The witness of St. Joseph as helpful antidote to escapism


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Not far into his new book, Let Us Dream, Pope Francis, with the skill of someone trained in the Ignatian method of discernment of spirits, cautions the reader to a prevalent temptation of our times – escapism, the desire to seek distraction from reality, especially if reality is unpleasant or demanding.  The pope later lists this need to escape reality as one of the contributing causes to the virus of indifference effecting our world – the other virus starkly revealed by our world and society’s response to the Covid-19 virus.   Escaping reality can certainly be achieved through such means as materialism, alcohol and drug use and forms of sexual addiction but the Holy Father focuses rather on attitudes and mindsets that any of us can easily fall into and even choose to cultivate in our hearts. Here I want to look at the three ways of escaping reality that the Holy Father lays out in his book – narcissism, discouragement and pessimism – and, since our current liturgical year has been dedicated to St. Joseph, suggest the witness of the foster father of our Lord and chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary as an antidote to this desire to escape reality. 

St. Joseph speaks no words in any of the gospels but from his actions and his life we quickly learn that he is a man who was able to face reality head on with faith and conviction.  How was he able to do this?  Maybe we will be able to gain some insight when we look at what he did not do. 

Narcissism takes you to the mirror to look at yourself, to center everything on you so that’s all you see.  You end up so in love with the image you created that you end up drowning in it.  Then news is only good if it’s good for you personally; and if the news is bad, it’s because you are its chief victim.  (Let Us Dream, Pope Francis)

St. Joseph was not a narcissist.  In Matthew’s gospel we are told that immediately after it was found that Mary was with child, Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  There must have been confusion, hurt and possibly even anger stirring in the heart of Joseph in the revelation of Mary’s pregnancy but – even with all that – Joseph is “unwilling to expose (Mary) to shame”.  Joseph did not allow himself to be carried off by narcissism to the mirror to fixate only upon himself in this situation.  Joseph did not get lost in himself – did not play the role of the chief victim – but rather accepted the reality of the situation as he knew it to be and then made the choice to act out of the principles he chose to live by rather than reacting out of hurt and anger.  Scripture says that he “was a righteous man” and here is where the virtues that he had acquired, the virtues that comprised his righteousness showed forth – a faith stronger than the hurts and disappointments of life and a care and compassion for the other person even in a difficult moment. 

Discouragement leads you to lament and complain about everything so that you no longer see what is around you nor what others offer you, only what you think you’ve lost.  Discouragement leads to sadness in the spiritual life, which is a worm that gnaws away at you from the inside.  Eventually it closes you in on yourself and you can’t see anything beyond yourself.  (Let Us Dream, Pope Francis)

If Joseph was a man prone to loud lamenting and complaining, would he have been someone open to the different instructions of the angels in his dreams?  Would he have even heard the messages or even paid them any heed?  I don’t think so.  Our actions and choices have consequences and Pope Francis is reminding us of this truth.  Loud lamenting and complaining – in addition to being annoying to those persons around who have to endure it – blinds and deafens the lamenter and complainer to all that is around them, even spiritual realities that offer hope, guidance and endurance.  If we have fallen into the fallacy of thinking that God doesn’t care or that life is always unfair maybe it seems that way because we are actually whining too much to notice how God is indeed present and how there are good things in life.  St. Joseph did not complain nor give into discouragement and therefore his heart was free and open to the instruction of the angel. 

And then there’s pessimism, which is like a door you shut on the future and the new things it can hold; a door you refuse to open in case one day there’ll be something new on the doorstep.  (Let Us Dream, Pope Francis)

St. Joseph was not pessimistic.  If he was, he would never have taken the first step in his journey to Bethlehem and then on to Egypt and then to Nazareth.  These journeys in faith and the fact that he was able to make them, demonstrate that Joseph was not paralyzed by pessimism – that he was able to open the door to the new and to the possible even as there were real risks involved.  Rather than pessimism, Joseph chose faith and that gave him the hope and courage necessary to move forward into life.    

The desire to escape reality is a besetting temptation and sin of our time and it manifests itself in multiple forms including attitudes and mindsets we can each carry within our own hearts.  Pope Francis has given the Church a wonderful gift in this year dedicated to St. Joseph.  The humble carpenter and foster father of our Lord had the strength of character to face reality with faith and conviction and he was blessed in this.  God chose the foster father of his son very well. Hopefully we can learn from this quiet saint and realize that the lessons he has to give can truly be an antidote to the temptation to escape reality and the virus of indifference in our world.    

The answer is in your hands – Feast of Christ the King



There is a story told in the Lakota tribe of the Man who Spoke Softly.  (Taken from The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III.) 

In a certain village there was a leader, a headman, who was respected for his quiet ways and good decisions.  He never sought to become a leader but as a young man he proved that he could think clearly and act calmly on the battlefield.  He was a good provider for his family and he took care of the helpless ones.  For these reasons the people asked him to be their leader and he reluctantly agreed.  As leader, he made good decisions and always spoke the truth in council meetings and under his leadership the village prospered and grew strong.

