Friday, August 21, 2020


This is the twenty-fifth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against haste and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.



Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1-4

During this pandemic, I have had at least four graveside funeral services, rather than traditional funeral Masses inside a church. As I prepared a homily for my first cousin who was buried in Saint Mary Magdalen Church in Payneville, Kentucky, I was struck by the fact that cemeteries are called "consecrated" ground for a reason. Here are some of the thoughts I shared with the people who attended his funeral. 

My dear family and friends! We are standing on holy ground! We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses – those who have gone before us after they have completed their time here on earth! Our parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, our neighbors, our friends and our fellow parishioners are buried here! Yes, this is holy ground! Here lie the relics of some powerful saints with whom we share DNA and endless memories! 

Yes, make no mistake about it! This is holy ground and we are surrounded by a cloud of witness who have faithfully lived the Christian faith in this community.  They were good, good, good people! If most of them are not saints by now, then I don’t have much of a chance! Let’s be clear about one thing! We are burying another family member in holy ground! 

As I was preparing this homily, I thought of a reliquary that someone gave me a few years ago. It is a large, gold locket with a small door containing a tiny bone fragment of Saint Pius X. A “reliquary” then is something that holds the bones of a saint. This cemetery, this holy ground that we stand on today, is really one big “reliquary.” It holds the bones of this community’s saints – the bones of our saints! 

Many of you might remember the thriller film, The Sixth Sense, which tells the story of Cole Sear, a troubled, isolated boy, who is able to see and talk to the dead, and an equally troubled child psychologist (played by Bruce Willis), who tries to help him. The most famous lines from the film belong to the young boy. “I see dead people!” 

In a way, that is exactly writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, that I read from today, is telling us when he says, “we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses.” In fact, he is saying four things. 

(1) First, he is telling us that living the Christian life is like running a race. It is not a stroll for the lazy and indifferent. It takes the serious discipline of an athlete. We have to train every day of our lives. We have to know where we are going, remain focused, and keep our eyes on the finish line 

(1) Second, he is telling us that there are people “in the stands,” people who have run the race before us and who have already crossed the finish line, who are cheering us on! Can’t you feel their presence right now! This fact challenges us to remember that we are surrounded by a large group of supportive onlookers as we live out our lives as Christians. This is precisely what we mean when we say in our Creed that we believe in the “communion of the saints.” That is so damned easy to say, but today, standing here, I feel it! I, for one, do not actually see dead people, but I do feel their presence, helping me along the way. I believe that I am not alone on my journey of faith, but I am part of a larger story, a great procession of people marching through history. 

(2) Third, he is telling us to “persevere in running the race that lies before us.” Dropping out of the race is always an option, especially for the college students I used to work with when I was chaplain at Bellarmine University. . One of the big questions before the college students I worked with is this one. “Will you abandon the religious upbringing of your childhood or will you choose it for myself of your own free will? Will you persevere in living your Catholic Christian faith or will you simply drop out of the race because it is too hard, because it is too much trouble, because it demands too much, because it is too inconvenient or because others around you are dropping out as well? 

(3) Fourth, he is telling us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Distractions are a problem for all of us, no matter how many laps of the race we have completed. There are those who seek to draw our attention away from the race we are running. “Look here! Look over there! Look at me! Look at this! Pay attention to this! Pay attention to that! See this! See that!” If we are to persevere in running this race, we must keep our eyes fixed on the finish line, we must “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” As we stand here among our family saints, let us be reminded, in the starkest way possible, that we too will be lying with them someday! We will then be part of this “cloud of witnesses.” We must remain focused on what we are doing and why we are doing, until we hear Jesus say to us at the finish line, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master!” 

I hope that you have had the time to share your favorite stories about our dear cousin. In your own way, you have shared short “eulogies” about him with each other. “Eulogies” are stories about what the deceased did for God – his professional accomplishments, his educational achievements, his services to the community and his dedication to his family. 

“Eulogies” are popular these days at funerals, but when we list all that the deceased did, we have to be careful. We cannot list them and then conclude that the deceased “earned his way to heaven” by doing all those good deeds. No, they must be seen as a grateful response to God’s free gift of salvation! Nobody can earn salvation! It’s free for the taking! We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it, but God gives it to us free of charge! 

Priests and deacons, when they speak at funerals, are instructed not to give “eulogies” for that reason. It could give a wrong impression that salvation can be earned by good deeds! They are instructed to give a “homily.” What’s the difference? A “eulogy“ is all about what the deceased did for God! A “homily” is all about what God did for the deceased! 

I had the honor of hearing my cousin's confession, anointing him and giving him “communion” - "viaticum." "Viaticum" is communion for those who are dying. It means "something you take with you on the way - a packed lunch, if you will!" It is  bread for his journey through death to new life - the very Body of Christ himself.  Our cousin may not have been a “living saint” while he was here on earth, none of us are, but I believe he is now a “living saint” in heaven, not because of his goodness, but because of God’s goodness! 

When this pandemic gets you down, take a walk through a cemetery. Let that "holy ground" remind you of where you came from, where you are now and where you are headed! Let it remind you that you are not walking alone, but that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on toward the finish line!  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


This is the twenty-fourth in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against haste and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.


Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. 
Sirach 27:30-28:2 

One of the things I like to do regularly is to do a quick "life review" to see if I have any enemies. During this pandemic, with a lot more time on my hands, I have had more time to think about it. 

I realized years ago that having an enemy is a heavy bag of stinking garbage to carry around. Mark Twain nailed it when he said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” I agree with him so much that I regularly "take stock" of whether I have any enemies and try to "love" them anyway. 

