Thursday, September 30, 2010


I have been meditating for a several days on this word from the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty: “He who dwells in the heart of God is aflame with love, and sets on fire everyone he touches.”

As symbol fire most often is referenced in connection with the Most Holy Spirit: shown at Pentecost in the tongues of fire upon the Apostles.

Indeed the Catechism of the Catholic Church [# 696} teaches: …fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions.

Since His first sacramental action takes place within us at Baptism, this can be seen as the moment when such transforming energy is at work within us – and, in a sense, is amplified with every subsequent sacrament we receive, most especially with the Holy Eucharist, for it is the action of the Holy Spirit which brings about transubstantiation.

Especially at Pentecost we cry out to the Holy Spirit asking Him to enkindle within us ‘the fire of Your love.’ This is the fire which Jesus Himself tells us He yearns to spread about the earth.

Catherine in her words is challenging us to dwell within the depths of baptismal reality, to know in Whom we ‘live and move and have our being’ and that we should act within/from this profound communion of love.

So, how is it then that this fire within us is not being spread to everyone we touch?

Perhaps we do not ask the Holy Spirit for more, in a word to not only enkindle, but rekindle, this fire within us, more and more and more.

Perhaps we fear this fire, which purifies and animates.

For most of us it is difficult to discern the difference been punishment and purification, because the intensity is similar.

There is a wonderful story, quoted by Fr. Robert Pelton is his book CIRCLING THE SUN, from the Fathers of the Desert.

Briefly one of the monks, who led a faithful life, came to the Elder and, after telling the Elder how he was faithful to the necessary, wondered what more he could do.

Silently the Elder stands, stretches out his hands from which flow streams of fire and the Elder tells the monk: “If you want you can become a living flame.”

Jesus is the living flame, the living fire of love and by baptism we become immersed in the fire of Christ’s love, members grafted onto the Mystical Body of Christ, hence onto the fire.

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us living flames, if we will only ask.

Imagine how the culture of darkness would be dispelled if all the baptized became living flames!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We become....................

It is evening of the first Sunday of the fall season, and in this northern city the leaves began changing weeks ago and the ground, streets, sidewalks, are covered with a golden leaf carpet.

I have been carrying a conversation in my heart for some days now, which I had with a young adult: in search of a deeper relationship with Christ.

In search of their vocation: yet experiencing an inability to decide, to commit, as they readily admitted, something more and more common among this generation than in previous ones.

It was a comment from one of you who read this, and thank-you always for your kind words and I do pray for you all, which motived me to compose this.

The comment was about “…who we turn our eyes to. It is He.”

We become what we contemplate!

The person who spoke with me at some length admitted the countless hours they spend each day watching television, playing computer games, surfing the net.

In a word they are contemplating the restlessness and negativity, the violence and other disorders of the culture of death, more than they are contemplating Jesus and the things of Jesus.

How can I state that we become what we contemplate?

Try this at home, or in your rectory, wherever. Take a sheet of paper and simply note when you start something like tv or computer games… honest no matter what it is you watch….and by day’s end you will have a sense of how much time is spent with that.

Next day do the same thing with: prayer time, spouse time, children time, for priests the focus should be on time with Jesus in Holy Mass, Divine Office, adoration, visiting the sick.

Make any variation on the list you wish, the idea is to get an objective picture of just what has the most of my attention, or at least before whom/what I spend most of my time.

If I am a priest and spend more time with television or the net than I do in adoration or with Sacred Scripture, something is really off base because I will become what I contemplate.

If I am a wife, mother, husband, father and spend more time after the day’s necessary work is done watching soaps or sports than being with my children before it is their bedtime I will become what I contemplate.

We are speaking here too of a type of addiction: am I addicted to what is not essential to my holy vocation, my relationship with real people or is Jesus, is my vocation and those real people within it, my prime focus, my prime love?

The young adult who spoke with me was shocked when I suggested the first step in discernment and commitment is a choice to shift my prime attention, my prime contemplation, away from what distracts and numbs to a focus upon and contemplation of the One who fulfills us, Jesus.

