Thursday, July 15, 2021



Now that I am totally involved in my latest "closer to home" project - renovating my old Saint Theresa (grade) School and turning it into a new Saint Theresa Family Life Center - down in my home parish of Saint Theresa of Avila in Meade County (founded in 1818), my mind is constantly flooded with memories from my Catholic upbringing. 

As I review the historical articles of that sacred place, look at the church grounds and walk through the school, it is indeed a trip back in time with reminders everywhere of Latin Masses, First Communions, First Confessions, First Fridays, Catechism Lessons, Benediction Services, Parish Missions, former pastors, other vocations from the parish and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who taught there for 123 years. 

Going Home Lyrics
Antonin Dvorak

Goin' home. Goin' home. I'm a-goin' home. 
Quiet-like some still day, I'm just goin' home. 
It's not far, just close by, through an open door. 
Work all done, cares laid by, goin' to roam no more; 
Mother's there 'expecting me, father's waiting, too, 
Lots of folks gathered there, all the friends I knew. 

Morning star lights the way, restless dream all done. 
Shadows gone, break of day, real life just begun. 
There's no break, there's no end, just a-living on; 
Wide awake, with a smile, going on and on. 
Going home. Going home, I'm just going home. 
It's not far, just close by, through an open door.



"From whom much is given, much is expected." 
Luke 12:48 

(To complete this project, I really need others with roots in Saint Theresa to join me.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


I have always been a sort of a "crusader" who has tried my best to do what I could to change the world and the church for the better. Lately, I have had to admit to myself that, with all chaos and negativity in the Church and world, that I am getting too much of that chaos and negativity "on me" and letting too much of it "in me."  I am beginning to realize that it is wearing me down and wearing me out! No, I do not intend to bury my head in the sand or give up trying to be an influence for good, but I am going to have to adjust my thinking a bit. I am tired of being angry much of the time. As someone said, "We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails!" 

For my own peace of mind, I have decided that, in the time I have left, I am going to "adjust my sails." I don't want to spend the last years of my life angry, mean-spirited and lashing out at all the people, institutions and situations I cannot control. Going forward, I am going to do two things. (1) I am going to try to live more by the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." I am going to put the prayer somewhere where I can see it so that it becomes part of my regular prayer life. (2) I am going to reflect even more on the words of that old hymn that has guided me the last 51 years as a priest: "How Can I Keep From Singing?" Instead of playing it once a year on my anniversary, I am going to start playing it once a month or so and really listen to its words. 

Since I cannot control the wind, for a more peaceful existence I am going to adjust my sails in these ways. I am going to be more selective about what I "let in" to my life. 

1. I am going to limit the amount and sources of news that I listen to and watch.  I believe that the twenty-four-hour-a-day multi-channel news cycle has done more than anything to keep me upset and focused on everything that is wrong in the world. Their constant drum beat of murder, corruption, crime, political intrigue and outrageous behaviors is poisonous to my perspective and outlook.  

2. I am going to spend more of my time with people who are positive and give me reasons for hope and try to avoid angry, mean and destructive people who drag me down with them. Rather than engage them or argue with them, I am going to move away from them and find opportunities to quietly disengage from them. For this very reason I cancelled my FACEBOOK account a few years after I signed up. It may be a good tool for some communication, I suppose, but I found it to be a sewer spewing gossip, misinformation, ridicule and anonymous character assassination. I am not going to waste my time combing through its garbage  looking for something healthy to ingest! 

3. I am going to be even more intentional about looking for goodness to affirm in people, rather than evils to condemn. For years, I have tried to make this a regular part of my spiritual practice. That is why my column in The Record for fourteen years, as well as this blog for six years, has been named An Encouraging Word. My mother taught me at a very early age that "if you don't have something good to say about people, don't say anything at all." I believe that "you always find what you look for," so I have decided to look for goodness to affirm rather than evils to condemn. 

4. I am going to ignore the harsh and angry rhetoric coming from religious blogs, websites and pastoral letters condemning society's “moral relativism” and “secularism.” Instead of asking “What’s wrong with you people?” I think we should be asking ourselves, “Why are we spiritual leaders not convincing enough to change our suffering culture? What’s wrong with our style of leadership? What is it about us that people won't listen to us? Instead of boiling with anger at the world and being sucked into today's incredibly stupid liberal-conservative religious and political ideology warfare, I am simply going to focus on Jesus' positive message of unconditional love for all people. Retired now, I simply will not join those religious leaders hell-bent on condemning, controlling, firing, denying, isolating, demeaning and marginalizing those who are doing the best they can, even if it isn't what we consider "right." I have decided to enjoy my religion and let it give me life, and through me, life to those who come in contact with me! To do that, I have decided, in my retirement years, to focus on the "treasure" and not so much on the "crock" that holds it, to focus primarily on the essential message of the gospel, not the less-than-perfect institution, always in need of reform, that should be delivering it.  

Today, I have decided to choose happiness, to live in peace and to not leave either of them to chance!  To do that, I will be deliberate about where I choose to put my focus and with whose perspective I choose to align myself!  



Sunday, July 11, 2021



He summoned them. He sent them out.

He gave them authority. He instructed

them to take nothing for the journey.

