Dancing over the highways in flight orchesrated by rugged winds, leaves dried and wasted tumble in reckless abandon. Severed from a foundation, they tease and impress and entertain on warm autumnn days, playfully reminding us that death and life are intimately intertwined like purpose and vocation and luring us into the sense that what is matters. It is not about where they land, but how they respond to the urgings of the wind. And so it is for the most human among us. Life holds so many mysteries unfolding simulateneously; our humanity and wholeness rest in the response and the becoming, in knowing the fragility of the drying leaf and the life and lift of wind as a companion.

There are few mysteries more compelling than love in all its patterns and forms. Ultimately, there is the sustained commitment of physical presence and the power of actively making decisions and choice to express and enliven the depth of it, the keeness of it. But there is so much more. Love, far from being fragile and dependent on those expressions, finds meaning in the acknowledgment of existence. There is the sense that we may not be physically together but we will never be apart. Love is the music of the wind that lifts the fragile and humbles the whole. It enables a grasp of reality and and of hope. Love is the tenderness that enables one to choose not for self, but for other in a shower of respect and trust. It lingers with the mothers who stood before the king with one baby, only one saying do not hurt the child. It waits with the patience of the virgins with lamps and oil prepared for the bridegroom. It lives in the Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb and his stunning conversation with her teacher later. Love is the element that ripples through the stories of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, and love is at the heart of the disciples relationship with Jesus. In all its forms, love is the most dynamic and challenging of human emotions and connections. It demands more than seems possible and yet life itself is impossible to manage without it.

Humanity’s successes and failures, though, the roller coaster that love creates in lives, is a gift beyond all measure. The deepest pain of it bares the truths of its depth. The loss of it strips away the illusions and exposes the most fundamental of human needs, enables us to swim through realms of memory and live in an empathy that had not existed. There are niches and nuances to every form of love, crevices each of us explores. The truth is that we are better when we love, when we are willing to sacrifice for other, when we believe in something more than self-gratification and see more clearly what simply is. There is no doubt that the pathways of love carve deeply into souls, and moments of silence itself invite consideration of all that. But even more, there is risk to daring to love. The Gospel encourages taking that risk, daring to live in that moment, that relationship. Not because we need to, but because we can. And ours is a God who knows all the possibilities of what we will encounter in every adventure. We are not after all, only like the dried leaves dancing wildly: like them, in every aspect of their existence from tiny buds to brilliant greens and autumn colors, we are simply part of something far greater than self. Love and loving make it so.


This past week, the scandal rocking the Church in France won headlines and horrified responses. Casual conversations wrapped around the decline of religious influence in general and the corresponding rise of secularism. The failures of the church justify the loss and target the stiffness of a hierarchy and the brokenness of its ministers. Wounds for the survivors of the scandal reopen and angry litigation seeks retribution, recovery. And yet, the wider social context and the evolving perceptions of human interaction and communication merit consideration. Maybe more important is the idea that the Church hierarchy is a collection of flawed human beings, struggling with becoming and seeking something, some purpose or meaning or protection or truths. None of that excludes the social responsibility of the hierarchy for its mistakes; all of it points to the idea that perfection cannot belong to humans, that growth and learning about becoming better people is a lifelong journey, and, as a Catholic, having a relationship with God is not necessariy the same thing as having a relationship with the Church itself.

The hierarchy, the Church, is a mediator, maybe best described as a facilitator of the personal relationship between an individual and that sense of the sacred, of God. The quality, depth and breadth of that connection does not belong to the Church but to the individual. True, the Chruch provides a myriad of tools towards that end, but it is up to the person to enter into that mystery and to embark on that journey. Scripture reverberates with the stories of those who accepted the responsibility and those who withdrew and returned, who were confused and committed. Over and over, the Gospels emphasize the idea of choice over conformity or compliance. Over and over, there is encouragement and descriptions of the messy nature of human life. The woman at the well, for instance, or Peter in the Garden, or the Good Samaritan story. Choice is what brought the disciples to the Upper Room to share the Passover. Choice is what sent Mary Magdalene to the empty tomb. Choice is even what lead to the birth of Jesus.

