Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Attention Please

Today's celebration of the annunciation of the Lord highlights the wonderful event during which the angel proclaimed a special announcement from God to Mary. This announcement, that she was chosen to be the mother of His Son, was not a command. It was really more of a request, a revelation of His will for Mary, and she had to pay attention. In all of human history, this was undoubtedly the most important announcement made to any single individual, and we are all blessed through her "yes". But is is certainly not the only "annunciation". In fact, every day God tries to announce to us His intentions, His will for us. The problem is when we think that, unless there is an angel who appears to us, this revelation does not happen. Not true! Angels as messengers were the means that God chose to deliver His messages (make announcements) to people prior to the coming of Christ. Shortly after the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, angels were no longer necessary. The Lord's own words and the words and example of His followers became the means by which God would communicate with us. And that is still the case. This is the reason why we need to become more and more familiar with the teachings and example of Christ. Sacred Scripture, then, is crucial to hearing and understanding the daily "annunciations" that are meant for us. And we need to surround ourselves with others who are trying to follow Christ. In every situation, every encounter, every decision we have to make, God tries to reveal His will for us. In order to attune ourselves to this voice of God, we need to examine the words and actin of the Lord and listen to the wisdom of our sisters and brothers in Christ to see if we can more clearly understand God's will. Just asking the question "What does God want me to do?" can help us become more aware of and open to doing what is right, what is best, what God wants. As we continue to celebrate the Annunciation of God's will to Mary, let's also try and see what announcement God is trying to make to us. Please God, help us pay attention!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rich Man, Poor Man

Today's gospel (Luke 16, 19-31) is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who sat outside his door begging. Since it was a made-up story, Jesus deliberately selected every detail, and I think they can be helpful for meditation. To start, we only know the name of one of the men - the poor one. Now, this in itself is unusual, since the name of a rich, powerful man is usually more likely to be known than that of a poor one. But the name "Lazarus" is given to the poor man. Maybe since the rich man found his identity in his wealth, maybe the Lord decided that it was the only designation he should have. In any case, Lazarus lived a very hard life, hoping for the scraps that were left after the rich man ate. Once they both die, Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man in hell (they did not use those terms in the parable, but it helps for our understanding). The rich man asks "Father Abraham" to send Lazarus to bring him some relief - water. Two things strike me. First, the rich man knows Lazarus' name. So he cannot even use the excuse that he did nothing to help him when he was alive because he did not see him. Second, the rich man still thinks he is better than Lazarus, even though he is the one in hell. He speaks as if Lazarus was a servant or slave who should be sent to help him. He does not even address Lazarus directly! When Abraham explains that it is not possible, the rich man shows a surprising side - he is concerned for someone else. Granted it is concern for other members of his own family, but it at least shows that he was not completely evil and uncaring. Abraham says no, stating that his brothers have "Moses and the prophets - let them listen to them." The rich man knows that his brothers are no more likely than he was to pay attention to Moses and the prophets, but reasons that they will if someone comes back from the dead. In a wonderful prediction, Abraham says that those who do not listen to Moses or the prophets will not be persuaded, even if some should rise from the dead. So the question is - where am I in the story? I know that I am not completely bad, but neither was the rich man. But how many times have I seen people around me but really seen what they needed? How well have I listened to Moses and the prophets? How well have I listened to One who rose from the dead? It was too late for the rich man in the story, but it is not too late for me. I can still take care of Lazarus, and still change my life to do God's will rather than my own. In fact, I want to work so that God's will becomes my will. And by doing this, I just may end up being the one in heaven with the name given me by Jesus.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Fathers Day - Auguri!