Mark 6



When I read the words of St. Paul in last Sunday’s second reading, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong,” and the lines from this week’s gospel, “take nothing for your journey,” I immediately thought of one of my heroes, a young 13 year old poet by the name of Mattie J. T. Stepanek who died in 2004. I have mentioned him a couple of times before. When he died, he had been writing poetry since the age of five. I own three of his poetry books. I have a clipping about him being released from Children’s Hospital in Washington DC due to respiratory and other health complications caused by a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His mother, if she is still alive, also has it and three of his siblings have already died from this disease. He was always in fragile condition and requiring platelet transfusions every few days. A precocious child, he started writing poems when he was five years old and won many national literary prizes.

When I was following him, he lived in a wheelchair loaded with medical equipment and needed oxygen through a ventilator in his throat all the time because his “automatic” systems like breathing, heart rate, body temperature, oxygenation and digestion didn’t work well on their own.”

Through his poetry, he expressed wisdom in a way that touched many hearts. With his unabashed enthusiasm for life, Mattie charmed everyone who crossed his path and inspired many people, young and old, to overcome every obstacle that they encountered and to strive for their goals with dignity and humanity. All three of his wishes in life came true before he died: publish a book of poetry, meet his hero Jimmy Carter and appear on Oprah. When he met President Carter, he did not talk about his own health problems, but about problems in Bosnia and Africa and his desire to be a peacemaker in the world. In spite of the fact that he was hooked up to all that equipment, he was still able to see miracles all around him.

In last week’s second reading Paul reveals himself as such a person, a person who remained hopeful and courageous in face of physical pain, personal setbacks and sell-outs by those closest to him. He even brags that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Weariness, physical pain, opposition, slander, failure and even martyrdom could not diminish his hope in the power of God to turn disasters into opportunities to do wonderful things. Paul never gave up on God’s ability to pull a miracle out of the ashes, no matter what he faced.

In this week’s gospel, Jesus sends his first apostles out to preach the gospel and instructs them to “take nothing for the journey.” There is no need to take his words in a literal sense. If we did, we would all own nothing but one set of clothes, one pair of shoes and a walking stick. The spirit of what he says, however, is important. What Jesus is really saying, I believe, is that when it comes to living the life of a disciple, nothing external matters compared to the zeal in our hearts. Discipleship is a case of “Nemo dat, quod non habet.” “You can’t give what you do not have.” Gimmicks, slick advertising and complicated structures merely slow you down, turn people off and end up becoming a substitute for real faith. It is when we are weak, it is when we depend completely on Jesus, it is when we walk by faith and not by sight that we are strong.

Mattie Stepanek and Saint Paul give me hope and remind me of this great truth, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” The last twenty years have been difficult for priests. Many times, I have found myself angry, scared and low on hope. Throughout this dark experience, I have kept coming back to the truth preached by St. Paul and exemplified by the courageous life of young Mattie Stepanek: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Before he died, retired Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco reminded me once again of the great truth of today’s gospel in an article he wrote several years ago for AMERICA magazine. I taped his words into one of my journals. He made the point that we priests might be at our best when we are down, not when things are going well, when we have “nothing left to take on the journey.” I tend to believe him. Here is what he said:

I believe, in fact that this is the best time in history to be a priest, because it is a time when there can be only one reason to be priest or remaining a priest – that is, to “be with” Christ. It is not for perks or applause or respect or position or money or any other gain or advantage. Those things either no longer exist or are swiftly passing. The priest of today is forced to choose whether he wants to give himself to the real Christ, who embraced poverty, rejection and misrepresentation or whether he wants an earthly messiah for whom success follows on success.

I just finished six years as a volunteer in the Caribbean mission. I made twelve trips altogether. I usually came home wondering what difference I was making because the needs there are endless, even before this year’s volcano eruption. I usually came home exhausted from the poverty, heat, noise, chaos and the endless stress of getting there and back! My need to “fix it” and “make it all better” was severely challenged. I found myself worn down by “compassion fatigue” and tempted to “quit caring.” At seventy-six, I was aware that the sand was running out of my hour glass! I wondered how much longer I would be able to do what I was doing. COVID restrictions and an erupting volcano made the decision for me.

I learned a lot from those experiences. I learned that trials purify motives. It is only when we lose control that we find out that God is truly in charge and that all is in his hands. I leaned that how one handles things that must be handled is more important than what must be handled. I learned again that it is easy to believe when one sees clearly. It is easy to be hopeful is when everything is going our way. It is easy to keep going when successes follow on each other. Who needs God when you have the world by the tail! Down in the islands, I was taught the fact that I certainly do not have the world by the tail! The problems were so overwhelming at times that I felt powerless in a world of people who feel powerless. I know that my presence was not really about giving as much as it is about learning what it is like to be powerless. I was forced to remember the words of Mother Teresa who said, "God is not calling me to be successful. God is calling be to be faithful." I was trying to remember the words of Thomas Merton. "I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it."

My friends, the idea of “power in weakness” makes no sense to those who buy wholeheartedly into today’s values of “being number one” and “winning at all cost.” History has proven, however, that when the church is fat and lazy and comfortable, it dies, but when the church it attacked, in trouble, powerless and lean, it is most powerful. Look at the church in Europe! It is almost dead! Look at the church in Africa! It is alive and growing! Maybe the best days of the church lie ahead of us, rather than behind us, in spite of the trials we are enduring at this time. I, for one, believe that we are not dying, but going through a purification process that is burning out our mediocrity, smugness, presumption and indifference! We are not dying, we are being reborn! Out of our weakness, we will become strong.