The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

First of all, let me clarify that today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, not the feast of the Visitation which is illustrated in our Gospel today. The feast of the Visitation commemorates the Blessed Mother’s visit to Elizabeth and is celebrated on my anniversary of ordination, May 31st.

But… In 1950, five years after the end of the carnage of the Second World War which had ruptured the peace of the world, and during which millions of human beings made in the image and likeness of God had been killed or slaughtered, Pope Pius XII promulgated the doctrine of the Assumption, the feast we celebrate today; a teaching about the value of an individual human life for all of humanity.

He declared in the apostolic constitution “The most bountiful God” that ‘the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, on completing the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul to heavenly glory.’ The human being who most reflected the splendor of her Son’s humanity and his obedient response to the Father’s will did not undergo separation from him. She who was at his side on the Way of the Cross and who accepted the role of Mother of the Church at the foot of the cross was called to his side in heavenly glory. An assumption is not an ascension. The only one to have ascended into heaven is Jesus. His ascension was an active movement, while Mary’s assumption is passive movement, in the nature of a gift. For her heavenly glory is not a place but an intensified relationship. She was taken up to be where Christ is. In her the Lord fulfills his promise to the Church ‘where I am you may be also.’ (Jn.14.3)

Mary’s assumption is dependent upon the ascension of Jesus. In him our human nature is glorified and taken up into the communion of the Holy Trinity. We stand between the already and the not yet. We have been redeemed but have not yet fully appropriated the fruits of that redemption won for us by Christ. We stand between the two worlds of time and eternity. We are still pilgrims on the way. The process of transformation and transfiguration which is promised to us, and which even now is continuing in the Church is achieved in the Mother of God. She is no longer on the way. She is a pilgrim no longer.

Because Mary made her journey as the “Model Disciple and Model of the Church.” Reflection on her role must employ a network of imagery.

… A kaleidoscope of images are presented in our first reading from the book of Revelation, which includes “the Woman clothed with the sun.”

Here, this woman seems to stand for the People of Israel, the Christian Church, and Mary – the Blessed Virgin Mary who welcomed the Messiah on behalf of the faithful People of Israel, and who represents the Christian Church. The Woman gives birth in anguish. But…it is important to recognize that this is not necessarily the Birth at Bethlehem, which may come to mind first, – early Christians believed that that Birth was without pain, implying they sensed that Mary was without Original Sin, therefore no pain. Rather, the anguished birth, which is spoken of took place on Calvary, where the Creator, the New Adam, suffered the birth-pangs of the new creation to bring forth resurrection life. Mary, as the New Eve, stood by him in compassion, on behalf of the whole of creation which groans in travail in solidarity with its Maker further illustrated in Romans chapter 8.

So, make no mistake, all that Mary said yes to was not possible without the boundless love and mercy of God, as Mary proclaims in her response to Elizabeth in the Gospel. Even the glory of her assumption into heaven, which we celebrate today is found in God. That is why Mary proclaims, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” The blessed virgin Mary always points to God!

So, what does this feast have to do with us? Jesus’ victory over sin and death flowed in a unique way, with outstanding intensity, to his Mother, but it did so as a pledge that it can flow to us. Mary did not accept the role of mother of the savior for herself but for the world.

  • The Spirit who went ahead of Mary to keep her from sin, goes ahead of us to free us from sin.
  • Jesus who preserved her body from decay, will call us back to life.
  • And her prayers support us on our journey, as we seek to be conformed more

The resurrection of Christ is not simply an isolated event in the chain of events of his biography it is the achievement and disclosure in him of the Father’s purpose. The gift he has won for us, eternal life, is precisely for all of us, for the whole of humanity. As we unite ourselves to Christ in receiving his Body and Blood, may Mary, the most perfect representative of those who hear the Word of God, and do it, pray for us sinners …and help us to be faithful as she was faithful, that one day we may be united to her and her son forever. May we see in the glory given to her, the mother of the church, our own destiny revealed.


Advent Longing

Advent is a time of waiting. The Advent wreath is a reminder of that waiting. For children and maybe even for some adults it is waiting for Christmas. Only two weeks left; only 19 shopping days left…

While the Advent season is about watching and waiting, I believe that the word waiting can often be understood as a passive act, like when my father would take my mother shopping and would wait in the car for what seemed like endless hours until she returned. Advent is not about passive waiting. Rather, I think Advent is best understood more accurately as a time of “longing.”

The truth is we are not complete. And we will never be complete until we are completely one with the loving God who created us. There is a part of us that knows this but we often don’t give it much attention. Advent calls us to remember that and to long for that completion. As our scripture readings today suggest we are called to eagerly “await a new heavens and a new earth.” We are called to long for that day when “every valley shall be filled in and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” The day when the glory of the Lord will be revealed; when kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss.