I do not think I have any real "enemies" at this time, but it seems that there has always one or two people who let me know they dislike me for one reason or another. I may still have some raw feelings, I may even crack a harmless joke about the lingering bits of pain once in a while, but I refuse to "hate" anyone! 

At this time, I can only think of three or four people who have been "problematic" in the past as far as my relationship with them. The interesting thing about it is the fact that three of them were priests! Since I have known hundreds and hundreds of priests, I guess that's not too bad! None of them confronted me openly with insults or name-calling. They "punished" me with the "silent treatment." They simply did not speak to me, give me the time of day or acknowledge my existence. In trying to find out the cause of this punishing silence, I have been told that some considered me "too liberal" and some were "jealous" of my visibility! I guess they thought that needed to be punished. 

In reading about it, I found out that the "silent treatment" is a form of abuse that is often used by narcissists, consciously or unconsciously, to make their victims feel unworthy, to deny them emotional care, to deny them praise, to starve them of love, affection, compliments and positive feedback, to regularly reject, degrade and deny them emotional responsiveness. It is a form of repetitive abuse that is aimed at controlling, diminishing another person’s well-being in order to hurt, punish, harm or control them. Best of all, it can be used to control their victims by keeping them guessing! It makes sense that punishing silence is a favorite technique of narcissists. Narcissists cannot tolerate the fact that someone else might shine as bright or brighter than them! Starving their competition out makes more sense to them than sharing the limelight or attacking outright! 

The person on the receiving end can end up resigned to feeling isolated, intimidated, insignificant, despondent, angry, resentful and even revengeful. Emotional stress brought about by persistent silent treatment can actually affect physical health. Some victims have noted that their abuser becomes notably happier the more worn down and miserable their victims become. In order to cope, the victim must appreciate that an abuser thrives on observing the negative effect they have on their target. Therefore it is necessary to stop “feeding’ their desire for control and power. This means not giving them the satisfaction of seeing the negative emotional effects of their immature behavior. They can derive a great sense of self importance and triumph if you get irate, annoyed, upset, capitulate, apologize, weep or plead with them to talk to you. The best thing to do is to starve them of these rewards by simply ignoring them! Meanwhile, they can always tell themselves they did nothing, said nothing and therefore are free of any blame. 

In my reflection, I have come to admit that, in these cases,  I was part of the problem! I let these people “get to me” because I held a few of Albert’s Ellis’s “Irrational and Dysfunctional Beliefs.” Here are two of those irrational beliefs that regularly cause me pain. BELIEF #1. "It is a dire necessity for adult humans to be loved or approved of by virtually every significant other person in their community." BELIEF #2. "People absolutely must act considerately and fairly and they are damnable villains if they do not. Ellis called it “awfulizing” as in “ain’t it awful!” 

When you hold those irrational beliefs, you are bound to be “let down” over and over again! The secret to a resolution is not giving their negativity attention.   You just have to "let them go" and let them "feel whatever they feel" without allowing it space in your mind. Most of all, you should not allow yourself to turn them into an "enemy." Big mistake! That would give them even more power over you! 

Monday, August 17, 2020


This is the twenty-third in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against haste and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.


Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

Like many other people these days, I am tired of this pandemic. It is exhausting, mentally and physically. I am tired of the anxiety, the fear of getting infected, the economic-related stress, the difficulty of handling social distancing restrictions and changes in daily life. I am tired of being cooped up, tired of being careful and tired of being scared. Sometimes I feel like just saying "to hell with this" and ignoring all the warnings. Of course, this is the very reason COVID-19 is rising sharply again in some places in the U.S - some people have grown careless about wearing masks and social distancing. For others, it is simply a case of hard-headed, ignorant and angry resistance.

There is research that defines the stages of stress on communities from disasters. From what I read, people like me are right on target. 

Early during a disaster, communities tend to pull together, support each other and bond together. Remember the first weeks of the stay-at-home orders when everyone in the neighborhood waved at everyone else? 

Eventually, that heroic spirit wears thin, stress begins to build and we hit a period of disillusionment when we lose our optimism and start having negative, angry reactions.  

This seems to be where we are right now as a country. Many of us are exhausted by it all and have started saying to ourselves, "I don't care if I get COVID-19. I would rather get sick than stay home and be careful." Because it appears that this pandemic could last a while, I am tempted, but so far I haven't given into these feelings. 

There are things we can do and I have been doing some of them. First, I have been on the treadmill almost every day and I have taken walks in the cemetery near my house with a few friends. They say exercise releases endorphins and gets some of the adrenaline out when frustration builds. Second, I write and I talk to people on the phone, skype and what's app because saying it out loud helps release some of the stress. Third, what hurts more than the situation itself is how we think about the situation. I am trying to think positively by encouraging myself to "hang in there." Limiting the amount of news I watch each day helps me from drowning in the negativity and staying afloat. I need to hear the facts, but I don't need to overdose on them. I try to remind myself to take it one day at a time, to stay in the present rather than letting my mind race off into some misery-ridden future or some unretrievable past. 

We don't have to seal ourselves in a bubble, but we do have to act sensibly, follow the CDC guidelines and encourage one another to "keep on keepin' on!" Most of all, realizing that we were probably moving too fast in the past, we need to learn to chill, to take it easy and to go with the flow!"  I know from the experience of watching a good friend drown right in front of me that the worst thing one can do in a situation like that is to panic. The secret to surviving is learning to relax so that you can float to safety!