Thursday, December 21, 2023


Louisville snowstorm of 1978
Somewhere in Louisville in 2021

A mess, on the ground and in the traffic, outside my window on Eastern Parkway a few years ago.

Beautiful!  Snow along melted roads, on a street along Cherokee park, a couple of years ago. 


Tuesday, December 19, 2023



It has happened so often in my life that I am no longer surprised when I stumble onto a book that motivates me to change in a significant way. It's like the right book simply falls into my lap at a time that I need it. It is certainly true of this little book - THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  

Like many people I know, I have a tendency to hold onto things until one day I become a slave of my own "stuff." Now that I am retired, I realized that I have too much stuff in my living space and that I have outlived much of its usefulness - clothes, books, files, pictures, nick-nacks, tools, appliances, dishes, picture frames and you-name it! Finally, a day comes when you know you need to "go through it" and "separate the wheat from the chaff" so to speak, but you just can't get motivated. It was then that Marie Kondo's little book fell into my lap from God-knows-where! 

The first insight that came into focus was the realization that decluttering would make my life richer, not poorer. Once the clutter is gone, my personal space would be a whole lot easier to clean - meaning less work! The second insight that came into focus was the realization finding what I truly need would be a whole lot easer to find - meaning less wasted time. The third insight that came into focus was the realization that I did not need to own things like 30 pairs of black pants of various waist sizes, 50 outdated old text books from high school, college and former jobs that I used to have, 150 file folders from the 150 priest retreats I did in 10 countries when I had most of the truly important information in my computer. Then there is the 15 years of weekly clippings of my column in The Record in albums when I have all of them in three fat books. Does one person really need three Crock Pots of various sizes? 

I don't need to belabor the point by listing all of the other categories of clutter that I had in my condo and garage - things like outdated spices in kitchen drawers, outdated pill bottles in the bathroom and duplicate tools and broken things of all sorts that I never got around to fixing in the garage!  I won't mention things like the six boxes of old pictures that I reduced to two that I had not looked at since I took them years ago - many in duplicate and triplicate.  I reduced two three-drawer file cabinets full of paper down to one and got rid of the other file cabinet! 

Reading the book is what motivated me to roll up my sleeves and dig in! Once I got started, I was on a roll! In less than two weeks, between Good Will, the Second Hand Store at St. Thomas More Parish, the condo recycle bins and the dumpster, I have filled no less than three full pick-up truck loads, two recycle bins and probably half a dumpster. It got to the point that I was embarrassed for neighbors to see me carrying bags to the dumpster and recycle bins. After all that, I only had maybe one more car-load of "treasures" for the second-hand store and now even that is gone. Now that I think that I have finished, I am going to make a total sweep once again to be sure I didn't hold back some sentimental old trash that I will never miss!

The other day, I had four old seminary classmates over for coffee, pastries and conversation. The place sparkled and no one could tell that anything was missing! "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!" 

Ms. Kondo insists that one declutter first and then clean - and for God's sake don't just look for more storage space! Now that I have decluttered my condo, right after Christmas I am going to get a couple of cleaning people in here to give it a good going over from top to bottom as I go into the new year. 

The whole process was actually an energizing effort, rather than a boring chore, and the process kept me engaged and focused from beginning to end. Now I find myself, in quiet moments, looking around for more stuff to get rid of! I can now say with certainty that "tidying up" has indeed been a wonderful, life-changing spiritual experience for me! The icing on the cake is that all that junk went to someone who can use it, but can't afford to buy it! 

Sunday, December 17, 2023



Test everything. Retain what is good.
Refrain from every evil.
I Thessalonians 5:16-24

There are two great “temptation” stories in the Bible – the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden and the temptation of Jesus in the desert. In the first temptation story, goodness falls and evil wins. In the second temptation, goodness wins and evil falls. All other temptations in history are just more versions of these two stories of temptation – the temptation to choose evil over good or good over evil.

What exactly is a “temptation, anyway?” It is a personal inner struggle with a choice - a choice that has at its base a desire to do something, usually something wrong or unwise. It is such a part of our everyday living that every time we say the Our Father, we pray that we will not be led into temptation.

Test everything. Retain what is good.
Refrain from every evil.

I am reminded of something from the Book of Sirach in the Old Testament. "Set before you are fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.” (Sirach 15:16-17) That is worth repeating! "Before you are life and death, whichever you choose will be given to you!"

A lot is made these days of our "right to choose," but increasingly little is said about our responsibility to choose wisely, not to mention our responsibility to accept the consequences of our choices. Some people are like kids who go through life eating the filling out of the Oreos and then throwing the cookies away. They want freedom without the responsibility that goes with it! They want to choose, but they are not necessarily willing to accept the responsibility that goes with their choices, especially when they turn out badly!