I am not opposed to television. I have one, under obedience, in the poustinia. But I keep a cloth hung over it and on the cloth a picture of a priest celebrating Holy Mass to remind me that television is to be used sparingly [though I admit this Sunday I did watch a barn burner of a football game!].

I have a computer and could easily misuse it by playing games or surfing, so the screen saver and background image is of Jesus, Divine Mercy.

The choice of what/whom we contemplate is one which we must struggle to make throughout each day – but if we embrace that struggle then we will become like Him whom we contemplate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Three great struggles have become part of my daily life: how do I stop trying to figure out what this latest assault from the bishop is all about?; how far do you push against someone who seems to have, humanly speaking, all the power?; how do you have intimate confidence in Jesus and stay still with Him on the Cross rather than writhing all day long trying to get down from it?

Obviously of all three questions/struggles, the critical one is the third.

A first hint/clue to the answer is found in these words from Pope Benedict from a recent homily during his visit to Great Britain: “….the…crucifix….portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God.”

I certainly want, like I believe most baptized people, to take up my cross each day and follow Him – but in this union with Him I surely do not want to be crushed nor overwhelmed.

This is the great dilemma for anyone seeking to truly be His disciple – if we say yes, even tentatively, He takes us at our word.

Then when unsought after suffering hits us – sudden death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness or injury, being battered or abused, rejected, abandoned, falsely accused – we become in reality crushed and overwhelmed.

Our emotions flare, running the entire gambit from fearful anger and powerlessness, to serious faith-doubt to a desperate need to flee, to escape, in a word to get down from the cross, because it’s all nuts!

So I return to the first two struggles/questions: how do I stop trying to figure out what this latest assault from the bishop is all about?; how far do you push against someone who seems to have, humanly speaking, all the power?

Pope Benedict also said in the same homily: “The Lord’s outstretched arms seem to embrace…..”

Just what does this embrace entail for those who suffer?

A miraculous cure of the cancer, a sudden offer of a new job, restoration of a decaying marriage, sudden end of abuse or violence or……

Not normally.

What then?

Why submit, much less yearn for, His embrace, if apparently His embrace doesn’t end suffering?

Sure an embrace, a hug, from someone who loves us can be momentarily comforting but if I am in a cancer ward, for example, once the embrace is done, the loved one leaves, I remain there alone, in pain.

To be blunt: often Christ’s embrace seems more like being bound than comforted!

Jesus’ words to Peter apply here: unsought after suffering is indeed an experience of having our outstretched hands bound by another and being led where we really would rather not go! [cf. Jn. 21:18ff.]

That is also the last time in the Holy Gospels when Jesus says yet again: “Follow Me.”!

As loving and comforting as Christ’s embrace IS, His embrace also contains within it an act of uniting, IF we are willing, our own sufferings, fears, experience of being crushed and overwhelmed, uniting primarily NOT our sufferings with His, rather becoming in union with Jesus Himself, a union of love, from which flows the uniting of participatory suffering.

Pope Benedict notes this union also includes: “…our own needs, hopes and aspirations, to the infinite merits of His sacrifice. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, we lift up our own bodies as a sacrifice holy and acceptable to God….In this sense we are caught up in His eternal oblation…..”.

Within all our struggles and suffering, if we accept His embrace, then not only are we no longer alone, even if still crushed and overwhelmed: we are in the depths of His own agony for the redemption of the world.

A friend told me the other day of their immense anger not only because of their great suffering, anger too at God, but especially anger at themselves because they will NOT say no to Jesus!

Beneath all their emotional turmoil, in the depths of their heart and soul shines this incredible intimate confidence in Jesus.

I get it! The anger bit I mean!

How I would love to lash out, to forego His embrace, to get down from the cross, cut the bonds, run away by……..yeah, that’s the rub…..the only way to do that is to stop being in love with HIM!

Yes, there are not three answers to the questions, but one alone: Jesus!

It may seem trite and is often miss-asked but in the face of everything that crushes, overwhelms, confuses, angers, there is only one real question to ask and then in the depths of which questing to be still: What would Jesus do?