Two generations grew up under his leadership and the man was getting on in years.  There were a few young men in the village who yearned for a new leader.  They wanted someone with more daring and flair – more fitting to their prosperous village, they thought.  They had forgotten it was the headman’s leadership that grew their village. 

The young men formed a plan.  They would catch a small bird and one of them – in front of the whole village – would question the headman.  “Grandfather, I have a bird in my hand.  You are wise.  Is the bird dead or alive?”  If the headman answered “alive” then the young man would crush the bird and kill it before opening his hand.  If the headman said “dead” then the young man would open his hand and the bird would fly free.  Either way, they thought, the headman would be shown to be weak and uncertain. 

So, on the morning of an important tribal gathering when all the people were gathered, one of the young men called out in a loud voice to the headman. “Grandfather, I have an important question.  I have a bird in my hand.  Since you are wise, is the bird dead or alive?’

A hush fell over the people.  They knew that some of the young men were wanting new leadership and some wondered if the young men were right.  They waited for the headman’s answer. 

The old headman approached the young man with the question.  He stood quietly, seeming to study the ground as the people whispered.  Finally, the headman turned to the young man and smiled patiently and spoke firmly and gently as he always did when something important was to be said.

“Grandson,” he said, “the answer is in your hands.” 

In a sense, the same answer is given to us on this Feast of Christ the King.  Yes, Christ is King.  Jesus is the Son of the Father.  He is risen from the dead – the firstborn.  Jesus is king of all creation.  This is truth and whether people like it or not, whether people or nations acknowledge it or ignore it does not really matter.  Jesus Christ is King!

But what resides in our hands, what we can either crush or let live, is whether we choose to live our lives in such a way as to acknowledge Christ as King.  This is what is within our power.  Grandson/Granddaughter, the answer is in your hands. 

Jesus, himself, gives us the criteria by which we will show forth our answer to this most fundamental of questions before all of creation when he returns as King of all nations and just judge. 

When I was hungry, did you feed me?  When I was thirsty, did you give me drink?  When I was a stranger, did you welcome me?  When I was naked, did you clothe me?  When I was ill, did you care for me?  When I was in prison did you visit me?

Jesus Christ is King!  This is truth and no power in earth or heaven can alter it.  God has willed it.  What is within our power is how we choose to live our life in relation to this truth. 

Grandson/Granddaughter, the answer is in your hands. 

Contemplation in Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

It was the evening of the last day of my sabbatical and I was sitting in my truck at a roadside pullout gazing across Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.  Lamar Valley was formed by the weight of towering glaciers acting over centuries that pressed down, hollowed and smoothed out the terrain underneath.  The valley itself is wide and open with a river coursing in the middle and a stand of trees seeming to reside almost in the center of the expanse.  Some days prior, the Junction Butte wolf pack had wandered out of the valley toward the Slough Creek area of the park so there was not the energy and noise of wolf watchers spotting through scopes and tourists hoping to catch a picture of one of the park’s famous apex predators.   

The valley was quiet with bison scattered here and there grazing, one lone coyote mousing for dinner and a little remaining snow left in the shadowed areas of hillsides and low ravines.  Neither a person nor a car could be seen and as I watched the sun set with the sky turning a phenomenal range of colors I sat in my truck and prayed evening prayer and then listened to Symphony No. 3 by Aaron Copland.  I cannot imagine a more appropriate setting for the sweep and expanse of Copland’s final symphony than Lamar Valley. 

In the ninth chapter of the book Happiness and Contemplation, Josef Pieper lays out the three elements of contemplation.  The first element is that contemplation is the silent perception of reality.  It is an understatement to say that this is fundamental.  Contemplation, by its very nature, points to objective reality and it proclaims that this reality can be perceived.  Judeo-Christian thought goes further and says that it wants to be perceived.  The second element is that contemplation is a form of knowing arrived at not by thinking but by seeing, intuition.  Drawing from the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Pieper reminds the reader that intuition – properly understood – is the higher form of knowing, above reason.  In intuition the object is already present where in rational thinking the object is being striven for. 

 Contemplation, then, is intuition; that is to say, it is a type of knowing which does not merely move toward its object, but already rests in it … In intuition there is no ‘future tension,’ no desire directed toward the future, which desire corresponds with the nature of thinking.  The person who knows by intuition has already found what the thinker is seeking; what he knows is present ‘before his eyes.’

The third element is that contemplation can be characterized as a knowing accompanied by amazement.  Amazement is born from our perceiving a reality that yet remains beyond our full comprehension.  This amazement also carries with it a bit of an unease because – at gut level – we know that we are in the presence of that which is so much more and, through that, we are being summoned to be more.  Quoting Paul Claudel, Pieper writes, the call of perfection to the imperfect, which call we name love. 

