Sunday, May 28, 2023


When you think about it, our world is full of empty promises -- and not just the obvious ones from advertisements about losing weight or attracting members of the opposite sex. Everything in our culture seems to be based on promises: you will be happy if you have possessions, power, prestige, pleasure, or whatever else the world can offer you.

But humans have learned from experience since the earliest days of history, that none of these things can give us ultimate satisfaction, ultimate meaning. Yet still, we find ourselves in headlong pursuit of these things, setting ourselves up for inevitable failure each time.

Was it Saint Augustine who said something like “there’s a God shaped hole in the center of each of us, and the only thing that can fill it is God?.”

A moment's reflection can reveal the fatal flaw in the promises made by the world: The "world: is bounded by time and space, so by definition there can nothing outside that time-space box, nothing beyond death, nothing "ultimate": The world of the senses is all that we get. So naturally, anything that the world promises cannot be "ultimate" but only passing. At the last supper, Jesus reminds us, that we are not of this world, and that its promises will never be fulfilled, never make us who we are meant to be.  This is why Augustine wrote that God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Everything else is empty promises.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate that the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit.“ They

and those who listened to their preaching, were filled with the spirit of the risen Christ. And this spirit can never disappoint, because it is the spirit of the Easter mystery. The Paschal mystery in which we believe, never disappoints us. Even in our worst moments of sin, or suffering, of disappointment, or depression, the spirit is there with us to shed light in our darkness, to give consolation in our suffering, and to bring life out of death itself. We Christians don’t see this as an empty promise but as the central mystery of life, pointing us to life beyond the grave. .

We are Easter people. Christ has already risen from the dead, and we have already risen with him. The promise is that he will come again to finish the job. But this again is hardly an empty promise.

What can ultimately fill our yearning hearts? We know the answer, and so on this feast of Pentecost we pray:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful!”

Saturday, May 20, 2023


The gospel for this year's celebration of the Ascension is Matthew's account (28:16-20). The apostles havegone to Galilee as they'd been instructed, and there the risen Jesus appeared to him. Then follows a puzzling verse: "When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted."

The Greek verb meaning “to doubt” is very revealing: distazō  comes from di- “double” and stasis, “standing.” Literally it means "to stand in two places at the same time." 

It's used to describe what happened to St. Peter one night on the Sea of Galilee. The apostles, you remember, were out on the sea in a boat in the middle of the night. Jesus, who had remained back on shore, suddenly appeared walking toward them on the water. They were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Peter, being his usual impulsive self, spoke up, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water,” and Jesus invited him, “Come!” Peter immediately climbed out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. So far so good. But when he saw how strong the wind was, Peter suddenly remembered that humans can’t walk on water, and he became terrified. He started to sink, and shouted, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand, caught hold of Peter and lifted him to safety. Then the Lord scolded him, “O you of little faith! Why did you doubt (distazo)" (Mt 14:31)?

When Jesus asks Peter "Why did you doubt" he is asking literally “Why were you standing in two places at once?” His question describes Peter's situation perfectly: Peter is thinking two contradictory things, namely that Jesus has the power to let someone walk on water, and that walking on water is physically impossible for humans, including him. 

So, when distazo appears in the verse "they worshiped, but they doubted," we have to wonder what's going on, First, the Greek can also be translated "but some doubted." You can take your choice: Was it all of the disciples who doubted, or just certain ones?

'Ascension' by Mariotto di Nardo (c.1395)

Second, the scholars wonder what was the object of the doubt. Was it that they doubted the possibility of the experience? Or maybe they were hesitant about "worshiping" Jesus?

In any case, maybe this little verse can be a source of consolation for you as it is for me. I sometimes find myself walking on the waves with Peter, trusting that the Lord will take care of me, when all of a sudden I lose my nerve and start to worry about some problem that I had already turned over to the Lord. I'm starting to "stand in two places" at the same time: I'm sure that God will take care of my problem, but  at the same time I"m worried that God won't come through for me. And, just like Peter, I start to sink into the sea, swallowed up by waves of anxiety and stress.

Then, with Peter, I cry out "Lord, save me." And he always does, of course. 

I just wish that the risen Lord didn't have to keep yanking me out of the waves. But at least I'm in good company: Peter and the disciples. This is why we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


The past two weekends have been so full that I've had to neglect my blog. My apologies to those who enjoy reading my weekly posts. I would like to present to you at post from a couple of years ago, trusting that it will still hjave some relevance. 

This year our Archbishop has once again transferred the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord from Thursday to the following Sunday, May 24. The message of the feast, however, remains the same. The liturgy of the paschal season has been leading us toward this feast for weeks, and reflecting on the meaning of the mystery of the Ascension can be a help to all of us during these pandemic days.  

In  the naïve worldview of ancient Israel, where the earth was as flat as a dinner plate and the firmament was above and the netherworld below, the idea of Jesus’ “ascending” up into a cloud was easily accepted. Too easily, perhaps, because it would then seem to mean that Jesus, taken “up” into heaven, had gone away from us and was thus no longer present.