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. Now, for many people in the USA who are of Italian descent, this means one thing - St Joseph Cakes or Zeppole! The delicious filled doughnut-like pastries are traditionally available here in the states only around St. Joseph Day. But, even more important than these delicacies, today also has another important significance in Italy. Today is celebrated as Fathers Day in Italy, in honor of the man who raised Jesus as his own son. We really do not know much about St. Joseph, only that he was "betrothed" to Mary, found out she was pregnant and decided to "divorce her quietly" when God revealed to him that Mary had not cheated on him but rather was carrying God's own Son. Joseph unbelievably accepted this and, from that point, could not have been a more loving or caring father. We know that, according to Scripture, he took Mary to Bethlehem for the census and, after the birth of Jesus, brought his wife and child to Egypt for safety. After presenting the child in the temple, the only other time we hear Joseph mentioned in the bible is when the family went to Jerusalem and when they left, Jesus remained in the temple teaching and amazing the much older and "wiser" adults. After they returned home, there is no other word of Joseph. Families today are so complicated, and often children are not given the experience of growing up in what we sometimes refer to as a "traditional" family with father, mother and child(ren) all living together. Funny thing, though - this has never really been the norm, even at the time of the Holy Family. You see, life is never neat and orderly. Life is messy and jumbled and full of joy and sorrow. Men and women role models are both important in the life of every child, and so families sometimes have to get creative in order to make this happen. It seems to me, then, that this is a very appropriate day to celebrate fathers. And maybe even more importantly, to celebrate those men who have taken upon themselves the role of a father for those who are not their biological children. I have seen incredible love poured out on children by men who have all sorts of relationships to them. And today I think it would be a good idea for all of us to celebrate them and, if possible, tell them how much we appreciate them. It does not matter what their age, race, creed, orientation, profession, status or how the relationship came to be, the men who are looked upon as a father and do what a father does are vitally important for us and for our world. And we need more of them. I know that, as I get older, there are fewer and fewer of these men left in my life. But I also know that I need to tell them how important they are to me. And I also have to tell those men I know who are fathers (in any and every sense of that word) to others that I appreciate them too. They make me want to be a better man, and, perhaps, to be a better father to anyone I encounter. So, to Uncle Art, Enzo, Charlie, Giancarlo, and the other men in my life who "father" me, thanks and Happy Fathers Day. And to you, dad, I know that you are celebrating in heaven today with mom, which is better than any Zeppole!

Monday, March 17, 2014

God's Loan

As I was contemplating this (hopefully) last snowfall of the season, I got to thinking about the word "Lent". Last week I mentioned in a homily that the time we have is really only "lent" to us by God - it really belongs to him. This became a very powerful meditation for me, and I began contemplating what I was doing with the time He has lent me. You see, since it is only lent, I will have to return it someday. And I think He will want to know what I did with it while I had it. If I was God, I am not sure I would be very happy with me. When I lend someone something, I kind of expect it to be given back in the same condition, without any damage and with all of its parts. The time God has lent me has not always remained in such great shape. I have wasted a lot of it, letting it spill out uselessly. Sometimes I have used it for things that were far from the intended use, kind of like using a professional knife as a screwdriver. I have spent time on things that were far from what God gave it to me to use on, and on reflection I am ashamed. One of the nice things is that, so far, God had continued to lend me some additional time, so that I can use it better. Each day I run out and, up until now, He has lent me another day. How long this will go on, though, I am not sure. I know that someday God will stop lending me any more time, and I will have to let Him know what I did with the days , months and years He lent me. I guess what I am trying to say is: This Lent I want to make a better effort to use the time lent to me in a better way. I want to take care of it just as God does, since it belongs to Him. I know this is difficult, because I easily fall back into the old habit of thinking that it is mine. But maybe for these remaining days of Lent, I will be able to keep it in mind that the time I have on this earth is only lent to me, and, since God cannot use it Himself in the same way I can, I better make sure I use it the right way so I will be able to return it to Him in good condition! And, by the way - Happy St. Patrick's Day. May the road rise... well, you know.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ask, Seek, Knock

Today's gospel (Matthew 7: 7-12) contains one of the more well known sayings of Jesus: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." But we have to be very careful when we read it, because it does not say that we will be given what we ask for, find what we seek or find what we expect on the other side of the door. The example He uses is from their own life experience, quite correctly noting that a parent would never give their child something that would harm them. But, by saying that a parent would not give their child a snake when asked for a fish, He does not say that they necessarily get the fish either. Maybe they will get a bowl of rice, or some grapes. We all have this sort of experience as well. And in relating it to God, we can see that it is also true. How many times have you prayed for something, only to have a result very different that the one you were expecting? We are sometimes very quick to say that "God did not answer my prayers", just because we did not get exactly what we wanted in the way we wanted. But in hindsight we usually see that God did in fact answer our prayer in a different way. The important thing is to continue to go to God, to ask, seek, knock. Just be aware that you may not be given exactly what you asked for; you may not find exactly what you were looking for, you may be surprised by what is there when the door opens. But be assured that whatever you are given, find or encounter, God will be there with you to help use it in the best possible way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

