Tonight, the moon dances brilliantly against the night. Darkness frames that shining light. Besotted with the contrast, the liturgical year re-opens just as the secular year slides to its close. It has been a calamitous year, one that will re-shape our culture for generations to come. Each of the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have a powerful relevance to the torturous year of 2020. The first reading is from Isaiah 63, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” The responsorial psalm is Ps. 80, “O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us.” “He will keep you firm to the end.” comes from the second reading from First Cornithians. Finally, there are words from the Gospel of Mark 13: “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

In the midst of such turmoil socially, politically and economically, these phrases are priceless reminders of what it means to be who we are as Christians and Catholics. The first speaks to the universality of humanity, the realization that each of us is only and always human, flawed and fabulous at the same time. The second imparts the sense that there is the something greater than self, that reaching out for help, support, even rescue, is intrinsically human. Each of us has that capacity to interact with one another in the awareness that we are each the hands and heart of Christ. The third speaks to trust, that elusive sense of confidence in one another that is fundamental to absolutely interaction. And the last is about choosing to be attentive, observant, and therefore becoming intensely alive. There is no denying the grief, confusion, conflicts and confrontations that have raged in 2020. But these four constructs are the springboard for a season of new beginnings.

Advent, after all, is about waiting. As a child, I thought it was meant to mark the months of Mary’s wait for the birth. As a young adult, I learned about theological significance. As a middle-aged adult, I felt the sense of anticipation underlying both. Waiting is about wondering and wanting, trusting in something that has not yet arrived but is on the way. This year, that is true on a thousand different levels. The ambiguity and uncertainty of the pandemic has given even more significance to this time of waiting, of wanting.

How we wait matters as much as that we wait. So much is simply beyond our control. But these phrases, lifted from readings that echo through time and throughout the Catholic world, are reminders of what really matters. In the midst of anxiety, fear, and change, these words tell us to embrace this moment, to be who we are, to draw on our best selves, and to dare to live each moment to the fullest. The challenge is right there, and the chance to welcome that, to live that, is ours. God is waiting for us.

The King

This final Sunday of the liturgical year: Christ the King. 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is crowded with meaning and significance. The feast is an allusion to monarchy while living through 2020’s challenges of democracy; it whispers of grandeur while struggling with the human, economic and emotional tolls of the pandemic.

This last Sunday is an invite to live with compassion and consciousness, to recognize need and purpose, to take action and to make a difference. The tenderness of a benevolent monarch is embedded in the readings: the simple shepherd, faithful to his call, tends to his sheep. And then, in the Gospel from mat. 25, it becomes even more clear.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This kingdom, this Christ, seeks benevolence from each person. This is a kingdom that is about recognizing realities and moving with courage and conviction towards providing immediate assistance. In a sense, it is tasking the role of shepherd to each human being. Each is meant to care for the other, to do what can be done for each other. It is about living goodness, sharing compassion, and accepting responsibility for self and others.

The concept of a benevolent, generous god is aligned with the vision of a monarch who truly loves and cares for the people of the kingdom. It is not about power, aggression, subjugation or oppression. It is about loving with gracious fidelity and opening pathways that may not have existed before. It is about leaving the world better than we found it, about daring to live with generous hearts and accepting spirits. It is about realizing we belong on both sides of the equation, as givers and receivers, and that life itself is part of the exchange. And, finally, it is about the constancy of Christ’s presence in the very routine matters of daily life.

The King provides an example, a model, an inspiration. Aligned with the subjects, the King faithful to their issues and concerns. The King is trusting in the fidelity of the subjects. In every way, it is an active relationship, real and very human. For hundreds of years, the monarchy model was familiar and understood. Now, in a secular society grappling with the rich realities of democracy, the fullest meaning is more elusive. It can be shrouded in misunderstanding or dismissed as something irrelevant.

But the feast points, too, to a second reality. Human life does not stretch beyond the grave. But the acts of kindness, the moments of generosity and love, those live on. History is made in the healing of hearts and heroes are carved from the choices they make. The grand narratives of history are resplendent with victories and triumphs. But tucked beneath all that is this Kingdom of Christ’s: a place where conflict is met with charity and suffering with compassion, all the things that really matter to human beings. Long Live the King!


There is a subtlety to Scripture, a way in which its stories capture all the vagaries, faults and flaws of what it means to be human. Then there is the juxtaposition with the stories of courage and heroism, quality and strength, and the delicate truth that each of us, in being human, is made up of both. All that is explored in the most ordinary of circumstances, the lives we live everyday in relationships, families, work places and in each of the choices we make. Even when those ordinary lives are caught in quite extraodinary circumstances, choosing the Light makes all the difference.

The pandemic, the social unrest, the election, the weight of economic uncertainty and the unremitting force of technological change has rendered 2020 one of those “extraordinary circumstances”. It would be easy to bury ourselves in the misery of it, bemoan each new turn, and embrace a frustration and anger that might buffet the next blow. But that would mirror the actions of the man in the today’s Gospel reading. It was the Parable of the Talents, Mt. 25: 14-30. Jesus narrates the story with a steady hand: a departing master leaves his servants with a prescribed number of coins, talents, and directions to care for the property until he returns. The first two invest and double the take; the third buries his and can only return what he had been given. The Master rewards the first two, but the third is punished. To bury ourselves in the messiness of 2020 is to bury what we have been given. The call is to be like the first two servants who utilize the gift given, the time allotted, and invest with confidence and certitude. That Gospel speaks of commitment, of attentiveness to the master’s purpose, of action. Keeping that in mind means looking at the texture and layers of reality that surround us.