Sometimes, in the light of the choice, it is easy to condemn and judge others. Then there is the sonorous tone of Jesus’ voice encouraging one to remove the plank from his or her own eye before leaping to judgment. Choice means finding the haven to converse with the Divine, to release fears and anxieties and to trust that there is something greater than self, something beyond the tiny worlds we live in. Nature beckons the broken and the whole with its promise of nurturing and quiet peace, the mystery of its past and the music of its present. Service absorbs the lives of others: finding the face of Jesus in the eyes of the suffering. There, too, is the sacred presence, the divine spark. Still others find that in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Note that there are few rules: there are many, many options and choices.

The truth that a troubled hierarchy fumbled is that each of us is the Hands and Heart of Christ. Each of us has the capacity, competence and the challenge to make the choice that is right for us. Living within Catholicism and outside the hierarchy offers the beauty of a choice beyond compare: to discover the divine in the midst of the world our lives are wrapped in, to practice goodness with unwavering conviction and to trust that there are moments, rituals, celebrations within parish communities that can enrich, nurture and sustain that choice. The hierarchy struggles, but the troops on the ground know the strength and courage of choice.


Years ago, Alabama recorded a simple song that captured a part of the mysterious synchronicity that alters the paths of ordinary human beings. The refrain celebrates the “angels” who walk here among us, who somhow apper at just the right moment and make a difference that seemed incomprehensible even moments before.

“I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somehwere up above. They come ot you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, teach us how to give and guide us with the light of love….”

Autumn brings the Catholic celebration of those angels, of the idea that there are angels who enable us to live beyond the jagged edges of loss and pain, trauma and circumstance. But there, in the lyrics of a country song, rests the truth that the light of love bears a flame that illumninates those most challenging times. That light flickers in each of us, for each of us. Even the faintest illumination makes an enormous difference. It is the accidental meeting in a parking lot where one friend sobs on the shoulder of angel who holds the grief and the person with gentleness and hope. It is the motorist who angels the elderly accident victim. It is the child entrusted to the arms of a parent and the tender tones of a doctor explaining an unwelcome diagnosis. It is the lost toddler who claims a friendly bear protected him overnight in the woods.

Those are moments of divine spark, moments that are reminders that the journey we have been given is a sacred one, and none of us are truly alone on the path. Catholic tradition reverberates with the strength of Michael the Archangel and Gabriel’s tenderness, Raphael’s wisdom. There is grandeur and dignity in it, and there is a humility and purpose for the lesser ones, the guardians of each one of us. Today, their essence of their mission may best be captured by characters like JK Rowling’s elves, like Dobby in Harry Potter, willing to be there, to help, to intervene somehow and make things better. There is no fear and no hesitation in commitment and kindness. There is loyalty and generosity, strength and purpose. Humanity and divinity are intermingled in the moments, opening the possibility of something more than the draining stress of ordinary days.

Here, lingering with the pandemic in a world roaring with technological and social changes, stress, anxieties and conflict engulf even the most confident among us. But there are the angels dancing among and between us, stretching a spectre of the divine over what seems most painfully human. And so we grow and become angels for one another, building experiences of the best of what is human and the touch of what is divine into the daily cycle of twenty hours. Increments of time are enriched by the light of that love, the lessons of how to live and how to give. The real gift is to know the touch of angels, to grasp the outreached hand, to rest and trust the guidance and the safety that love and light affords. Yes to the angels among us and yes to choosing the moment to be the angel!


Years ago, in an inner city classroom, students were poring over the biblical story of Job. The teacher threw out a question, “Have any of you ever felt like Job?” A scrawny freshman responded, “Every day of my life!” The real weight of being, the challenge of being human and simply being who we are is framed in his perception with an unparalleled eloquence. But that weight rests next to the incredible intellectual and emotional strengths and powers that lie within us. Every day, that kid showed up. Every day, he interacted with others and shared his thinking and perspectives. Every day, feeling like Job, he mattered and he managed to make others feel they mattered. He was able to re-frame his Job experiences in a way that made a difference. With strength and courage, he continued to engage in the battle to become the best of who he was and who he could be. And so, even years later, he left a legacy for every person who was in that room that day. He was not trapped in despair and he invited everyone to accept happens and choose to live. He showed us that the redundancy of human experiences, the way we are each caught in circumstances beyond our control, the truth that we live in increments of time can become treasured parts of the frame rather than burdens of brokenness.

