscan church very much like St. Peter’s in downtown Chicago. I ran across to find shelter and to pray, and luckily Mass was just beginning. There were about twenty of us in the large church, perhaps half street people and the others from business.

After the opening prayers, the friar read the Sacred Word, and began his homily. He asked us, “Have you ever noticed how much violence…how much depression there is in the world?” All of us nodded. He said, “Let me tell you a story…about an estate auction.”

“The auctioneer began by grabbing an old fiddle and asking, ‘Who will give me two dollars for this fiddle? Do I hear two? Who will give me three? I have three, who’ll give me four? I have four, do I hear five? Four once…four twice…’Before he could strike the gavel and sell the fiddle, an old man walked up and asked, ‘Mind if I take a closer look?’

“He took the fiddle, blew the dust off it, grabbed the bow and began to play the fiddle.” And the friar surprised us….delighted us. He grabbed a violin from behind the ambo, and began to play the Ave Maria. The music was so beautiful, so heavenly in that large chamber with the acoustics so perfect, that I for one did not want him to ever stop. But in time he did. And he resumed the part of the auctioneer.

“‘Who’ll give me two thousand for this violin? Three thousand? Four? Five…’ And sold it for many thousands of dollars. After the auction was over someone walked up to the auctioneer and asked, ‘I don’t understand. Before you couldn’t even get five dollars for that old fiddle, and you ended up selling it for many thousands. How do you explain it?’ The auctioneer responded, ‘Before we failed to see the touch of the master’s hand at work.’”

Then the friar turned to us and said, “Could we ever be violent or depressed if we could see the touch of the Master’s hand at work in us?”

As an aside, years later as a novice priest I entered Mass carrying a violin case under my arm, reminiscent perhaps of a scene from The Godfather, and when it came time for the homily I shared the above story, and more…I opened the violin case, pulled out a violin, and pretended to play the Ave Maria at the appropriate part…having previously placed a CD player behind the ambo. When Mass was over there was a rush of compliments and folks who wanted me to play some more…but my smile gave it all away…and we laughed.

There is goodness in each of us; perhaps when we fail to see the touch of the Master’s hand at work (in us or in others) it helps to simply see the lighter side and share some laughter.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Some years ago at St. Benedict the African Church in Chicago I heard a homily by a visiting priest who said that he had seen this sign on a bus in San Francisco: THE MAIN THING IS TO KEEP THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING. He went on to challenge us on what we believe is the “main thing” in our life…and to live it.

As I travel the country in my ministry I have observed that we have many ways of celebrating the liturgies of our faith. Recently, I was at a parish where they continue to celebrate Mass with the altar facing away from the people, and communion is received at the communion rail. At other parishes, I have found a more open approach and a more active role by the laity in the celebration of the Mass.

Whether charismatic or contemplative, more fundamentalist or liberal, and whether Mass is celebrated in Latin or English, what I have found most of all is lots of good, faith-filled people. We may have our preferences in how we connect with God, but there is no denying our desire to grow in our faith and to experience the Holy Presence.

I see this goodness in how fervent people are in prayer, and in how so many give generously to help the homeless and hungry. I have also seen that we have more in common than we may believe – in the Confessional. Regardless of location, and the way that we celebrate our faith, the sins which I hear tend to be the same. And I am sure that if somehow I were to listen to the sins of those of other faith traditions I would probably say the same thing. No one group seems to have a monopoly on goodness or sinfulness.

This raises two questions for me. First of all, why do we beat each other over the way others celebrate their way of connecting with God? Secondly, it is obvious that none of us is perfect. We are each a masterpiece in progress, but in the meantime we fall from time to time to one or another temptation. Still it is worth asking, have we really discovered what the “main thing” is for us, and are we living it?

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Always when I meet with parents in preparation for a Baptism, I ask, “What are your dreams? What do you want for your child?” Their response, “a good education”, “a good career”, “to stay away from drugs and gangs”, “to know how much we love them”, “for them to be happy…fulfilled…the very best!” This is what God wants for us. Jesus tells us, “I came so that you might have abundant life.” This is what the Sacrament of Baptism is all about…the gift of abundant life…new life…in Christ.

