Friday, January 12, 2018




Image result for shivering cold gif

Just over a month away, I can escape this cold and fly to the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia. 
OK, I have to work without pay, not lay around and drink rum coolers, but I am OK with that! 
I will be leading the priest and deacon retreat for the Archdiocese of Castries, Saint Lucia. 
It was first scheduled for September, but because of the hurricanes, it was rescheduled for February 19 - February 22, 2018. 
If I can get out without a blizzard shutting down the airport, this might just be a blessing in disguise! 

The truth is, I will probably never  get to walk on the beach. I'll probably be locked away in a retreat house all week. Maybe I'll see this from the air as I land and take off if I'm lucky! At least it will be warm! 

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Thursday, January 11, 2018


"I wonder what a Pope feels like?" 

Have you ever tried to give a homily with a hyperactive child stealing the show? 

Hey, Pope Francis, I have some fans too!

One of the young residents of St. Benedict Home for Children in St. Vincent. 

This is little Mona Lisa, the bishop's housekeeper's daughter, in Barbados.She is a most contented, happy baby who hardly cries. She keeps her beautiful dark eyes peeled on you as you move about the room. 

Baptizing one of 6 babies in the Cathedral in Kingston, SVG. last December 17. 

One of the young Cathedral parishioners around Christmas. 

This is Daniel, resident at the Bread of Life Home for Children, in St. Vincent. He took to me for some reason! 

I am already buying toys on sale for next Christmas for the kids in the two island Children's Homes. I am finding great prices on quality toys. The January sales are a great time to start collecting. I learned this year that I need to probably ship the toys in August next time around to be sure they arrive in time for Christmas 2018.  

These dolls remind me of the 6 beautiful babies I baptized December 17 of last year when I was down in the islands. 
They will make some kids very happy this next Christmas. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


The best stuff on preaching I have ever come across comes from Pope Francis in his JOY OF THE GOSPEL exhortation. If every bishop, priest and deacon in the Church really followed this advice, Catholic preaching would improve dramatically. 

No one says it quite like Pope Francis - simple, direct and with a clear ring of truth. 

If you never get around to reading the whole thing, at least read this part. 

