Saturday, September 12, 2020


This is the thirty-second 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.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his 
glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 19:11

Due to the stresses and losses during the present caronavirus pandemic, many people are experiencing sadness, fear, anxiety and loneliness. As a result many people are feeling angry about their many losses related to jobs, finances, normalcy, routines, cherished activities, the health of self or loved ones, the ability to see friends and family and they are are engaging in a well-known defense mechanism by transferring that anger to the wrong target. Research suggests that after a loss, disbelief and yearning for former days often occur first and then anger follows.

A common way people protect themselves from unpleasant feelings such as anger is by engaging in defense mechanisms. "Displacement" is a defense mechanism in which people transfer emotions from the original source to another person or situation. Because defense mechanisms are subconscious, people don’t often realize they’re taking anger from one situation and blasting it onto another. 

Here are some examples. A person who is angry because they lost their parent may take their anger out on the hospice nurse who took care of her at the end of her life. A man who is mad at his co-worker for putting him down in a meeting, might unload his anger  on a waitress over a small mistake on his lunch order at a restaurant.

During the coronavirus pandemic, we can be mindful that, along with the shock, disbelief and yearning for the way things were, we are all likely to carry a fair degree of anger, and at times it may be unloaded inappropriately onto people or situations with a little extra intensity.

Because many of us are at home all the time, we need to be especially wary of taking out anger on family members, since those are likely the ones we see the most. We can gain awareness of when we may be “displacing anger,” such as snapping at a child for being too noisy while on the phone or yelling loudly at a spouse for not taking the garbage out. 

Extreme examples of displacement may be responsible for some of the surges in domestic violence due to the coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home suggestions and orders. 

Once you understand your anger and where you tend to put it, you can make a conscious effort to deal with those feelings in a healthier manner, such as talking with an honest confident or therapist. Going for a long walk to calm down or working out in your home gym might also do the trick.  

It’s also important to understand when you may be the target of displaced anger, so that you don’t take it to heart when a conflict may be about someone else's displaced grief, not something you did personally. 


Thursday, September 10, 2020


This is the thirty-first 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.


The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Exodus 16:1

I have never witnessed the actual birth of a child, but from every thing I have heard or seen it is a difficult and messy process. The closest thing I have come to watching the process was the birth of farm animals when I was growing up in the country. Typically, it involved a lot of pain, struggle and noise. Even the hatching of an egg was a life and death struggle for the chick. As I got older, I realized that the process of dying was similar. It often involves a lot of pain, struggle and even noise.  The process of coming to life and leaving life are very similar in that regard. Sometimes, it hard to tell the difference. 

Come to think about it, most change is difficult and messy. It always has been, and I guess it always will be, difficult. My "model" or "pattern," as far as stories go, is the story of the Exodus when the Jewish people were offered the possibility of change - chance to escape slavery and go to their "promised land." The idea of change is usually much more comfortable than the actual change itself. When the People of God set out from Egypt, they were excited and full of hope about the new future that they could see in their minds' eye. 

It did not take long for the pain of change to set in. That pain produced a lot of grumbling, complaining and angry accusations as people began to long for the "good old days" of the past. With selective memory and a desire to escape the pain involved in change, they  wanted to "go back." Moses had to keep prodding them to "keep going forward," to "keep their eye on the prize" and never look back. 

A few years ago, in serious need of reform, our Church faced a similar opportunity for change. Vatican Council II came along and invited us to enter a process of transformation.  I like to compare it to a hatching egg. We woke up one day and noticed that there were fine cracks developing all over the egg. Since then, we have some people running around with tape and ladders insisting that we have to keep it from cracking and "falling part." At the same time, we have some people running around yelling, "stand back, it's hatching, something new is coming out!" I know one thing for sure! The very worst thing you can do when  an egg shell is hatching is to try to tape it back together. You will certainly kill the new life that is coming out of it! All the pain, struggle and noise of the post-Vatican II church is not a sign that we are dying. It's a sign that we are giving birth to new life. 

The same thing is happening in our country. The "times they are a-changin'." The country is in crisis on many fronts. Part of our country is trying to tape it all back together, trying to recover some by-gone days of our 1950s past. Another part of the country, who suffered and were marginalized during those by-gone days, is yelling "stand back and watch it hatch," we are giving birth to a new America.  