It was a moment of contemplation for me.  Sitting in my Toyota Tacoma, gazing on the expanse of Lamar Valley, caught up in the sweep of Copland’s symphony and enriched by the prayer of the psalms.  Amazement and gratitude were born and I remain richer for it. 

Eventually another car arrived at the pullout.  That is the nature of Yellowstone – a parked car attracts other cars.  Everyone looking to spot something … anything.  A man got out of the passenger side while his companion remained in the car.  I nodded my head to him but did not want to speak, did not want to break the moment.  The man looked through his binoculars upon the valley for a few minutes.  Eventually he returned to his car and as he opened the door, I heard him say, “There is nothing here.  Let’s go.” 

“No,” I thought, “there is so much here.  So, so much.” 

May we have eyes to see. 

Moses and the Shepherd: Truth and Charity (28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A)


In his book “Beginning to Pray” Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom shares a little story about Moses from Hebrew folklore:

Moses finds a shepherd in the desert. He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has into a bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away. So Moses asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies, “This is God’s milk.” Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means. The shepherd says, “I always take the best milk I possess, and I bring it as an offering to God.”

Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naive faith, asks, “And does God drink it?”

“Yes,” replies the shepherd, “he does.”

Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk. Yet the shepherd is sure that he does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.

Moses then goes out to pray in the desert. The shepherd hides, the night comes and in the moonlight the shepherd sees a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left and heads straight toward the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again.

The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast. “What’s the matter?” he asks.

The shepherd says “You were right. God is pure spirit, and he doesn’t want my milk.” Moses is surprised. He says, “You should be happy. You know more about God than you did before.”

“Yes, I do,” says the shepherd, “but the only thing I could do to express my love for him has been taken away from me.”

Moses sees the point. He retires into the desert and prays hard. In the night, in a vision, God speaks to him and says, “Moses, you were wrong. It is true that I am pure spirit. Nevertheless, I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.”

In his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”, Pope Francis dedicates a few sentences to the relationship between truth and charity (#184).  Charity needs the light of truth (both the light of reason and the light of faith) in order to not be boxed-in and stymied to mere personal feeling and inclination.  Truth, we learn from the Hebrew folk story, needs charity in order to avoid the danger of a cold calculation and manipulation that often wounds the little and the most vulnerable. 

In this Sunday’s gospel (Mt. 22:1-14) we have the strange scene of the king at a wedding feast for his son – a feast where all sorts of people were brought in because the originally invited guests refused to come – casting out a guest found not wearing a wedding garment.  In light of the little folk story and in light of Pope Francis’ reflection on truth and charity could the wedding garment found lacking be charity?

The wedding guest had the truth that he was invited to the banquet.  “Go out,” said the king to his servants, “into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.”   So, the man had this going for him; yet, it seems the man lacked the charity born of an honest and humble relationship with God.  Paul alludes to his own wedding garment of charity when, in the second reading (Phil. 4:12-14, 19-20) he writes, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.”  Paul is not boasting in his own truth here but humbly expressing his gratitude both for God’s grace and for the love and care of his brothers and sisters.  Truth without charity will often boast that its isolation is a sign of its rightness and strength and because of this it cannot honestly enter a banquet with others.  The king knew this.  Truth and charity can celebrate in the banquet because – when the two are humbly held together – it is recognized that all is pure gift.  That both Moses and the humble shepherd are welcome and have a place in the banquet. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines…” 

We live in the graced truth of being invited to the banquet.  May our wedding garment of charity always be found worthy. 

My conscience bears me witness.


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st-paul-in-prison-rembrandt-1627-fe2971c3We all know of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and how that encounter radically changed his life.  The man who was so zealous in his persecution of the early church became the apostle proclaiming Christ to the Gentiles.  But do we truly realize how much that conversion cost Paul himself?  The second reading for today (Romans 9:1-5 – one of Paul’s later writings) gives us, I believe, a glimpse into the lifelong deep pain that Paul endured.  “…I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”  Paul carries both the pain of seeing so many of his people – the Jewish people – not wanting to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and he also carries the pain of himself (by his conversion) being cut off from the very people he loves and so identifies with!  The man carried heartbreak just as he proclaimed Christ as Savior to the world.

What gave Paul the strength and the endurance to do this?  I think the answer is given in the first part of the reading.  “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness…”  A conscience that is grounded in Christ gives a strength of endurance that no worldly pain or struggle can overcome.  Paul witnesses to this.

Do we recognize the strength, endurance and hope that can only come from a conscience that is grounded in God?  In the first reading (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a), God reveals himself to Elijah not in the heavy wind, the earthquake or the roaring fire but in the “tiny whispering sound.”  It is in that tiny sound that God reveals himself and that the prophet covers his face in reverence and awe.  The tiny whispering sound of a conscience grounded in Christ is a holy reality that must be held in reverence and awe.  The prophets and saints teach this.  Throughout history the might and roar of all forms of oppression have themselves been shattered on the quiet strength and endurance of consciences grounded in Christ.  The saints witness this time and time again.

