Friday, August 30, 2013


While I was walking yesterday a very young deer ran down out of the woods to within a few yards of me and continued running down the road from where I had come.  It did not seem even to see me.  I thanked God for being able to live so close to nature.  (The picture above was taken several weeks ago as I got out of the car on the edge of the woods.  The deer posed for a while and then bolted for the forest.)
Yesterday and today have been absolutely beautiful days, sunny and warm.  Yesterday I went out in the boat for a while, moving as slowly as possible.  Then I sat on the deck for a long time and just looked at the lake and the sky.  I stayed outside until the sun went down, trying to squeeze a whole summer into one day.
I was aware of God's love being poured into me and loving me into loving.  I knew that it was pure gift.  This kind of being-in-Love puts everything in a new light. My response to such gracious love I think is faith.  I have always found it difficult to distinguish love and faith.  They both involve a total surrender to One who loves me beyond deserving.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The left-out

About 20 or 30 Cedar Waxwings were flitting all around my yard yesterday morning, never perching long enough for me to begin to count them.  They apparently had found so much food that they gave new meaning to the word "flighty" trying to gobble it all up.  I had never seen them before.  This much enlarged picture gives just a hint of how pretty they were.
I was praying this morning with Luke 14:1-14.  I found the footnotes in The New Interpreter's Study Bible helpful. In the first part of the passage Jesus cures a man with dropsy, which is the swelling of the body due to an excess of fluid (today known as generalized edema.)  In spite of that excess, victims suffered from an insatiable thirst.   So in the ancient Mediterranean world dropsy was used as a metaphor for greed.  People with an excess of money and prestige continue to thirst for more.  These are the very kind of people with whom Jesus is dining.
Jesus notices how the guests choose the places of honor.  He turns their attention from who gets to sit where to whom do you invite.  The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Those who embrace and embody the message of Jesus are known by their practices of hospitality to the least and the left-out.  I wondered who I leave out.

Friday, August 23, 2013

March on Washington

The butterfly to all the earth,
Sings freedom, beauty, hope, rebirth.
In my first parish I worked to help integrate the city.  I joined the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and helped black people buy homes in white neighborhoods.  We were seeing on TV lots of non-violent demonstrations in the south in support of civil rights for blacks.  We had come to look up to the Rev. Martin Luther King.
I was a priest a little more than a year in 1963 when we heard about the March on Washington scheduled for August 28.  D.C. wasn't far away.  Several carloads of us drove down.  I was thrilled to be part of this enormous crowd marching for civil rights for all Americans.
The first thing I can remember after we got to the Lincoln Memorial was hearing Peter, Paul, and Mary singing Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind."  Later Dylan, in his distinctive voice, sang "Only a Pawn in Their Game."  None of us had been sure that this would not turn into the violent attacks by police that we had been seeing in the south.  It turned out to be one grand picnic.  People sharing food with one another, singing with the crowd.   There were many more blacks than whites.
Martin Luther King's speech was the centerpiece of the day.  (You can see it now on YouTube.)  The concluding five minutes which included "I have a dream...." was soaring and lifted us all up in one united community committed to work for this dream.
My mother, who had tried to talk me out of going, watched the whole thing anxiously on TV, expecting to see me killed and eaten by police dogs.  She was deeply moved by King's speech and became a fervent believer in demonstrating for civil rights.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Racial Issues on My Young Mind

When I learned in my teen years to put thoughts together, racial issues kept showing up in my life.  A strong influence in my whole life, not just on race, were the movies.  One that comes to mind was Pinky, with Jeanne Crain playing a black girl who can pass as white.  Even at 13 I was struck by how unjustly she was treated.  Books such as Black Like Me kept me thinking about the unfair limitations placed on black people.  The book is written by a white man who dyes his skin dark and records how differently he is treated because of the color of his skin.
An incident when I was in seminary high school left an indelible impression on me and started me on the road to action.  I went with three of my classmates, one of whom was black, to a soda fountain.  We ordered banana splits.  When the waitress served us, she said my black friend would have to eat his outside.  We all carried our banana splits outside and dumped them on the sidewalk and went away without paying.
There was a black man from Baltimore ordained with us Baltimore seminarians.  He had had to study for a diocese in Alabama because the archbishop of Baltimore at the time would not accept him to study for Baltimore.  He had asked to be ordained in Baltimore so a lot of his family could afford to come see him ordained a priest.  Cardinal Shehan, the new archbishop who ordained us, expressed his regrets to the young man that he had not been allowed to study for Baltimore.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Civil Rights Movement