“Let me kiss him…Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you shepherd your flock….Show me your face…cause me to hear your voice….” [cf. Song of Songs]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


It is one of those so clear and powerful words of Jesus that even if we can’t give the citation we do have it etched deep in our hearts – sometimes as an almost enticing call of love from Him, perhaps sometimes as a rather scary word, but never forgotten, always struggled with: IF YOU WOULD BE MY DISCIPLE, TAKE UP YOUR CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME.

To take something up, i.e. to pick it up, means to carry it.

When I was a teenager working all winter long as a lumberjack in the northern bush we were cutting timbers for coal mines – each log no less than six inches at the narrow end and no less than eight feet long.

We worked one hundred yards either side of the bush road, felling trees laden with snow, which once felled would land in the three feet or more deep snow on the forest floor.

The trees had to be de-branched, cut into sections and then carried out to the bush road and stacked in cords.

If, as happened most nights, it had snowed during the night then the walk into the site, the walk carrying the first few logs until a path was trodden, was a challenge and you quickly got used to ignoring being drenched in falling snow while felling the trees, scrapped and bruised carrying them.

We walked into the bush in the dark so we could begin work as the sun was rising and, because that far north, days are extremely short in the winter, we worked until dusk and then walked back out – five miles in, five miles out.

I am not telling you this so you get out the world’s tiniest violin and play ‘Poor Boy’ or some other lament!

But I would urge, in the first instance, an awareness of the millions of men, women, and children, who toil across the globe in even harsher circumstances.

The key memory for me of those days working in the bush is the sheer weight of the logs as I carried them, the rawness of my shoulder which bled profusely by the end of the day, torn even though we wore heavy work jackets, the adolescent fury of hot humiliation each time I tripped in the snow, falling face down, the heavy burden smashing into my back.

Decades later, concelebrating the Divine Liturgy of this day’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, carrying not a heavy log but a sweet smelling handful of purples leaves in the procession with the Bishop, suddenly I remembered those days in the bush and realized, what a grace, because, lightweight in comparison to the one, in all its physical and salvation added weight Christ carried, to be sure, yet because of those long months in the bush, in a physical sense at least, I know what to “take up” means.

Sometimes, I will admit, the logs were so heavy I could not carry them but had to pound a pick into one end and drag the thing to the edge of the road.

Daily I face that choice: to drag or carry – peaceful in the understanding that the emphasis in Jesus’ love-invitation is to follow Him and I don’t think He worries too much about when we actually carry, or drag, just so long as we are striving to be with Him.

At least that is what I draw from some thoughts of Paul Evdokimov in one of my favourite books for spiritual reading, his: THE STRUGGLE WITH GOD.

Evdokimov, speaking about the various stages of the spiritual life, the call, ultimately, to be one with Love Himself, fundamentally constitutes: “…..what the Gospel calls the personal cross of each man.”

This IS the first ‘weight’, if you will, we experience each morning when we take up our Cross, really His cross, anew each day and begin anew to follow Him – in a word to choose once more to be His disciple.

In point of fact, given the rapidity with which we traverse the pilgrimage of life from birth to death Evdokimov notes that: “This time is of short duration. The face of the Father takes on the face of the Son, and His cross casts its shadow within us.”

It is important here to understand this is not a dark, malevolent shadow, but actually is movement of the Holy Spirit who offers us the grace to take up, to follow, to be!

Indeed His Light is so brilliant the shadow cast is a dimension of light!

Certainly, just as happened to me in the bush overcome by exhaustion, the weight of the logs, when it comes to embracing the cross, our personal cross which is a sharing in His: “The brutal experience of our falls and weakness can fling us to the edge of despair. We are strongly tempted to cry out that it is an injustice that God expects too much from us, that our cross is heavier than that of others.”

Personally I believe such emotional reaction, frankly take it from an Italian, screaming out to God, is no big deal, rather it is a HUGE deal, in the best sense, because above all, at least with my deep-seated ego that since those days in the bush still wants to ‘go it alone’, being crushed to the point of knowing that “Cut off from Me you can do nothing!”, is a real grace, even if I have to be flat on the ground screaming, to get the point!

