Friday, January 10, 2020


There is a pond in front of my condo that always seems to have geese, ducks, cranes, turtles and a few small fish doing their living. They supply endless entertainment and a good outlet for all my stale bread and old cereal. 

Geese are dirty, aggravating animals mostly - especially when they "do their business" everywhere they walk and begin honking at sunrise. I tend to forgive them in the spring when their goslings are born. These babies, usually five to seven of them, follow their geese parents everywhere they go. In turn, their parents never let their little goslings out of their sights. It is a beautiful sight to see every spring. As it is with all parents, it's amazing how fast the little ones grow up! 

Ducks, on the other hand, seem to me to be more interested in breeding or playing-hard-to-get. It is not uncommon to see a female duck trying her best to avoid the unwanted advances of male ducks. I don't know a whole lot about "duck love," but it sometimes appears that ducks "mate for life." This seemed to be validated recently when I looked out to see these two (husband-wife or girlfriend-boyfriend) ducks swimming together in the pouring rain, touching one minute and avoiding each other the next. It was a ballet of "can't live with you and can't live without you" movements!  

As I watched them, out there in the pouring rain, I was reminded of something my mother used to say to us kids when we seemed oblivious and clueless. Reaching the peak of her frustration, she would shout, "You kids haven't got sense enough to come in out of the rain!" As I watched the ducks that day, I stood there wondering if "duck love" doesn't do that to ducks? 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020



Since retiring five years ago, I have worked in the Caribbean Missions as a volunteer, fund raiser, collector and distributor of goods to the poor, procurer of surplus medical supplies, supporter of orphans and abandoned children, whether Catholic or not. In the Caribbean Missions, where I volunteer, there are many poor people of mixed race backgrounds. 

The other day, I was reading about the life and work of Saint Martin de Porres. I decided, then and there, that he would be the Patron Saint of my Catholic Second Wind Guild. 

Juan Martin de Porres Velázquez was born in the city of Lima, Peru on 11 December 1579. He was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres, and Ana Velázquez, a freed slave from African Native American descent. He had a sister named Juana de Porres, born two years later in 1581. After the birth of his sister, the father abandoned the family. Ana Velázquez supported her children by taking in laundry. He grew up in poverty and, when his mother could not support him, Martin was sent to a primary school for two years, and then placed with a barber/surgeon to learn the medical arts. He spent hours of the night in prayer, a practice which increased as he grew older.

Under Peruvian law, descendants of Africans and Native Americans were barred from becoming full members of religious orders. The only route open to Martin was to ask the Dominicans of Holy Rosary Priory in Lima to accept him as a donado, a volunteer who performed menial tasks in the monastery in return for the privilege of wearing the habit and living with the religious community. At the age of 15 he asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was received first as a servant boy, and as his duties grew he was promoted to almoner.

Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and was said to have performed many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. After eight years at Holy Rosary, the Prior Juan de Lorenzana, decided to turn a blind eye to the law and permit Martin to take his vows as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic Holy Rosary was home to 300 men, not all of whom accepted the decision of De Lorenzana: one of the novices called Martin a "mullato dog", while one of the priests mocked him for being illegitimate and descended from slaves.

When Martin was 24, he was allowed to profess religious vows as a Dominican lay brother in 1603. He is said to have several times refused this elevation in status, which may have come about due to his father's intervention, and he never became a priest. It is said that when his convent was in debt, he implored them: "I am only a poor mulatto, sell me." Martin was deeply attached to the Blessed Sacrament and he was praying in front of it one night when the step of the altar he was kneeling on caught fire. Throughout all the confusion and chaos that followed, he remained where he was, unaware of what was happening around him.

When Martin was 34, after he had been given the religious habit of a lay brother, he was assigned to the infirmary, where he was placed in charge and would remain in service until his death at the age of 59. He was known for his care of the sick. His superiors saw in him the virtues necessary to exercise unfailing patience in this difficult role. It was not long before miracles were attributed to him. Martin also cared for the sick outside his convent, often bringing them healing with only a simple glass of water. He ministered without distinction to Spanish nobles and to slaves recently brought from Africa. One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand, and Martin took him to his own bed. One of his brethren reproved him. Martin replied: "Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness."

When an epidemic struck Lima, there were in this single Convent of the Rosary 60 friars who were sick, many of them novices in a distant and locked section of the convent, separated from the professed. Martin is said to have passed through the locked doors to care for them, a phenomenon which was reported in the residence more than once. The professed, too, saw him suddenly beside them without the doors having been opened. Martin continued to transport the sick to the convent until the provincial superior, alarmed by the contagion threatening the friars, forbade him to continue to do so. His sister, who lived in the country, offered her house to lodge those whom the residence of the religious could not hold. One day he found on the street a poor Indian, bleeding to death from a dagger wound, and took him to his own room until he could transport him to his sister's hospice. The prior, when he heard of this, reprimanded him for disobedience. He was extremely edified, however, by his reply: "Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity." The prior gave him liberty thereafter to follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.