In our Gospel today we are reminded that the people of Israel and John the Baptist not only waited for a Messiah they longed for a messiah. John proclaiming that “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”

We are called during Advent to recognize our incompleteness and to long for unity with God by recognizing those things (those sins) that keep us separated from God. In our second reading, St. Peter in speaking about  the coming of the day of God says, “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” This reminded me of a principle in chemistry: that sometimes two elements will simply lie side by side inside a test-tube and not unite until sufficient heat is applied so as to bring them to a high enough temperature where unity can take place. That heat that can unite us to the Lord is the fire of his love and mercy. The Season of Advent is a time for us to open our hearts to Christ so as to become more united to him.

Advent is about getting in touch with our longing. It’s about letting our yearnings raise our psychic temperatures so that we are pushed to eventually let down our guard, hope in new ways, and risk intimacy with God and others.

St. John of the Cross suggests that intimacy with God and with each other will only take place, when we reach a certain kindling temperature. For too much of our lives, he suggests, we lie around as damp, green logs inside the fire of love, waiting to come to flame but never bursting into flame because of our dampness. Before we can burst into flame, we must first dry out and come to kindling temperature. We do that by first sizzling for a long time in the flames, as does a damp log inside a fire, so as to dry out.

John of the Cross describes this experience of “sizzling” as enduring the pain of loneliness, restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, frustration, and unrequited desire. In the torment of incompleteness our psychic temperature rises so that eventually we come to kindling temperature and, there, we finally open ourselves to union in new ways.

I think however, St. Augustine said it best, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

May God’s grace in this Eucharist help us during this Advent season to so long for the One who loves us like no other, so as to recognize those things that keep us from being closer to God.

May the struggles we face in life serve to remind us that nothing in this life can ever bring total happiness, (although television commercials will try to tell you different). Such completeness can only be found in unity with Him as we long for that day when all will be one…all will be complete according to his promise.

Don’t let Fear deprive you of Life

In today’s Gospel parable Jesus illustrates an important message for us in these days when Coronavirus seems to be on the rise.

Fear is a powerful emotion. At its best, it can protect us from danger and motivate us to do the right thing. But at its worst, fear can hold us back from reaching our full potential. Fear can have a devastating effect upon our lives. It can cause misery and, at the very least, unhappiness. It can be an anesthetic that numbs us into inaction and paralyzes us. It may be fear of losing a job; fear that something I say will offend someone; fear of entering into a commitment- especially a lifelong commitment; fear of what lies ahead of us in the future we cannot see; fear of change; fear of coronavirus, and ultimately, fear of death.

What are some of the effects that fear can have upon us? Fear moves us to lock our doors and become prisoners in our own homes. It causes us to avoid new opportunities that could enhance the quality of life for us or others or produce growth. Fear of losing a job can motivate people even to dishonesty. Fear of groups of people (religious, racial, political, cultural) can cause us to demonize that group and believe untruths about those groups. Fear of commitment can deprive us of a fulfilling relationship or life choice. And the fear of death can keep us from dealing with what will be a reality for all of us and therefore leave us unprepared when that moment comes.

God is always calling us to more, calling us to the fullness of life. Such a call demands that we not allow fear to imprison us. It demands that we trust God’s promise that he will never leave us to face any situation alone.

During this time with Covid-19 We have heard words suggesting “wartime mentality,” where Coronavirus is the enemy upon which we are declaring war. They signal the gravity of this pandemic, and that our actions or inactions can carry life and death consequences. We know we need grit and strength in this moment, but very few of us have lived through anything comparable. So how do we show up to this “war” against the coronavirus, without letting feelings of anxiety and fear become debilitating? Without being so afraid that we bury our treasure.

Picture someone in your life who has lived through war. Who comes to mind? This past Wednesday was Veterans Day, a wonderful opportunity to remember people who faced fear and overcame it for the sake of our freedom. Maybe it’s a grandparent or great-grandparent. There was, for example, a woman we will call Clara. She was 18 years old when she immigrated to the United States with her family from Eastern Europe around 1920. She left behind the young man she loved, an orphaned teenager from the same village who couldn’t afford the trip to America. Clara worked as a seamstress in a factory in New York City and saved up enough money to bring her love over to the States. Alone, she boarded a ship, and made the long journey back to Poland, first by sea, then land and then by horse and buggy. It was a harsh journey that, at the time, women didn’t normally undertake by themselves. She made it to her village, found her love and brought him back to New York. They married and lived a hard life in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They had two children. She held her own family together through many tough challenges. She and so many others, like my parents, who inspire me daily, having raised eight children, did not let fear hold them back and inspired by them neither should we!