The sacrament is filled with symbols of new life: water, which in ancient Israel ~ and today, a land which is mostly desert ~ meant life. Just as we enter our biological life by a mother’s breaking her water, so, too, we enter new life in Christ through the waters of Baptism. The white garment and the candle we receive, lit from the Paschal Candle, which represents the Light of Christ among us, also indicate a newness of life.

The sacrament begins with marking the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, an invitation to join the community of faithful…to become an active member in the Catholic Church. That sign is also in thanksgiving for the blessing that this child is to us. Parents and Godparents are invited to make the sign on the child’s forehead, and to raise the child with love to affirm them of the blessing that they are.

Three times the child is marked with the sign of the cross. The second time is on the chest with Holy Oil, to make us evermore aware that we are protected, much like the steel armor of ancient knights. GOD IS WITH US, and therefore WE NEED NOT FEAR. The demon of this Original Sin is vanquished ~ if we live this sacrament! Lastly, the child is marked on the forehead once more, this time with the Oil of Chrism, the same oil that is used to anoint the hands of priests. All who are baptized are anointed to be Priest, Prophet, and King or Queen.

To be a priest, as Jesus showed us the night before he died, is to get on our knees to wash each other’s feet…to humbly serve one another. To be a prophet is to proclaim the Word of God, but before we can proclaim it, we must take time…to listen to it…in silence. God’s own prayer to us says, “Be still and know that I Am God” (Psalm 46). “Be still” means put away all our thoughts and plans and fears, to simply be aware that we are in the presence of the Holy Presence. Once we have heard God’s Word, we cannot contain it….but must proclaim it, and as St. Francis of Assisi said, “to use words only if necessary”. To be a king or queen says that we are more than mere hired workers for God’s peaceable kingdom; we are heirs. This is our world…our Church. Thus, we are commissioned to act as owners and not mere tenants…much as we would with our home or a family business…to take proprietary interest.

The candle we receive calls US to be the Light of Christ, and parents are directed to guard and nurture this holy light in their child…by the way they model their faith. (I always recommend to parents that they celebrate each anniversary of this new life in Christ just like a birthday.) Sadly, all too often, parents seem to be more interested in the festivity after the Baptism than the meaning and responsibilities of this new life. This is not meant as a comment on the goodness of these parents, but simply in how they live their faith; and not to judge but to do everything possible to help them truly encounter Christ.

When I was pastor and met parents who were not active in the Church but nonetheless wanted to baptize their child, I would ask them, “Why do you want to baptize your child?” They would say, “Because we are Catholics.” “Why do you believe you are Catholic if you are not active in the Church?” “Because we were baptized Catholic.” Typically the one who is less active (perhaps more resistant to practicing the faith) is the father. Sometimes I would ask them, “Did you ever play sports when you were young? Did you belong to a team?” “Yes.” “Are you still a member of that team?” They would laugh, “Father, that was a long time ago.” “What makes you think that you are still a member of Christ’s team if you do not practice with that team, you do not ‘play’ with that team, you do not celebrate with that team, you do nothing to support it?”

They would shrug, perhaps pensive, perhaps unmoved. Many would often say, “I don’t really need to be at Church. God is with me wherever I am.” I could not agree more that God is always with us. But it was Christ who founded His Church, and wants us to gather as a family to grow in our relationship with one another and with God.

I would ask the parents if they wanted their child, in time, to learn how to play soccer would it be enough to simply buy them a ball and have them practice at home, or would they put the child on a team? Would they register the child only to receive a jersey and never return to practice or play? Would they register their child for school and expect a diploma without ever attending classes? And if so, what would the jersey or diploma mean in helping the child to be the best soccer player, the best student?

