Thursday, June 30, 2022

THE BENEFITS OF PRIEST RETIREMENT - NUMBER THIRTEEN



ON MAKING THE MOST OF THE TIME YOU HAVE
 

Dylan Thomas
"Do not go gentle into that good night"
1951


"Do not go gentle into that good night" is one of Thomas' most famous poems, and in fact, might be one of the most famous poems of the 20th century. He composed it when he was traveling with his wife and children in Italy in 1947, and it was published as part of his 1952 poetry collection, In Country Sleep, And Other Poems.

Here's the full text of the poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


(If you understand things better by hearing them rather than reading them, you can actually listen to Dylan Thomas read the poem himself!)

The Background Behind the Poem
Thomas wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night" during a very specific moment in Dylan Thomas' life. His father, David John Thomas, had first introduced him to the wonder of language by reading him Shakespeare before bed at night. Thomas' father was a grammar school teacher, but he had always wanted to be a poet but was never able to realize his dream.

Some experts suggest that Thomas was inspired to write "Do not go gentle into that good night" because his father was dying (though his father didn't pass away until Christmas of 1952).

In a twist of fate, Thomas' poem about death would be one of the last poems he would write before his own untimely demise the following year.

"Do not go gentle into that good night" Meaning

At its heart, "Do not go gentle into that good night" is a poem about death. The narrator of the poem is experiencing the death of his father, which we see in the last group of lines. Witnessing the death of his father makes the speaker think about death in a more general way. The first five stanzas focus on different types of men, and the speaker thinks about how they will have to face death one day, too.

In the end, the speaker realizes that death cannot be avoided, but it can be challenged. When he tells readers to "not go gentle into that good night" and "rage against the dying of the light," he's telling them to not accept death passively. Instead, he tells people that the last thing a dying person gets to choose is how he faces death. For Thomas, struggling against death is both a valiant—and a human—reaction.

Once you understand what's happening in the poem, you can start to get a better handle on what "Do not go gentle into that good night" means.

Theme 1: The Unstoppable Nature of Death

Like we mentioned earlier, "Do not go gentle into that good night" comes out of Thomas' experience watching his father pass away. As a result, the poem's primary purpose is to think about death—or more to the point, to think about dying. In many ways, this is also a poem about man's last mortal act, which is passing away.

Given this, Thomas' poem is often taught as a grieving man's anger at death, which has come to take his father away. The phrase "good night" refers to death—where "good night" references both how we say goodbye to people and how a dying person slips into a final sleep that they never wake up from.

But more specifically, Thomas' poem tells people to "not go gentle" into death. Here, the word "gentle" means "docile," or passive and without resistance. in other words, Thomas tells readers they should not accept death passively, but instead should fight (or "rage") against it ("the dying of the light").

But why is this, exactly? Why fight against death instead of slipping away peacefully?

For Thomas, the best way is to face death with strength and power, like the "wild" heroes of old. In his poem, Thomas argues that this allows dying people to embrace the fiery energy of life one last time, and in many ways, serves as a small way to triumph something they have no control over in the end. Put another way: if you can't avoid dying, it's better to go down fighting than to not fight at all!

It's important to note that although Thomas tells readers to struggle against death, this isn't a poem about triumphing over death. The end result of fighting death isn't victory. The people in the poem don't cheat death in order to live another day. The truth is that the people Thomas mentions are dying—and they will die no matter what.

Thus, "Do not go gentle into that good night" focuses on a person's literal final choice: not whether or not to die, but how they will face the inevitable.

Theme 2: The Power of Life

In "Do not go gentle into that good night," Thomas creates tension between death—which he speaks about symbolically through images of night and darkness—and life, which he represents through images of light. For example, take a look at the second line of the poem. When Thomas says "close of day," he's referencing death. But he also says that people should "burn" against it—and as we all know, things that are burning produce light!

The act of putting two unlike things, like light and dark, in close proximity to one another is called juxtaposition In this poem, the juxtaposition emphasizes the contrast between life and death. If death is dark and inevitable, then the juxtaposition helps readers see that life is powerful and full of energy.

Let's take a closer look at lines seven and eight to get a better understanding of how this works. The lines read, "Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright/Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay." There are two instances of light imagery in these lines: "bright" and "green bay" (water often appears to be green or blue on a sunny day). These words help describe the "good" man's life, which is full of light and energy. After all, even though his deeds are "frail"—which means "minor" or "insignificant" in this instance—they still might have "danced." In this passage, we can see how the living are full of a vital, powerful energy. Through this, Thomas tells readers that the true tragedy of aging and death is that it takes away the vitality of life.