The church cannot go back to the stuffy clerical culture of a previous era when the only real players were ordained men. Trying to tape that hatching egg back together is a certain recipe for killing the dynamism that is at the very heart of a living Church. 

The country cannot go back to a racist and sexist culture of a previous era when the only players were old white men. Trying to tape this hatching egg back together simply will not work. The hatching process has begun. Women will be heard. Women will be leaders. Women will be actively involved. Black and brown people will be heard. Black and brown people will be leaders. Black and brown people will be actively involved. 

We are all uncomfortable during these changing times, but what we do with our discomfort is of extreme importance. There is an old Japanese curse that says, "May you live in interesting times!" During these "interesting times" we have a choice. We can (a) join those who are panicking and trying to "go back to Egypt," trying to tape the cracking egg back together and trying to get the "toothpaste back in the tube." We can "(b) join those who are part of coaching the delivery process along as we wait for a "new Church" and a "new America" come to life. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2020


This is the thirtieth 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.


How long will you lie there, you lazy person? When will you get up from sleeping? You sleep a little; you take a nap. You fold your hands and lie down to rest. 

                                Proverbs 6                                         

Have you ever been driving down the road, far from a gas station, and notice that the fuel gauge is on empty? Have you ever been traveling and notice that the battery on your cell phone is showing bars of red letting you know that it's about to go dead? Have you ever been working on your taxes as the deadline is approaching and you begin to panic as you realize that you can't get it all done? Have you ever had a ride to the airport and remember that you forgot your passport and you probably don't have time to go back and get it? Have you ever had a pile of bills in front of you and a checking account that is about to hit zero? 

That's how I am beginning to feel about this pandemic. I am 76, I am retired, I have some savings tucked away, I am still in good physical condition and here I am stuck in this condo unable to travel or even leave the house without worrying about contracting a virus that could kill me! I am realizing that time is running out and there is not a damned thing I can do about it!  I feel stuck. I feel powerless. I feel disappointed. I feel there could be no good ending to this situation.

I keep asking myself these questions. What would you do if you were about to run out of gas out on the road? What would you do if the battery were to go dead and you desperately needed to make a call? What would you do if the taxes were due and you didn't have time to file them? What would you do if you were on your way to the airport, with barely enough time to make it, and remembered that you forgot your passport? What would you do you with a stack of bills and no money left to pay them? What would you do if you knew that getting upset, angry and resentful wouldn't change anything?  The only sensible thing to do would be to chill and let whatever is going to happen, happen. You would then try to find a way to deal with the consequences in the best way you could. In all the cases mentioned, as inconvenient as things might become, it would not be the end of the world! You would figure something out! 

That is what I am trying to do during this pandemic - figure something out! Yes, I am grateful I am not sick. Yes, I am grateful I have food and housing and an adequate income. Yes, I am grateful that I have people who love me and care for me. Yes, I am grateful for so many things, but the one thing I can't seem to shake is the feeling that time is running out while I am stuck here at home, pretty much powerless to do anything about it.  I used to think I had "places to go and people to see." Now I am not sure - not sure at all! 

In four years, I will be eighty years old! I feel that I should be working on my "bucket list," not living like a bear in hibernation!  I do pray for patience, but when my mind wraps itself around how much of the precious time I have left is being wasted waiting for this pandemic to end, I begin to really get irritated. Then I have to talk myself down from the "ledge" again - well, not a real ledge, just an emotional ledge! Thankfully, I live basement-level most of the time so I have no where to jump, but up!

In the end, all I can say is "Other people have it much worse than you, so get a grip, quit whining and deal with it, Ronald! " 


Sunday, September 6, 2020



If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked
from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I 
will hold you responsible for his death. 
Ezekiel 33 

“Fraternal correction” is an old religious idea that has fallen out of style, but one that our readings today talk about!  “Fraternal correction” is the practice of calling a brother or sister out on some destructive action as a way of helping them stop doing that wrong! As you might imagine, it is extremely risky, because the one who receives the criticism almost always acts defensively. “Mind your own business,”  “You’ve got a lot of room to talk,” “Who in the hell do you think you are?” are only mild forms of the backlash you might receive in response. You could end up with black eye, missing a tooth or even a former friend, in the process! John the Baptist had his head chopped of for having the nerve to tell Herod that it was not right for him to live with his brother’s wife! No wonder the idea of “fraternal correction” has gone out of style! 