The late CARDINAL JOSEPH BERNARDINE of Chicago, who struggled with cancer for the last year and a half of his life; in a television interview said, “you can choose to look at death either as an enemy or as a friend. If you see death as an enemy, it can cause fear and anxiety. It can move you to run away. However, I choose to see death as a friend, which I accept as a doorway to the eternal.” His ability to overcome fear allowed cardinal Bernadine to live the rest of his earthly life more fully and empowered him to be an instrument of God.

When I suggest that God calls us to overcome fear, I am not suggesting that God is calling us to take irresponsible, immature risks. On the contrary this can also be imprisoning.

Our first reading today shows us that overcoming the fear of commitment can lead to a fulfilling marital relationship based on mutual respect and love.

In listening to today’s gospel, we might be shocked that the master was so hard on the third servant, since it may seem that he did nothing wrong. However, the master could not condone the fear that paralyzed that servant into inaction. The downfall of the third servant was that he allowed fear to paralyze him and did nothing with what he was entrusted. I am sure that all the servants experienced some fear when being entrusted with their master’s wealth. However, the other two servants did not allow themselves to be paralyzed by fear, but faced it, moved beyond it and were rewarded for it.

In the eucharist we are about to celebrate Jesus shows us how he dealt with fear and challenge. He also reminds us that he will never leave us to face life alone. May God give us the courage to face the life that lies before us and not allow fear to rob us of the fullness of life God wants to offer us.

VOTE: Build with Christ that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace

At least every four years we are given the opportunity to elect our civil leaders. The current politically polarizing atmosphere in our country can discourage people from participating in this privilege. However, it is not only our civil responsibility to vote, remembering those who have given their lives to protect this right, but it is also our responsibility as people of faith.

In the document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship compiled by the United States Catholic Bishops, quoting Pope Frances it states: “Everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life and contribute to the common good… Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. . . .You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor. The call to holiness requires a firm and passionate defense of the innocent unborn and equally sacred are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.

The Bishops go on to say: Our approach to contemporary issues is first and foremost rooted in our identity as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters to all who are made in God’s image. For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around… At all levels of society, we are aware of a great need for leadership that models love for righteousness (Wisdom 1:1) as well as the virtues of justice, prudence, courage, and temperance. Our commitment as people of faith to imitate Christ’s love and compassion should challenge us to serve as models of civil dialogue, especially in a context where discourse is eroding at all levels of society. Where we live, work, and worship, we strive to understand before seeking to be understood, to treat with respect those with whom we disagree, to dismantle stereotypes, and to build productive conversation in place of vitriol… we urge leaders and all Catholics to respond in prayer and action to the call to faithful citizenship. In doing so, we live out the call to holiness and work with Christ as he builds his kingdom of love.

It is my hope that all of us will take our responsibility to vote seriously, casting our vote for that person that each of us feels is the best person available to serve our nation and to address the various challenges we face as a nation and as a world.

There are a couple of websites that I will offer as places you can go to try to make this important decision, weighing all the issues.

The first site is The website of the United States Catholic Bishops:

The other is from EWTN:

Make sure you pray before you vote!

Lord God, as the election approaches, we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country, and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters, one and equal in dignity, especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned, Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender. We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.
We pray for discernment so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word, live your love, and keep in the ways of your truth as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – USCCB

The world is saved from a deadly virus by the ultimate sacrifice.

In 2002 Matthew Kelly wrote Rediscover Catholicism. In the prologue he shares a story that seems so appropriate at this time and so I share it with you for reflection.

Imagine this. You’re driving home from work next Monday after a long day. You turn on your radio and you hear a brief report about a small village in India where some people have suddenly died, strangely, of a flu that has never been seen before. It’s not influenza, but four people are dead, so the Centers for Disease Control is sending some doctors to India to investigate. You don’t think too much about it — people die every day — but coming home from church the following Sunday you hear another report on the radio, only now they say it’s not four people who have died, but thirty thousand, in the back hills of India. Whole villages have been wiped out and experts confirm this flu is a strain that has never been seen before.