In the horror of this epidemic, the sun still rises and washes away the night. New babies are born everyday; new homes and jobs are found. Kindness is practiced in a thousand different forms: sharing food resources, watching out for neighbors, organizing drive bys and Zoom calls. There are heartwarming stories of elderly couples reunited, and young families bolstered by the return of first responder parents. Adapatations occur everyday: masks and social distancing are standard fare now; grocery stores have runway patterns and clerks are behind protective plexiglass. There is a palpable sense of possibility even as the numbers of hospitalizations and positivity tests rise. People struggle to use what we have for the benefit of another.

Every moment of history is emblazoned with meaning in someone’s life; each moment Choosinghas a hand in shaping destinies for individuals and nations. The 21st centruy world is not an exception. In the search for understanding, the centuries old Gospel can become, if allowed, a timeless companion. Jesus, imparting simple stories in a world so different than our own, transcends the centuries to provoke thought and challenge conventional thinking. Entrusted with the stories, it is left to each of us to decide how to grasp the meaning and how to apply the message in 21st century life. In other words, it is about how to live and love and be the very ordinary human beings we actually are. Even in this time, the mission is being offered, the chances taken, and the world is a better place for it.


New England’s Autumn strips the color from branches, baring the most essential elements of the landscape: rocky escarpments, slanted roofs, skeleton trunks. Wandering under the shifting skies, every image becomes sharply distinct and somehow certain, more real. Autumn owns the moment in the same way the virgins awaiting the Bridegroom owned the moment. In Matthew 23:1-13, the story of the ten seems to be all about the moment: five had lamps and oil; five only brought the lamps. Only the five who were prepared were able to actually welcome the Bridegroom. The others were off searching for the oil.

We stand at this moment, maybe at every moment, with those ten women. Beneath that message about preparation is a deeper and compelling reality linked to our common humanity. That short pericope wrestles with purpose, awareness, choice and relationship. The virgins, after all, were on a mission of sorts. There was an assigned task, one that required more than showing up. Woody Allen may have argued that 99% of success is showing up, but planning for that, anticipating possibility, also matters. To achieve their purpose, the virgins needed resources. Imagine if they had forgotten not just the oil, but the lamps themselves. More than that, a conscious understanding of the broader situation was necessary.

Being there, showing up, mattered. This two thousand year old story captures exactly what “waiting” means for us today. Every honking horn points to our needs for immediate gratification. Every automated answering machine, with its multiple steps and reassurances that your call is indeed important to them, exposes the frustration that can be part of waiting. The parable whispers softly that patience and perseverance are life necessities, and how we wait makes a difference.

In a sense, the whole story is about the importance of the choices we make as human beings, and how those choices impact ourselves and others. Each choice falls somewhere along the continuum of enhancing relationships or jeopardizing them. This is about how, with all the contemporary emphasis on human individuality, we are also, achingly collective. In so many ways, we are dependent on the right choices made by others. The Gospel effortlessly highlights that.

I have often wonderd what ultimately happened to the five who searched for the oil, if they got a second chance or found themselves searching for that, if they even realized what had happened or that it might be necessary to change patterns of behavior, review choices, acknowledge the loss as an opportunity. The Gospel doesn’t say. That, too, interfaces with the uncertainties that undergird human lives. And yet, that very open question is a comforting validation of what it means to be human.

In essence, the gift of life, of being, of connections and even of purposes. has been entrusted to each of us. What we do with it and how we do that matters not only for self, but for all those we companion. The journey of life is not one of isolation, but one of connection and celebration, of losses and gains, of moments entangled in every century, decade, year and day. Preparing for the journey matters; being entrusted with the lifetime matters even more.

Choose Wisely

All Saints Day. Gray and rainy in the Northeast. Election Day imminent. Pandemic spreading. Families reeling. Fears of economic losses and civil unrest. And here we are, such as we are, with the Gospel of the Beatitudes standing in startling contrast to the tumult overwhlming every other aspect of life.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.Mt. 5:1-12

And there, wrapped in every line, weighted in the flow of verse, rest the very secrets to being fully human, fully alive. Every phrase delineates a fundamental aspect of humanity; each characteristic is named, and each is followed by a promise of a future, a next step. There is a quiet reality to each one, to the isolation and even the suffering each portrays or implies. But beyond that, there is that sense of commitment to life, to somehow making things work. Everything about the Beatitudes points to the challenges and difficulties that life presents. Nothing suggests that there is sanctity in rigidity, judgementalness or cruelty. Instead, there is a certain self-confidence flowing from choosing compassion, kindess, hope and peace. The Beatitudes are about personally choosing a path and then making a difference in the lives of others and self.

Each one implies that many other paths are possible, even likely. But these choices, resting in the most human of hands, offer a profound difference, a comforting sense of possibility, a commitment to being. They are far more than “Be-attitudes.” Instead, they are richly textured with the power of choice and possibility; they rest in the life of every human person. The words are a reminder not only of the strengths of human beings but the links between and among us. Here, there is no class, no race, no gender: it is all about everyone, each one. Most importantly, each one matters.

In this time of heightened anxiety and fears, looking into the eyes of another, seeing through the eyes of another, is essential. The Beatitudes dare us to step out of the box and open the doors to one another, to dare to listen, see, comfort, console, choose and challenge. Above all, the Beatitudes are about actions born of deep convictions, reflected in attitudes and brought to life by choice. Choose wisely.