In the storms of life when all seems uncertain and nothing appears stable, it is Christ who is shown to be the true still point and even the roar and tumult of the storm cannot overcome the conscience that is fixed on him.  Peter walked on water, even as the storm thrashed around him and the boat with those within was tossed about, as long as he kept his eyes fixed on Christ.  (Mt. 14:22-33)

The readings are clear – do not dismiss the strength, the endurance, the hope that is found in the conscience grounded in Christ.

“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness…”

The Weeds and the Wheat: Strive for Justice … and be Kind.


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Weeds and WheatIn the Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, July 19th we are given the teaching of the weeds and the wheat (Mt. 13:24-30) as well as a reading from the Book of Wisdom (Ws. 12:13, 16-19).

In Wisdom, God teaches us that those who are just must also be kind.  How easily we overlook the strength of kindness.  Yet, God – the source of all that is – does not.    But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you.  And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.

This kindness and patience of God is given further evidence in our Lord’s parable on the weeds and the wheat in the field.  The master of the field will not rip up the weeds and thus the good wheat but will wait.  God’s patience is God’s and not ours.  God will allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat and God alone will decide the appropriate time to harvest.  But the teaching comes to us too; for (as Wisdom says) God has determined that those who are just must be kind.

In our day we are witnessing a strong desire to address injustice.  This is a good thing but there is also, I would say, a harsh tenor to our times and I wonder if this harshness finds its root in a fallacy of thought that we may have all bought into.  The presumption that we do not have any weeds in our own field.  A basic truth of the parable of the weeds and wheat is that weeds have been sown, that everyone’s field has weeds.  No one individual, no society, no culture, no church, no group is exempt.  At the end of the day, we all fall back on the mercy of God.  When this truth is forgotten, a harshness of heart and soul quickly sets in.

But God has given us good ground for hope in the overlooked strength of kindness.  Kindness springs from empathy and empathy from humility and humility alone has the courage to see and acknowledge the weeds amidst the wheat, even in our own field.  Yes, strive mightily for what is just and right but do not lose kindness.  We lose our soul when we lose kindness.  We lose that which is best in us when we lose kindness.

Strive for justice … and be kind to one another.

At the Wood’s Edge: Laudato Si’, Wendell Berry and Coronavirus


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VIII. 7.

The watcher comes, knowing the small
knowledge of his life in this body
in this place in this world. He comes
to a place of rest where he cannot
mistake himself as larger than he is,
the place of the gray flycatcher,
the yellow butterfly, the green dragonfly,
the white violet, the columbine,
where he cannot mistake himself
as more graced or graceful than he is.

At the woods’ edge, the wild rose
is in bloom, beauty and consolation
always in excess of thought.

“A Small Porch” by Wendell Berry

Sunday, May 24th concludes Laudato Si’ Week – a time set in the Catholic Church to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” and to reflect on the teachings that Pope Francis offers in the encyclical, the concerns he gives voice to and the hope that he calls us to as followers of Christ and as stewards of creation.

This year, Laudato Si’ Week is observed in the midst of a global pandemic. A small airborne virus has slammed the brakes on our human world in all of its pride, presumption and whirlwind activity. COVID 19 has left us all disoriented and, at the woods’ edge.

Berry’s poem makes prophetic utterance when he writes, He comes to a place of rest where he cannot mistake himself as larger than he is … where he cannot mistake himself as more graced or graceful than he is. This is where we are. It is where illusions are wiped away and we are made to recognize our very real creatureliness. Yes, made in the image and likeness of God – a child of God – but still one creature within a very large creation nonetheless.

Yet, there are hidden gifts found in this moment and Berry’s poem can help us to recognize them. Not to diminish the very real pain and suffering that is occurring in the world but there is a “rest” found when we are brought, by hook or by crook, to an authentic and real knowledge of who we are. There is a rest gained when we are made to recognize that we are neither larger than we actually are nor more graced and graceful. There is a rest that only a humble heart can experience – whether the humility was sought or not does not matter. The rest and its healing is the same. It is worthwhile to both recognize and receive this rest.

We are not alone. This is another gift found at the wood’s edge.  We are with the gray flycatcher, the yellow butterfly, the green dragonfly, the white violet, the columbine…  God never intended the glory of his image and likeness in which man and woman are made to be manipulated and twisted into a cruel separation marked by a misguided sense of superiority, dominance and indifference towards the rest of his creation. That is not the work of God but rather of the evil one and of our often eager willingness to cooperate through sin in that twisting of the Creator’s original intent. At the wood’s edge, cut off from the illusions of the world and our lives, we begin to notice again what has always been true – that we are not alone. We are one part of an incredible and vast creation that gives witness and praise to the love, power and glory of the One who alone is creator. The wood’s edge bears witness that neither the universe nor creation are random occurrences in time and space but rather a deliberate act of will by a God who is love. We can know this witness and learn what it has to teach if we are open and willing to see and listen. Yes, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we are neither lost within its vastness nor left in abandonment on our own.

