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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – The Banner of Christ – Sixth Day – July 28th

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – The Banner of Christ – Sixth Day – July 28th

“May Christ our Lord give us his grace so that we may be always sensitive to his will and fulfill it entirely.”

This quotation is the closing salutation St. Ignatius used commonly in his letters and represents the state of openness that is the goal of the Exercises.

The Forces of Good and Evil

The Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises prepares us to make the “Election” or the choice to serve Christ the way he has served us in complete humility by the way of the cross. St. Ignatius takes us through the life of Christ from the Incarnation to the Baptism at the River Jordan.

Before we can get to this election we have to deal with the parts of ourselves that still hold on to sinful ways, attitudes, and tendencies. For St. Ignatius, there are two competing kingdoms symbolized by their own flags or standards. By accepting the banner of Christ and His Kingdom, we reject sin and evil within ourselves and move from a position of self-interest to one of complete surrender to the Divine Will.

The Banner of Christ

“The issue at stake at this stage of the Exercises is not the fact of salvation or of Christ’s victory over Lucifer. That has never been in doubt and the whole theology of the First Week presupposes it. The question is how this victory is to be made a reality for mankind here and now, through my choice. There is no doubt in Ignatius’ mind that the banner of Christ is the Vexilla Regis, the banner of the cross, and the Election is going to be a setting out on the way of the cross.” William Yeomans, “The Two Standards”

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994


What comes to my mind and heart when I say this prayer? What part do I play in God’s plan of salvation here and now: day in and day out?

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not seek for rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing your will.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –


Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather


This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.

Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.

Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.


Examination of Conscience

Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.

Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.

Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?

Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26

Opening Prayer

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.

Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.

A favorite prayer of St. Ignatius, the Anima Christi has its origins in the 13th century, but the author remains unknown. It may seem a little jarring to juxtapose the exuberant “Worthy Is the Lamb” with the ancient and more subdued Anima Christi. However, they focus on our recognition of the source of our salvation and the compelling power of God’s grace. Across 800 years, the cultural idiom may have changed but not the Holy Spirit.



St. Ignatius focuses the First Week of the Exercises on sin and conversion. The activities concentrate on becoming aware of our sinfulness, our unworthiness, and God’s willing pardon. Sometimes this awareness can be overwhelming in inappropriate ways. The purpose of these actions is to change our hearts. In this regard, St. Ignatius is something of a behaviorist. His approach is to notice particular tendencies or actual sins and to keep a scorecard of our victories and defeats. Clearly, it is not enough to know our failings; it is more important to do something about them.

For those who are newly turned from sinful and self-destructive lifestyles, the First Week is a time of awareness, repentance, and a behavioral change in our awareness of our thoughts and actions. In many ways this mirrors St. Ignatius’ own experience during his conversion and pilgrim years. As a man of his times, he lived in a time of strict and rigid codes of honor, duty, and obligation. Feudal lords could exact terrible consequences from any of their vassals or peasants who breached obligations, whether the breach was real or perceived.

For many people today, Christian conversion is experienced in the intensity of the charismatic experience. The focus is on forgiveness, the terrible price Christ paid for each one of us, and the joy of our salvation. The reformation of our lives is worked out in this broader context.

Regardless of whether we are in the 16th or the 21st centuries, our journey begins with the experience of our salvation and the changing of hearts shown in our actual behavior.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

When did I first become aware of my sinfulness and God’s forgiving love? Who were the people in my life who showed me their changed hearts by their example? When did I first give or receive forgiveness from someone important in my life? When did I first stop looking at a check list of sins and realize that my actions could hurt and offend God?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What thoughts and feelings come to my mind and heart when I let God and others down? What do I feel when I see and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ? How do I feel when my love is not returned? Why is God’s love so encompassing?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Talk frankly about the things that you are doing wrong in your life. Talk about grudges, bitterness, your regret, your shame. Ask for his healing and make a plan to start changing things, little by little, day by day.

