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.

Monday, March 15, 2010


In the quest for holiness, good is not good enough.

We recently watched the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Night after night, it was obvious that merely being good at one’s sport would not bring home the gold. In fact, to get any medal, the Olympians had to give their very best. And that was just for a piece of metal.

We seem to want to give our best in all aspects of life – except perhaps our faith. We wouldn’t think of asking someone to marry us if the most they would commit to was to love us lukewarmly. Likewise, we want our children to do their best in school; few, if any, prospective employers would hire us unless we were committed to giving our best; we sacrifice ourselves to receive the promotions and bonuses we desire. We shop for the “best” deals on cars, homes, insurance, investments, and other purchases. Even in sports, exercise, card games, etc. we tend to put it all on the line. Do we do the same when it comes to our relationship with God?

In the commitments of our daily life, God is of no importance…unless God is of supreme importance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


In the last blog, I referred to the Prodigal Son, who longed to be reunited with the life he knew…and the father’s longing to embrace his estranged son. The story is deeper than a mere reunion…it is a call to live prodigally so that it gives the fullest of meaning and joy to our life. To live prodigally is to live EXTRAVAGANTLY – not to WASTE our resources and our life, but so as to GIVE life abundantly to us, and through us. (That is why the parable is sometimes called The Prodigal Father.)

Jesus tells us that this was his mission in the Gospel of John, “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (10:10). In every way and to the very end, he gave his all for our sake, and for his…to be true to himself. And his own death, a death earned by the manner of his ministry, was the final, definitive act of giving. “He took bread, broke it and said, ‘This is my body given for you.’ Then took the cup of wine and said, ‘This is my blood…poured out for the many’” (Mk14:22-24).

During Lent we focus on the cross, and through our own via crucis of self denial and sacrifices we seek not only to remember Our Lord’s willingness to give his all, so that we might be evermore grateful for his sacrifice, but that we, too, might imitate him and give our all...for his sake…and for ours…to make our life truly worthwhile. A lesson dispensed by life is that sacrifices, suffering, and death can in many instances bring clarity to what really counts, and what is secondary, in life.

This struggle to make life meaningful and joy-filled is vividly captured in Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 epic, award-winning film, “Ikiru”. The protagonist, Kanji Watanabe, is a longtime bureaucrat in a city office who, along with the rest of the office, spends his entire working life doing nothing. He learns he is dying of cancer and wrestles with the meaninglessness of his life. As he struggles to find meaning he recalls a song from his childhood, “Life is short…fall in love”. And he does. He finds a passion within to promote a city park for children in a poor neighborhood. Single-handed he persists in getting approval from other bureaucrats and city leaders, and shepherds the construction to completion. He dies happily in the park, shortly after its completion, swinging away one night in a driving snow-storm, singing his song.

One hundred years earlier, Henry David Thoreau captured this same longing in each of us to live a prodigal/extravagant life. In his classic work, “Walden”, he wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” What must we do to live the abundant life for which we yearn? "Fall in love"...hear the song that gives us life...and live uncompromisingly this life and this love!

The Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, captures the essence of living a prodigal life (the first four lines are his, the others I have taken liberty):

To live is to grow
To grow is to learn
To learn is to understand
To understand is to love
To love is to serve
To serve is to give
To give is to live

As we focus on giving, perhaps it bears repeating what I said in an earlier blog, “We can measure our relationship with God – and being most true to ourselves – not by how much we give but by how much we hold back.” Often we are afraid to give too much; and this mediocrity of commitment is the greatest stumbling block to our holy encounter with the discovery of Christ within…to a truly prodigal/abundant life.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Lent is a time to return home. We began on Ash Wednesday with the song, “Hosea – Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart…Long have I waited for your coming home to me...and living deeply our new life.” Soon we will be reading one of the most loved parables – the return of the Prodigal Son. There is a longing in us to be reunited with loved ones – those at some battlefield…others estranged for whatever reason.

At Campus Ministry, as part of our Welcome Home Project we invited a guest speaker, Lorene Duquin, a noted author whose list of books includes: “Could You Ever Come Back to the Catholic Church?” She asked us what we thought were some reasons for folks staying away from the Catholic Church. Responses to the question included: Divorce…Married Outside the Church...Conflict in Sunday Schedule (work, kids’ sports programs, shopping, chores, etc.)…Church is Irrelevant…Mass is Boring…Doubt…Changes in the Church…Angry with Church…Bad Experience with Church/Priest/Nun/Others…Warmer Fellowship/Community Elsewhere…Church Out of Touch with World…Lack of Understanding Regarding Eucharist…Family Conflict…Lifestyle…and Interfaith Marriage.

We were told that Interfaith Marriages are the primary cause of leaving the Church AND of entering the Church. Also that there are three distinctive groups of Catholics who stay away: Inactive Catholics (who attend only at special times such as Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, Our Lady of Guadalupe); Alienated Catholics (who are angry with the Church); and Un-Churched Catholics (baptized but not catechized; very little if any faith formation). Each requires its own method of inviting and welcoming.

Ms. Duquin also shared with us the ten reasons for coming back to the Church (in reverse order a la Letterman):
10. Seaking Meaning in Life
9. Childhood Memories
8. To Get Rid of Guilt
7. The Need to Forgive Others
6. The Need to be Healed (Physically, Emotionally, Spiritually)
5. The Quest for Truth/Understanding
4. Children
3. The Need for Community
[She shared Four Pillars of Faith: Prayer and Personal Morality, Social Justice, A Sense of Awe/Wonder/Mystery, and Community]
2. Desire to Help Others
[not mere altruism but seeing the face of Christ in others…in Self]…and
1. Hunger for the Eucharist.

I mentioned that there is a human longing in each of us to be re-connected with loved ones. It is a Divine longing as well (as seen in the Father’s running to his prodigal son, embracing and kissing him, and throwing him a feast…“for he was lost and has been found; he was dead and has come back to life”).

One of the most powerful Scriptural passages for me is at the very beginning of our human life, when God seeks Adam and Eve, after the Fall, asking, “Why didn’t you come to me when I called?” Their response: “We were hiding because we were naked.” Then God asked, “Who told you that you were naked...Who told you to fear me…to hide from me…Don’t you know how much I love you…How much I hunger for you…That’s why I created you…Your are mine…You are special to me…Never fear…Never let it keep us apart. COME BACK... PLEASE.”

A response I have often heard when asking a returnee, "What took you so long?" is "No one ever asked me to come back." As shared in a prior blog, we are the hands...the voice of God. Let us say to a loved one, "COME BACK…PLEASE."