By the time you get up Monday morning, it’s the lead story. The disease is spreading. It’s not just India that is affected. Now it has spread to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and northern Africa, but it still seems far away. Before you know it, you’re hearing this story everywhere. The media have now coined it “the mystery flu.” The President has announced that he and his family are praying for the victims and their families and are hoping for the situation to be resolved quickly. But everyone is wondering how we are ever going to contain it. That’s when the President of France makes an announcement that shocks Europe: He is closing the French borders. No one can enter the country, and that’s why that night you’re watching a little bit of CNN before going to bed. Your jaw hits your chest when a weeping woman’s words are translated into English from a French news program: There’s a man lying in a hospital in Paris dying of the mystery flu. It has come to Europe. Panic strikes. As best they can tell, after contracting the disease, you have it for a week before you even know it, then you have four days of unbelievable symptoms, and then you die. The British close their borders, but it’s too late. The disease breaks out in Southampton, Liverpool, and London, and on Tuesday morning the President of the United States makes the following announcement: “Due to a national security risk, all flights to and from the United States have been canceled. If your loved ones are overseas, I’m sorry. They cannot come home until we find a cure for this horrific disease.”

Within four days, America is plunged into an unbelievable fear. People are wondering, What if it comes to this country? Preachers on television are saying it’s the scourge of God. Then on Tuesday night you are at church for Bible study, when somebody runs in from the parking lot and yells, “Turn on a radio!” And while everyone listens to a small radio, the announcement is made: Two women are lying in a hospital in New York City dying of the mystery flu. It has come to America. Within hours the disease envelops the country. People are working around the clock, trying to find an antidote, but nothing is working. The disease breaks out in California, Oregon, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts. It’s as though it’s just sweeping in from the borders.

Then suddenly the news comes out: The code has been broken. A cure has been found. A vaccine can be made. But it’s going to take the blood of somebody who hasn’t been infected. So you and I are asked to do just one thing: Go to the nearest hospital and have our blood tested. When we hear the sirens go off in our neighborhood, we are to make our way quickly, quietly, and safely to the hospital. Sure enough, by the time you and your family get to the hospital it’s late Friday night. There are long lines of people and a constant rush of doctors and nurses taking blood and putting labels on it. Finally, it is your turn. You go first, then your spouse and children follow, and once the doctors have taken your blood they say to you, “Wait here in the parking lot for your name to be called.” You stand around with your family and neighbors, scared, waiting, wondering. Wondering quietly to yourself, What on earth is going on here? Is this the end of the world? How did it ever come to this? Nobody seems to have had their name called; the doctors just keep taking people’s blood. But then suddenly a young man comes running out of the hospital, screaming. He’s yelling a name and waving a clipboard. You don’t hear him at first. “What’s he saying?” someone asks. The young man screams the name again as he and a team of medical staff run in your direction, but again you cannot hear him. But then your son tugs on your jacket and says, “Daddy, that’s me. That’s my name they’re calling.” Before you know it, they have grabbed your boy. “Wait a minute. Hold on!” you say, running after them. “That’s my son.” “It’s okay,” they reply. “We think he has the right blood type. We just need to check one more time to make sure he doesn’t have the disease.” Five tense minutes later, out come the doctors and nurses, crying and hugging each another; some of them are even laughing. It’s the first time you have seen anybody laugh in a week. An old doctor walks up to you and your spouse and says, “Thank you. Your son’s blood is perfect. It’s clean, it’s pure, he doesn’t have the disease, and we can use it to make the vaccine.”

As the news begins to spread across the parking lot, people scream and pray and laugh and cry. You can hear the crowd erupting in the background as the gray-haired doctor pulls you and your spouse aside to say, “I need to talk to you. We didn’t realize that the donor would be a minor and we . . . we need you to sign a consent form.” The doctor presents the form and you quickly begin to sign it, but then your eye catches something. The box for the number of pints of blood to be taken is empty. “How many pints?” you ask. That is when the old doctor’s smile fades, and he says, “We had no idea it would be a child. We weren’t prepared for that.”

You ask him again, “How many pints?” The old doctor looks away and says regretfully, “We are going to need it all!”

“But I don’t understand. What do you mean you need it all? He’s my only son!”

The doctor grabs you by the shoulders, pulls you close, looks you straight in the eyes, and says, “We are talking about the whole world here. Do you understand? The whole world. Please, sign the form. We need to hurry!” “But can’t you give him a transfusion?” you plead. “If we had clean blood we would, but we don’t. Please, will you sign the form? What would you do?

In numb silence you sign the form because you know it’s the only thing to do. Then the doctor says to you, “Would you like to have a moment with your son before we get started?”

Could you walk into that hospital room where your son sits on a table saying, “Daddy? Mommy? What’s going on?” Could you tell your son you love him? And when the doctors and nurses come back in and say, “I’m sorry, we’ve got to get started now; people all over the world are dying,” could you leave? Could you walk out while your son is crying out to you, “Mom? Dad? What’s going on? Where are you going? Why are you leaving? Why have you abandoned me?”