Jesus, your love and your grace are enough for me. Let nothing come between us.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Apr 11, 2011

St.Thomas: The Post-Modern Realist

St.Thomas: The Post-Modern Realist

Sun Shining Through Clouds

St Thomas the Apostle is often known as Doubting Thomas because he refused initially to believe the reports of the resurrection of the Lord. In today’s gospel reading from St. John (Jn 11:1-45), the raising of Lazarus from the dead, I saw something for the first time about St. Thomas that changed my view of him.

Jesus receives word that his fried Lazarus is seriously ill and prepares to head back to Bethany near Jerusalem. The apostles don’t think this is a good idea because they had just left the area after threats against the Master’s life. Jesus tells his uncomprehending followers that Lazarus is dead, but they are returning to Bethany so that his followers can see Him for who He is. This doesn’t appear to make any sense. It is a pointless suicide mission. Thomas doesn’t doubt. He is quite certain, but he is loyal and will not leave his master. His statement, “Let us go and die with Him,” is not skeptical. It is very certain. It is almost absurd in a 20th century style worthy of an an existentialist play.

In fact, Thomas is the grown up we are supposed to be. Look at the facts. Be reasonable, sensible. You may be willing, out of love, to sacrifice yourself for a great cause or a great love, but you approach it with knowledge, with courage, stoically.

This scene actually creates a set of book ends. The matching scene is the encounter with Jesus after the Resurrection, after Thomas had declared that he wouldn’t believe the reports until he saw Jesus personally. None of the apostles died with Jesus. In fact, at the time of his arrest Jesus told the authorities to take Him but to leave them alone. We all know the story of how they – and all of us – scattered in the night when the Shepherd was struck. Peter follows at some distance only to deny Him three times. John is the only man at the foot of the cross. In His time of need Jesus can count on His mother and a handful of women. All too true – real enough for the followers then and now.

Somehow it is easier to “to go and die with Him.” It sounds noble, altruistic. It is easier to believe in the finality of death than the open endedness that is resurrection. El sentido trágico de la vida – the famous Spanish existentialist manifesto – The meaning of life is tragedy. Yes, I know that is not the more literal translation – the tragic sense of life. The death of Jesus would indeed be the Great Tragedy another one of his great disappointments, another cosmic joke perpetrated on an accidentally occurring Homo sapiens.

As post modern people and followers, we are so overcome with the senseless suffering and death of millions that we claim that we believe. Yet our faith is more of an adolescent, impotent tantrum of defiance, because, in the end the facts are the facts. So, let us go and die with Him.

This is an interesting set up for Palm Sunday and Easter. Of course, this is just what St. John’s Gospel does. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The challenge to us and to Thomas is to believe in a life beyond tragedy, absurdity, meaninglessness.

Yeah, well, heard that, been there… but it can’t work. It’s foolish. We are all dying. Just be brave about it. It is what it is. Resignation to the inevitable makes sense. Resurrection by our Best Friend who cries in grief and loss for us doesn’t make any sense at all. Or does it?

Image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol – Released to the Public Domain

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2010

Who is Zacchaeus in Our Lives Today?

The Gospel reading for today, the 31st Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle C, is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus lived in Jericho. He was despised by the people of the community because he was a tax collector. Being a tax collector in those days meant that he was free to extort as much as he could get from the people and had only to send a portion of it to the authorities at higher levels of government (ie, Jerusalem and Rome). He was the chief tax collector, taking money from all the tax collectors under his supervision and from his own work as well. The gospel notes that he was a wealthy man.

Now Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and when he heard that Jesus would be passing through town, he went out with the crowd to see him. We do the same today when celebrities come through our own towns. However, Zacchaeus had a problem. He was a short man and there were lots of people in front of him. So he climbed a tree to get a better view.