Thus Evdokimov also notes: “In moments of crushing solitude, humility alone can help us in recognizing the radical powerlessness of human nature. It inclines us to cast our whole being at the foot of the Cross, and then our heavy burden is lifted by Christ in our place: “Learn from Me….For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.””


The above link is to this work which is apparently out of print, but the whole thing is there online!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 - The Gaping Wound

Praying this morning not only for those murdered nine years ago on this day, but also for an end to hatred and violence throughout the world, I was remembering something seared in my heart when, sometime after that horrific day, I was at ground zero with a New York Firefighter friend.

My friend, who of course had been there like hundreds of other first-responders on that almost incomprehensible day of devastation, had asked me to come to New York to return to Ground Zero with him so he could grieve.

The above image of molten steel hardened on the beams in the shape of a cross, seared itself in my heart as a reminder of how Jesus not only embraced and then defeated all forms of hatred and death in His own Self and Self-Gift but in His Glorious Resurrection is our Way, Truth, Life.

Early this morning the above appeared in the blog

Having been in New York before the towers were built and after, it took some time, standing at the edge of the massive gaping wound in the earth, the city, the nation, the world, to comprehend and remember not merely the buildings but that human beings, our brothers and sisters in their thousands, had been there – one moment beginning an ordinary day, the next engulfed in unimaginable horror, which for so many was their last moment on earth.

We know the enormous courage and self-gift of the hundreds of Firefighters, Police and others, including a Catholic Priest, who rushed into the towers, laying down their lives for others.

It remains within me that awareness of immense self-sacrifice as the strongest memory of 9/11.

Nine years on the perpetrators of hatred remain violently active and fear of another attack sustains the memory of 9/11 as a gaping wound.

It is Saturday.

Our Lady’s Saturday as the Liturgical Calendar notes.

My prayer, through the intercession of Our Lady of La Salette on this day is very simple: that we honour truly the memory of all the victims of 9/11 by truly loving one another.

Only love is stronger than hatred and death.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


There is a line in a hymn used in the Divine Office, for example Tuesday of the 2nd week of Ordinary Time, for the Office of Readings, which has been a refrain in my heart for some time as a source of meditation.

Daily I choose a different part of the neighbourhood or local cemetery, if walking, or a different part of the city if on public transit, or in this northern city with its anywhere from seven months or more of winter, with the icy sidewalks, bus it to a mall for a walk – the point is those are special times each day to pray for the people, especially to pray they will know Jesus, to pray for their burdens, their needs.

I remember, since the anniversary is upon us, with so much swirling around it this year, being in New York shortly after 9/11 at the invitation of a New York Fire Fighter who wanted me to come down, spend a week in prayer for the city, walk the sacred ground with him to help him grieve, seeing innumerable faces of New Yorkers masked with fear.

Often times, when I move around this city, more and more and more faces wear that same mask.

It is a mask after-all, not the gifted face from the Holy Trinity to a human being born in the image and likeness of God.

Perhaps at some point in the midst of some trauma or abuse or disappointment the mask was noticed, being pro-offered by the hand of pain, or flight or some other dark emotion which had crafted it – or maybe it was after some sin inflicted upon self, or committed against another, or being violated by someone or caught in war or struggling down from the towers or watching them come down upon your brother Firefighters, the mask was offered by another, a creature more twisted and hideous even than the mask of fear itself.

There is the heart-wrenching yet tender moment in Genesis when, after their chosen act of sin Adam and Eve have gone into hiding – which itself points to their inner turmoil since who can hide from God? – when Love Himself comes looking for them.

How is it God could not see them? Simply He chose not to “see” them in then sense of “God saw-and it was good” of the creation moment.

Certainly He looked for them and upon them and towards them and spoke with them seeking answer for their hiding and Adam says: “I was afraid…..”

The first human being created in the image and likeness of God had accepted to put on the mask of fear, a mask formed by and offered to Adam by the very father of lies who had induced Adam to open the door of dark-fear into creation, into human life.

Across the millennia since then fear is a harsh component of human life.