Rising sun pushing its way through this morning's heavy fog.
I saw The Butler yesterday.  It's dedicated to those who were part of the civil rights movement and covers it from Eisenhower's administration to Obama's, focusing on the experience of a man who was a butler in the White House.  The man who inspired the story was really a butler from Truman's administration to Reagan's.  The highly fictionalized movie contrasts the butler's quiet servant role with his son's role as a non-violent protester.
It's a wonderful way to do a quick and entertaining review of the progress of civil rights for blacks.  The movie begins in the time when a white man in the south could kill a black man and nobody thought anything of it.  The butler's life began as a child picking cotton and then as a boy learning to serve in the plantation house.  When he finally gets to the White House he finds that it's not much different.  I was struck by the fact that, while presidents were making legal changes that improved the life of black citizens, they remained almost unaware of the black men and women working as servants in their own house.  Forest Whitaker is perfect as the butler.  Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo (an actor I didn't know) are really fine as his wife and son.  A lot of excellent actors perform bit parts.
As I look forward to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, this movie jogged a lot of intense, moving, memories and helped me to think of how far we have to go before blacks, and other minorities in our country, are treated as true equals with the majority.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Skin Color

As I walked this morning in a gentle rain this all-too-eager leaf caught my eye.  Too many dreary days apparently made her think it was time to turn red and fall to the ground.  (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
As I look forward to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, in which I took part, I want to trace my awareness of racial issues.
My earliest memory is my first sight of a black woman.   I was about four, I guess, and with my father in a market in the little town where I grew up.  I was standing staring at her when my father whispered, "Stop staring at her.  She's the same as you."  A very early teaching about racial equality!
I found out as I got older that she, the only black person in our little town, was a servant in the household of two old maiden ladies who were sisters.  I later wondered whether she might have been a descendent of slaves who worked for their family.
I was probably about eight when my mother dropped my cousin and me off for the first time at a movie theater in a nearby town.  In our own town's theater we always sat down front on the right side,
so my cousin and I sat in the same place in this theater.  Before the movie started a white man hurried down to us and said, "You don't want to sit here.  This is where the n.....s sit."  We didn't even know what that meant, but we could tell by his haste and his worried voice that it was something very bad.  We jumped up and followed him back to a seat in the middle of theater.  An early teaching about segregation.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Clouds witness this morning's sunrise.
After writing about the faith of the outstanding holy men of the Old Testament, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews starts chapter 12 by saying that we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses."  I thought of the great cloud of saints down through the history of the Church who have witnessed to faith and of the great cloud of holy people right now in the Church who show us what it means to have faith.  I remembered a quote from Dorothy Day in which she said that it was not the official Church leaders but "the saints who keep appearing throughout history who keep things going."
This cloud of witnesses encourages us "to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection."  His faith in his Father's love enabled him to go through the pain of the cross to the joy of resurrection.  A faith-full life is never clear sailing. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Church Memories

The rubble beyond the bell is all that remains of the church of my childhood.  I visited the site today.  I kept putting it off.  I didn't want to see it destroyed.
Here I was baptized, made my First Confession and First Communion and Confirmation.  In this church I celebrated my "first Mass" after I was ordained 51 years ago.
I might have been three or four when my mother pointed to the altar and told me that Jesus was in the altar.  Even then I could tell from the crucifix that he was dead, so I presumed that she meant that he was buried in the altar.  I felt proud that of all the churches in the world Jesus was buried in our church.
One of the most secure feelings in my life was coming out of Christmas midnight Mass, with snow falling, and parishioners wishing each other "Merry Christmas," and knowing that this was where I belonged.  A five year old's taste of faith community.
One of the reasons I'm a priest.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Luke 12:49-53 does not picture the gentle Jesus that we find elsewhere in the Gospel.  Jesus demands a decision for or against him and warns us that it will cause division.  At his birth in this Gospel the angels sang "Peace on earth."  Here Jesus astonishes us with,  "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division." 
He begins with the startling image, "I came to cast fire on the earth."  In prayer destruction, then refining came to mind.  I thought of the pictures I had often seen of the open furnaces in the steel mills.  I can almost feel the heat just looking at such pictures.  I found out it takes about 1,600 degree heat to separate the impurities from the iron to make steel. 
The intense fire of God's blazing love burns away all the impurities in us and makes us holy.  Those who are not burning with God's love cannot stand being near us.  The decision for Jesus that opens us to God's fiery love divides us from those who decide against Jesus.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Successful Break-In

