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.