The final gift is freedom. At the woods’ edge, the wild rose is in bloom, beauty and consolation always in excess of thought. What wild roses are in bloom in this moment beyond our imagining? The wood’s edge offers a true and startling freedom to each one of us. Do we have to go back to the way it was before? Is it even worthwhile to go back to the way it was? What about less? Less running, less stress, less things, less acquiring, less activity often just done for pride and activities’ sake? What the wood’s edge offers is neither an invitation to magical flights of fancy nor naïve wishful thinking but a true gut check in reality (sometimes a gut punch) daring us to take the risk of asking if it, indeed, has to be the same and, if not, then why not seek and live a different way? What other persons (or the world, for that matter) choose to do at the wood’s edge does not matter. What matters is my choice. Am I willing to go deeper beyond the wood’s edge trusting that there is a beauty and consolation found within that is always in excess of thought?

COVID-19 has forced us to the wood’s edge. It is quite disconcerting. All sorts of primal fears get stirred up and the initial instinct is to either retreat to the safe and familiar or lash out in fear and anger but as Pope Francis and Wendell Berry both know in their own unique ways; new life, true relationship and authentic freedom are often found on the edge (or periphery) of things. Maybe the best thing we can do right now is just be willing to be at the wood’s edge – to watch, listen and learn what it has to teach.

Insights gained from the communion reception debate


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communionFor a number of weeks now I have been watching the communion reception debate play out on social media. People asserting their right to receive communion on the tongue in and out of times of pandemic and questioning the authority of the bishop to restrict that form of reception in the circumstances that we find ourselves. I try to avoid social media debates at all costs as I think they really go nowhere and change no one but, as I have watched this debate unfold, I believe that I have gained some insights into the state of our knowledge of the faith, fears and even a learning about priestly ministry.

First, a number of faithful Catholics have little to no understanding of what is meant by the term, “the common good”. Many canon lawyers have weighed in, bishops have weighed in, the Catechism itself teaches that yes, individual rights are important but they are not the ultimate value. Rights always have to be balanced with the common good and the common good can sometimes trump individual rights (i.e. in the context of a global pandemic). Restricting the reception of communion to receiving in the hand in our current context is not a suppression (with malicious intent) of a personal right, rather it is a striving for the common good – the protection of the health and life of other persons. Through baptism we are not brought into just a gathering of like-minded individuals with whom we may more or less agree. In baptism we are grafted into the Body of Christ – something of which we are each a unique part but also something much bigger than ourselves and our individual rights. A focus solely on individual rights with little to no awareness of the common good demonstrates a worldview that is more influenced by the secular than by the faith – apparently even among devout souls. There is a serious lack of understanding regarding what the Church means by the common good.

I have to wonder if part of what is at play in the debate erupting at this particular time on social media with particular vigor from some quarters is, in fact, a psychological coping mechanism where people choose to quibble about minutiae in an effort to avoid the full weight of the reality we are facing as a world. Let me be clear here. Reception of communion is not a minor thing. It is the Body of Christ and it should be received with full reverence but the teaching of the Church makes it clear that it can be received with equal reverence both on the tongue and in the hand. Both are valid ways of receiving this great gift. To say that not receiving on the tongue is more of a suffering and sacrifice at this time than not receiving in the hand or, out of an awareness of the common good, soon to be asked to solely receive in the hand once public Masses resume is simply not true. Frankly, it carries the danger of falling into a self-focus bordering on narcissism. The suffering of the world right now is not occurring in the communion line. The suffering of the world is in the person dying from coronavirus, it is with the family unable to be with their loved one laying sick in the hospital, it is with the people out of work and despairing. This is where the suffering of the world is and it is where the Church should be – if not in our bodies physically assisting those in need then in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.

Finally, I have become convinced that those persons so adamant about their right to receive on the tongue do not truly love their priests. Rather, their focus of love is on what their priests can do for them. There is a key difference here. Most priests are older and many have underlying health concerns – they fall within the category of being not only vulnerable to the virus but also not being able to recover once infected. To demand reception on the tongue which has been shown to be riskier in spreading the disease simply puts the priest at greater risk. It is not an act of charity to demand reception on the tongue in this context nor is it an act of heroism on the part of the priest to give the Eucharist that way. When an equally valid and reverential form of receiving communion is available (i.e. receiving in the hand) and the need to help protect the safety of other persons calls for an awareness of the common good it is not an act of heroism to give on the tongue just to satisfy a person’s own piety. True charity and heroism demand much more and should not be so reduced.

So, to say we love our priests while being adamant in demanding reception on the tongue is, at best, a disconnect. The disconnect reveals that the priest is valued primarily as a means to an end and – in a sense – that is okay. To admit this is much more honest than pretending there is a level of love present that is not really there. As a priest I will serve you. This is what priests do. When we get to the day when the restriction is lifted, I will happily give communion on the tongue to those persons who want to receive that way but I will not say it is the only true way to receive communion nor a holier way because it is not.

