Lent carries so many subtle nuances as Catholics and Christians edge towards Easter. There is a solemnity to it, to the fasting and abstinence, the talk of sin and sacraments, of redemption and resurrection. New England wrestles with winter’s wanting spring. Doubts and ambiguity linger about the interface of secular and spiritual. It all happens at once: upholstered gray skies are the backdrop for one discouraging news report after the other, and social media sources both information and misinformation. The plight of refugees from all over the world and the ravages of war point to an incomprehensible suffering that surges over the practices and customs of Lent with vehemence. And so this is where we are when the Gospel of the Prodigal Son is read again.

When I was a child, my mother made it quite clear that she did not agree with the story’s outcome or message. Her sympathy lay with the elder son, and her disappointment in the father’s actions was palatable. There was, she would say, no way the prodigal was anything but selfish and cruel, even narcissistic in his reappearance and his accpetance of the welcome. She suspected him of even worse, and would note that he is not heard from again in the Gospel. “Probably killed the old man to get the rest of the fortune,” she would grumble. “Maybe knocked off the other brother, too…” So I have listened to the story a thousand times with a dose of cynicism and a hearty skepticism. Until now.

Because in the inevitable way that “now” changes things, the story opens a portal to something I had not realized at first. “Now” has revealed the complexities of human life and systems with an unmitigated relentlessness. Being human is more complicated than suspected for those navigating the storm of it. Motives and morals are elusive pieces in making choices and decisions. Perspectives and possibilities are rooted in time and circumstance and belong to every human of their own accord. Absolutes are imaginary and purposes often obscured. So it is with the Prodigal Son. The story captures a timeline of the Prodigal Son’s choices and actions. But it also conveys the actions of an indulgent father and an elder brother bound by norms and mores that the younger obviously did not share. Contentment eludes ech of them in unique ways and points to the daily challenges of living. There is a restless focus on the future and a lack of attentiveness to the present moment. There is wanting to be liked and to please one another, to be seen and recognized, known and understood, accepted. All three point to this.

In the end, what matters is reconciling, coming together with the impossible puzzle pieces life presents. It is discovering that there is more to be seen, known and understood in each of us. It is about taking the moment to discover what really matters, embracing reality and seeing possibility. It is about living in the now and believing beyond that. It is not about judgment or punishment, condemnation or cruelty but conscious choice, compassion, resilience and hope. It is about action over passivity and promise over loss. It is about realizing that beyond the gray upholstered clouds, there is light. We are ready for “now”, for change, for hope.


Tonight, Ukraine is being bombarded by Russia, and the world is watching and waiting, wanting peace and struggling with the unsatisfied need. All over the world, individual stories are folded within conflicts and tragedies, cultures and nations, one more unthinkable than the last. And here, safe and comfortable, the conscience of our country is aroused again around the issues of injustice, violence and inequality. Sensitivity to the realities of global community is a step in empathy, a step towards action. And during the week of the celebration of both St. Joseph and St. Patrick, it seems more than appropriate.

First, each man did not confine their definition or understanding of God to what was familiar. Each sensed a direction, a possibility, and moved towards that light, followed that direction. It points to the reality of God’s “messaging”, movement, within each of us. Each bore the consequences of their choices and decisions, and each left a narrative that begs for the illumination of detail and so relevance to our lives. Opening the heart to this means allowing God to be God and permitting ourselves to be the flawed yet beloved humans that we are.

It is easy to confine God to our own worlds and the routes of our brain synapses, to forget the very definiton of God means something quite other than human. But there are a plethora of concepts if we choose to explore them: Dr. Walter Capps of UCSB supposed that God could manifest multiple ways in a variety of cultures yet still be one God and geenrated hours of discussion with students and scholars. There were contemplative monastics who wondered about the emphasis on the priesthood in Catholicism and if perhaps, God’s intent was not as patriarchal since, in fact, both men and women exist and cultural mores may have conspired to subjugate one to the other. Going further, these women wondered if the significance of the sacraments would find strength in sharing. Is not the grace of a sacrament present in sharing with one another? Can we not grant the beauty of grace and kindness,community and forgiveness to one another? Can we not remind one another of Other? Of God?

Isn’t that actually, what Joseph and Patrick were able to do? They found a way to honor the whispered vocie of God, to respond and make a difference in the lives of others. Each broke with convention; each acted with love and blazed an unexpected trail. In different centuries, each embodied an unlikely courage and a conscious fidelity to responding to the impulse of a gentle God. Each provides the example and reassurance that the reality of God does not belong to them alone but to each human being. Goodness is alive in the world; Joseph, Patrick and so many of us can be and are evidence of that.