Theme 3: The Limit of Time

The speaker of Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" is an anonymous narrator whose father is dying, and he represents anyone who's ever lost a loved one.

But the speaker isn't the only character in "Do not go gentle into that good night." Each stanza of the poem features a different person at the end of his life: the "wise" man in stanza two, the "good" man in stanza three, the "wild" man in stanza four, the "grave" man in stanza five, and Thomas' own father in stanza six.

In each stanza, the type of man mentioned is looking back at his life. He's reflecting on what he did—and what he didn't do. In most of the stanzas, the men express regret at what they didn't do. For example, the wise man worries that his "words had forked no lightning." In other words, the wise man—a teacher, scholar, or some other educated person—worries that his ideas will not live on. Each of the characters in this poem, in his own unique way, regrets the things he left undone.

Thomas includes the idea of regret in his poem to show readers how short life truly is. When we are young, we have grand plans for everything we want to do, and we feel like we have all the time in the world to accomplish our goals. But Thomas argues that time goes by quickly. Too often, we "grieve" time "on its way," which is Thomas' way of saying that people often want for time to move faster. But if we do that, we miss out on the opportunities of life. Instead, Thomas is telling readers in a roundabout way that it's important to seize the day. Time is short and death waits for us all, so Thomas reminds readers to embrace life rather than let it pass them by.



Here's another poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674) on the same subject.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry. 






 





Tuesday, June 28, 2022

"GRANDMA'S LACE"

OH, YEAH! THIS WILL BRING 'EM BACK TO CHURCH FOR SURE!!! 

Thank you, Pope Francis, for "calling out" those involved in the revival of this totally embarrassing trend! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Their response to Pope Francis will, no doubt, be totally vicious! 


ROME – Pope Francis told a group of priests that he doesn’t want to see “grandma’s lace” when Mass is celebrated, saying that although “paying homage” to grandmothers is good, “it is better to celebrate the Holy Mother Church.”

Speaking to the priests and bishops of the Italian island of Sicily, known for its natural beauty but also for being a place where mafia dons have long appropriated both the symbols of Catholicism and ties to ecclesiastical elites to reinforce a grip on power, Francis asked about how the Second Vatican Council had been embraced by the local church.

It is something that “worries me quite a bit,” he said.

“Popular piety is a great treasure, and we must guard it, accompany it so that it is not lost,” he said. “Also educate it,” and “free it from all superstitious gestures and take the substance it has inside.”

This is particularly relevant on this island, often described as its own country, since examples of popular piety intertwined with organized crime abound. For instance, in June 2016, in the Sicilian town of Corleone – the town’s name was used for the fictional mafia family in The Godfather – a procession carrying a statue of St. John the Evangelist took a detour to the house of Salvatore Riina, a former mafia lord also know as u capu di ‘i capi (the boss of bosses) and la bestia (the beast), due to his murderous rampage in the 1990s.

Even though Riina was not home – he has been serving a life sentence in prison since 1993 – the procession stopped and made the saint “kneel” before his home in a dramatic show of respect.

Still talking about the Second Vatican Council, Francis asked the priests about the liturgy. Prefacing the question with an “I don’t know” the law of the land because he doesn’t attend Mass in Sicily, he reminded priests that homilies are supposed to be short – not more than eight minutes – and provide people with substance: A thought, a feeling, or an image they can carry with themselves throughout the week.

Then, saying that he has “seen pictures,” he regretted the fact that priests still wear vestments with lace: “Where are we? Sixty years after the Council! Some updating [is needed] even in liturgical art, in liturgical ‘fashion’!”

“Yes, sometimes bringing some of Grandma’s lace goes, but sometimes,” Francis told the priests. “It’s to pay homage to grandma, right? It’s good to pay homage to grandma, but it’s better to celebrate the mother, the holy mother Church, and to do so how Mother Church wants to be celebrated.”

The pontiff also spoke more broadly about the situation of both society and the church in Sicily, saying that the “changing era” presents challenges that strain social and affective ties.

“We witness in Sicily behaviors and gestures marked by great virtues as well as cruel heinousness,” he said. “Alongside masterpieces of extraordinary artistic beauty, we see scenes of mortifying neglect. And equally, in the face of men and women of great culture, many children and young people evade school, remaining cut off from a decent human life.”

Sicilian everyday life takes on strong hues, he said, with the intense colors of the flowers, fields and sea shining through the strength of the sun’s radiance: “It is no accident that so much blood has been shed at the hands of the violent but also at the humble and heroic resistance of the saints and the just, servants of the church and the state.”