Thus the line from the hymn mentioned above: WE ALL HAVE SECRET FEARS TO FACE….

Some of the fears appear not so secret and common to the larger world, the extended community, such as fear of extremists and terrorists, of a collapsing economy, or if you live in certain parts of the world fear of another earthquake, flood, drought, famine, civil war, suicide bomber, or if you are a woman or child in Darfur or the Congo or places hidden from scrutiny you live in constant fear of rape and abuse.


Perhaps you are elderly and alone and walking on crowded streets mugging is feared or just tripping and breaking a hip or you fear the day when family comes and packs you off to a nursing home among strangers – or – perhaps you are a wife and mother, or a child, living in a situation where you await in fear for the next onslaught of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, too terrified, indeed paralyzed by the fear to the point where you tell no one your secret.


In the Church of today priests carry a deep secret fear – for in the current climate where it certainly appears from their actions that bishops accept at face value any accusation about virtually anything from the most evil crime of abuse to financial mismanagement and move against priests in such a way as the priest is totally done for, without due process – the deep and secret fear is of being accused.

In all the examples sighted, of perhaps obvious secret fears that we may believe are secret within ourselves but are so widespread the stress in the wording of the prayer-hymn is, rightly, on the word WE – for this is a human affliction which cries out to heaven for relief – modern media does much harm by fanning those fears by constantly harping on the negative we all know, but rarely, if ever, proclaiming good news about how the causes of our fears are being overcome.

The common denominator and foundational root of all fear is a type of inner conviction, aided and promoted by the evil conveyor of fear: satan.

The secret fears we have to face are also exacerbated by our own analysis of the situation – hence even though he was ardently and lovingly sought by the Infinite of Infinite, Tender of Love Himself, Adam was afraid because he knew himself to be totally powerless before One greater, more powerful than himself.

When our secret fears have us in bondage, if we examine them/it objectively, we will discover an inner conviction that the threat/person triggers within us a profound awareness of being vulnerable, powerless and a deep sense there is no one, perhaps not even God, more powerful than what we fear.

Even though over and over and over again Jesus, in the Holy Gospel, tells us not to be afraid and over and over and over again offers us His peace, even we the baptized, these days, are extremely fearful, both communally such as regards terrorism, and bearing secret fears within ourselves.

Here He is, our fearlessness and our peace!

Pope John Paul, who endured many public fears in his life, such as what he and his nation endured under the Nazis in WWII, may well have had secret fears as well – certainly after he was shot he would have lived with the reality of being vulnerable to assassination and yet here we have the Great Pope who wrote an entire encyclical on Divine Mercy and urged, through the private revelations to St. Faustina, devotion to, that is absolute trust in, Divine Mercy.

Mercy, that is the lavishness of love and peace we so need in these anxious days of human history and in our own deep selves where secret fears dwell, is the core of the person and message of Jesus – the key, of course, is to choose to take OFF the mask of fear, even better to refuse it when offered in the first place; the key is, even if my emotions are spastic with deep terror, to choose with my will not only to say but to live: JESUS I TRUST IN YOU!

Towards the end of the hymn about secret fears we pray the truth that: The Gospel speaks…Your love…O help us live what we believe.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Today with the birth of Our Blessed Mother, within the entire graced reality of creation, of salvation history, an immense portal of light and hope has opened!

So O Holy Mother, how do we thank-you for your FIAT, for your love, your protection?

The ways are countless, even should we try and count them, for to love you is to heed your word spoken to us at Cana when you pointed to Jesus and urged us to have intimate confidence in Him and to live and be all He asks.

So indeed we love you to the ultimate “..depth and breadth and height..” our souls may reach and even when we may feel God is distant or nor human being on earth calls us by name, nonetheless even then we shall though “…feeling out of sight, for the ends of being and ideal grace…” we shall love you with our “..childhood’s faith”!

Indeed O Holy Mother Mary we shall love you with “..the breath, smiles, tears…” of our entire lives and, please that He should will it for all eternity we shall even “ you better after death.”

{see the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43 – also of note it does seems, thanks to the hard work of our Webmaster, that we can once again update: }