Friday, December 6, 2019


(A reprint from the past)

Saint Nicholas, faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, example of Christian love, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, helper of the poor and needy, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, champion of orphans and widows, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, protector of those who sail at sea, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, defender of the true faith, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, patron of children around the world, pray for us. 
Saint Nicholas, secret giver of gifts, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, the great wonderworker, pray for us.
Saint Nicholas, our friend in Heaven, pray for us.


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Since today is the feast of Saint Nicholas, I have decided to re-run a column I wrote fourteen years ago about the slow “massacre” of this beloved saint over the years till our own day. Ever since St. Nicholas changed his name to Santa Claus, he has been going downhill fast.

Nicholas started off as a rich young man from Turkey who become a kindly bishop. Dressed in a bishop’s red cope, mitre and crosier, he was known for his love of children and his determination to use his inheritance doing anonymous works of charity.

Probably “too Catholic,” 17th century Dutch Protestants helped turn him into a married ex-priest living at the North Pole. Instead of being a bishop presiding over a diocese, he ended up presiding over a gang of workaholic elves. Obviously, he married without “laicization.” Why else would he have been banished to such a God-forsaken place as the North Pole?

It must have been a traumatic career-change. He ended up with a serious eating disorder and a possible drinking problem that turned him into a rotund bag of cholesterol with a bad case of  “rosacea.”

Just when you thought he could not sink any lower, he stared in an “adult” movie with an R rating called “Bad Santa.”  For those who think foul-mouthed drunks and vulgar rudeness are funny, this movie promised to be a huge hit. The reviews used words like, “demented, twisted, gloriously rude, rancid, vulgar and unreasonably funny.” 

So far, no one has raised any serious questions about his obsession with children, his enslaving of small animals to carry loads heavier than any UPS jet or his penchant for “breaking and entering” homes all over the world. Of course, there is always next year.

St. Nicholas is not the only one to lose at this time of year. Even Jesus is being nudged out by elves, reindeer, kittens in Christmas stockings and innocuous “happy holiday” cards.

Instead of Jesus’ birth being central, Christmas has become a frenzy of buying: buying things people don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have. Every year, we hear about a mob of shoppers, rushing like a herd of charging elephants for a sale, trampling people and knocking them unconscious. No wonder so many are left disappointed and in debt and the suicide rate spikes right after Christmas. 

Before you dismiss me as a Grinch, let me assure you that I do love Christmas. My point is that it takes a lot of imagination and determination these days to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  Since I am single and my life is different from that of many others, I am reluctant to give practical suggestions, but here is an example. Keep it simple. Give more of yourself to the people you love, rather than just handing them wrapped presents. In general, do less each year, not more. Take a little of that time you saved to design your own one-hour retreat. Take a long walk by yourself and try to remember what Christmas is really all about.  I believe you will find that the less you get involved in the Christmas shopping madness, the more satisfying Christmas will become for you!    

Tuesday, December 3, 2019




One of the things I need to learn, being over seventy-five and living alone, is that I can't take the silly risks like I used to take! I need to face reality before I do something really stupid to hurt myself - maybe fatally! Just because I don't like the idea of getting older does not mean that it is not happening! 

A few years ago, over the Christmas holidays, I decided to lift a heavy concrete pot over my head by myself and place in on top of a tall cabinet. I should have waited for help, but I didn't. As I almost reached the top of the cabinet, I was barely able to hold on as I continued to lift. I felt a strange pop in my left shoulder muscles. After several months of pain, especially at night, I went to get it checked out. I found out that I had torn my rotator cuff, the tear had become abscessed and it would require surgery to fix. I am still angry at myself for taking such a risk! 

Two days before Thanksgiving this year, I decided to replace a canister on my track lighting in the living room. It was too much trouble, I thought, to get the step ladder out of the garage. I stood on a square coffee table with several sheets of loose paper. As I finished twisting the canister, I stepped on one of the sheets of paper that caused me to slide. I fell backwards, on my back, onto the floor. 

the scene of the accident 

Realizing what had happened, I could hardly move. When I was finally able to get up, I knew that I had bruised my back on one side, but otherwise I was not hurt. My back is still very sore and painful. I can hardly turn over in bed and it hurts when I cough or laugh. 

Over the next several days, I realized that this could have been a very bad situation. I could have broken some bones, hit my head on the bookcase, knocking myself out, and I could have lain there on the floor for God-knows-how-long! Living alone, no one would have known that I was hurt or would have even come by to check on me for a very long time.  I have always joked with my oldest sister that I would probably fall down the steps and kill myself and my whole family would assume that I was on one of my trips until the buzzards started circling my condo! 

I am still angry at myself for taking such a risk! It was a wake-up call! It has prompted me to assess all the safety features of my condo situation: grab bars, stair railings, floor rugs and even my communications system with the outside world.   

All you old people, my age an older, listen up! Better safe than sorry! I was lucky this time, but I learned a lesson: one lazy mistake can cause a whole lot of hurt! 

Sunday, December 1, 2019



Stay awake! You do not know on which day 
your Lord will come
Matthew 24:37-44

Three weeks ago, my third cousin, Father Bob Ray, and I made a promised trip down to my home parish of Saint Theresa of Avila in Meade County to show our friend Greg Burch where his father grew up and to look through the old cemetery for Burch family graves. It was a fascinating trip. We showed him the home his father grew up in and where some of his uncles and aunts raised their families. He was delighted when we found many of his family graves in the old Saint Theresa Cemetery which dates back to 1827.