You may have the right to eat French Fries and Chicken Nuggets three times a day, but you also have the responsibility to eat healthily. If you only exercise your right to eat whatever you want, without accepting your responsibility to eat well, you will sooner or later have to accept the consequences of your choices – bad health and maybe death! You have a right to skip class when you are in school, but you also have a responsibility to go to class. If you only exercise your right to skip, you must be willing to accept the consequences of maybe flunking out of school and have to find some menial work to stay alive! If you only exercise your right to accept a credit card, without accepting your responsibility for paying for what you charge, you will sooner or later have to accept the painful consequences of your choices - ruining your credit for years to come! Our culture is being ruined by people who keep trying to beat this basic truth!

All you young friends here today, I have something to say to you especially, so listen up! One of the benefits of being a young adult is finally being able to enjoy the freedom to make your own choices. One of the upsides of the freedom to choose is the ability to build your own life the way you want to live it through a series of personal choices. On the other hand, one of the downsides of the freedom to choose is the freedom to ruin your own life through a series of poorly-thought-out choices. Yes, you are totally free to ruin your own life or build a fabulous life! The choice is yours! If you mess it up, you can’t blame your parents or the government or the internet or anybody else! Win or lose, you did it to yourself either through your own wise free choices or your own stupid free choices!

Test everything. Retain what is good.
Refrain from every evil.

The freedom to choose, combined with the ability to choose wisely, is the ideal. Yet there are many who cannot handle their freedom well and end up losing it. Choosing what feels good at the moment, without the personal discipline to choose what would actually be good over the long haul, is a recipe for disaster. Hearing about people ruining their lives has actually become a favorite American TV entertainment.

Every day people like Judge Judy, Jerry Springer and Maury Povich have made big bucks featuring people who have ruined their lives and the lives of those around them because of the poor choices they have made. They have the "freedom to choose" but choose poorly. They have the "freedom to choose" but they don't have the ability to discern what is of value. Illegitimate children, ruined marriages, endless abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, serious financial debt, family disintegration, squandered opportunities for a good education and loss of reputation are only a few of the consequences of making choices without the ability to choose wisely. Do yourself a favor! Don’t make the same stupid choices they made!

As St. Paul reminds us in our second reading today, “Test everything, retain what is good and refrain from every kind of evil.” To be able to discern what is of value, we must develop self-mastery. By self-mastery, I mean we have to be able to name and then "stand up to" our addictions, our cowardice and our laziness in order to create the life we want to have! We must be able to "handle" ourselves and our cravings - for a higher purpose and for our long-term good. We must be able to continually clarify what we really want out of life, constantly focus our energies to reach for what we want and consistently deal in truth rather than self-deception.

People with self-mastery approach their lives like an artist approaching the task of producing a work of art. People with self-mastery know how to discern what is of value and use what they have discerned to live on purpose! The spiritual disciplines of both East and West speak often of the practice self-mastery. I published a new book a few years ago on this very subject. It is my autobiography mapping the courageous choices I have deliberately made since age six and how those choices made me what I am today – for good or for bad! It is called BETWEEN COURAGE AND COWARDICE: Choosing to Do Hard Things for Your Own Good. It is a total detailed life review. 

Test everything. Retain what is good.
Refrain from every evil.

One of the sad things about our culture, in which freedom of choice is so highly honored, is the growing tendency to deflect responsibility for our choices after we make them. If our culture is to survive, the freedom to choose must be combined with personal responsibility. To demand the freedom to make our own choices and then throw the blame on others when those choices backfire is the height of cowardice and irresponsibility - and yet it is so popular in our culture. Freedom without responsibility is wreaking havoc all around us.

When enough of us have the ability to discern what is of value and when enough of us have the self-mastery to choose what is of value, marriages will improve, families will improve, neighborhood will improve, the economy will improve, churches will improve, nations will improve and the world will improve. These problems can only be fixed one person at a time. In reality, no one can save us from us, but us!

Discipline is about choosing “delayed gratification” or “good things coming to those who wait” or “the ability to resist the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a larger prize in the future.” Numerous studies have shown that the ability to delay gratification is one of the biggest indicators of success through life – be it your ability to manage your resources, choose the right spouse, maintain your weight, becoming skilled at a sport or launching a career. Those who can resist temptation in pursuit of long-term goals are blessed with an enormous advantage over the rest of the herd. Leonardo de Vinci was right when he said, “One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”

The ability to discern what is of value and self-mastery in the face of severe temptation is at the heart of Jesus’ desert experience. To do his Father’s will, not his own, Jesus had to be able to see the difference between what “looked good” and what was “actually good.”