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 TeĆ³filo, 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?