Fortunately our modern astronomy won’t allow us to settle for this simple picture of Jesus rising “upward” to heaven. And that’s great, because we’re not as likely to misinterpret it as meaning “Jesus left us.” We are forced to look for the meaning of the event rather than simply settling for “Jesus went up into the clouds of heaven.” And it is precisely this theological meaning that can be a comfort to us during these sad and uncertain times of pandemic.

The feast of the Ascension celebrates Jesus’ passing beyond the familiar dimensions of time and space, beyond the reach of our senses and into the presence of the Father. So what? Well, think about it: This means that Jesus is no longer bound by time and space, so he is now more present to us than he ever was previous to the Ascension. He is in our hearts and bodies, in our friends and our foes, in the spring breeze and, mysteriously, in the strands of DNA inside the novel coronavirus.

Now, we may be repelled by the idea that God could somehow be present in a terrible, deadly virus and all of the suffering it has caused, but that’s far more comforting than the alternate view – that God is totally absent from those tragic events and horrible microorganisms, and that we are left to face these horrors on our own. A God who’s only present to us when times are good is not much of a God.

So as we continue to struggle with the depressing statistics, the deaths of family members or friends, the dark uncertainties of unemployment and closed classrooms, let's remember the lesson of the Ascension: Christ is intimately present with each of us in the midst of this whole mess, and is walking every step with us through this valley of the shadow of death.

 "Though I walk in the valley of darkness
I fear no evil, for you are at my side. (Psalm 23:4)" 

Saturday, May 6, 2023


"Lord, show us the Father,"

Twice this week the liturgy presented us with the passage from John Chapter 14, in which Philip ask Jesus “show us the father.” 

As a Jew, Philip is aware of that mysterious passage in the 24th chapter of Exodus:

Moses then went up [Mount Sinai] with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and they beheld the God of Israel. Under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tilework, as clear as the sky itself. Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank (Ex.24:9-11).

So maybe Philip has in mind some sort of great theophany like this one. But look at Jesus’s response. He has been revealing to his apostles the deep, intimate closeness that he has with his father. So close that the two are united, almost as one. So Jesus answers “he who sees me sees the father.” 

But this dialogue is getting too abstract, it seems, even for the writer of John’s gospel. So Jesus goes on in a practical vein: "Whoever believes in me, will do the works that I do, and even greater than these."

Now he is speaking about doing. But if this not a promise that we’ll be able to perform miracles the way he did, what kind of works could he be talking about?  Look at the context: In the preceding chapter he has just washed the disciples' feet, and is about to give himself in love to die on the cross. This is who Jesus is. He is also revealing to us who God the Father is: God is love. Pure, self-sacrificing love.

In our own lives, Jesus is telling us, we have to be about the same works of love -- and we can’t wait for someone to ask us “Show me the Father.” We have to be showing this Father all the time to everyone we meet. 

To a friend who is grieving, we can show the Father of compassion and comfort. 

To someone who is discouraged, we can show the Father of strength and perseverance. 

Showing people the Father is always about love. Loving is our vocation as baptized Christians. 

Our Lord is asking us to spend our lives "showing people the Father," the Father of love, compassion, humility, and peace.

Saturday, April 29, 2023


A couple of days ago I was reading the story of David and the Philistine giant Goliath. The famous tale tells of how the two mismatched warriors
 stood opposite one another at a distance and traded threats and insults in a kind of preliminary ritual. Then, when the ritual shouting was over, the writer tells us "David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine." (1 Sam. 17:48)

When I read this verse I was reminded that I'm not very good at "running toward the battle line" in a potential conflict situation. I'm one of those folks who tries to avoid conflict whenever possible. Life, however, presents me with plenty of situations in which I have to face a problem or a person that I would really prefer to avoid.

During the Easter season the readings at mass present us every day with tales of various apostles defying the authorities in order to preach the Gospel, of their being thrown in jail and scourged and persecuted. Yet in the face of all this they continue to spread the Good News. Running toward the fight, just like David. 

Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, a religious, mystic and (of all things)an activist. At the time, the pope was residing in the imposing "Palace of the Popes" in Avignon, not in Rome. Catherine, in the midst of her profound mystical experiences, felt called to go to Avignon and try to convince the pope to return to Rome. (Her appeal fell on deaf ears at the time.) She got involved in various disputes within the Church as well as in political disagreements. She never seemed to be cowed by men of power and authority whom she thought needed to be confronted.

In reflecting on Catherine's approach to life, I saw right away the source of her remarkable courage: Her intense, intimate inner life with God. She never acted on her own initiative, but in response to what she saw as God's will for her. She was confident that the Lord was supporting her all the time. 

David, too, was confident that God would support him in his fight against Goliath, because Goliath had dared to insult the armies of the God of Israel. So it wasn't really David's fight, it was the Lord's. 

And what about those fearless preachers in the early Church? They had the same source of courage: The Holy Spirit had captivated their hearts and minds, so their egos were not involved in their work: This was entirely the work of the Lord; so they could hand over everything to God including especially, their worries.