Jesus saw him in the tree, stopped and called him by name to come down, saying that he (Jesus) would dine at the home of Zacchaeus that night. The people were horrified and scandalized. They asked if Jesus really could know who Zacchaeus was, that he was a terrible sinner? But Zacchaeus was touched by the healing love of Jesus in that moment and volunteered that he would return fourfold all that he had stolen and give half of his possessions to the poor. Jesus told all “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19:1-10)

This story got me to thinking. Who is Zacchaeus in our lives today?

It’s easy to point the finger of blame at celebrities who are promiscuous or who drink too much or who use illicit drugs. It’s easy to look at politicians who misuse their power. It’s easy to say that those who provide or seek abortions are great sinners. It’s easy to scapegoat people whose sexual orientation does not match our own.  It’s easy to gloat when a minister is caught in some sin he or she has denounced from the pulpit.

But I don’t think that’s the lesson we need to draw from this account. We need to look at ourselves and see the areas in which we fail. We need to ask ourselves who we cheat, from whom do we steal, whose hearts do we break? To some extent each of us is Zacchaeus.

Then I suggest we go a step further. Who are the people in our lives whom we blame for what is wrong in society? Who are the people we would choose to block from access to the goods of life? To whom would we deny education, health care, food, clothing, shelter?

Do we blame undocumented immigrants and seek to exclude them and their children from the goods and services they need to live full, healthy lives? Do we suggest that the children of the undocumented who are born here should not be citizens by birth, thereby denying them the protection of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution? Do we look down on the laid off teacher, the unwed mother,  or the disabled worker who receive unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid? Do we insist that people who can’t afford health insurance should just not get sick and/or need preventive care services? Do we say that only the well-to-do should be able to stay home with their young children and that mothers in poorer families should have to put their children in day care for long periods of time and work at minimum wage or less trying to earn enough to cover rent, food and childcare? Do we assume that all children of minority groups are probably gang members? Do we expect that the poor are somehow less intelligent and deserve to live in poverty?

I suggest that perhaps Zacchaeus takes many forms in the United States today. Some people we treat as if they were public sinners (Zacchaeus) because they are less fortunate or have made poor decisions in their lives. Somehow we are inclined to believe that those for whom all is going well are holy and specially rewarded by God for their good lives and that the opposite is true for those in difficult circumstances. Some of us are Zacchaeus in our world because of choices we have made that hurt others.

The good news is that Jesus came to bring salvation to us all, in whatever way we may personally be Zacchaeus and to whomever we treat with scorn or exclude as if he or she were Zacchaeus.  And why does Jesus come to bring this salvation? Because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” and because the Lord will “overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” (Wis 11:23)

Good news indeed. May we be open to receive that salvation ourselves and to support others whom we might otherwise push aside as unworthy of the grace and blessings of the Lord.

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Posted by on Sep 27, 2010

A Chasm Was Fixed Between Them

In the Gospel for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31).

A rich man lived sumptuously, with everything money could by at his disposal. We don’t know how he came to have his money. Probably he was not a bad man. He was, however, a man who was not overly concerned with the plight of the poor of his community. We can assume this because a poor man called Lazarus lay on the doorstep of the rich man day after day, covered with sores, and the rich man did not take care of him. Even the dogs paid more attention to Lazarus than the rich man did. They came and licked his sores.

Now, in defense of the rich man, there were lots and lots of poor people around. Lots and lots of sick people. Maybe even some people who didn’t work when they could have worked to support themselves. Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich man was thinking or why he didn’t stop to help Lazarus. He just notes that Lazarus was hungry, sick, and licked by dogs.

As Americans, the idea of having a dog lick one’s sores is not appealing, but it was even worse in those days. Dogs were not the much loved pets that they are for us. Dogs worked for a living or they were strays that fended for themselves. In many countries, dogs that were not working (tending flocks or guarding something/someone) were considered fair game as food by the poor. So here is Lazarus, lying sick and hungry at the door, having stray dogs licking his sores and unable to chase them away. Not a pretty picture.