What I like about Catholicism is the idea that there is not one frame. There is not a single path or an unquestioned practice. There are lots of models, exemplars, suggestions and possibilities. There are ways to negotiate and discover, and every generation gives birth to new interpretations and expressions of hope and devotion. What seems most consistent to me is the divergence, the room for more, and the confidence that is placed in humans just discovering their own lives every day. Belonging to the human race, to the Catholic tradition, can be a incredibly humbling and awesomely empowering all at once. The task is to discover or design the best frame for all that life offers. Indisputably, it is all about the choices we make on the wild ride that is life. Believing that there is purpose and meaning in what we do and how we live is a primary feature in choosing the style of the frame. But there is another factor: how we assess and choose our sense of belonging in the world, to the human race, and to other human beings.

The readings for today explore that idea of belonging with an uncommon clarity. Belonging is defined by God’s actions and responses, not by human preferences. There is a sense that what matters most is finding that link to the divine in the mystery of being who we are. Those are uncharted waters for each of us in each generation. Always there are precepts and guidelines, rules and commands, but there is more to it. It is about trusting that uncondiitonal love is the Creator’s gift to us. The mire and mystery of life cannot negate or abrogate that, and no human choice can eradicate that covenant. Building a frame boned by that idea guarantees a sense of belonging that can sustain through any curse or crisis, tragedy or triumph. Feeling like Job everyday and continuing to embrace the journey is a gift beyond measure…Frame on! You matter, and so does the next person!

Right time

There is charm in timing, a kind of magic that lets you know when “the right time” arrives and a sort of cloudiness that lets you know it is not quite “the right time”. The trick is to be able to read the signals with confidence and calm, to make the choices that make a difference, to trust intuition and to risk the outcome. There are first dates and marriage proposals, promotions and downsizing and they all involves that same attentiveness to what is happening at the moment. Being self-aware, conscious of stressors and uncertainities, flaws and foibles, is essential. Being able to be totally honest with self is even more important and more challenging.

We are the heroes of our stories, the survivors of the narratives that shape our lives. We live with illusions and delusions, and sometimes we allow that to override the simplicity of truth and the magnitude of real courage. We color our lives with desired design at the intersection of reality and recall. Sometimes, that aptitude enables us to bury the harder truths and pursue illusions about who and what we are, even live there without even a glance at the deeper truths. We dare not linger in the spaces where we can discover that.

Faith asks us for more than that. Faith dares us to recognize the complexity of human circumstance and the simplicity of human life. The Gospel today points that out. While the disciples discuss who is the greatest, they are ashamed to admit that to Jesus. And he provides a poignant reminder:

“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” 
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

They were dancing with the human hope for status and recognition; He was talking about embracing the ones who appear in our path with affection, respect and love. It means recognizing what is happening at that moment, the wonder and the weight of meeting destiny in the light of a child’s eyes. In subtle phrases, there is the idea that heroes belong to homes, to fragments of time and memory. But we, as human beings, belong entirely to one another with all the richness and brokenness of who we are and who we can be.

We have the capacity to recognize truth in the eyes of another, to find it flailing within ourselves, to share it with love and kindness. When the right time comes, and it is possible, honesty is born, the child of courage who has spoken truth. There is a purity in those moments that mirrors the innocent interactions of children who somehow sense who truly cares and shower affection in response. Home exists in those moments, those “right times” when truth and honesty open the door to love and respect. It is about so much more than being a hero: it is about being a person who is loved and loves without regret or reserve. It is about knowing when is the right time.

The Umbrella

Multiple systems and networks exist under the Catholic umbrella. There are local and global layers to the hierarchy and there are the religious communities of men and women as well. Although the realities maybe invisible to the untutored, the uniqueness of each is emblematic to those who live it out and often challenge pedominant stereotypes. Most importantly, those realities deepen the perception of what it means to be human. Maybe that is best glimpsed from the inside where individual integrity wrestles with institutional precepts and structures. An insitution that has lived through centuries and millenums has done so through persons in each generation; each one has carved meaning from what was and has been to find understanding of what is and move forward to what can be. For example, there are the contemplative houses of women.