III. Preparing to preach
145. Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it. With great affection I wish to stop for a moment and offer a method of preparing homilies. Some may find these suggestions self-evident, but I consider it helpful to offer them as a way of emphasizing the need to devote quality time to this precious ministry. Some pastors argue that such preparation is not possible given the vast number of tasks which they must perform; nonetheless, I presume to ask that each week a sufficient portion of personal and community time be dedicated to this task, even if less time has to be given to other important activities. Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments (cf. Rom 12:1) which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not “spiritual”; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.
Reverence for truth
146. The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching. Whenever we stop and attempt to understand the message of a particular text, we are practising “reverence for the truth”.[113] This is the humility of heart which recognizes that the word is always beyond us, that “we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servants”.[114] This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it. To interpret a biblical text, we need to be patient, to put aside all other concerns, and to give it our time, interest and undivided attention. We must leave aside any other pressing concerns and create an environment of serene concentration. It is useless to attempt to read a biblical text if all we are looking for are quick, easy and immediate results. Preparation for preaching requires love. We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us. Because of this love, we can take as much time as we need, like every true disciple: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).
147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.
148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.
Personalizing the word
149. The preacher “ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him”.[115] It is good for us to renew our fervour each day and every Sunday as we prepare the homily, examining ourselves to see if we have grown in love for the word which we preach. Nor should we forget that “the greater or lesser degree of the holiness of the minister has a real effect on the proclamation of the word”.[116] As Saint Paul says, “we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Th2:4). If we have a lively desire to be the first to hear the word which we must preach, this will surely be communicated to God’s faithful people, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). The Sunday readings will resonate in all their brilliance in the hearts of the faithful if they have first done so in the heart of their pastor.
150. Jesus was angered by those supposed teachers who demanded much of others, teaching God’s word but without being enlightened by it: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves will not lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). The apostle James exhorted: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1). Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life. In this way preaching will consist in that activity, so intense and fruitful, which is “communicating to others what one has contemplated”.[117] For all these reasons, before preparing what we will actually say when preaching, we need to let ourselves be penetrated by that word which will also penetrate others, for it is a living and active word, like a sword “which pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). This has great pastoral importance. Today too, people prefer to listen to witnesses: they “thirst for authenticity” and “call for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they themselves know and are familiar with, as if they were seeing him”.[118]
151. We are not asked to be flawless, but to keep growing and wanting to grow as we advance along the path of the Gospel; our arms must never grow slack. What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him and that his love always has the last word. Encountering such beauty, he will often feel that his life does not glorify God as it should, and he will sincerely desire to respond more fully to so great a love. Yet if he does not take time to hear God’s word with an open heart, if he does not allow it to touch his life, to challenge him, to impel him, and if he does not devote time to pray with that word, then he will indeed be a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow impostor. But by acknowledging his poverty and desiring to grow in his commitment, he will always be able to abandon himself to Christ, saying in the words of Peter: “I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The Lord wants to make use of us as living, free and creative beings who let his word enter their own hearts before then passing it on to others. Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being. The Holy Spirit, who inspired the word, “today, just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself”.[119]
Spiritual reading
152. There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us. This prayerful reading of the Bible is not something separate from the study undertaken by the preacher to ascertain the central message of the text; on the contrary, it should begin with that study and then go on to discern how that same message speaks to his own life. The spiritual reading of a text must start with its literal sense. Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought. Ultimately this would be tantamount to using something sacred for our own benefit and then passing on this confusion to God’s people. We must never forget that sometimes “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).
153. In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: “Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this? Or perhaps: What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?” When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away. Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make. This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait. He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.
An ear to the people
154. The preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear. A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people. In this way he learns “of the aspirations, of riches and limitations, of ways of praying, of loving, of looking at life and the world, which distinguish this or that human gathering,” while paying attention “to actual people, to using their language, their signs and symbols, to answering the questions they ask”.[120] He needs to be able to link the message of a biblical text to a human situation, to an experience which cries out for the light of God’s word. This interest has nothing to do with shrewdness or calculation; it is profoundly religious and pastoral. Fundamentally it is a “spiritual sensitivity for reading God’s message in events”,[121] and this is much more than simply finding something interesting to say. What we are looking for is “what the Lord has to say in this or that particular circumstance”.[122] Preparation for preaching thus becomes an exercise in evangelical discernment, wherein we strive to recognize – in the light of the Spirit – “a call which God causes to resound in the historical situation itself. In this situation, and also through it, God calls the believer”.[123]
155. In this effort we may need but think of some ordinary human experience such as a joyful reunion, a moment of disappointment, the fear of being alone, compassion at the sufferings of others, uncertainty about the future, concern for a loved one, and so forth. But we need to develop a broad and profound sensitivity to what really affects other people’s lives. Let us also keep in mind that we should never respond to questions that nobody asks. Nor is it fitting to talk about the latest news in order to awaken people’s interest; we have television programmes for that. It is possible, however, to start with some fact or story so that God’s word can forcefully resound in its call to conversion, worship, commitment to fraternity and service, and so forth. Yet there will always be some who readily listen to a preacher’s commentaries on current affairs, while not letting themselves be challenged.
Homiletic resources
156. Some people think they can be good preachers because they know what ought to be said, but they pay no attention to how it should be said, that is, the concrete way of constructing a sermon. They complain when people do not listen to or appreciate them, but perhaps they have never taken the trouble to find the proper way of presenting their message. Let us remember that “the obvious importance of the content of evangelization must not overshadow the importance of its ways and means”.[124] Concern for the way we preach is likewise a profoundly spiritual concern. It entails responding to the love of God by putting all our talents and creativity at the service of the mission which he has given us; at the same time, it shows a fine, active love of neighbour by refusing to offer others a product of poor quality. In the Bible, for example, we can find advice on how to prepare a homily so as to best to reach people: “Speak concisely, say much in few words” (Sir 32:8).
157. Simply using a few examples, let us recall some practical resources which can enrich our preaching and make it more attractive. One of the most important things is to learn how to use images in preaching, how to appeal to imagery. Sometimes examples are used to clarify a certain point, but these examples usually appeal only to the mind; images, on the other hand, help people better to appreciate and accept the message we wish to communicate. An attractive image makes the message seem familiar, close to home, practical and related to everyday life. A successful image can make people savour the message, awaken a desire and move the will towards the Gospel. A good homily, an old teacher once told me, should have “an idea, a sentiment, an image.”
158. Paul VI said that “the faithful… expect much from preaching, and will greatly benefit from it, provided that it is simple, clear, direct, well-adapted”.[125] Simplicity has to do with the language we use. It must be one that people understand, lest we risk speaking to a void. Preachers often use words learned during their studies and in specialized settings which are not part of the ordinary language of their hearers. These are words that are suitable in theology or catechesis, but whose meaning is incomprehensible to the majority of Christians. The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it. If we wish to adapt to people’s language and to reach them with God’s word, we need to share in their lives and pay loving attention to them. Simplicity and clarity are two different things. Our language may be simple but our preaching not very clear. It can end up being incomprehensible because it is disorganized, lacks logical progression or tries to deal with too many things at one time. We need to ensure, then, that the homily has thematic unity, clear order and correlation between sentences, so that people can follow the preacher easily and grasp his line of argument.
159. Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches. Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity. How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!