There's a good lesson for me in these figures, David, the apostles and St. Catherine of Siena. When I find myself lacking the courage to face a difficult situation, I can imitate their example and call on the Lord and turn the conflict over to Him. Why should I have to face this problem on my own when the Lord keeps offering to take my cares upon Himself? Why am I so slow and so stubborn?

A famous quote from St. Catherine is:
"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

I think I'll pray to St. Catherine for some help in learning to let go of who I want to be so I can be who God meant me to be!  

Saturday, April 22, 2023



The book we’re reading at supper in the monastery is entitled

Louis Bamberger

Louis Bamberger: Department Store Owner and Philanthropist. I’m really enjoying it because the book brings back all sorts of memories of shopping in Bamberger’s department store in downtown Newark as a little child.

The author writes about the early days of department stores, and the innovations that they introduced. One new approach to retail sales was the “fixed price,” which meant there was no haggling involved: the price of each item was marked, and that was what the customer paid. I had not realized that fixed pricing was such an innovation, but apparently haggling over the price of an item must have been an ordinary part of the shopping experience. The French even have a verb based on their word for “merchant:”  “marchander” means to bargain, to negotiate.

By coincidence, this afternoon as I was studying the New Testament Greek noun "logos" ("word"), I came across the following passage that made me think about the custom of haggling over prices:

“ Whenever we regard the Christian message as something with which to make terms rather than something to which to surrender, we are in danger of making it ineffective.” William Barclay, New Testament Words, page 185.

As I read this passage, I realized that I often look at the gospel as something that I want to negotiate about, not wanting to pay the full price. I pictured myself constantly bargaining, haggling with God over exactly how much of myself I'm willing to give in response to the Gospel. I was a bargain-hunting  customer in an old-fashioned dry goods store haggling over the cost of some item I wanted to buy.  

If it's true that all too often I try to marchander over Jesus’ message, to water down the demands that the Divine Word is making of me, what would happen if I were to live my life as an unbroken and unconditional surrender to God’s love? No haggling over the price. This is, of course, undoubtedly what the Lord wants from me: my response to the gospel is supposed to be total and complete.

So, bottom line, what is the cost of discipleship? When I find myself asking how I can get the price down a little bit, and I start negotiating, the ghost of  Louis Bamberger appears and reminds me that the cost is not negotiable -- it's a fixed price, just as advertised. 


Saturday, April 15, 2023


A friend pointed out to me a day or two ago that I hadn't written a post for Easter. I had been so delightfully busy during Holy Week that writing a post simply slipped my mind. Please excuse me!

Here's something I've been reflecting on since Thursday, when I preached on the day's gospel passage. In
the familiar story of the two apostles on their way home to Emmaus on the first Easter morning, Jesus suddenly begins walking with them along the road. The gospel tells us, however, that “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” I began to reflect on that little sentence, “their eyes were held back from recognizing him.” The Greek verb krateo , "to hold back" connotes a powerful force. For instance, in Chapter 7 of the Book of Revelation four angels are assigned to “hold back” the four winds in the four corners of the Earth. Here we can imagine the cosmic dimension of the power of this "holding back."

So, returning to the two disciples on the road, what is the powerful force that is "holding back" their eyes from recognizing Jesus as he walks along beside them? We could think of itas something extremely powerful, like the strength of those four apocalyptic angels holding back the winds.

Jesus has become unrecognizable to the two sad disciples, a stranger to them. Jesus as a stranger, you see, represents the mystery of God‘s ways. The two disciples are not expecting a suffering, crucified Messiah. (Remember that one of them admits to Jesus “we thought he was the one to redeem Israel.") But now, after the crucifixion they have given up that hope and have started walking home. God’s way of delivering Israel is not one they could ever have expected. And so they do not recognize the Savior when he comes. Their preconceptions are what "holds back their eyes."

Our preconceptions can sometimes blind us, too, from recognizing the Risen Jesus. When things go terribly wrong, say, when some painful event brings awful suffering into our life or the life of someone we love, we can lose the sense of God’s presence in our sufferings. In short, Jesus can become a stranger, just as he was to the two disciples on the road, as he represents the mystery of God’s ways.

But what an advantage we have over those two disciples on the road! Our advantage centers on the idea ofthe “Paschal Mystery." The Paschal mystery includes Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. All three are  inseparably united, The Church doesn’t celebrate the feast of Easter in isolation from Jesus’ suffering and death. For instance, the missal has this official title at the beginning of the Holy Thursday liturgy: “The Sacred Paschal Triduum.” We can't have Easter without Good Friday.  

So, unlike those two companions on the road, we who believe in the Paschal Mystery should be on the lookout for the crucified Messiah all the time. We know he comes to us in so many guises: in our own sufferings as well as in the person of  the sick, those who are suffering emotionally or mentally, victims of war, prejudice, or natural disaster, and so forth.

Let us pray for the grace to be quick to recognize the victorious crucified Savior as he walks beside us every day, especially in our own particular sufferings, whatever they may be.

Have a Blessed Easter Season!