No Babbling Allowed

It seems a little funny to hear the Lord in today's Gospel (Matthew 6:7-15) tell His followers not to babble. It makes me have an image of a group of people who are all talking at once, with none of them able to make sense. He was very directive about the way they should pray. The formula He gave (what we refer to as "The Lord's Prayer" is pretty succinct and to the point. It gives me not so much words as a model for all prayer. Beginning with an acknowledgement of God as the one to whom I am speaking (Father in heaven) I offer praise (hallowed be thy name) and acknowledge the primacy of what God wants over what I want (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done). After that, I am able to place my own needs before God, but He specifies only the "short-term" needs (our daily bread). This shows a keen understanding of us as humans, since the Lord knows that what we think we may need tomorrow may not be what we really need when tomorrow comes. The second half is focused on forgiveness and sin. I can only ask for what I am willing to give (forgiveness as we forgive). The importance of this is reinforced by His follow-up, when He assures me that “If you forgive transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Finally I ask for God's strength in the face of temptation, acknowledging that without His help I am powerless. This wonderful way of praying was certainly different from what the disciples expected. But then, God had now experienced first-hand what being human is like and Christ was able to speak from that personal experience. He knew that, without this sort of direction, we might be praying for things that were either unimportant, unnecessary or might actually be bad for us. The purpose of teaching the disciples and us how to pray was to help us do it better than we could on our own. Sadly, we often think of the Lord's Prayer as just words to be said rather than a model for all prayer. Some of the most powerful prayers are those we make when speaking from our heart. But it is always good to try and keep the model in mind, using the same steps. To whom am I speaking, and for what should I praise Him? What do I think God wants? What exactly do I need right now, not in the future? And what should I ask for strength to do myself, since I cannot expect God to do all the work? Following this model, my personal prayer life can flourish. And I just might be better able to appreciate the answer that always comes to us when I pray, even if it is not what I expected. I just have to remember not to babble!

Monday, March 10, 2014

"When did we see you?"

The Gospel for today (Matthew 25:31-46) contains the familiar "I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink", contrasted with "I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink". The line that really struck me, however, was the question put to Him "Lord, when did we see you...?" I came to an understanding that the action (or lack of one) involving giving food, drink, clothing, shelter, etc. was secondary. The first and most important thing that has to take place is to SEE. Most people are like me, very good about responding to a need that is presented to them. Whenever we have a "special collection" for example as a response to a natural disaster or local crisis, I am very generous. The real challenge comes when there is no one to point out the need - when I have to see it for myself. When I go out in the city, for example, the homeless often go unnoticed, and I often rush by them without even realizing their presence. But it is not simply about physical needs like food and shelter. Howe many times do I encounter someone who needs a little time to talk? Parish life can be so busy that often I do not realize that a person just wants to be noticed and valued, like a family with a small child who wants to play with mom or dad. Neighbors who live alone are often left that way - alone. I simply don't "see" them. And if I don't see them, I don't see Jesus. I have to remember not to wait for someone to smack me in the face with a need, but rather to look for people in need so I can SEE that person and their need. And in seeing them, I will be able to see Jesus.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Comparing ourselves to others, while common, is ultimately very frustrating. Often I will try to judge myself (both positively and negatively) compared to someone else, or even "most people". For example, "I don't curse as much as Sam or Heidi, so I am OK" or "I don't pray as much as most people, so God must not be pleased with me". Things were no different in the time of the Lord. In today's Gospel we hear "The disciples of John approached Jesus and said,'Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?'" Interesting. They were trying to force the Lord to make a comparison. But he was not falling into that trap. Rather than stating that one was better than the other, He simply explained that it was not the proper time for His disciples to fast. It didn't matter what everyone else was doing, the disciples were doing what they needed to do at that time. You see, the only comparison God wants me to make is with my "perfect" self. By that I mean" "How am I doing compared to the person that God wants me to be? Am I doing right now what God wants me to do? Am I doing His will?" I will not be judged by how well I stand up to anyone else, but rather how well I stand up to the person God created me to be. And that is why I began by saying that comparing ourselves to others is ultimately frustrating. Here's why. In my own mind, I can never be as good as some people I know... or as bad. Which means that it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking "What difference does it make what I do or how I act or what I say?" And that leads to the frustration of not growing into the person I want to be - or God wants me to be. It can spark a downward spiral that leads to depression and negativity, which are so destructive. So I think that I need to embrace more and more the proper comparison. I will try to begin each day by asking myself "What can I do today to become more the person that God wants me to be." By the end of the day, I hope that I will be able to look back and discover moments when I consciously chose to compare myself to the person God and I want me to be - and then did something to become more like that person.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Sometimes it is much easier to be told what to do. Even though I griped and complained when I was a child, it was more that a little comforting to know that I didn't have to make a lot of decisions. I put on the clothes my mom laid out for me, ate the food placed before me, went where my parents took me- all without having to think for myself. As I grew older I was able to make those decisions for myself, but that came at a price. Are these clothes alright for where I am going? There are so many things on this menu - what should I order? Which college should I attend? Today's readings (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 and Luke 9: 22-25) are very clear that we have choices to make when it comes to our relationship with God. Follow what He wants, or go in a different direction. And, naturally, each choice has consequences. And the consequences are not just for me. When I am in a relationship with another person, my choices affect that person as well. This is obvious to anyone who is a mother, father, daughter, son, husband, wife or dear friend. What struck me today is that my choices also affect God. In His infinite wisdom, the Almighty gave to human beings alone a free will. This means that, even though He "pre-programmed" us to live in a certain way, we can go against our instincts. No other creature can do this, since their natural instincts are the only thing that guides their lives. I, however, can choose to do something that God does not want. And so God has opened Himself to be hurt by me, thrilled with me, disappointed in me, proud of me- the entire range of reactions, just as in any relationship. Sometimes when I was growing up, my parents would find out that I had done something that I should not have done. I not only disappointed them, but sometimes made them sad, angry, etc. I heard more than once that "What kind of parents will people think you have?" "What you do is a reflection on us, not just yourself." "How do you think that makes us feel?" More than a concern for the opinions of others, my parents knew that I had a responsibility to live in a way that reflected the values and morals they had instilled in me. If not, they would not have considered themselves successful parents. My choices impacted them in a real way. My choices also impact God in that same way. People know (or should know) that I am a child of God. I have to question whether or not my words and actions reflect that He is my Father. I want God to be proud of me, but it is my choice. During this Lent, I think I need to be more aware of my choices, and the fact that they impact not only me, but also others in my life, including God. Just as I hated it when I disappointed my mom or dad, I need to hate it when I disappoint God. And because of this, I need to try and choose wisely. How about you?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don't Worry - Be Happy!