Sunday, January 7, 2018



We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.
Matthew 2:1

One of the most enduring literary forms is the “quest” or the “hero’s journey.” The object of a “quest” requires great exertion on the part of the hero, the overcoming of many obstacles, typically including much travel into the land of adventures and tests. The hero normally aims to obtain something with the goal of returning home. The object of the journey can be a new insight, something that fulfills a lack in life, or something or someone who was stolen or abducted.

Examples from history include Homer’s Odyssey in which Odysseus whom the gods cursed to wander and suffer for many years until Athena persuaded the Olympians to allow him to return. Recovering the Golden Fleece is the object of the travels of Jason and the Argonauts in Argonautica. Surely, most of us are familiar with quest for the Holy Grail and the adventures of King Arthur, Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Then there is the mock quest of Don Quixote, who nonetheless remains a hero of chivalry. Who has not been to a high school graduation without having been challenged by “To Dream the Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha?” Then there is the Wizard of Oz. where Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion go on a quest for the way back to Kansas, for brains, for a heart and for courage.

The “quest” theme in literature continues into our own day. One of my favorite quest stories is “The Never Ending Story” about Bastian being pulled into the heroic adventures of Atreyu on his heroic trip to Fantasia. Most of you young people have grown up with the quest of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a tale of friendship, inner struggle with temptation, against a background of epic and supernatural warfare.

The story of the Magi has all the qualities of a traditional “quest” story. There is risk, adventure, determination, long distance travel, tests, diversions and finally a trip home. The Magi were priest-teachers to the kings of Persia (modern day Iraq). (By the way we don’t know how many there were even though three gifts are mentioned.) These men were not seeking their fortunes – seeking gold or pearls or even oil! They were on a search for God. They were on a “spiritual quest.” As priest-teachers from that part of the world, their job was to watch the heavens for any unusual activity.

For them, unusual activity among the stars was a sign that God was up to something new. Unusual celestial activity drove them to check it out. Astrologers today even know the name of the star they followed. It was called ‘The Birth of a Prince Star.” They left everything that was comfortable and familiar to them and set out to new lands, seeking new insights and new understanding. Their search led them to Jesus.

What has all this to do with us? Surely, we are not here to admire other people’s adventures from history, literature or Scripture! We are here to be challenged by these biblical figures to go on our own spiritual quests! In fact, that is one of the weaknesses of today’s culture. We would rather watch sports than play them; listen to music than learn to play an instrument or sing ourselves; play video games with imaginary heroes than try to become heroes ourselves!

The template for a hero’s journey, anyone on a quest to become someone new or to fulfill his or her dreams, is the Old Testament story of the Exodus. The People of God are in slavery in Egypt, symbolic of a life that is not working. They get an opportunity to begin an adventure of transformation and so set out in great enthusiasm. Thinking that they could go through a transformation without any pain or inconvenience, they are shocked by the wear and tear of the desert. Underestimating how much work real change involves, some wanted to back out of the process and return to Egypt – their old way of life. A few tough it out and finally move into the new life they had imagined, before the trials and tests of the desert. This template is true whether you want to lose weight, leave a dysfunctional relationship or even graduate from college!

I have adopted this template for my retirement. My worst nightmare was to go into retirement accepting the popular belief that it was a time to slow down, take care of myself or let myself be pampered by others. The rocking chair is a symbol of retirement in our country. I say “to hell with rocking chairs! Get them out of my sight!” I want, rather,  to reinvent myself, I want a new adventure and I want to see how far I can push myself. I just returned from my 8th trip to the island country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, right off the coast of Venezuela! Here I am at 74, doing foreign missionary work, volunteering in a foreign country, meeting people I could never have imagined. I am a bit amazed at myself going through foreign airports by myself with a backpack and putting myself in some pretty scary situations. It is not easy, but it certainly beats playing golf all week, rocking on the front porch and counting my pills!

Fellow spiritual seekers, when it comes to real change, there are a couple of slogans to remember. “No pain. No gain.” “No cross, no crown.” "There is always a big breakdown before the big breakthrough.” “One cannot discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” Or as Bilbo put it in “the Fellowship of the Rings,” “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” If you don’t believe me, just ask my heroes, the Magi. Whatever you do, or your circumstances allow, for God's sake don't be like that old woman from Eastern Kentucky who had never been more than two miles from the spot where she was born! When asked why she had never her whole life left the area where she was born, she answered, "I just don't believe in goin' places!"