As happens in life, Lazarus died. The angels of God swooped down, picked him up and took him to Abraham. Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, welcomer of all who came to him, welcomed Lazarus as well. He cared for Lazarus as one of his own.

As also happens in life, the rich man’s turn came to die. He died and was buried. But he did not find himself with Abraham. He was alone and in torment. He could see Abraham. He could see Lazarus with Abraham. He longed for a single drop of water to ease his pain, so he asked Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water for him. Note well —  he didn’t ask Lazarus for forgiveness or for the gift of a drop of water. He asked Abraham to send/order Lazarus to bring the water.

Abraham reminds the rich man of the relationship that had existed in life between the two men. He also tells the rich man that there is a great chasm fixed between them, one that neither side may cross freely.

I had always wondered about that chasm. Why would a loving God set up a barrier that would keep those in His presence and company (Heaven) from reaching out and helping those who were not (Hell)? Wouldn’t those who were united with Love and in Love be so overflowing with love themselves that they’d want to help those who were separated from Love?

Our homilist this Sunday, Fr. Ken Lavarone, OFM, addressed this question. Fr. Ken pointed out that the chasm between the two men was one of lack of relationship. Lazarus could not come to the aid of the rich man because there was not a relationship between them. The rich man had always stepped over Lazarus or ignored him. Even after death, the chasm remained. The rich man spoke to Abraham, not to Lazarus.

Jesus’ story continued. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of the fate that awaited them – sort of like in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Abraham responded that the brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn him, as the rich man himself had had. When the rich man noted that the brothers wouldn’t listen to Moses and the prophets, Abraham retorted that those brothers would also not listen to one who returned from the dead.

These final lines of the story are of huge import for us as well. They were directed to the religious, church-going folks of Jesus time and of the early Church. Jesus returned from the dead. Affirming the message of Moses and the Prophets, Jesus said we are to care for the poor and helpless among us. How we do it will vary. Some will have monetary resources that will be shared. Others will have talents that can help make life more bearable for their less fortunate sisters and brothers. Some will only be able to offer a smile and a kind word — a recognition that the other person is also human and worthy of respect. Each of these responses is a way of entering into relationship with the other person. Each of these bridges chasms that would otherwise keep them apart.

In Jesus’ story, both men were children of Abraham due to their identity as Jews. Today, we know that we are all children/descendents of one woman who was a member of a group of people who lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago — a woman known as “Mitochondrial Eve.” We all have a responsibility to each other. We all can give the gift of a smile that raises another’s hopes and heart. We all sometimes turn away from the circle of community of God’s children. The good news is that someone did return from beyond the grave with a reminder that we can turn back at any time. We just need to remember that care of God’s little ones (the poor and the powerless) comes first when we choose our elected officials, design our social safety nets, vote for funding of community services, and allocate our personal resources of time, talents and treasure.

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Posted by on Sep 12, 2010

Rejoicing among the angels of God …

“… What woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefuly until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:8-10)

This passage of Luke’s gospel falls between the account of the shepherd who goes searching for one lost lamb from a flock of 100 sheep and the story of the Prodigal Son whose father, even more prodigal in his love, welcomes home the child who has betrayed him, the family and the community then returned to ask forgiveness.

As I listened to the Gospel at Mass this morning, I found myself musing that most of us wouldn’t really worry all that much if we lost a coin. It’s not an image that awakens immediate comprehension in an American audience. After all, for most of us the loss of a penny, nickel, dime, quarter or even a dollar coin will not make a huge difference in whether or not we eat or have a place to sleep tonight!

As happens sometimes, I began musing about what might make the gospel more immediate for Americans and I remembered an experience from my early teenage years.

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, my father led members of our parish in starting a credit union. For many years, the credit union “office” was our dining room table. Eventually a porch was enclosed and the new room became a more formal office. A few years after I got married, the credit union moved out of the family home to an office of its own. But there were many memorable moments before that move took place.