After last Sunday's Gospel, in which the Lord told us "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear", I began to think about the amount of time that worrying can take up in my life. I can be so obsessive about having everything go just right and trying to make sure that people in my life are OK that I can easily spend a lot of time worrying. And I realize that this is really a victory for Satan, because all that time worrying is time I have lost that could be given to doing God's will. Naturally, any time Satan keeps us from doing God's will he is very happy, so I think he must spend a lot of energy trying to get up to worry. Worrying is an excessive preoccupation with trying to control things over which we usually do not really have control. For example, during her illness I worried a lot about my mom. I really had no way to do anything about it, but spent a lot of time thinking and worrying. That time was really wasted, since I could have been doing something that would really make a difference, whether for my mother or for others. Sometimes I worry about the future, which is REALLY a waste of time! I have absolutely no control over the future, outside of my own decisions, but worrying can really become almost an obsession. In pondering all of this, I can to the conclusion that I needed to take control of something that I really can control, and that is the worrying itself. So for Lent I have decided to make a concerted effort to give up worrying. Now understand, this does not mean that I will not make plans or not take care of things or be concerned about people and events, but simply that I will not give one minute of my time to things over which I have no control. I will continue to plan to have snow removed should another storm come, but will not worry whether or not there will be more snow. I refuse to dwell on things that people may say or feel about me, but will try to really see Jesus in every person I encounter, especially the ones I know do not like me. And above all, this Lent I will dedicate the time I used to spend worrying to try and help myself and those I am with feel the presence of the Lord. If I can do this, I am confident that not only will I be happier, but God will too. And just maybe I can break the cycle of worry that so often overwhelms and paralyzes me in a thousand little ways. I invite you to join me in giving up worrying for Lent, and see if this can lead you to a happy Easter.

Here We Go Again

Well, after several years away from the "blogging" world, I have decided to give it another go. To be honest, it had begun to feel more like a burden than a bonus, and that was not good. I am in a different place, mentally, spiritually and physically now. Mentally, I am much more at peace with my life. Having lost my mother last May after a three year battle with brain tumors, I am not being pulled in multiple directions, so my attention is more focused. Spiritually I have been living more closely a Spirituality of Communion as a member of the Focolare Movement. It has enriched not only my spiritual life but also helped me discover a wonderful family of people who live it with me. And finally physically I am in a different space - literally. Since I last blogged, after 10 years at St. Joseph Parish in Middletown, Delaware I was assigned in June 2012 as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in New Castle, Delaware. It is a very different demographic - smaller area, fewer members, older median age - but we have an onsite school (PreK - 8th grade) and a very active Athletic Association. With the beginning of Lent today, I thought that Ash Wednesday would be a good time to try and put into words some of my thoughts. Whether or not anyone gets anything out of this, I think it will at the very least help me focus my attention more directly on God's presence in my life. And so, relying on the assurance that "Where two or three gather in my name, I am in your midst", I offer you, in the name of Jesus, These Simple Gifts.