From the medieval outset, the monasteries of women lead by Clare of Assisi represented an alternative to the patriarchal systems in place. Hundreds of years later, monasteries of contemplative women quietly pursue the life she designed. Medieval roots meet contemporary lifestyles with thoughtful consideration and a clear sense of who they are as believers, women, communities. For instance, the Poor Clares of the Bronx told a wonderful story that exposed both their understanding of communication and people and their awareness of others, their sense of what happens “behind the curtains” of the Church.

The sisters had few days outside the monastery, but attended annual gatherings of Franciscans like picnic celebrations. At one such event on Long Island, a bishop who had attended the papal enclave that elected Pope John Paul was present. He requested a ride back to New York City in their aging station wagon, and volunteered to answer their questions on the trip. The sisters went right to the core of things: “What was the politicking like at the enclave? How did the campaigning for candidates go?” His response was textbook. “Sisters, it is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit.” There was a moment of quiet, and then the burst of laughter that lasted from the Cross Island Parkway and over the Throgs Neck Bridge. Men, of course, are human. And to conceive of a world, a process, a sacred enclave, where there are no touches of humanity was impossible for women who live within the confines of a monastery, practice eight hours of prayer each day, rely on donations to survive finanacially and live a simplicity that environmentalists would love to master. Men are men, after all. Humans are human and created by God who accepts, forgives, encourages and sustains.

The Church provides guidelines and lifelines, but most importantly invites us to be the best of who we are as human. Paths are different and journeys diverse, but everyone has a place. On this 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, nothing could be more true. In the Gospel, Jesus asks the proverbial “Who do you say I am?” and he is identified by the Apostles as the Christ. It is equally important to pose questions like that for ourselves, and to have the courage to answer them. “Who am I? How do I know?” The reading from James is a reminder that we say we believe and what we do, faith and works, are revealing of who we are. The example of women who dedicate their lives to prayer and live out a vow of poverty prove this. Their vision of who we are as human is grasped with a courageous honesty that transcends stereotypes. It enables us to look realistically at the gifts of life and the truths of who we are. Embracing all that is accepting of human characteristics and features, behaviors and choices with understanding and empathy. The umbrella gets bigger with each generation.

Symbols Seen

Symbols carry layers of meaning that are peeled away as strength and insight grow. A crucifix hangs in our parish church, one that shows a corpus nailed to wooden beams. Crowned with thorns and wrapped in a gilded adorning the drape at the waist, the corpus and cross easily dominate the sanctuary. For years,it seemed to me a tender tribute to the Passion story; and then, it simply blended into the familiar and unseen. This week, it spoke of suffering as the cost of unconditional love and then intimates the certainty of God’s love for each of us. To love, then, means to suffer on some level. It implies simultaneously a freedom and a connection. That means sharing respect, empathy and understanding. Unconditional love is priceless; it cannot be bought or negotiated. It simply is. It exists outside the limits of fear and anxiety, spirals deeper than observations or judgement, and dares even the most skeptical to become accepting. It exists independently of actions or reciprocity; it is unearned, freely given, and faithful beyond fault. It is what nurtures human souls and comforts the lost, soothes the broken. It is the sense that in a world mad with circumstance and complexities, there is something, someone, who deeply cares. The cost of that kind of love is the the agony of the cross.

To believe that there is a God who is simply Other is to imagine the tenderness, the reality, of Jesus’ message. In the readings this week, there is the energetic strength of a God enabling the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the mute to speak. That is followed by Letter of James pointing to the need to reach out, to truly see one another as special. The Gospel shows Jesus performng those same miracles and transforming lives, offering hope to those who had none. Each of those persons gains and becomes more whole from a gift freely given, a healing without price or cost. Each of the readings testifies to the ways that God is present in the world. Each also testifies to a deeper truth: none of us is invisible to God. Seen as we are, we are loved and accepted by a God who trusts that we are more than our worst moments and better than our best moments. No matter what we do, that unconditional love is there, waiting.