As Francis noted, the island is suffering from depopulation, due both to the decline in births and the massive emigration of young people. Mistrust in institutions reaches high levels and the dysfunction of services burdens the performance of daily practices, “despite the efforts of good and honest people who would like to engage and change the system,” he said.

The church, Francis said, is not immune to the change of epoch, reflected in the decline in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, as well as a growing detachment of young people who struggle to find support in parishes in their search for the meaning of life. And sometimes, they also struggle to perceive in the church “the clear distancing from old, erroneous and even immoral ways of acting in order to take decisively the path of justice and honesty.”

Acknowledging that he had received files on priests and church people who have followed a “path of injustice and dishonesty,” Francis also pointed out that both in the past and in the present Sicily has seen no shortage of “priests and faithful who fully embrace the fate of the Sicilian people,” such as Blessed Father Pino Puglisi and Judge Rosario Livatino, both violently murdered by the mafia.

“People still look to priests as spiritual and moral guides, people who can also help improve the civil and social life of the island, support the family and be a reference for growing young people,” he said. “High and demanding is the Sicilian people’s expectation of priests. Please do not stay in the middle of the road!”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

WHAT ABOUT JUST FRYING THOSE AWFUL HEATHENS?


GIVEN AT 
Saint Leonard Church, Saturday 4:00 pm
Saint Francis of Rome Church, Sunday 11:30 am 

On the way they entered a Samaritan village, but the people there would not welcome Jesus
because his destination was Jerusalem. When James and John saw this they asked, “Lord,
do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” Jesus turned and
rebuked them.
Luke 9:51-62

Basically, what we have here is a message about pettiness and jealousy in church ministry that has been around since the beginning and can still cripple the church's ministry, making it less effective. I call that pettiness and jealousy "turf wars."

Competitiveness and jealousy have been the dark side of church culture for a very long time and it is certainly alive and well today. When the competitive apostles, James and John, were caught making a power grab for the best seats in Jesus’ new kingdom, they had to face the jealous indignation of the other ten apostles, not to mention a stern reprimand from Jesus. 

Today, we have the story about James and John who suggested a response to being snubbed by some Samaritans who hated Jews and vice versa. For their snub, James and John suggested to Jesus that they "call down fire from heaven" and roast them on the spot! In the passage right before this, John had suggested to Jesus that they put a stop to a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not "part of their group." In both cases, Jesus had to correct them for their mean responses.
 
As a 78 year old man, raised in a pre-Vatican II Church and as a priest ministering for 52 years in a post-Vatican II Church, I have seen my share of this kind of religious competitiveness and jealousy throughout my life-time. I can say proudly that I have never been inclined to join in that meanness. In fact, I have tried my best to put a stop to it when I have experienced it! 

I have worked for the United Church of Christ as a campground minister in a national park. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree in "Parish Revitalization" from a Presbyterian Seminary. I received an award from the National Conference of Christian and Jews. I have helped start two Interfaith organizations - IF and CHF. I have preached in several Protestant churches. I have attended services with Jews, Quakers and Moslems. I have tried to see beauty in other religions and I have even tried to understand the perspectives of agnostics and atheists, all while remaining a committed Catholic who can see weaknesses in my own religion. 

In my own defense, I would like to begin my homily today with a quote from the famous English writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Let me repeat that. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

I would not dare claim to be “a first-rate intelligence,” but I have always tried to “hold opposed ideas in my mind at the same time and still function." Let me give you an example. When it comes to religion, I would describe myself as “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith.” Let me repeat that as well. When it comes to religion, I would describe myself as “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith.” In other words, I am able to remain a committed Catholic while at the same time see much of the good in those who have a different religious commitment or none at all.

I can “hold two opposed religious ideas in my mind at the same time and still function,” not because I am a “first rate intelligence” or uniquely “open minded,” but because my church has taught me to do that! Let me summarize what my church teaches about relations with other religions. To make sure I am orthodox, I will quote from official documents not just give you my own opinion. One thing will not surprise you, but some things will surprise you.

Our church is able to ‘hold opposed religious ideas in its mind at the same time and still be true to itself.’ What will not surprise you is that our church claims to have “been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace,” but what will surprise many of you is that she also admits that, “her members fail to live by them with all the fervor they should. As a result, the radiance of the Church’s face shines less brightly in the eyes of our separated brothers and sisters and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is retarded.” On other words, we have high standards but we don't always live up to them and the world knows it! 