A farm where I traveled yesterday to buy fresh picked corn and other vegetables.
I've been meditating on Luke 12:35-48 that is mainly about readiness for Christ's coming.  I had not been finding it very nourishing.  Then in Gerhard Lohfink's Jesus of Nazareth: Who He Was, What He Wanted, which I have been reading for several weeks, I came to his treatment of just one of the verses in this passage from Luke. 
Lohfink focuses only on verse 12:39: "If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into."  He suggests that it is "not a warning against a future break-in but is looking back at one that has already happened....The successful break-in would then be the coming of the reign of God, and the text would say: the reign of God has already come."  In Jesus Christ God's Rule has already broken into our world, dug its way through our hardened mud walls.
He says that Jesus broke into the spaces of the old society, "the taken for granted things from which people interested only in themselves build the houses of their lives."  The old society would have defended itself, but Jesus came like a thief in the night, unexpected.  "With him the reign of God was suddenly there, and the new had already begun--in the midst of the old world."  A successful break-in!
I found this oddly comforting.  I have often been satisfied with the ambiguity of the already-but-not-yet coming of the Lord as we find it in the New Testament.  But I was deeply stirred by this notion of the reign of God as an already successful break-in.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


A favorite overlook from a nearby mountain.
Today's feast of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) got me thinking about God's presence sometimes shining out of someone or some place.  Jesus was God, but looked like other men that Peter, James, and John knew.  Suddenly on the mountain his Divinity shines through and from a cloud the apostles hear God's voice.
It made me think of Thomas Merton's "Louisville Epiphany" which he describes in Confessions of a Guilty Bystander: "In Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the middle of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness....
"Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of  their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes.  If only they could see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time.  There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed...I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other."
These glimpses into the other world, into Love who is woven into and through our world, are precious gifts.  Prayer sharpens our eyes and gets us ready when suddenly there's God.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Utter Futility

Hard to capture a rainbow.
"Utter futility!" is the way the Jewish Tanakh translation begins the book of Ecclesiastes.  This seems to capture the meaning of the author better than the more traditional "Vanity of vanities!"  The Hebrew word literally means "breath" or "vapor."  The author uses it 38 times in this short book to express how ephemeral, incomprehensible, and unreliable life is.
The entire book is a perfect companion to Jesus' parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.  Ecclesiastes looks at various things in life and each time laments "Utter futility!"  To me the book shows how empty a life is without any consideration of God.  The author really doesn't lead us to this conclusion, or to any other conclusion, for that matter. 
The book seems cynical enough to have been written yesterday.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hidden with Christ

One of my favorite long distance views from a West Virginia ridge.
I used Colossians 3:1-11 for Scripture prayer this morning.  St. Paul helps us to see that we are really already living in the "other" world because we have been raised and are "hidden with Christ" in that world.  Our hearts are drawn into the way of living where God is all, where Love permeates everything. That other-worldly way of living colors our behavior in this world.
Greed is out of sync with the New Life that Jesus shares with us.  Why would we let ourselves get bogged down in gobbling up more and more of this world's stuff when we are living a rich life in the "other" world?  Greed, St. Paul says, is "idolatry."  Things take the place of God in our life.
Paul strengthens his point with a new metaphor.  We have been clothed with "the new self."  All human beings are one because they are all united in the life Jesus shares with them.   We are bound together by the Love in whom we live.