One of those moments happened on a bright summer morning when the phone rang around 10 o’clock. An elderly man in the parish had passed away a few months earlier. His children were cleaning out his home before selling it. They had moved the mattress off the bed and found an envelop containing ten one thousand dollar bills. They asked my mother to come over to the house and pick up the money as a deposit to their credit union account. Mom was bonded, so if anything happened to the money on the way to the bank, it would be insured.

Mom brought the envelop home to prepare the bank deposit and each of us got a chance to hold a $1,000 bill before she took it all to the bank. Now there was a “coin” for which an American woman (or man) would scour the house and even have a party when it was found!

Still, Jesus didn’t come to call only those with lots of $1,000 bills. And the point of the story was that there is rejoicing in Heaven when even seemingly small, unimportant folks are found. God, who is Love, welcomes all and is especially pleased when those who have turned away in ways great or small, turn back again to love.

Our pastor, Fr. Ron Shirley, spoke of an observation made by the director of Covenant House, a program for children living on the streets in the United States, Canada and Central America. The director noted that although the children/teens ask questions about practical needs, their deeper, unspoken concern is whether God could still love and forgive them for what they’ve had to do to survive their lives on the streets.

The story of the woman searching for her coin – her penny, nickel or dime – is the answer to the children’s question. Of course God still loves and forgives them. And even better, God still loves and forgives us – the adults who allow conditions to continue in which children are exploited, the poor are left to struggle on their own, the elderly are ignored or abandoned and people around the world are denied the opportunity to live with basic human dignity, food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

The catch, of course, is that we are expected to do our part to make this a world with justice and peace for all as we turn back to our God. We are to pray for each other, including those who have harmed us, and we are to work to bring the kingdom of justice and peace into being here and now. That’s the good news Jesus brought to the men, women and children of His time. It’s the same word He speaks to us today. We all matter to God and the angels rejoice as we return to God and love others in turn. That love is to have practical consequences in our world.

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Posted by on Jun 3, 2010

On Falling in Love – A Thought from Pedro Arrupe, SJ

I’ve seen this quote from Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J. in the past and always been delighted with it. I came across it again today. It seems quite apt as we are celebrating the time of the Holy Spirit of Love during this season of Ordinary Time.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, that is, than
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed
in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with
joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Pedro Arrupe, SJ

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2010

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Richard Rohr, OFM

Recently I’ve been listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s three CD set, Exploring and Experiencing The Naked Now, a recording of two webcasts in which he talks about his work on non-dual thinking and the insights of the contemplative/mystic tradition of Christianity. Rohr’s work provides a fine background for the last couple of weeks of Lent and moving into Easter.

A central insight of Rohr’s work is that non-dualistic thinking is central to experiencing the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. God is One, yet we know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The contrast boggles the mind when we try to explain, define or otherwise pin down the mystery. Our minds, trained to make logical distinctions and put all we experience into categories of “this/not that,” find it hard to deal with the “yes/and”  of combining such seemingly irreconcilable statements. Nevertheless, Jesus calls us into the mystery and teaches through example, images and stories that seem to contradict each other. In one place, for example, he says that his followers are to turn the other cheek when someone strikes them. In another, he counsels that it’s time to take swords along to the place where he and is friends planned to spend the night. At yet another, he turns over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and drives them out. Then when the chips are down, he heals the ear of the servant of the High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane and goes to his death without offering resistance. So which is it? Non-violent always or Violent sometimes? Do we simply choose one meaning – the one that suits what we want to do – or are we supposed to try to make some logical sense of the contrasting statements/actions or must we somehow live in the mystery, without needing to explain it logically. And if we do that, won’t we be seen as somehow immature and childish?