The destruction of Ukraine and the cruelties visited on so many people in so many parts of the world is not a manifestation of that goodness. Beyond the screech of the missiles and beneath the horror of the rubble are the visible signs of strength and goodness: the kindness of strangers, the welcome of refugees, the courage of those who resist the aggressor.

Looking Up

The flock of small sweet blackbirds swept between great gusts of wind and capricious snow flurries. They discovered shelter nestling in the naked branches of a towering oak, still and silent, melding into leaf-like silhouettes. And then, on cue they swept skyward as one formation and disappeared from sight. And somehow, it is that moment of awe, that strips bare the dimnsions of life we do not always see. There is more to life than we can know, and yet we are surrounded by that splendor in every moment. In the book of Genesis, Abraham is invited to look at the sky, at the stars, and promised descendants as numerous. And later, in the Gospel. the Apostles view of Jesus is transformed: for a moment, they see who and what He was. They could not capture or contain it, and so fell silent. But the phenomenon, the moment of truly seeing, is what brings meaning. Such glimpses remind us of how small we are in the Universe, and how brilliant and brave it is to believe.

The world is watching now as the Ukraine resists the weight of a Russain war machine. There too is the phenomenon of courage, of firm identity and shared purpose. Humbled by the images of courageous men and women standing their ground, battling for their lives and freedom, we are witnessing the transformation of the world we knew. Something that had familiarity and distance suddenly has found center stage and evoked curious conversations about cause and effect, issues and possibilities. It has drawn our attention and underlined the powerlessness of that awareness, evoked the sense that simply watching is all we can do.

The truth, though, is that experiences bring change: change in perspective, in understanding, in choices and in decisions. Looking at the sky is an invitation to see beyond, to look up, to realize where you really are in the world, who you really are. That knowledge, that sense, draws on the past and leads to the future through every moment in the present. It was like that for Abraham, gazing at the sky. It was like that for the Apostles, beginning to understand their common past and catch a glimpse of a still mysterious future while living fully, attentively, in the present. In both cases, it is about beginning to see the bigger picture, the whole of who we are. All of that is affirmed in the reading from the Philippians; “He will change our lowly bodies…” Paul’s life was a testimony to the power of choice and change, to looking up and to believing in what seemed impossible.

Tonight, in the Ukraine, believing in what seems impossible is a testimony to the hope that is born of seeing self as part of a greater whole. Ukraine, transformed now, is inspiring each of us to see more clearly what really matters. Like Abraham and the Apostles, this is a moment to remember the past, live in the present and begin to grasp the future. Looking up means letting go of what was before, breathing deeply in now, and opening to what may have seemed impossible. There is something beyond what is just waiting to be seen and known, embraced and believed.

Journey and Aging

Perhaps the cruelties of aging are hidden beneath the images of comfort and well-being or condemned to invisibility by eyes not ready to see. Neither diminished the realities of its demands. Neither leaves life as it was or even as a somewhat familiar path. For aging is deeply embedded in the life process; the challenges of daily living are neither restrained nor obscured by its expanding presence. Aging is embedded in DNA, a rock solid certainty like death and taxes, and its toll is not prepaid and yet is undeniable. Aging recognizes the fierceness of being human and the complex realities of institutions and families, the ways humans interact with one another and the environment that encapsulates the days and hours of lives. For none of us lives free of others and none of us can escape the forces that surround us. Most importantly, aging is understood only as it happens and is what makes it true that each of us lives in our own time.

In its own way, aging is a becoming that is both a beautiful burden and a generous gift. There is the treasure trove of experiences, memories, relationships and learnings. And that is juxtaposed with the physical and emotional expenditure and cost of every single one. Wandering through the desert or waltzing between and among the stars, each of us creates a tapestry of being. The brightest sparkling lights that pierce daily existence with joyful exhiliration can be followed by the devastation of unexpected loss or the monotony of all that is mundane. Every experience finds its way into the physical, traces its legacy in wrinkles and wear. Years slip by and so youth yeilds to what we say is middle and then into the later stages and finally, beyond the senior citiizen discount, the elderly. Aging is always occurring, always beginning again and then beginning agian in another phase.

The richness of how we are and who we can be is the rebirth that characterizes each step of our lives. Resilience enables and empowers each of us to weave that tapestry, to find the inner strength that generates a radiant confidence. And it is discovered in the desert, in the times when heat and thirst and light are unremitting. There, where all things are laid bare and the simplicity of the landscape defies the complications of life, choices are made. We make the choice to listen to heart and to soul…or not. The choice to see what is really there….or not. The choice to know within who we are and act accordingly….or not. And then, when we walk away from the desert, every setting has a fresh and sharpened view. It is not the landscape, but the way it is seen that has changed. Aging is the realization that who we are and who we can be is a gift for everyday that awaits each of us because change and our perspective about that is constantly evolving.

One day, the aging ends. The journey is finally complete.