But, there is something else about the dynamic of seeing the priest solely as a means to an end that should be noted. There is a freedom here for the priest. It is hinted at by our Lord in Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Yes, the priest is a servant and for many if not most people he – as a servant – is seen as a means to an end but there is actually a freedom found in this. When a servant has fulfilled his duty and leaves there is no obligation to return. The servant is free to move on.

Yes, the priest will serve all persons including those whom he knows only view him as a means to an end but, when he leaves he is under no obligation to return to those people who only approached him in such a manner. Our Lord had many encounters and he healed and forgave many people in his ministry but he did not keep returning to those people. The one house our Lord kept returning to was the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I think he kept returning to that house during his earthly ministry because there he was loved for who he was and not just for what he did or could do for others.

To those persons who solely see the priest as a means to an end; yes, the priest will serve you but when it is time to move on, he has the freedom to do so without looking back. This is the freedom of the servant and it is precisely the disconnect noted above that helps to point out the value found in the servant’s freedom and it is worthwhile for every priest to learn this value. The priest will serve you honestly – and that is a form of love – but the love of friendship and family is not to be played with nor bandied about and the priest has the right to reserve that love solely to the Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ of his life. To these houses he will keep returning – when circumstances allow – and there he will be nourished and strengthened.

Some insights and learnings gained from the ongoing social media debate regarding the reception of communion during the time of a global pandemic. Lessons can be learned in all contexts!

Being shorn


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“Maybe … just maybe, one lesson we learn from these weeks of quarantine and lockdown is that we do not have to go nonstop all the time in order to live life.” This was a thought I shared on social media the other day and it has received multiple “likes”. There were only two cautions, both from parents of small children who are working from home and now also homeschooling their children, sharing that their lives are busier than ever. True, God bless the parents of small children these days!

That being understood though I stand by my original thought – we do not have to go nonstop all the time in order to live life.

The other day I was talking with Paul Vachon – Paul and his wife Amber are the caretakers at Exchange Place. They live on site and part of their duties is to take care of the animals. When I called Paul he was in the process of having the sheep sheared. Paul shared an interesting (and kind of amusing) fact that once the sheep have their wool cut off they do not immediately recognize each other and so they act aggressively toward one another – butting heads and being aggressive little sheep. It is only after a while, once they begin to recognize the scent of each other that they calm down and realize that they do, indeed, know one another.

These weeks of quarantine and lockdown have abruptly shorn away the coats of busy-ness that we all often live by and even measure our worth by. Most of us have been stripped down from the daily routines of our lives – not running to the next meeting or business trip nor driving the kids to another school or sporting event. Not planning this event or doing a task for a group we are involved with. Not rushing out the door for a dinner and concert with friends after just getting in from a full day of work. I am not saying these things are bad. All these activities can be very good and even worthwhile but we do wrap ourselves in busy-ness to the point that our activities become our identity. These weeks have shorn all of this away. Now, without them, do we recognize ourselves and do we recognize each other?

“Be still and know that I am God,” – Psalm forty-five. Is there pain and suffering during this time of pandemic? Yes, intense pain. We pray for those who have lost their lives and for those who are mourning the loss of a loved ones. We pray for families facing economic hardships. We pray for our healthcare workers being pushed to their limit. We pray for our brothers and sisters in poorer countries who do not have the advantages that we have to ride this storm out. For all of these we pray and we will continue to pray.

Be still and know that I am God. In the gospel for today, our Lord tells us about the true shepherd. The true shepherd comes in love in order to protect and bring life. The true shepherd does not come as a thief to hurt, steal and wound. The true shepherd alone has the authority to walk through the gate and he calls each sheep by name. The sheep, we are told recognize his voice and in that recognition they know they are safe and they willingly follow after the shepherd.

We – on our part – must recognize his voice and the only way we can do that is if we hear his voice. Be still … be still … and know that I am God. Being shorn from all the distractions of life can indeed be unnerving, even frightening. We can be like those little sheep with their wool just cut off – confused and even aggressive. But we can also learn to listen. We can learn to be still and God will speak to us and the true shepherd will come to us to bring true life and protection.

And the true shepherd will tell us who we really are. Our identity is not all of our activities (no matter even how good these might be) our identity is something much deeper. Our true identity is in being a child of God, beloved of the Father. Can we just be in this truth and let it sink into our hearts?

Be still and know that I am God. …the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice …

“Tal vez … solo tal vez, una lección que aprendemos de estas semanas de cuarentena y encierro es que no tenemos que ir sin parar todo el tiempo a fin de vivir la vida”. Este fue un pensamiento que compartí en las redes sociales el otro día y ha recibido múltiples “me gusta”. Solo hubo dos advertencias, ambas de padres de niños pequeños que trabajan desde casa y ahora también educan a sus hijos en casa, compartiendo que sus vidas están más ocupadas que nunca. Es cierto que Dios bendiga a los padres de niños pequeños en estos días.