Rohr suggests that a return to the contemplative mindset is essential in the long-run. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life. Union with God, a return to the non-duality of the Garden of Eden, is the final goal of our lives and quest. We start non-dualistically as infants and small children. We move away from non-dualism around the age of reason and begin to be able to separate from God, make wrong choices, and, dare I say it, to sin. We learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn to make distinctions. Then we think we’ve got it all set for the rest of our lives. But we’re right smack dab in the middle of a dualistic world and mindset. So everything gets phrased in terms of win/lose or “limited good” (a concept from anthropology) — what is good for you will take something from me. We forget, or perhaps haven’t consciously experienced, that God’s love comes to us like water flowing through a pipeline or electricity flowing down a wire. As long as there’s no blockage, it just keeps coming. The critical thing is to keep the pipe open, the transmission line unbroken. But that gets scary. The “what ifs” start raising their ugly heads. And we fight against anyone or anything that seems to threaten the way things are now, even if it’s not ideal. And so we block the flow, partially or totally.

Rohr argues that the only way we can move beyond dualism in our thinking and again enter non-dualistic reality is through the path of great love or the path of great suffering.  In both situations, the normal ways of coping or experiencing reality fall away.  We don’t have the energy to block the flow. We’re too deeply in the joy or sorrow. “Everything’s coming up roses …” as the song says. Or, alternatively, we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Where are you when I need you God? In either condition, we are open to experience the wonder of God’s love and compassion without trying to (or even being capable of) splitting it into dualistic compartments or categories. The experiences are too overwhelming, too all encompasing, too intense to allow for separation and dualism. And then we can grow in wisdom. And we experience redemption – a return to union with our God – set free from the normal ties that hold us bound in worry of losing our “secure” duality.

Meanwhile, “back at the farm,” the troubles and tragedies of world events continue through Holy Week.  A small group of people are arrested for plotting to kill a police officer and then kill more officers at his funeral, all in the name of Christ. What madness is this? Bombs explode in crowded places around the world, in the name of God. What madness is that? How can religious people believe that the creator of all of us and of all of the wonders of the universe could want us to be killing each other? And how could we dare to think we do it in his name, by his authorization? How can Christians be terrorists, as Leonard Pitts notes in a recent column? Is our God really so helpless or so impotent that he could condone such action, such dualistic us/them action?

Jesus went to the cross rather than try to force God’s hand to free his nation from the Romans by inciting a rebellion, as some would have liked. He went to the cross rather than deny the truth that God is more interested in the way we treat each other than in the sacrifices we bring to the altar. He went to the cross rather than run away and deny that he had experienced a very special relationship with his Father, one that the Father wants to share with the rest of us too. And redemption came out of that great passionate love and suffering. Easter came to all the world and our separation from God came to a resounding end.

May each of us move forward in this Easter season in joy and trust, building on the faith of our younger years and beginning to enter into the world of contemplation, of not dividing the “real” from the “ideal,” of really believing the Good News, that love is all that really matters, and love will make all the suffering lead to the peace and deep, deep joy of the children of God.

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Posted by on Mar 29, 2010

God to the Rescue

God to the Rescue

The Resurrection of Lazarus - Byzantine icon - 14th-15th century

As we move more deeply into Holy Week, I find myself still reflecting on the reading from the Gospel of John that is used in the liturgies for the Scrutinies as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the story of the raising of Lazarus. In our parish, we celebrate the Scrutinies as a community, with all invited to examine our own lives for areas of thirst, blindness, and death within us. Generally during the week following the third scrutiny, area parishes schedule Reconcilation services in preparation for Holy Week and Easter. The three weeks of RCIA celebrations are a good preparation for Reconciliation.

But back to the story of Lazarus. Our celebrant and  homilist on the third Sunday this year was a visitor who had been pastor of our parish many years earlier. I always look forward to hearing new insights from him and I often remember homilies from those earlier years as well. This year he explained that the name Lazarus could be roughly translated as “God to the Rescue.” It comes from the Hebrew name, Eleazar, which is translated “God has helped.” In both the story of the raising of Lazarus and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, God comes to the rescue of an individual in great need. The raising of Lazarus is one of the great signs in John’s telling of the Good News to lead us to faith in Jesus.