What will surprise many of you is that our church considers Protestants to be part of our church. We refer to Protestants as “our separated brothers and sisters.” Because we consider them part of the church, we are forbidden to re-baptize any one coming into full communion with us – in other words converting to Catholicism from a Protestant church -  because we consider them already members of the church because of their baptisms. We accept not only their valid baptisms, but also their valid marriages.

What will surprise some of you is that our church teaches that “Catholics must joyfully acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brother and sisters.” “Nor should we forget that whatever is wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brothers and sisters can contribute to our own edification.” Yes, we are told that we can actually learn something from our "separated brothers and sisters!"

What will surprise some of you is what our church said about our past divisions, our sins against unity and our lack of respect for each other’s churches. “We must come to understand the outlook of our separated brothers and sisters. Study is absolutely required for this.” One of the most mind-blowing statements from the Vatican II documents is the one that asks forgiveness for the times we have wanted to "call down fire from heaven and burn up" each other. “In humble prayer, we beg pardon of God and of our separated brothers and sisters, just as we forgive those who trespass against us. Let all Christ’s faithful remember that the more purely they strive to live according to the gospel, the more they are fostering and even practicing Christian unity.”

What will surprise some of you is our church’s attitude toward non-Christian religions. Here is some of what our Church officially says about them. “Other religions, to be found everywhere, strive to answer the restless searchings of the human heart by proposing “ways” which consist of teachings, rules of life and sacred ceremonies. The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. She looks with sincere respect on those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.” 

How have I personally lived out my ability to “hold two opposed religious ideas in my mind at the same time and still function?” I can say, before starting, that my associations with “opposed religious ideas” has not weakened my own faith, but has made me more consciously Christian, more deliberately Catholic and more unapologetically ecumenical and interfaith. I can not only “keep functioning,” but my association with them has certainly “contributed to my own edification.”

Religious competitiveness and jealousy, something that Jesus rebuked in today's gospel, simply must end. The world is just too dangerous today for religious groups to be fighting each other. We need to work together to lift the world to a higher standard. We can find a way to be true to our own sincere beliefs while respecting the sincere beliefs of others and without "calling down fire from heaven to burn them up!" We can do that by "holding two opposed ideas in our minds at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I know from personal experience that one can be “consciously Christian, deliberately Catholic and (at the same time) unapologetically ecumenical and inter-faith!" Even agnostics and atheists have a better chance at conversion if we love and respect them rather than piling on arrogance and harsh rejection.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

LOVING GOD BACK WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART

IN HONOR OF THE FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART
"Love one another as I have loved you!" 
John 13:34

GIVEN TO THE SEMINARIANS AT
ST. AUGUSTINE SEMINARY
Toronto, Canada
October 26, 2014
Rev. Ronald Knott


You shall love God with all your heart, all your soul,
all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. The
whole law depends on these.
Matthew 22:34-40 

We have been reading about the battle between Jesus and the religious teachers of his day. Since Jesus was very popular among the ordinary people on the streets, these religious leaders could not attack him directly so they resorted to trying to trap him in his speech so that they could have something to accuse him of should there be a heresy or sedition trial.

Last week, they thought that they had Jesus cornered. First, they schmoozed him with false flattery to get him to open up. “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They then asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. They thought they had boxed in with a clever “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” dilemma. If he said “yes it is lawful” he would offend and lose his followers who hated Caesar and his taxes, but if he said “no it is not lawful” then the Roman government would come after him for sedition.   Jesus outsmarted their trickery by answering, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s!”  

Today they are back for another try. The trick question today is “what is the greatest commandment?” They knew that scripture scholars could not agree on this so they thought they could discredit him with somebody no matter what answer he gave. Again, Jesus outsmarted them by placing the love of God and love of neighboring on the same plane - making them equal - rather than prioritizing them as they requested.     

Love God with all my heart, soul mind and strength? Love my neighbor as myself? You mean I am supposed to make God and others the most important considerations in my life, even more than myself? Most of us, to be honest, can’t say that God is that important to us, much less those around us!

I would love to be able to say that God is always at the center my life, and that I love all people all the time but sadly I quite often put myself and other things ahead of God and the needs of others. Some days I do better than others but, thankfully, God is very patient with me and loves me anyway.  I have always taken comfort in knowing that my best is good enough for God.

Today, I want to say a few more words about taking these two commandments seriously. None of us will ever measure up completely to the Great Commandment – the one that summarizes all other commandments - but this is the brass ring for which we all reach. To take God seriously, to seek to love him and others with all we have, there are things we must do. 