The following week, they hold a ceremony to honor your son for his phenomenal contribution to humanity … but some people sleep through it, others don’t even bother to come because they have better things to do, and some people come with a pretentious smile and pretend to care, while others sit around and say, “This is boring!” Wouldn’t you want to stand up and say, “Excuse me! I’m not sure if you are aware of it or not, but the amazing life you have, my son died so that you could have that life. My son died so that you could live. He died for you. Does it mean nothing to you?”

Perhaps that is what God wants to say.

Father, seeing it from your eyes should break our hearts. Maybe now we can begin to comprehend the great love you have for us.


In the story of our salvation the difference is that the Son knew what it would cost and He chose to pay the price to save us and continues to do so by offering us His Body and Blood to give us life.

During this difficult time my we trust is His love

and place ourselves and those we love in His capable hands.

Untying the knots in our lives

In today’s Gospel (Mt 4:1-11)Jesus goes into the desert and there He is tempted by the devil. In our first reading from the book of Genesis, (Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7) Adam and Eve encountered the serpent in the Garden of Eden and there they too were tempted by the devil. We now enter into this forty-day period known as Lent and it is likely that we too will be tempted by the devil. The good news is that by God’s grace we do not have to succumb to the lies of the evil one as did our first parents, Adam and Eve; and not only that but as we recognize our sin, by God’s grace and boundless mercy, we can be forgiven.

At the Second Vatican Council they took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary.” Our first reading today, on this first Sunday of Lent illustrates the knot that was tied which the virgin Eve, bound tightly by her disobedience and unbelief; But, by saying yes to God when asked to be the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary loosened that knot by her faith and her trust in God.

Pope Francis in 2013 said, “…We know one thing: nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose “yes” opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We all have some of these knots and we can ask in our heart of hearts: What are the knots in my life?

They are big and small, loose and tight. These knots are symbolic of the problems and struggles we face in life. They are knots of discord in our families, misunderstandings between parents and children, knots tied by disrespect, violence, or apathy; and the knots of deep hurts between a husband and wife. The knots of a son or daughter addicted to drugs, children who are sick or separated from home or separated from God, the knots of alcoholism, abortion, depression, illness, unemployment, fear, or loneliness. These knots can come from within us or outside of us; they can be physical, spiritual, mental or emotional.

These knots suffocate the soul, beat us down, and try to rob us of our joy. And the worst of these knots are those that do their best to separate us from God, and God’s love. Sometimes the knots and tangles in our lives seem so ensnarled that we begin to think it’s hopeless even to try undoing them. However, Pope Francis reminds us, “It is a mistake to say anything of the sort! All the knots of our heart, every knot of our conscience, can be undone. He invites us to go to the blessed Mother saying, “She, as a woman of faith, will surely tell you: “Get up, go to the Lord: he understands you”. And she leads us by the hand as a Mother, our Mother, to the embrace of our Father, the Father of mercies. Nothing is impossible for God’s mercy.

This Lenten season we are invited to uncover the knots in our lives, and seeking the intercession of Mary, the mother of God, to take those knots to the Lord who by his boundless mercy will help us loosen and untie those knots so that we can live as children of God.

To remind us of the task before us each time you come to church during this Lenten season as visual reminder you will see this knotted rope on the cross and we ask you today, if you did not do so on Ash Wednesday, to take a small one to keep in your purse or pocket during this Lenten season and to use it during your times of reflection and prayer.

Once we know the knots in our lives it is then time to take them to the “Undoer of knots,” asking the Blessed Mother to intercede for us…and she, no doubt, will lead us to her beloved Son, Jesus, to seek his forgiveness and be healed by his merciful love. It is only by God’s grace that these knots that we tie in our lives can be undone. So, during this Lenten season as we remember that we are the children of Adam and Eve. May we also remember that by Baptism we are the children of the Blessed Mother, and Jesus, who was not only victorious over the evil one in the dessert but also victorious over sin and death. May we allow him to untie the knots in our lives, because as Pope Francis reminds us, “nothing is impossible for God’s mercy!”NOTHING!!