Eso se entiende aunque mantengo mi pensamiento original: no tenemos que ir sin parar todo el tiempo a fin de vivir la vida.

El otro día estaba hablando con Paul Vachon. Paul y su esposa Amber son los cuidadores del Exchange Place. Viven en el sitio y parte de sus deberes es cuidar a los animales. Cuando llamé a Paul, estaba en el proceso de esquilar las ovejas. Paul compartió un hecho interesante (y un poco divertido) de que una vez que se le corta la lana a las ovejas, ellas no se reconocen de inmediato y, por lo tanto, actúan agresivamente la una con la otra, golpeándose las cabezas y siendo pequeñas ovejas agresivas. Es solo después de un tiempo, una vez que comienzan a reconocer el olor de las demás, que se calman y se dan cuenta de que sí se conocen.

Estas semanas de cuarentena y encierro han eliminado abruptamente los abrigos del ajetreo con el que todos vivimos e incluso medimos nuestro valor. La mayoría de nosotros hemos sido despojados de las rutinas diarias de nuestras vidas: no tener que correr a la próxima reunión o viaje de negocios, no tener que conducir a los niños a la escuela o a otro evento deportivo. No tener que planificar un evento o realizar una tarea para un grupo con el que estamos involucrados. No salir corriendo por la puerta para una cena y concierto con los amigos después de llegar de un día completo de trabajo. No digo que estas cosas sean malas. Todas estas actividades pueden ser muy buenas e incluso valen la pena, pero nos envolvemos en ocupaciones hasta el punto de que nuestras actividades se convierten en nuestra identidad. Estas semanas han evitado todo esto. Ahora, sin ellas, ¿nos reconocemos y nos reconocemos mutuamente?

“Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios”, Salmo cuarenta y cinco. ¿Hay dolor y sufrimiento durante este tiempo de pandemia? Sí, dolor intenso. Oramos por aquellos que han perdido la vida y por aquellos que están de luto por la pérdida de un ser querido. Oramos por las familias que enfrentan dificultades económicas. Oramos para que nuestros trabajadores de la salud que están siendo empujados a su límite. Oramos por nuestros hermanos y hermanas en los países más pobres que no tienen las ventajas que tenemos para soportar esta tormenta. Por todo esto rezamos y seguiremos rezando.

Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios. En el evangelio de hoy, nuestro Señor nos habla sobre el buen pastor. El buen pastor viene con amor para proteger y dar vida. El verdadero pastor no viene como ladrón para hacer daño, robar y herir. El verdadero pastor solo tiene la autoridad de entrar por la puerta y llama a cada oveja por su nombre. Se nos dice que las ovejas reconocen su voz y en ese reconocimiento saben que están a salvo y están dispuestas a seguir al pastor.

Nosotros, por nuestra parte, debemos reconocer su voz y la única forma de hacerlo es si escuchamos su voz. Estén quietos … estén quietos … y sepan que Yo soy Dios. El ser despojado de todas las distracciones de la vida puede ser desconcertante, incluso aterrador. Podemos ser como esas ovejitas con la lana cortada, confundidas e incluso agresivas. Pero también podemos aprender a escuchar. Podemos aprender a estar quietos y Dios nos hablará y el verdadero pastor vendrá a nosotros para traer vida y protección verdaderas.

Y el verdadero pastor nos dirá quiénes somos realmente. Nuestra identidad no es todas nuestras actividades (no importa cuán buenas sean), nuestra identidad es algo mucho más profundo. Nuestra verdadera identidad es ser un hijo de Dios, amado por el Padre. ¿Podemos estar en esta verdad y dejar que se sumerja en nuestros corazones?

Estén quietos y sepan que Yo soy Dios. … las ovejas lo siguen porque reconocen su voz …

The Risen Church – Easter, 2020


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resurrection“…as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Each of the four gospels, in its account of the resurrection of Jesus, specifically states the time. It was dawn, it was early in the morning, the day was just breaking.

Maybe it is just a reflection of my own shifting sleep patterns as I get older but I am learning the value of the dawn. To sit quietly and watch as the world wakes up, as night recedes and the light of day dawns is a good and healing thing. In the dawning of the day we are taught unceasingly and even rhythmically how much is just pure gift and how we are each part of something so much bigger than ourselves!

But this dawn, this dawn was different! It was not just another lesson on the seasonal nature of life and creation. This particular dawn proclaimed an empty tomb! It had never happened before – that a tomb had been emptied and not just emptied but vanquished and broken! The one who came forth from this tomb would never return. That dawn – in that cemetery garden outside of Jerusalem – was and will always remain a new day!