I wish I could say that this engagement persuaded many parents to become more active in their faith. The reality is that most baptized their child and would not return for a number of years until it would be time to receive another sacrament. But sacraments are NOT received, they are actualized. Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us: if we don’t practice what we believe, we soon believe what we practice...and faith becomes a meaningless tradition. We end up losing the gift of new life. Baptism, and each sacrament, is an invitation to enter new life in Christ… to be Christ-like…but only if they are lived. Only then do we have the happy, abundant life we and God desire.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Often when someone comes for career counseling I ask them, “What would you do if you won the mega lottery? What would you like to do if you had no financial worries…no fears?” Invariably the respondent says, “I would like to help the poor.” That tells me not only that we have an inner desire to reach out to others, but more than anything else it reveals who we are at the core of our being. We are a reflection of God ~ whose image more than any other is that of a Supreme Being, who loves and gives life.

We want to do the same. Studies reveal that when we help others, we are happiest, as if juices were fired into our brain, not unlike taking a drug that produces a state of happiness. It is no mere coincidence that Jesus’ commandments are called the Beatitudes ~ the “Be Happy” attitudes ~ nor that the Bible tells us that we are created in “the image and likeness” of God. It is when we are most true to our identity…to the image and likeness of God…that we are happiest.

That begs the question, “When are we most like God?” It is tempting to think that we are most like God when we are all-powerful. This was the mistake of Adam and Eve…they wanted the apparent power of God. To have this image of God is to be SELF-CENTERED. The other image of God is that reflected in Jesus, which is to be OTHER-FOCUSED…to want to serve rather than to be served…to give away rather than to accumulate.

[It must be noted that no one image of God could ever fully express the nature of the Holy Mystery. A dear, wise, and holy friend, Sr. Lucida, would often say that God is “Unbounded Energy”. I, too, have a favorite image of God as the “Grand Artist” ~ who not only loves beauty and variety, but who also trusts us and invites us to be co-creators of the masterpiece that we (and our world) are meant to be. Still, in terms of our human behavior, we are pulled by two principal polar opposites: power and love.]

This battle between the image of a God of power and a God of love continues to be waged within each of us. Perhaps it was best reflected in the choice we had 2,000 years ago to choose between Barabbas, which means son (bar) of the father (abba), and Jesus, the most authentic Son. One wanted to liberate his people from the oppression by the Romans with the power of force, the other wanted to free all of us with the power of love. One had the true image of God; the other was blinded by our human frailty.

What is this weakness that blinds us to the true and accurate image of God? Is it fear, as I stated in my last blog, or pride, or selfishness, as others may believe? To me, pride and selfishness are like the Jamaican fruit, the aikee, an apple-sized fruit which turns bright red, and is edible only when fully mature, at which time it opens to let out poisonous gases. If eaten before it matures, it can be deadly.

Pride and selfishness can also be poisonous, but if allowed to mature, both have a healthy role to play in our development and in leading us to our true, divine nature. It is a healthy pride when reflected as in St. Maximilian Kolbe whose desire was to be the “greatest saint”…to be the greatest servant. It is a necessary selfishness when it directs us to look to ourselves first… in discovering the best…the Christ… in us, so as to help others find the same in themselves.

Fear is the tree which gives birth to these potentially poisonous fruits. Fear leads us to be anxious, to be near-sighted and limit our focus to what is in front of us: our immediate needs and self-gratification, to not trust in God (or in ourselves) for the greater and longer-term blessings, and to go on the attack or shut ourselves off, both of which lead to death. The antidote to fear, as Jesus showed us, is love.

I recently visited my brother, Vito, in Detroit and was chatting with one of his grandchildren, little Vito, seven years old and about to make his First Communion. I asked him if he was excited. He said, “Yeah!” “Why?” “Because it will help me get to heaven.” “Do you need to be rich to get to heaven?”, I asked. “No,” he answered, “just rich in love.”