Knowing Who and Whose we are

Knowing Who and Whose we are

The abduction of Elizabeth Smart is well-known, as are many of the details of her story. In mid-summer 2002, Elizabeth was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom under cover of darkness by Brian David Mitchell, a deranged, messianic drifter.  She was taken to his camp deep in the woods, where she was brutalized by Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.  For nine months, Elizabeth endured her captivity, until in March of 2003 when she was recognized on a Salt Lake City street and freed. These broad strokes have been known publicly since the events occurred almost 18 years ago 

But it was not widely known until later just how flagrantly Mitchell and Barzee paraded with Elizabeth through her own neighborhood.  Scott Carrier, a neighbor and a parent of one of Elizabeth’s classmates, commented, “Through the summer Elizabeth’s photo hung in every window of every shop and on every lamp post.  Her father and her family appeared regularly on local, national and international news programs, begging and weeping for her safe return.  It seemed she was hidden somewhere far away, somewhere just beyond the broadcasting spectrum.  Then, when she was found nine months later…we realized she’d actually been right here in front of us, walking around downtown, reading in the library, eating in fast-food restaurants…They began coming into the city by day, passing within a quarter-mile of Elizabeth’s home…And no one figured it out.”

Elizabeth subsequently attested that she would not, she could not, cry out and reveal her name, because she believed Brian Mitchell’s threat to kill her and her family. Of all those around her, only her captor, the near-demonic Mitchell, knew her name.  But she never forgot who she was.  She knew her identity, even when no one else recognized her.

Halfway through Matthew’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to identify him.  He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Very soon thereafter, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John, and God’s own voice from heaven confirms in their hearing the true identity of Jesus.

          This is when Jesus’ identity is made known publicly and explicitly, when others begin to recognize accurately who Jesus is.  But long before Peter’s proclamation is Jesus’ own recognition of his identity.  Jesus, since his baptism in today’s Gospel has known who he is. We are told in the Gospel that –to Jesus alone, to only Jesus’ eyes and ears–the heaven of God opens and God’s own Spirit; God’s own voice names Jesus, saying, “You are my Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

          For thirteen chapters, then, from now until Peter’s proclamation in the middle of the Gospel, Jesus must walk through the world–including during a trip home to Nazareth on the streets of his own neighborhood–knowing who he is but unable to cry out his identity, unable to share his true nature.  Throughout all that time, he is a stranger to those who purport to know him and love him.  In cruel irony for Jesus, only the demons he encounters recognize him for who he truly is.

          It is a common literary motif: where a character knows his identity but cannot declare it. The character must walk through the world hidden in plain sight. Imagine for a minute, what it would be like to walk through the world in this way, hidden in plain sight, unrecognized even by those who love us? 

          Writers return again and again to this notion not because it is tantalizing fiction, but because it is agonizing truth.  Truth be told, we, each of us, travel the streets of our hometowns, the hallways of our workplaces and schools, even the rooms of our very homes, with our true full identities unknown to any but ourselves. Think how often both the accolades and the criticisms you receive seem to you to be spoken about someone else, about some stranger who only vaguely reminds you of yourself. Remember those times when you believe if the world just knew the real you it would love you and rejoice in you, along with those times when you feel quite sure if the world knew the real you it would recoil in fear and disgust. We must admit the irony that the only ones who truly seem to know us–the real me–are the demons: self-doubts, anxieties, our weaknesses toward vice.  The demons try to convince us of our identity.

          Except that today, above all other days, we are reminded on this Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, to remember into whom we are baptized.  We are called to remember who and whose we are! At his own baptism, God spoke to Jesus, and half a Gospel later God spoke to the disciples, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” That is his identity. 

          And in the Sacrament of Baptism, Jesus unites us to the Father, and Jesus’ identity becomes our own.  We emerge from the water reborn into him.  Lest we forget, baptism is not primarily about the opportunity to unpack the traditional christening gown (as beautiful as it may be) or take family photos or eat good cake.  Baptism is the sacrament in which God declares—that we no longer need to mute our tongues from declaring who we are.  We no longer need to duck into the shadows for fear of exposure to the world.  Because who we are–who you and I only and truly are–are the sons and daughters of God.  That identity is etched upon us more deeply than any mask.  Its beauty smoothes all ugliness.  Its truth silences the mocking laughter of the demons.           It turns out that often even we did not truly know ourselves.  What we secretly thought we were, in both our best and our worst moments, was wrong.  We are neither the expert nor the fraud, the angel nor the monster, the beauty nor the beast.  The truth of us is far simpler and far more glorious.  We are the baptized, bearing the seal of the Holy Spirit on our brows just as the dove descended on Jesus.  We can walk the streets of our neighborhoods, the hallways of our workplaces and schools, the rooms of our homes–indeed, we can look in the mirror–and say, “Look at me, the real me.  I am a child of God.  I am called beloved, by God.” And now that Same God nourishes us with the precious Body and Blood of his beloved Son. How blessed we are!!

A Grain from a Balance…

I usually don’t encourage people to read the Old Testament / the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead I encourage them to read the Gospels which are a bit less confusing. However, the first reading this weekend from the Book of Wisdom would be the exception. Not only is it not confusing; it is central to understanding our right relationship with God.