The truth is that the Church which proclaims the resurrection of Christ will never be a powerful church – this is not our identity. We are not to be a “powerful church” as the world measures power because all of the world’s measurements, judgments and calculations end at the tomb. Rather, we are to be a “risen church” because we live in the dawn of the new day! We are not stopped by the weight of the tomb. The tomb is emptied and broken and our Lord walks forth from its confines never to return! Everything is different and this is who we are! The risen church – even when hope seems lost – is revived again and again because our bridegroom is risen and he gives us the power to rise!

When fear and uncertainty set in, we rise. When persecution and violence are experienced, we rise. When war and disease destroy lives and threaten what we hold dear, we rise. We rise because we are the church. We rise because we live in the new day. We rise because Jesus is risen and he gives us the power to rise!

And he goes before us. Christ always goes before us – into the fullness of this new day and he calls us to follow after him in hope. This hope was planted by God in the heart of creation on the very first day – that the creator will not abandon his creation. This hope grew and was foretold by the people of Israel in their being brought from slavery to freedom with the waters of the Red Sea being a prefiguring of the waters of baptism which bring us into the new day of Christ and the promise us freedom from death itself. Paul recognizes this truth when he writes in his letter to the Romans, “Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

“…we too might life in newness of life.” We live in the new day and we rise. We are the risen church!

“…as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb … you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said … he is going before you …”


“… al amanecer del primer día de la semana, María Magdalena y la otra María fueron a ver el sepulcro”. Cada uno de los cuatro evangelios, en su relato de la resurrección de Jesús, establece específicamente la hora. Era el amanecer, era temprano en la mañana.

Tal vez sea solo un reflejo en los cambios de mis patrones de sueño a medida que envejezco, pero estoy aprendiendo el valor del amanecer. Sentarse en silencio y observar cómo el mundo se despierta, cuando la noche retrocede, y la luz del día amanece es algo bueno y curativo. Al amanecer del día, se nos enseña incesantemente e incluso rítmicamente cuánto es tan solo puro regalo, y cómo somos parte de algo mucho más grande que nosotros.

¡Pero este amanecer, este amanecer fue diferente! No fue solo otra lección sobre la naturaleza estacional de la vida y la creación. ¡Este amanecer particular proclamó una tumba vacía! ¡Nunca había sucedido antes, que una tumba haya sido vaciada y no tan solo vaciada, sino vencida y rota! El que salió de esta tumba nunca volvería. ¡Ese amanecer, en el jardín del cementerio a las afueras de Jerusalén, fue y siempre seguirá siendo un nuevo día!

La verdad es que la Iglesia que proclama la resurrección de Cristo nunca será una iglesia poderosa; esta no es nuestra identidad. No debemos ser una “iglesia poderosa” en la forma en como el mundo mide el poder porque todas las medicionesy cálculos del mundo terminan en la tumba. ¡Debemos ser una “iglesia resucitada” porque vivimos en los albores del nuevo día! No nos detiene el peso de la tumba. ¡La tumba está vacía y rota, y nuestro Señor sale de sus confines para nunca volver! ¡Todo es diferente, y esto es lo que somos! ¡La iglesia resucitada, incluso cuando la esperanza parece perdida, revive una y otra vez porque nuestro novio ha resucitado y él nos da el poder de levantarnos!

Cuando surge el miedo y la incertidumbre, nos levantamos. Cuando se experimenta la persecución y la violencia, nos levantamos. Cuando la guerra y la enfermedad destruyen vidas y amenazan lo que apreciamos, nos levantamos. Nos levantamos porque somos la iglesia. Nos levantamos porque vivimos en el nuevo día. ¡Resucitamos porque Jesús ha resucitado, y él nos da el poder para resucitar!

Y él va antes que nosotros. Cristo siempre va antes que nosotros, a la plenitud de este nuevo día y nos llama a seguirlo con esperanza. Esta esperanza fue plantada por Dios en el corazón de la creación el primer día: que el creador no abandonará su creación. Esta esperanza creció y fue predicha por el pueblo de Israel al ser llevados de la esclavitud a la libertad, siendo las aguas del Mar Rojo una prefiguración de las aguas del bautismo que nos llevan al nuevo día de Cristo, y a la promesa de liberarnos de la muerte misma. Pablo reconoce esta verdad cuando escribe en su carta a los romanos: “Hermanos: Todos los que hemos sido incorporados a Cristo Jesús por medio del bautismo, hemos sido incorporados a su muerte. En efecto, por el bautismo fuimos sepultados con él en su muerte, para que, así como Cristo resucitó de entre los muertos por la gloria del Padre, así también nosotros llevemos una vida nueva “.

“… así también nosotros llevemos una vida nueva”. Vivimos en el nuevo día y nos levantamos. ¡Somos la iglesia resucitada!

“… al amanecer del primer día de la semana, María Magdalena y la otra María fueron a ver el sepulcro … Ya sé que buscan a Jesús, el crucificado. No está aquí; ha resucitado, como lo había dicho … e irá delante de ustedes…”