Easter, which we celebrate for 50 days until the Feast of Pentecost, is a time of new life in Christ…that is, a time to take on the same image and likeness of God that Jesus manifested…a time to be rich in love (and we don’t have to win the lottery). Only then will we be resurrected with Christ. Only then will His resurrection be complete.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Many years ago, I was on my way to beautiful Lake Atitlan, surrounded with its many volcanoes, in Guatemala. The bus was an old school bus from the 50s or 60s, colorfully painted, and put into service for public transportation. Instead of two persons on each seat there were three, and two more standing between the seats. The rear of the bus had a ladder, leading to the roof where baggage and other stuff were strapped down. Some folks were on that ladder and others were standing on the rear bumper and holding on to the back door. At each stop some got in or left, and somehow the ayudante (the driver’s helper) was able to discern who had not paid, and he would squeeze his way between those standing or climb over seats to collect the fare.

I was sitting next to a Social Sciences professor from Harvard. We admired the beauty of the scenery on the winding roads, the breath-taking vistas, the colorful and varied patterns of the dress of the indigenous women, and talked about many subjects, including the Catholic faith. She asked me, “What is original sin?” This was before my theological studies. I said that I was not really qualified to address this weighty subject. But saying that she saw a depth in my faith, she persisted. So I said, “I think it’s fear.”

God made us so that we will do everything possible to preserve our life. Preservation of our life is in our genes. We are born with this drive. It is natural and it is good. Fear of losing our life keeps us focused on what we should or should not do. For example, we would not put our hand into a fire, nor jump out of a ten-story window, nor drive 100 miles per hour in heavy traffic. But fear of losing our life can become so extreme that we take unhealthy steps, make poor decisions that take life rather than preserve it.

Fear may drive us to become aggressive and strike another so that they will think twice about doing us harm. “Get them before they get us.” And so wars begin…whether between nations or between individuals. Violence begets more violence. At the other extreme, fear may overpower us so that we shut ourselves off from others. We hibernate in our own little cocoon, never to come out to live the beautiful life for which we were created. Instead, we suffocate within. Whenever we become aggressive or enclose ourselves we are turning our back on the heaven that God has created and has entrusted to us.

Jesus’ last prayer was, “Father, I pray that they may be one as you and I are one.” (Jn 17:21) Fear prevents this dream from becoming reality. It is a fear that is ingrained in us for the very reason that we are hard-wired to preserve our life. Fear can be healthy. But it becomes sin ~ the original sin ~ when it takes control of us and leads us to take life rather than giving it…when it leads to violence rather than peace.

Time and again, Jesus said, “Have no fear”…neither of others nor of yourself. FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In the movie, “High Plains Drifter”, Clint Eastwood seeks to save a town from its fear of some gun fighters. When asked why he is not afraid, he says, “The only thing we have to fear is what we know about ourselves inside.” “Be not afraid!”…could we be if we truly heard Christ speak these words to us? Yet, from the beginning of time, fear has been our Achilles’ heel…our sin…a deadly weakness that can lead to our downfall.

Adam and Eve failed to trust God and feared that their Eden might be taken from them, so they sought o become gods themselves and took action which back-fired. Whenever we lose trust in God (and in each other), and seek to become god-like with military or economic power, we once again succumb to the temptation of our original sin…and let fear separate us from one another and from God. Even in our attempts to do good, such as perhaps when we are moved by the poor and want to be generous, we can find ourselves afraid to give too much… so once more we lose another opportunity to encounter God.

When we overcome fear, our original and recurring sin, we discover anew the Eden God has created, a peace within, and a harmony with all creation. There are many who will continue to be violent, and can do us much harm, but they cannot take away our peace…our union with God…unless we let them. That is the invaluable lesson of the Cross…and of Baptism. We are willing to die to the sin that imprisons and poisons us ~ fear ~ so as to live most fully and free (with God and with each other).

After years of study and ministry, I still believe that fear is our original sin.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


On the old Bravo program, “Inside the Actors’ Studio”, where stars were interviewed, the final question was always, “If there is a God, what would you like God to say to you at the end of your life?” The most common response was, “Welcome”…welcome home, welcome to heaven. Where is heaven?