The author of the Book of Wisdom states, “the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” How can he say that? Obviously the author did not have the experience we have of seeing the universe through the lens of the Hubble Telescope! The Hubble Telescope tells us just the opposite. The universe is not tiny like a grain of sand or a drop of morning dew. On the contrary, the universe is vast; made up of billions upon billions of stars. We see no beginning or end to the universe. Our Milky Way Galaxy makes up a tiny portion of the universe and our mother earth is only a small portion of the Galaxy. So, how can the author speak of the universe as tiny? He can do so because he begins his statement by saying, “Before the LORD… “ Compared to its creator the universe is tiny.

Now if you find this news rather humbling imagine that while our earth is only a small part of the galaxy; what are we? You and I are just one of the roughly 7.5 billion people who inhabit the earth. Talk about tiny! But that is exactly the point the author of the Book of Wisdom is trying to make. If a comparison could help; How much attention do you give to a crumb on the kitchen counter? I would suspect not much. If you are anything like me you just sweep it off the counter onto the floor without a second thought. So each of us, I would suggest, is just a crumb on the counter of the universe!! Not very significant in the grand scheme of things.

A balance was a type of scale with a pan on either side used to weigh things long before we had digital scales. Place a grain of sand on one of the trays. Does the scale move? I think not. Yet the author of Wisdom says that is what the universe is in comparison to God. Which, by the way, makes us even more infinitesimal in comparison to God. Which could be very depressing to consider that you and I are just crumbs on the counter to God.

However, Wisdom does not stop here. The author goes on to say, “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…” This is the astounding mystery of our God. That while we give no thought to the crumbs on the counter; God cares about us crumbs. God loves us and shows mercy to us; ALL OF US! God does not love us because we are good. We are good because God loves us. Theologians refer to this as the love of predilection. The author goes on to say, “for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?” All exists because God loved it into existence and sustains it by his continued love. A song is given life, as it were by the singer. So, all that exists in given life though God’s love. Therefore, the autor can say, “…But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls,  for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

This brings us to better understand Jesus in the Gospel. We are told Zacchaeus, was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man. So, we know that just like other tax collectors of that time who cooperated with the Romans and extorted money from people to line their own pockets, he was hated. He and everyone else knew he was not “a good man.” However, to everyone’s surprise, (I imagine even Zacchaeus) when Jesus comes into the town he looks up in the tree and calls Zacchaeus by name saying, “today I must stay at your house.” Clearly this action by Jesus radically changed Zacchaeus’ life. How is it that with all the good people in that town Jesus chose to stay in Zacchaeus’ house? Because God is “the lover of souls;” all souls, maybe especially the souls that have strayed.

I find it interesting that we who are all crumbs think we can pass judgement on other crumbs believing that I am a better crumb than that one. That was true even in Jesus time. Yet the one is greater than us crumbs shows mercy and compassion.

Just as Jesus chose to spend time and dine with Zacchaeus in the Gospel; so He chooses to spend time with us and dine with us even though we are mere crumbs in the universe. Not only that but he provides the meal not just the bread and water we deserve but God invites us to feed on the very Body and Blood of His Only begotten Son.

I am sure that there are many things we can find to complain about today. However, when we are confronted with today’s readings we need to know how blessed we are to be loved by the creator of the universe, who thinks so much of each crumb He created that Jesus came, suffered, died and rose; and even now continually nourishes us that we may have life in Him. WOW!!!

Homily regarding the sexual abuse Scandal in society and the church delivered Aug. 18, 2019


Abuse Scandal 2019

Brothers and sisters, I’m sure most of you are aware of the horrific sexual abuse crisis that has haunted our Church and continues to be brought to the forefront in the media.

Last fall, New York State’s attorney general launched an investigation into the handling of cases of clergy sexual abuse by New York’s seven dioceses and the Archdiocese of New York. The probe is one of nine similar investigations underway by attorneys general across the nation. Meanwhile, the Child Victims Act, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Feb. 14, which was enacted this past Wednesday will open a one-year, look-back “window” into the state’s statute of limitations on civil suits related to child sexual abuse. During this one-year period, previously time-barred claims, because of the statute of limitations, of child sexual abuse can be filed against individuals and organizations, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred. This applies not only to the church but all victims of sexual abuse in all public and private institutions. With this occurring we will notice much more public attention being focused on this issue. For this reason I have chosen to preach on this difficult subject at all Masses this weekend.

In our second reading this weekend from the Letter to the Hebrews where the author implores, “…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” I believe that this is key for all Catholic believers. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we also address the issue of sexual abuse and as we work to heal and to restore victims, and continue to create a safe environment for all God’s people.