The implications are profound: for instance, no person can be invisible, unseen or unnoticed. That sense of being unimportant, meaningless, unworthy or unwanted has no traction in this understanding. Every human being matters. Every action makes a difference. Every failure and every hope has a place, can be anchored in human lives without fear of desolation. Because beyond the interactions of flawed human beings, there is an outpouring of encouragement from the source of unconditional love. While that sounds so intangible, there are symbols everywhere waiting to reveal their layers, share their purposes, wanting to be noticed and understood.

Loss and Love

Loss is multi-faceted. Sometimes named “change” or “transition”, it is also both truth and opportunity. And it is most importantly a critical element of human experience. Every aspect of loss is a reminder of our competencies and capacities as human beings. That is mirrored in all the great literature of the world, in the stories told over firepits in backyards and in the revered books of the Bible. Each of those provides mirrors for what we know and windows to see what we have not yet noticed. Loss is both a mirror and a window when confronted in its reality and when normalized by conversation, by sharing. Silence about loss deepens and multiplies it, enables it to override choice and opportunity. Conversation about loss connects persons and stories and communities, proves that all of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done, and that each of us are far from idealized perfection.

Throughout history, God has been characterized anthropomorphically, understood as human. Authors like Karen Armstrong and Jack Miles have contended with the concept with insight and humor. God emerges through the Old Testament and matures in the New Testament. The full range of human emotions and actions are present: creativity and caring, anger and revenge, compassion and confidence, rescue and abandonment. Always, there is depth and breadth to complicated characters, settings and scenarios. From Moses and Marian to Judith and Holofernes, David and Bathsheba, Peter and Mary Magdalene, there are clear reflections of human hubris and humility, choices and challenges. There is continuity in the sense that there are divergent elements of human nature present in the stories, and there is consistency in both tragedy and triumph as part of human life. God clearly plays a role in personal lives, in relationships both complex and tender. There is Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, Moses and the Promised Land, Jesus in the desert and Paul’s conversion. And somehow, the human understanding of God is shaped by the elements of cultures and time periods. God who is defined as “Other”, is confined to the structures of human intellect. But suppose that thinking finds new ground and interpretation in these times. Suppose that God, more than judge or arbiter, is actually the source and nurturer of love and goodness. Suppose God’s Hand is the gentle one, the kind one. Suppose God is love. How does that change things?

Some phrases like “God loves you” are simple and sometimes trite in usage. But if God is love, then everything from facing loss to celebrating births takes on new meaning. All other boundaries are transcended by that love. With God as a loving companion, loyal and trustworthy, it is humanly possible to do what seemed impossible. Accessing and accepting unadorned truths may not be easily digestible, but with the courage born of knowing love, it is possible. Abandoning delusions and illusions, making honest choices, is entirely possible with confidence in being loved and cared for. Knowing love and acceptance enables ordinary human beings to experience extraordinary moments, days, years and decades. Maybe that is what this week’s readings are really all about. After all, the second reading from James says:

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. 
He willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

To love and be loved

This summer, the specter of death contrasted sharply with the vibrant greens of new life, and the interface of the two opened new spaces for understanding and growth. Questions were raised as well: why are we here? What are we doing? What is our purpose? Why do people hurt each other so much? What is going on? Humbly grasping for answers, or somewhat adequate responses or relevant conjecture, I realized that there is a stark simplicity to life and to purpose: to love and be loved. It was not an insight of my own; it came from an obituary, a testimony to a man whose highest objective was exactly that. It was written by his wife who gracefully blended his life story with the narrative of a truly blended family. It was simple and clear, and it summed up the reasons we are here with a gentle confidence that belongs to those who love and are loved.

Sometimes, in the resevoir of daily events, time trumps relationship and productivity trumps purpose. But there, in black and white, one phrase captured it all. Ironically, the Gospel points in the same direction, but takes it further: Jesus shows the need for grace to meet each moment. “No one can come to me unless the Father draw him”. Grace is what opens eyes to truth and enables honesty and generates choices. Grace is what helps us love and accept love, learn to love and live the letting go that is so much a part of love. But there is more to this trajectory of thought. Just as grace enables us, there is also the reality that each human being lives in a world of complexity and challenge. And so there are rituals, systems, traditions within the church that acknowledge our errors, speak to our failings and enable us to find new pathways.