Regardless of how tricky it is, the Scriptures tell us that it is our obligation to correct others and others to correct us when wrong is being done!  “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die and I will hold you responsible for his death.”  Whoa! That sounds like another version of Cain’s old question to God about his brother Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is: “Of course, you are!”  

In the gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a four stage process on how “fraternal correction” is to be done. (1)   If your brother or sister is in the wrong, first have a “one on one” to discuss it. (2) If that doesn’t work, get a couple of friends together to make the appeal. (3) If that doesn’t work, get the whole faith community to make an appeal. (4) Finally, if that doesn’t work, “treat him like a Gentile or tax collector.”  

It is very important to understand this 4th step. How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He loved them anyway!

I remember one particular event when I tried “fraternal correction.”  It involved one of the few weddings that I simply refused to do! A young woman and her boyfriend, both friends of mine, were fighting like cats and dogs. There was infidelity, as well, on both sides. They came in one day and told me that they wanted to get married and asked if I would preside at the wedding. They had the crazy belief that marriage would cure their fighting and infidelity! 

It would have been easier on me to just go ahead and perform the wedding to ensure they would continue to "like" me, but I knew in my gut that it was not right and that it would not be good for them either. I told them I could not, in good conscience, do their wedding under the circumstances. I chose to do the right thing, not the easy thing. They left very angry at me and went to the Lutheran Church where the pastor asked no questions and performed their wedding in a few weeks. The marriage lasted six months and ended in a very messy and angry divorce. I could not stop them from hurting themselves, but I felt that I had done the loving thing, even though they did not appreciate it at the time. 

I often counsel Catholic parents who have children who choose to marry out of the church. Not willing to abide by the church’s wisdom on the Sacrament of Matrimony, they sometimes choose to celebrate their marriages in civil ceremonies. This leaves the parents in a dilemma. Do they refuse to go to the wedding and create a wall between them and their children for years to come or do they go and become accomplices in an illicit marriage, creating a scandal for other Catholics and setting a bad example for other young adults in the family?  I usually counsel them to follow the advice of Jesus in today’s gospel. I tell them to let their children know, clearly and unambiguously, that they do not approve, let them know what the teachings of the church are and why we have those teachings. Then, if they choose to do it anyway, love them anyway and leave the door open for a change of heart! 

There are times when we must speak out, especially when others lives, property or reputation are at stake. We should know that it is illegal, and immoral, not to report a Columbine-like situation. We should know that is illegal, and immoral, not to report child abuse, even suspected child abuse. We should know that it is illegal, and immoral, to leave the scene of an accident without offering assistance or calling for help.  We should know that we are morally and legally obligated, for the sake of the community, to “blow the whistle” in cases of gross embezzlement, grand theft, pyromania and hazardous exposure.  

It is not always appropriate or advisable to confront someone personally, as in cases of suspected spouse abuse, grand theft and vandalism. In those cases, there are avenues that provide help and guarantee anonymity. Sometimes, when the situation is not life-threatening but involves close friends or family members, all we can do is speak the truth with love and let it go! Sometimes all we can do is not participate in, encourage or condone immoral behavior! That kind of silence and passivity can speak louder than words!  The loving thing is not always the easy thing. The easy thing is not always the loving thing.   

We are our brothers and sisters keepers. We are morally obligated to speak out, but we are obligated to speak the truth with love! The goal of “speaking out” is not to hurt, embarrass or get even, but to help the individual and to help the community. As Christians, we are called to do “fraternal correction” for each other. Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to evil gives it an environment to grow and spread, until it inundates a community and even the world.  

In the Confiteor, when we call to mind our sins, we admit to the things we have done and failed to do. The Letter of James says this, “It is a sin to know the right thing to do and not do it!” The famous Edmund Burke put it this way, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good people to do nothing.”