1.     We must want what God wants. To be able to even want what God wants, means we have to understand the Scriptures, listen to the Spirit within us and stay consciously connected to God through prayer.

2.     We must remember who we are. We are holy. We are holy, not because of what we have done, but because we are “created in the image and likeness of God” and, through our baptism, we are adopted children of God. We must accept our holiness, neither exaggerating who we are nor denying who we really are!

3.     We must want to live by the same values Jesus lived by: having a loving kindness toward all, especially the most weak and vulnerable, even our enemies; striving to do God’s will no matter the consequences; using Jesus’ own life as a pattern for our own.

4.     We must be in command of ourselves, have a handle on our addictions and our passions, so that we can go in the way that God wants us to go. We must constantly question our own motives, making sure that we not only do the right thing, but also do it for the right reason.

5.     We must never give into hopelessness, whether it is about the future or about other people because we know that the war against evil has been already been won, even though we may continue to lose many painful battles. God’s kingdom will come and nothing we do, not even the gates of hell, can stop it.

6.     Regardless of our failures, loving God and each other with our whole heart, soul, and mind is something we should strive for, even though it is something we will never accomplish completely. God wants a relationship with us, even if it is rocky and imperfect. 

Today, we are challenged to get serious about God, not in some loud, noisy and superficial way, but in a long haul and to the core-of-one’s-being kind of way. Loving God and one’s neighbors with all our hearts, souls and minds does not translate into noisy religious fanaticism, but into a subtle way of living that draws people attention away from ourselves and places it on God and those around us. That is the spirit of these two commandments and that is what the spirit of the whole law is all about!   How can we possible do all this? With God’s help! Let us now go to this table to be fed and strengthened on the Body and Blood of Christ! With God’s help all things are possible!

 

 

               


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO?


In my retirement, when I think of all the projects I have worked on, I often ask myself "Why do you do what you do?" I have no children. I am retired. I don't need all the hassle and bother. The simple answer is one of two things. Either I am (a)  just a pathetic obsessive-compulsive personality that is driven to accomplish things or (b) I am trying to leave a legacy for the generation that follows me so that they can share in some of the things that brought me such richness of life. As I ponder these things, the following words from the Book of Deuteronomy (4:9) stand out for me.

Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things
which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children.


This passage from the Second book of Maccabees (6:28) also comes to mind when I think about leaving a legacy for those who follow me. People like me are hopefully "prophets of a future not our own." 

I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.
 

The late Bishop Kenneth Untener was a significant presence in the U.S. Church. This late Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, wrote the following prayer in 1979, following the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot while celebrating Mass for his prophetic stand for the rights of the poor and powerless in El Salvador


“Prophets of a Future Not Our Own”

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.



This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and to do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.







Sunday, June 19, 2022

MIRACLES OF SHARING

GIVEN AT 
St. Leonard Church and St. Frances of Rome Church
Louisville, KY


The Twelve approached Jesus and said, "Dismiss the crowd
so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms
and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place
here." Jesus said to them, "Give them some food yourselves."
They replied, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have,
unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.
Now the men there numbered about five thousand."
Luke 9:11b-17

What really happened that afternoon a long time ago when five loaves and two fish were shared with more than five thousand people and all went home fed, with plenty left over? Something so wonderful happened that day that the story of it has come down to us in all four gospels. It is one of our most regular readings throughout the year, but what really happened?

Maybe it was a literal miracle of multiplication. Maybe those five loaves and two fish were miraculously and instantly turned into hundreds of loaves and hundreds of fish by Jesus by simply waving his hands over them. That’s how many of us have always understood it. That's how many still explain it. However, I want to point our that the word multiplication is not mentioned in this story. 

Maybe it was just a spiritual miracle like we do every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist. Maybe everybody came forward to receive a pinch from the five loaves and two fish from those in charge of its distribution (much like you do from our Eucharistic ministers) and everybody went home spiritually fed that day. 

However, there is still another explanation, one that is a little less mysterious, another explanation that is a little more ordinary, but miraculous nonetheless. Let’s lay aside our traditional understanding and prejudices for a moment and take a closer look at the details of this story for a possible new understanding of what actually happened.

It is highly doubtful that a crowd of Jews that big would have left on a nine-mile hike without making preparation – a few maybe, but certainly not more than five thousand people.  There are two reasons I can think of that would have prevented them from not being prepared. (1) There were no big stores and restaurants lining the roads back then like we have today. (2) Jews were very particular about their food. It had to be kosher. No Jew would think of leaving home for such a long hike without his bottle-shaped basket with its kosher food for eating. 