Bishop Robert Barron in his “Letter to a Suffering Church” describes the Clergy abuse scandal as a diabolical masterpiece of the evil one. In saying this he does not mean to imply that human beings bear no responsibility, actually the contrary. He says, and we know, that “the devil works typically through suggestion, insinuation, temptation and seduction.” Bishop Barron points out that the evil one “is powerless until he finds men and women who will cooperate with him.” The evil one even had the audacity to tempt Jesus himself, but Jesus always proved to be to0 strong to succumb to sin.

In our profession of faith we say “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”  And mind you; the Church is and always will be holy, but make no mistake, it is made up of sinful human beings not just among the laity but also among the clergy. I am not speaking this weekend to stand in condemnation of the men who committed these atrocities. While these acts are horrendous and sinful, I need…we need… to echo the words of St. Peter, who recognized as he knelt before Jesus that “I am a sinful man.” We are not called to stand in condemnation of the perpetrators, but to stand in condemnation of the acts and to assist the victim survivors. Leaving the final judgement to God. For we will all, each of us, stand before the judgement seat of God.

It would be understandable in light of this horrendous scandal in the church to consider abandoning the Catholic Church and your Catholic faith. But to do so would be to play right into the hands of the evil one. The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say, “[Jesus] endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God…in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus promised the Church, in spite of its human dimension… “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”        

While I will not go into detail here, the scriptures are very clear about Jesus’ love for children, in His role as the Good Shepherd. In fact Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is the lack of humility and service that has led us to this place near “The gates of hell.”

Finally, I quote Bishop Robert Barron, who reminds us that the church has faced very difficult times before. “In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel there is a scene of absolutely pivotal importance. Finding the Lord’s words concerning the Eucharist too much to take, the majority of Jesus’ followers abandoned him. Turning to his inner circle…Jesus simply says, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ [With the entire movement hanging in the balance Peter speaks up] Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

While the context might be different; the fundamental principle is the same: If you have found in Jesus, through the church, everlasting life, salvation, and the answer to the deepest longings of your life, as I have. Then, no matter how difficult things become, and no matter how many others turn away, you and I must stay!!

I could say so much more but for now this is enough. In order to assist you on your journey; at all the exits you will find a letter from our Bishop Salvatore Matano regarding this issue. You will also find a link in the bulletin to a video message he produced and we have ordered 100 copies of Bishop Barron’s book: Letter to a Suffering Church. Please watch our parish app for information regarding their arrival.

In the gospel Jesus says that he has “come to set the earth on fire…” It is not a fire that destroys but a fire of the cross that purifies; a fire that purges from sin and a fire that strengthens. In metallurgy, there is a process called “tempering”, where materials like iron and steel are heat treated to increase their strength. May we allow this fire to burn within our souls and within the church to purify us and strengthen our faith.

I would like to close with the closing prayer from the chaplet of mercy; offering it for the victim survivors of sexual abuse and also for the perpetrators of this horrendous act:

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.


I did not preach this week. Deacon Bob McCormick preached and shared the following inspiring story as he reflected on today’s Gospel about “the scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here is the story he shared:

Alexander Papaderos was born on the island of Crete. During the Second World War Alexander’s hometown, Lividas, was destroyed by the Nazis and Alexander, still a child, was interned in a concentration camp.

After the war he was determined to be a force for peace and forgiveness. He studied theology in the Orthodox church and in 1965 opened an institute designed to promote peace and reconciliation. He would lecture on various topics regarding the Greek Culture.

At the last session on the last morning of a two-week seminar on Greek culture, Dr. Alexander Papaderos turned and made his ritual gesture to signal the conclusion of class and asked, “Are there any questions?”

Quiet swept over the room. The two weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now, there was only silence.  “No questions?” Dr. Papaderos said as he swept the room with his eyes. One student raised his hand. “Dr. Papaderos. what is the meaning of life?”

The usual laughter followed and people began to stir about getting ready to leave. Dr. Papaderos held UP his hand and stilled the room to perfect peace. He looked at the student who had asked the question for a long time to let the student know he didn’t appreciated him trying to make light of the situation.

“I will answer your question,” Dr. Papaderos said as everyone slowly slid back into their seats.

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went something like this:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the biggest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light – truth, understanding, knowledge – is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the dark places in the hearts of men and women – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of life.”

And then he took the small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto the face of the student who had asked the question. The student in a quiet voice said, “thank you.”

We too are mere fragments of a mirror through which God’s light can shine as did the light of the Samaritan in today’s Gospel when we choose compassion and mercy rather than selfishness, which is always the message of the Eucharist we receive.

Don’t forget, “The Lord is with you!” Father Stan