Centuries ago when we thought Earth was all there was, and later when we believed that the Sun and other stars revolved around us, we considered heaven to be located “up there”. I remember visiting a third-grade class at St. Paul’s in Chicago on the Feast of All Saints, greeting them with, “Happy Feast Day!” They said, “We’re not saints. The saints live in heaven.” And when I asked, “Where is heaven?”, they said, “Arriba” ~ up there. So I asked, “Where is God?” They said, “Everywhere.” “Is God here?” “Yes. God is in each of us.” “Well”, I said, “if God is here, so too is heaven.” I suspect we have heard this many times, though (like these children) we have some difficulty believing it.

There’s a Sicilian fable about a young boy, Pino, who has a great devotion to his patron saint, St. Joseph (Giuseppe in Italian; the common nickname of those with this name is Pino or Peppino). Pino always prayed to St. Joseph, but was not very faithful about Mass or praying to Jesus or Mary. Eventually he dies, and goes knocking at heaven’s gate. When St. Peter opens the gate, he says, “What are you doing here? You hardly ever prayed to Our Lord or the Blessed Mother.” Pino responds, “Yes, I know but I thought I might just have a minute to see St. Joseph.” Peter is about to shut the gate when he sees someone running and yelling, “Pino! Pinuzzu!” It’s St. Joseph. When he arrives at the gate, St. Peter says, “Now look Joe, I know this man has had a great devotion to you all his life. But I can’t let him in.” St. Joseph looks at him and responds, “Well Pete, you gotta do what you gotta do. But if Pino doesn’t come in, I’m taking my wife and son, and we’ll just go somewhere else.” Case closed…or should I say, Gate Opened. Alleluia!

Heaven is where Our Lord is. Find Him...find the good...the best in this quest/passion/dream that God has planted in us... and you will find heaven. We will know we have found it because we will feel fully alive...see everything with new eyes…feel re-born…resurrected. Easter is a time to be re-born and resurrected…to see the Risen Christ in those around us, and in ourselves.

In my last blog I wrote of the powerful symbol of the empty tomb. Coupled with the empty tomb is the rock that was rolled away. I wonder if you have pondered about this rock...not only who rolled it...but more importantly why? Of course, WE rolled it to seal the tomb ~ not to keep the dead from leaving, but to keep us from entering. And Christ UNROLLED that there would be no barrier between us.

Whenever we point to heaven out “there”, rather than “here”, we are again rolling the rock to keep us separated. Even those of us who believe in the Holy Presence in the Eucharist have a tendency to roll the rock when we put the Eucharist in the tabernacle, and forget that we are living, breathing, walking tabernacles. Why do we keep rolling that rock?

Perhaps because we too easily see our human frailties and cannot really imagine the Holy Presence within. Our focus in on our Original Sin instead of our Original Blessing….the blessing that God gazed upon us at creation, and what God saw was “very good”…the blessing that Christ came to call us brothers and sisters, children of God…the blessing that He said He would always be with us.

From the beginning of time, we were made of the holy stardust that came/comes from God. Instead of pondering what God might say to us when our earthly journey ends, I wonder how we might live our lives if we truly believed who we are, and who is with us at every moment. Might we not discover HEAVEN on earth?

Thursday, April 8, 2010


There is a Spanish expression, “Me fui para servir. Salí siendo servido.” ~ I went to serve; I left having been served. So was my mission in Jamaica – an Island Paradise of lush vegetation, beautiful vistas, and myriad trees and leaves, fruits and flowers, fragrances and colors. I also saw for the first time in my life a manatee and a mongoose. But the greatest masterpiece was the beauty of the people, many struggling but still always smiling, and their warm and gracious hospitality…open arms and open hearts aplenty. One can learn much about encountering God and following Christ in this ministry of loving hospitality.