As a graduate student, I was delighted with the concept of “erroneous conscience”. Then, I looked at it as an “easy out” for errors. From the vantage point of age, there seems so much more. Human beings grow and change everyday, learn more, develop persepctives and shift pathways and keep becoming more. I finally saw that the church is a harbinger for that truth and established customs and rituals to affirm and recognize those emerging persons who dare to change. There is an acceptance of the idea that mistakes are made, that adjustments are possible and becoming more than who we are is a lifelong journey. In other words, life is not “once and done”. It is much more about meeting the world and issues head on and finding the most sacred of truths to live by.

To love and be loved is the most sacred of all human activity, all human purpose. It illuminates the darkest hours and shapes dreams into possibilites. It is interactive, simple and clear. And it is the most demanding of all things because it asks for that truth and honesty, the respect, that make love in every sense come alive. He achieved that, and his wife celebrated it, and we have it to aspire to as we move forward.

Becoming Human

Relationships help us explore the vast resources, gifts, and the limits within each of us. Relationships bring to life the continuum of emotions, the stretch of intellect and the physical dimensions of who we are. It begins at birth with the bonds between parent and child, leans through childhood with extended family and then into puberty and adolescence with explosive growth. The whole process continues in adulthood, multiple times, revealing the essence of being over days and decades. Reality says the essence of who we are continually deepens with every day, every sunrise, every choice.

There are the extraordinary connections that somehow dare us to become more than who we are or who we thought we were. These are the relationships that reveal our capacity for awe and wonder, challenge assumptions and dump illusions and delusions. Raw truths become apparent and our capacity for compassion, love and empathy expand with grace and fortitude. Realistic and humbling perceptions of self are juxtaposed with the mirrored images from those relationships. Honesty with self and others develops a deeper hue and demands a new and genuine fidelity to those deepening truths and perceptions. There is an intellectual harbor for this lifelong exploration, and the articulation of each awareness becomes a precious exchange of the newly discovered insights. The beauty of who we are and who we can be is somehow more palatable and much more real. Actions and behaviors find new purpose and direction, and are founded on truths, not illusions, as relationships develop and deepen. Life-changing, each connection draws out more of who we are and what truths are at home within us. We emerge and re-emerge over time nurtured by friendships and partnerships, connections enabling us to become who we are meant to be. Every nuance of this lifelong journey demands more of us than we imagined possible and grants us the same: gifts and joys we could never have imagined.

In essence, we make one another human. We draw out the best in each other, and sometimes we solicit the worst. Either way, we demonstrate to one another who we are at that moment in every interaction. We impact one another whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not. By existing, we are part of one another’s existence and constitute for one another what goodness looks like and what shapes hurts and fears take. There is this terrifyingly simple truth that we cannot know self without knowing others. And so, with the fresh breath of every sunrise, we continue to make one another more human by stirring and sharing the unknown capacities and the unsuspected gifts each of us has. Genuine gentleness and kindness open the doors to a world where truth and honesty can build love and respect, the kind that leads to sincere awe of the greatness that lives within created beings.

The simplicity and the power of the Magnificat in the Gospel for the celebration of the Assumption of Mary points to that sort of intimacy in relationship, that deep grasp and understanding of Other, and the humble sense of gratitude for the gift of connection.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
        my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
        for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
    From this day all generations will call me blessed:
        the Almighty has done great things for me
        and holy is his Name.
    He has mercy on those who fear him
        in every generation.
    He has shown the strength of his arm,
        and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
    He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
        and has lifted up the lowly.
    He has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich he has sent away empty.
    He has come to the help of his servant Israel
        for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
        the promise he made to our fathers,
        to Abraham and his children forever.

While structure and rituals have purpose and meaning within Catholicism, the core of it is all about relationships, definitley about the journey of being flawed and human and always about becoming more than we thought we could be.