Probably what happened was that people were hiding what they had brought from such a hungry crowd, lest there not be enough for themselves. It was only when Jesus took the five barley loaves and two sardines from the Twelve, blessed them, broke them and began passing them around that a willingness to share was triggered in the crowd. When this example of sharing spread through the crowd, people pulled out what they had and began to share it. Remember, the word multiplication is not mentioned in this story. As a result of this sharing, everybody had their fill and there was a lot left over. You can believe it was a literal multiplication if you like, but I personally favor this explanation for several reasons. 

First, we need to remember that one of the things that Jesus rejected when it was offered to him by the devil when he was in the desert discerning the direction of his ministry was magically producing bread to feed hungry people. The devil suggested that Jesus turn rocks into bread. Jesus could, not doubt, have done that but he rejected that solution to hunger. Rather, he knew that if people would just change their minds about shortages and share the resources of the world, there would be no need for such “rocks into bread” magic.

Second, if it were just about Jesus’ power to miraculously produce bread and fish from thin air, then we might be amazed at the power that Jesus had, but we could not pull off such an event ourselves. No, this is a miracle alright, but I personally believe that it is a miracle of sharing, not some miraculous multiplication. I believe that what happened is something that we, working together, can do even today. It's a miracle we, working together, can perform. The most obvious example I can think of is a church pot luck dinner. I have seen this miracle take place hundreds of times at such pot luck dinners. Families arrive, each with their bowl of beans or their basket of fried chicken or their carton of potato salad or their bag of buns or their lemon pie or their pot of green beans --- on and on! They put all those little bowls and baskets of food on a long table. The pastor says a blessing over all of it. People line up and fill their plates. When it is all over, everybody is stuffed and there is usually plenty left over to take to the shut-ins.

We are used to calling this miracle the “multiplication of the loaves” even though the texts never mentions the word “multiplication.” That word has merely been assigned to the text. I believe it should more accurately be called the “miracle of sharing.” If we call it that, we don’t have to stop at admiring it as a historical event that Jesus performed many years ago, we can repeat it today! Let me share a couple of other ways we can, together, repeat what happened. 

As many of you know, before COVID and a volcanic eruption, I had been volunteering down in the Caribbean missions in my retirement. While working down there, I saw this miracle repeat itself right in front of my eyes. I witnessed how much good can come from the experience of people sharing versions of “just five loaves and two fish.”

Three times, we sent down a 40’ shipping container of surplus medical supplies collected by a local organization of volunteers called S.O. S. – Supplies Over Seas. These left-overs come from out of our regional hospitals – items that would have gone into the landfill because of our laws and rules about expiration dates and cross contamination.  S.O.S. has tons of it in their warehouse over on Arlington Avenue not far from Saint Francis of Rome. They give it away for free, while charging only processing costs and shipping by truck, train and ship to poor areas of the world. Typically, poor countries get close to a half-million dollars worth of perfectly usable medical supplies for a pittance.

I made 12 trips down there altogether. When I was down there on my tenth trip, I toured their new hospital in the very north end of the main island. It was built by an international charity. As we went from room to room, there they were, the medical supplies that we had loaded into one of those 40’ shipping container here in Louisville the year before! They considered it a miracle and so did I. It made me proud, but I was also blown away by the fact there is so much waste in our country and so much need in others. The volunteers at S.O.S. are working miracles every month, right here is Louisville, by sharing our unused medical supplies with those who are more than overjoyed to use it. 

One of the needs I discovered was a need for school supplies – even down to pencils and pens. Businesses down there do not give away free pens like they do up here, so to own a pen or two they would need to spend a couple of Caribbean dollars. Even the Bishop’s Pastoral Centre always had a pen shortage when I was down there. Back home, one day I noticed that I had used pens in almost every drawer in my house. I had also noticed that hundreds of them were being left on the tables after the priest retreats I had been leading across the US and Canada. I decided to clear out my desk draw, my kitchen drawers and my night stands. I even started gathering them up from the tables after my priest retreats - hundreds of them that the hotels could no re-use. As time went by, I got the bright idea that I would announce a “used ball point pen drive” on my blog. The first responder was a woman in Elizabethtown who found 32 laying around her house. I got a box of used pens from North Carolina. A big box of them with business logos came from Florida. I got over 200 of them from a former Cathedral parishioner. I ended up in the middle of a “used ball point pen miracle.” I gathered several thousand used pens. To us, used pens pile up in our “junk drawers,” but to the poor school kids down in the islands, they became  “miraculous school supplies” simply because a bunch of good people came forward and offered their version of “just five loaves and two small fish.”