Another point that always strikes me in the story of the raising of Lazarus is the order Jesus gives the bystanders when Lazarus comes out of the tomb. He tells them, “Unbind him and set him free.” Lazarus can’t do it himself. And we can’t do it for ourselves.

We are each tied up by so many expectations, fears, patterns of behavior, traditions, and so forth that it can be next to impossible to try something new or to discover deeper levels of meaning or being in our lives. Going away to another community or to college can be a way that an individual becomes freed to experiment and learn who he or she is or wants to become. But not everyone has that opportunity. And for the majority of our lives, we live in communities where we are known, with people/family/friends who know us and expect certain behaviors and responses from us. Because of this each of us needs our family and friends to unbind us and set us free, just as Lazarus needed his community to set him free to live again.

In the Gospel of John, Lazarus is a “type” of the Christian disciple. He is the “everyman” character who represents all of us. We are all the ones whom God has rescued. We are all the ones freed and instructed to set the other free.

During this Holy Week, as we prepare for the Easter mysteries, plumbing the depths of sadness and rising to the peaks of joy in our liturgies, may we all be ready, like Lazarus, for God to come to our rescue, for our family and friends to set us free, and in turn to be the ones ready and willing to give that same gift to those with whom we share our lives.

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Posted by on Feb 16, 2010

And Once Again, The Seasons Turn

And Once Again, The Seasons Turn

Mardi Gras beads

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the day before Ash Wednesday, a day called Mardi Gras  or Carnival in many places. The sun is shining yet again here in Santa Cruz, as it did all weekend, with warm breezes, bird song, blooming fruit trees, sour grass, wild radish, camelias and daffodils to celebrate the wonder and promise of Spring. A far cry from the winter so many people are still experiencing here in the Northern Hemisphere. It should be noted, that this beautiful weather will not last for long. Already storms are lining up out on the ocean for the end of the week. But today it is beautiful.

I’m sitting here thinking about the interesting confluence of themes that have met this week. Sunday was Valentine’s Day, a day of hearts and flowers, a day of many marriages, the birthday of a friend from graduate school whom I remember fondly, a day of gifts and remembrances for those we love. For some it’s a day of disappointment or sadness, when a loved one is not thrilled, or when no one is there to say “I love you,” or when a relationship has ended and the hurt has not begun to heal.  

Sunday was also the day many people in the world celebrate the beginning of a new year, a day we call Chinese New Year, though it isn’t only the Chinese who celebrate this day. Parades, parties, special foods, gifts, and good wishes abound.  It’s a day of hope for the future.

This particular Sunday, the readings of Cycle C from Jeremiah, Paul and Luke challenged us to keep our focus on the Lord and not put our fundamental trust in the things of this world. Calling the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the excluded ones among us blessed, Jesus warns that those who find life easy and who never challenge the status quo for fear of arousing the enmity of those in power are not close to the kingdom of God. It’s a message that is far from our American cultural concept, drawn from the earliest colonial days, that those who are economically secure and respected by their fellows are those blessed by God, while those who are poor, sick, injured, or otherwise disadvantaged are somehow not pleasing to God and are being punished.

Father Ron Shirley, our pastor, in his homily told the story of a wedding toast. The best man offered a toast wishing only the best for the bride and groom, with never a moment of pain or sadness. Then a stranger stepped up and offered a toast. He was dressed simply and seemed out of place. He assured the couple that he loved them deeply then offered a series of strange wishes for them – that poverty, sorrow, pain, and controversy would be part of their lives.