I was blessed to help out at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in St. Ann’s Bay, and Our Lady of Fatima in Ocho Rios. There is a great need in the Diocese of Montego Bay, where there are merely 12 priests – only one native Jamaican, the others “borrowed” from Belize, Tonga, Samoa, Poland, the Philippines, and other nations. The Catholic population is about two per cent. The cry for help is not only from the starving poor, but also from the hungry in the pews, who thirst for spiritual knowledge, and for leadership in evangelizing to a populace that more and more experiences the disaster of broken families.

In celebrating the Easter Pasch, the symbol of new life that seemed most appropriate (given the reality that I discovered in Jamaica) was the empty tomb…the growing realization that He is not there…He is in us! The first disciples wrestled with this, and despite their encounter with the Risen Christ they didn’t know what to do at first. They went back to the life they knew…fishing. Only after it truly sank in did they go out and begin to bring Him to life…by doing what Jesus taught them…what he himself did.

We, too, can look and pray for a “savior” to lead us out of our doldrums and misery. We might even put Christ back in the tomb, such as the tabernacle, and forget that He came to “pitch His tent” in us. Only as we more and more discover this holy presence in us do we begin to experience our resurrection…and His joy and resurrection becomes complete. And to help us connect with God, I shared the story of a disciple who asks, “O holy one, give me the question that will renew my soul, and make me feel resurrected.” The Master said, “The question is, ‘What do they need?’”

I met many good people who truly gave life to me. I hesitate to name them as there are too many, and some might be left out. But one experience I must share was an encounter with some “Good Samaritans”, from whom I received this e-mail:

”We feel very blessed to have met you. Sometimes life reserves the most amazing encounters when least expected. Well, for the first time in years, you have opened my eyes as how to ‘better connect with God’. I have understood how the hand of God can reach those in need through the mercy of others. Why did we meet William [a blind man sleeping on a piece of cardboard on a sidewalk, to whom the Samaritans brought food and water, and fresh clothes] in those days when we were about to meet you? I think because it was God's way to open my eyes with the help of William and with your help. We managed to take him to the bus station and help him reach his destination. We tried to contact the church of his village but nobody was there to answer the phone. We will try again. The day we took him to the bus station I understood that we are all equal. It has been a very strong experience. I helped him wash and get dressed and I felt joy and fulfillment in doing it. At the beginning I had to overcome the stupid barrier of touching somebody who hadn't had a bath in weeks or months. Within a few minutes I experienced this wonderful feeling of peace and harmony grow in me. I felt I was doing something important. We are all instruments of God and I understood my role. I wish it could always be so simple, but thanks to you it became more understandable.”

Thank you, Andrea and Christine, Pam and Paul, Tony and Rosanna, and so many more...for revealing the Risen Christ.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I am on my way to Jamaica to help during Holy Week, due to the shortage of priests there. The first time I was blessed with such a mission, I was sent to three small churches – each about 45 minutes from the other - in the back country of Morant Bay. The main roads along the ocean were washed away in large segments by hurricanes from prior years; the dirt roads to the hillside villages had many pronounced ruts a foot deep. Yet the people, mostly elderly women, would make the long walk of a mile or two to come to Mass and Good Friday services. I would sit with them in the back of an old pick up on the return journey home, listening to their stories of life and faith – with a very thick, melodic accent.

The main village where I stayed had a beautiful view of the ocean, some historic monuments (badly in need of repair) paying homage to the brave slaves who rose up to win their freedom and independence from England, a few stores with lots of half-empty shelves, and a housing “sub-division” of rusted metal shanties, made from oil drums that had been cut to make the sides and roof. The people’s poverty seemed more than compensated by a richness of joy and radiant smiles.

Though the world can seem a living hell, and we need to tirelessly strive to overcome the injustice of poverty and violence, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies: our negativity, pointing the finger of blame on others for our “hell”, or worse responding to violence with more violence. Still, heaven is here, waiting to be discovered…within us. This is the “Good News” of Jesus. He did not come to liberate his people from the oppression of Roman tyranny, but to free each of us from the imprisonment within, by transforming our lives into a new way of thinking…seeing…being.