I have moved on to a more local ministry down in my home parish in Meade County after COVID and the volcano eruption so I no longer volunteer in the Caribbean missions or collect stuff to send down there, but as I read and re-read the story in today’s gospel, I hope and pray that this gospel comes alive for you so that you can have your own experience of the “miracle” that comes from sharing “even a little bit.”

 

 

 

 


 



Thursday, June 16, 2022

REMEMBERING MY TIME WITH THE PRIESTS OF IRELAND

At the end of May 2009, I had the honor of leading the priest retreat for the Archbishop and priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Ireland. I flew into Shannon from Cincinnati because we were meeting at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. The Shannon Airport, a small airport, had been a project of a local priest who wanted to bring in tourists to the shrine. Archbishop Michael Neary, a humble and gentle man, was their bishop at the time of my retreat. He has only recently retired.  

Shrine of Our Lady of Knock

 Priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam on Retreat at Knock
Archbishop and myself in the center of front row


Archbishop Michael Neary. Archbishop of Tuam,
retired early this year



We met at, and stayed in, the Knock House Hotel next to the Shrine
 



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

REMEMBERING MY TIME WITH THE PRIESTS OF WALES


In June 2010, I had the great honor of leading the annual priest retreat for the Archdiocese of Cardiff at an old castle-turned-hotel outside Cardiff in Wales. Both myself and my talks were well received by the priests there. 

Below is the old castle's Anglican chapel and cemetery. 
Below is the main gate into the old castle complex. 
My guest room was in the very corner below in what was once the castle's stables.

I recently heard an old Welsh language song. It reminded me of our 2007 priest retreat. It's lyrics especially reminded me of the priests I met in Wales. Just read the lyrics and get a taste of what the people of that country value in one of their beautiful old hymns. 

READ THE LYRICS IN ENGLISH BEFORE PLAYING THE WHOLE VIDEO

CALON LÂN
(A PURE HEART)

Calon Lân is a Welsh language song, originally written as a hymn in the early 1890s. Daniel James wrote the Calon Lân lyrics and John Hughes the tune. Daniel James was one of five children and was born on 23rd January 1848. His parents were Daniel and Mary who were married at Mynyddbach Chapel in 1844 and lived in Llangyfelach Road, Treboeth, Swansea. Later in life, Daniel used the Bardic name “Gwyrosydd”. John Hughes was born in 1872 in Pen y Bryn , Pembrokeshire and it was he that composed and harmonised the tune at the invitation of Daniel James.




BE SURE USE THE "ENLARGE" FEATURE AT THE BOTTOM RIGHT




 

 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

"YOU HAVE TO DO A LOT" vs "YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING"


Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace
with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1-5

Ever since Martin Luther reached a boiling point and put his foot down 400 years ago, Catholics and Protestants have perpetuated this myth: Protestants think that Catholics believe that they can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds while Catholics think that Protestants believe that they can get to heaven just by believing in Jesus without ever having to do anything.

Part of the problem is that the Letter of James stresses the need for good works, while Paul’s Letters, including today’s second reading, stress the need for faith. The Letter of James says this: “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9) says this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God. it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

So, which is it? Faith or good works? The short answer is that they cannot be separated. If you have faith, you will do good deeds. Good deeds are responses of gratitude for one’s faith. It’s not either/or, but both/and!

The Catholic Church, in fact, teaches us in the Catechism (161): “Believing in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. Without faith no one has ever attained eternal life.” Even Protestants would admit that the author of the Letter of James taught that justification is by faith alone, but also that faith is never alone. It shows itself to be alive by good deeds. A believer's good deeds are expressions of thanks to God for the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

What caused the problem, of course, was not the teaching of the Church, but some of the practices of the Church. People like Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose would have agreed with “salvation by faith,” as our present Catechism teaches, but the Church’s wide-spread practice of selling indulgences, as a means to salvation, in effect contradicted its own teaching. The practice basically said that if you give enough money to the church or to the poor or you did enough other good deeds, you could basically guarantee your way into heaven.

Now if I haven’t completely lost you yet, let me tell you about a couple of practical situations where I have seen this theological controversy of faith versus works played out.

When I was down in southern Kentucky as first pastor of Saint Peter Church in Monticello from 1975-1980, I ran into this trite old Protestant-Catholic misunderstanding head on. There was a lot of poverty in Wayne County in those days. I immediately set out to see what our church, hopefully in partnership with the Protestant churches, could do to help alleviate some of that poverty. I got nowhere.