Martin did not eat meat. He begged for alms to procure necessities the convent could not provide. In normal times, Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the indigent. Side by side with his daily work in the kitchen, laundry and infirmary, Martin's life is said to have reflected extraordinary gifts: ecstasies that lifted him into the air, light filling the room where he prayed, bilocation, miraculous knowledge, instantaneous cures and a remarkable rapport with animals. He founded a residence for orphans and abandoned children in the city of Lima.

Saint Martin de Porres, please ask God to bless our Caribbean ministry through the efforts of the Catholic Second Wind Guild. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020



In the days of King Herod,  
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  
"Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. 
Matthew 2:1-12

I suppose different things might jump out of this story for different people. If you are an immigrant, for instance, you might focus on the inclusion of foreigners from the East in the Christmas story. If you are poor, you might focus on the gifts - what they're worth and what Mary and Joseph did with them. If you are a mental health professional, you might focus on the paranoia of King Herod. If you are a police officer, you might focus on the evasive tactics of the magi. As a spiritual seeker, you might focus on the curiosity and courage of the magi. As a spiritual leader, the curiosity and courage of the magi as spiritual seekers is what always jumps out for me. These guys are certainly not your typical dabblers in religion! As spiritual seekers, these guys are driven!

I was ordained to be a spiritual leader in the Church, and according to the Church, preaching is the primary way I am called to do it. I am to preach conversion to unbelievers and feed the faith within the hearts of believers. I do that in a variety of ways. I preach at Sunday Masses and other celebrations of the Sacraments. I preach Parish Missions. I preach through my extensive writing of columns, articles, books and blog posts.  There is an old Latin saying that every spiritual teacher ought to have tattooed to the back of his hand. I have it memorized! Nemo dat quod not habet. One cannot give what one does not have. I became a designated spiritual teacher several years before I became a serious spiritual seeker. Institutionally, I was "on board," but I was not engaged in a serious personal search for my own ongoing transformation.  It did not take me long, however, to realize that if I wanted to lead people spiritually, I would to have to first be committed to my own intentional spiritual growth. Because I am called to preach, I feel driven to develop a ravenous appetite for my own personal spiritual growth. I understand completely that I cannot give what I do not have! I understand completely that what I give you each Sunday has to come through me and out of me, not just out of some book I read and recycled for you to hear!

Because I am a spiritual seeker, who is serious about doing my seeking within the church, I often attract people who are threatened, for one reason or another, by my choice to do my spiritual seeking within the Catholic Church. Some lash out at me in anger, not only privately, but sometimes even in public! More common than an outright attack is the "humoring" I get from those who are mildly annoyed by my religiosity, but don't want to hurt my feelings. Others are like Herod, afraid of what they may find if they were to get serious themselves about finding God. They want others to do their seeking for them and when they have found it, come back and tell them so that they, too, might come to believe!

No matter where you are on the "spiritual seeker" scale, the magi have something to teach you! These guys didn't just sit around "discussing religion," they were willing to go to great lengths in their asking, seeking and knocking in their search for God. The magi set out from afar, following the path of a star, asking questions of the authorities, reaching dead ends and even exploring alternatives, before they finally found their hearts desire.

Fellow spiritual seekers! Religion has two sides - both important - sides that should never be separated. When they are separated, religion is distorted and can even be dangerous. It has an exoteric side. The exoteric side deals with the things of religion, from the way religion is organized to the religious objects it uses. It has an esoteric side as well. The esoteric side deals with the essence of religion, from the joys of inner transformation to the hardships of daily discipleship.  When the exoteric side is neglected, God's communal religion is distorted into some narcissistic "new age" individualism.  When the esoteric side is neglected, religion becomes idolatry - a worship of the temple instead of the God who lives in it!

My fellow believers! If you are a serious spiritual seeker already - and some of you are - let the magi inspire you to keep working your program and walking your path! If you would like to become a serious spiritual seeker, let the magi inspire you to get up off your spiritual recliners and get your butt to the gym, spiritually speaking! I must warn you that, even though such a search is definitely worth it, it isn't easy! You have to do a lot of asking, seeking and knocking! It is something you have to do personally! No one can do it for you! What you are looking for is an internal transformation. The Church, as a structure, exists to help you and the Church, as the family of God, is there to support you in your search.  The institution needs you to keep it honest and you need the institution to keep you honest on your search.

In short, don't just admire the magi, become a “magi” yourself!  In other words, maybe this will be the year when you become an even more committed Christian and an even more intentional Catholic! It is certainly not going to come looking for you! It is time to trade in your inherited faith for a personal faith - a faith that can sustain you no matter what call in life you answer!