He said to become childlike. And I indeed found a heaven on earth in the laughter, joyfulness and playfulness among the Jamaican children. On Holy Saturday, as we worked to make decorations for the church, they seemed enthralled by my relatively straight and gray hair, and were trying to braid it. It was painful…and delightful.

The Easter Vigil Mass was to have begun at 7:00 p.m., but since folks kept coming we began a half-hour later. We read all nine readings and sang entire songs between readings. There was much music and dancing. It was such a festive celebration. There were seven baptisms – five adults and two teens – in a walk-down baptismal pool, with three plus feet of water. The Mass ended at 12:30 a.m., but I would not have known that it had lasted so long had I not later noticed the clock in the sacristy. It seemed to go so quickly.

Easter Monday as I flew home I could not help but feel a new-ness of life from the joyful experience and the many good people I had met. But the highlight was yet to come. As I gave my passport to the Customs official in Miami, I greeted him and asked, “How are you doing this morning?” His response, “I am RESURRECTED!”

Would that we could all say that this Easter…and every day thereafter. Blessings and prayers... and HAPPY EASTER.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Last night I helped with confessions in Perth Amboy, NJ, and was particularly moved by a penitent who could not stop crying. I was reminded of two women in the Gospels: the one who washed Our Lord’s feet with her tears, and the one about to be stoned to death for her sins. In both cases, the two women were embraced by Jesus’ compassion. He felt their pain…their fear…their aching heart. I tried my best to do likewise.

With respect to the story about the adulteress, I remember years ago asking third-graders at St. Paul’s in Chicago what Jesus wrote on the ground with his finger while being put to the test about how to deal with this sinner. Their response revealed a holy wisdom beyond their years:

Don’t cry.
Don’t be afraid.
I won’t let them hurt you.
I’m your friend.
I love you.

As the saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

Each weekend I travel to raise funds for the poor, but most especially to open hearts…by helping those in the pews feel the suffering of our poor bothers and sisters…to awaken them perhaps from a life of comfort that can often make us blind and numb to the harsh reality of the poor.

Sometimes those in the pews are also suffering, as was the case this past weekend. I was at St. Anthony’s in Oceanside, NY, for a mission on behalf of Food for the Poor, where hurricane winds and torrential rain knocked down many trees and power lines, and caused havoc. Most were without power Saturday night for a time…some still in the dark and cold on Sunday.

I asked at each of the eight Masses on Sunday how many had lost power. A number of hands went up. “How many are still without power?” A few hands were raised. I said, “I have been to places where they are without lights not for one day or one week or one month or one year. They have never had electricity.” I asked, “How many of you also lost water?” No hands. I shared that I have seen communities where folks do not have running water…no luxury of washing their face, brushing their teeth, taking a drink of water. “How many of you prayed this morning ‘O God, help us’…that your children and grandchildren might have something to eat. How many of you, when you have no food in the house have gone to the garbage dump to poke around for something to bring home to your children and grandchildren so that they might eat? I have seen it, especially in Managua, Nicaragua, at a place they call ‘la Chureca – el Gran Basurero’ (the Great City Dump), a mountain of stinking garbage, with a stench so foul that I could not breathe. And yet there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, scrounging here and there to find some food to take home to their loved ones. How many of you when you have found no food at all for your children have gone outside to make mud pies – perhaps add a little salt to give it flavor – and feed that to your children when their stomachs begin to grumble? It happens in Haiti.”

A few years ago, Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion” was heavily attended during Lent. But more than recalling the passion of Christ, what Lent is about is feeling the compassion of Jesus. To be compassionate is to walk with and feel the pain and suffering of another. It is worth remembering that Jesus did not die of a heart attack…but of an aching heart…because his compassionate heart was attacked by betrayal, abandonment, mocking, and cold rejection by the hearts of those whom he loved. And yet his love would not be stilled. We are saved not by the physical death of Jesus but by the absoluteness of love which even torture and death could not conquer.

As another Lent comes to a close, may we take these last few days to truly open our hearts, to be compassionate, to walk with the suffering and feel their aching heart…and Our Lord’s.