I recruited two nuns who were “home health nurses.” They would go into the hills and hollars and offer simple health service. We opened a used clothing store. We had a fund to help the poor pay rent, utilities and food. Many of the churches thought we were selling some Catholic notion that if people did social work they could earn their way to heaven. After trying to involve them in some kind of ecumenical, cooperative effort, one day I was told “no” point blank that they did not believe in churches doing social service. I was told that the role of the church is simply to convert people to Jesus Christ – that salvation comes through faith, not through works.

We may have been the only church in the county offering practical help to the poor. The reason I think so is that I can still remember answering the phone one day when a caller asked me, “Is this the church that helps people?” We always understood our service work as an expression of our faith, not a means to salvation. We were perceived as a church who did not believe in “salvation by faith.”

I see this controversy played out more and more at Catholic funerals these days. The American wedding industry has about ruined the Sacrament of Marriage as a religious experience and now the Funeral industry is doing its best to highjack funerals as a religious experience. What I am talking about specifically is the spreading practice of multiple “eulogies” after communion at Catholic funeral Masses.

We should be very careful about giving "eulogies” at Catholic funeral because they can actually perpetuate the myth that we Catholics believe we can earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds. A “eulogy” is about all the things the deceased did for God. A “homily” is about what God did for the deceased. The assumption is that if the one doing the “eulogy” can list enough good things that the deceased did in this life, then the conclusion should be that he or she earned his or her way into heaven. “God, just look at all that he or she did for you! Surely, you owe him or her heaven for all those good deeds!” It perpetuates the myth that salvation can be earned by doing such good deeds. The point of a “homily” is not about what the deceased did for God, but about what God did for the deceased!

The real message of course, the teaching of the church, is this: salvation is a free gift of God for the taking! A good homily says, “See what God has done for this person by offering him or her salvation free of charge! Is it not wonderful what God has done for him or her, not is it not wonderful what he or she did for God?” After that message is preached loudly and clearly, then it is OK to list the responses the deceased made in appreciation for that free gift from God! A “eulogy” alone teaches bad theology, a bad theology that we have been trying to overcome for the last 400 years – a theology of salvation through good works!

One of the nastiest letters I have ever received came after a funeral homily I gave at the Cathedral. I had focused on all the wonderful gifts that God had showered on the deceased in his lifetime and how the deceased had responded to it in faith. The writer of that letter was not happy at all! She ripped me up one side and down the other, saying “I did not drive 200 miles just to hear about God! I wanted to hear about my uncle and all the good that my uncle did while he was here!”

I have been to a couple of funerals recently where I literally wanted to scream! One was at a priest funeral. I won't mention the others which were worse. After a fine homily, a well-planned and carefully executed funeral Eucharist, two family members got up and talked about how much the dead priest had gambled and drank. They joked like it was an after-dinner toast at a wedding rehearsal dinner! It was disgusting! They trivialized his whole life as a priest! 

The reason for the rising popularity of “eulogies,” I believe, is that many people have quit believing in an afterlife. As a result, funerals are now turning into sappy, staged, privatized productions called “memorial services” or “celebrations of life,” focusing on “this life,” not “eternal life.” I saw a funeral home TV ad recently that bragged that they could “design a specialized service to fit the personality of the deceased.” It is almost coming to this! Did the deceased like balloons? We can do balloons! Did the deceased like chocolate? Then we can get you a casket that looks and smells like a brownie! Funerals are becoming less and less about praying for the deceased and more and more about relieving the grieving. Do we not hear people say more and more that “funerals are for the living?” The dead, we are subtly told, are only alive “in our memories” not in some afterlife. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peggy Lee’s famous song, “Is that all there is?,” will not soon beat out “Eagle’s Wings” or “Ave Maria” for the most requested funeral hymn!

Brothers and sisters! We believe that we are saved by grace! It’s all about what God does for us! As a response to the free gift of salvation, we need to show our appreciation by lives of loving service. However, we should never forget that our good deeds cannot “best” God! We can never “outdo” him! We don’t even need to! A living faith responds to that free gift, yes, but that living faith does not “earn” anything!

We need, not to just teach this and believe this, our practices should never contradict what we teach and believe!

Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace
with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.











































Saturday, June 11, 2022

NOTHING LIKE A NOTE FROM A CHILD TO LIFT YOUR SPIRITS

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:14

This note is a "keeper." I received it from a child last Christmas. I kept it and pasted it into my journal. When I am a bit "down," I go back in my journal and look at it again. It lifts my spirits like nothing else!


This child is obviously telling "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God!" Surely, you agree??
HA! HA!