Across the road from the old cemetery, Saint Theresa Church has a new cemetery that was started about 1950. That’s where mine and Father Ray’s families are buried and where both of us will be buried. We stopped by our parents and grandparents graves, as well as uncles and aunts, old friends and neighbors with whom we grew up. Being third cousins, our families overlap in some places. Our grandmothers were sisters. Besides that, my sister, who died last year, was married to his brother. That brother, my brother-in-law, stopped by while we there to visit my sister’s grave who was his wife.   

Stay awake! You do not know on which day
your Lord will come.

As we walked from grave to grave, I noticed that some of the people died in their old age, while others were taken suddenly in their youth. There was one grave of a mother and two children who were all killed together in a car accident. Their stone told the reader that they had donated their organs to save the lives of four people who were waiting for organ transplants.  There were graves of children who died of illnesses, graves of teenagers who died in motorcycle accidents and a husband and wife who were killed together in another car wreck. Then there was the grave of one of my cousins and her husband who both had a very sad ending. She had advanced MS and he was her caretaker. As her disease progressed, we were all expecting her to go at any time. However, her devoted husband-caretaker unexpectedly died of a heart attack one day, leaving her with no caretaker. I did the funeral. I still remember her being carried, unable to walk, to his graveside when we laid him to rest.

As we made our rounds of the tombstones, mostly with familiar names, I came to my own grave plot with my new tombstone in place with my full name, date of birth and ordination date. It’s simple, small and matches the two other priests that I will be buried next to – Father Felix Johnson, my childhood pastor, who said I would never make it in the seminary, and Father Thomas Buren, my first pastor, down in Somerset, after ordination. Both of them were a pain in the you-know-what, but once we are all dead, who cares? All is forgiven. The only thing different on my tombstone are these words – “Simply Amazed – Forever Grateful” across the top.  The only thing left blank on my stone is my death date.

Stay awake! You do not know on which day
your Lord will come.
Have you ever wondered about your own death date? Have you ever let yourself imagine it? Have you made plans for it? I have!  I have a last will and testament and a designated executor. I have a “living will” outlining my wishes about end of life issues.  I have a funeral service outlined with readings, music and a priest-homilist selected.  I have a burial spot and a tombstone already erected. Abbey Caskets, over at Saint Meinrad where I used to work, is providing a casket.

I have an in-home health care policy that I bought when I turned fifty so I might be spared, for a while at least, going to a nursing home. I have saved all through my ordained life to be able to pay my bills so as not to be a burden to my family, my friends or the archdiocese.  I have gotten annual physicals and monitored my health on a regular basis. Like that old “Ronco Rotisserie Oven” commercial used to put it on TV, I have “set it” and now I want to “forget it.” Having prepared the best that I can for dying, I now want to go on living the best I can, for as long as I can!  

Yes, I have my proverbial bags packed. I just don’t know the day or the hour. I have no control over how I will die, but I do have a few hopes about how my life will end. I don’t know if it will be quick and easy or drawn out and painful. I only hope I don't have to suffer. I have never been very good at that! I can’t even handle the flu all that well! Filled with amazement and gratitude, and hopefully free of pain, I pray that I am aware of what is happening so that I can embrace it rather than go out kicking and screaming. If it is painful, I pray that I can handle it with dignity and grace, without too much aggravation to those around me.

Even though I may have to update these plans every now and then, I plan to go on living with all the passion and energy that I can muster. When I retired, I most certainly did not want to sit in a rocking chair and wait till I died! I did not want to sit around talking about medications, insurance policies, doctor’s appointments and what various nursing homes have to offer. I wanted to “set it and forget it,” have my plans in place so I could forget about them until I needed them! I did not want to pamper myself or let myself be pampered! Instead I wanted to live simply, recreate myself and do some things I have never done. One of those things is to volunteer in the Caribbean Missions where life is hard, where that reality could teach me how good I have it now and how lucky I have been most of my life. In retirement, I wanted to keep working so that I could make some extra funds for giving back to others, as I have so generously been given to! So far, so good! I haven’t even pulled out my final plans and looked at them for a couple of years, but I know that they are there when I will need them!
Stay awake! You do not know on which day
your Lord will come.

What about you? Are you brave enough, and have faith enough, to let yourself think about your own death? Are you so in denial that you are willing to stick your family with the burden of what to do with you when you die? Are you wasting the time you have left, just waiting around to die, or are you still reinventing yourself so that you can keep on living a full life as long as you can? Are you doing those things that are necessary to maintain good health or are you still engaged in addictive habits that put your health at risk? Have you talked to your family about end of life issues and signed the proper papers that will help them follow your wishes? Are you prepared well enough now to be able to lay your preparations aside and live with passion, intensity and purpose? Are you prepared spiritually to meet your Maker whatever the day or the hour?

As we try to live a full and rich life, there are two extremes to be avoided: the failure to think about death on one hand and an obsessive preoccupation with death on the other. Instead of trying to “get ready” at the last minute, or being totally caught off guard, the best approach is to “stay awake,” have "your bags packed" and keep on living, because you do not know on which day your Lord will come! As Isaiah the Prophet put it, "Would that you would meet us doing right and being mindful of your ways."