Today we celebrate Mardi Gras – with rich foods, parties, celebrations of abundance and the promise of good things to come.  And tomorrow we enter into a time of reflection, of conversion, and of returning our attention and our intentions to God and the works of God. Are they opposites or mutually exclusive? I don’t think so. Jesus and his followers certainly didn’t go around in sack cloth and ashes, continually fasting. They were criticized for their love of good times and celebrations. But there is a time and a place for abstaining from some of the good things of live in order to be open to the deeper fundamentals of God’s life and love for us. Jesus and his followers quietly entered into those times as well.

And so we follow them into these weeks of reflection and self-control, as we break our addictions to the excesses of the world around us and try to be more open to the quiet wonders of God’s love in people and in nature. The season is turning. New hope is in the air. Easter is coming soon.

May these days of Lenten preparation be full of the awareness of the Lord’s presence in your life and of the abundance of His love and support in all of life’s challenges.

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Posted by on Feb 5, 2010

A Community of Fishermen (and Women)

A Community of Fishermen (and Women)

Going Fishing

The Sunday readings over the past few weeks have touched on the theme of being called. Called to speak on the Lord’s behalf as a prophet, called to preach the good news, called to teach, called to lead the people, and so forth. In years past and today, in all times and places, the Lord calls ordinary people to speak and act on his behalf.

The readings for this coming Sunday, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, tell of the vision and call of Isaiah, the call of Paul to be an apostle and the call of Peter, James and John. Each of them responded in a similar manner when they realized Who was calling them. “Woe is me, I am doomed!” says Isaiah. “…I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God,” says Paul. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” says Peter.

However, the Lord does not leave. Instead, a seraphim takes an ember from the altar of the Lord and purifies the mouth of Isaiah. Paul comes to faith through a period of physical blindness, receiving care from those he had journeyed to persecute. Peter and his companions are comforted, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Each then responds with willing service. Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send?” and responds “Here I am. … send me.”  Paul tells us, “by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” Peter, James and John took their boats to the shore, left everything and followed Jesus.

Each of these ordinary people heard the Lord’s call in his own way and within his own everyday world. Their response is remembered today. Unfortunately, we often think that they were some sort of unusual people, extra holy or something – worthy to be called by God. But really, they were just ordinary people. When they heard God’s call, they answered “yes.” They hadn’t gone out of their way looking for God. They didn’t consider themselves particularly prepared or inclined to teach or preach or lead a community. Yet when the Lord asked them to do these things, they did them.

We too are called. We too have something the Lord needs and wants us to do. Each of us is to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding our way and leading us into our worlds to share the good news, to remind others that God loves even those whose lives seem least worthwhile or important. We don’t know when or how it will happen that we will speak the Lord’s words to the person who needs to hear them. That’s OK. It doesn’t matter if we know. All we have to do is keep trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and then live as lovingly as we can.

A woman I’ve known since childhood has an approach that I often remember. She talks of “going fishing” when she finds herself in a position to share her experience of God’s love and care with others. Each of us is called to “go fishing” with the Lord. He’ll make us partners in his mission of fishing for men, women and children to build the kingdom of God together.

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2009

Act on God’s Word – August 30, 2009

Act on God’s Word – August 30, 2009

Fr. Ron Shirley

Fr. Ron Shirley

The following is today’s homily from Fr. Ron Shirley, pastor of Resurrection Parish in Aptos, CA. Today’s readings are for the 22 Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B. (DT 4:1-2,6-8, JAS 1:17-18,21b-22,27, MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

Fr. Ron’s homilies are available every week at

An elderly priest made a retreat. In the course of it he was struck deeply by three things that he’d always been aware of but never had really taken to heart.

First, there are millions of people in the world who are hungry and homeless. Second, he had spent his entire priestly life preaching comfortable sermons to comfortable people. Third, he had bent over backwards to avoid disturbing or alienating people.

In other words, the priest found himself to be much like the priest played by Jack Lemmon in the film “Mass Appeal.” He preached only about those things that didn’t disturb his parishioners and made them feel good.

And now, like the priest in “Mass Appeal,” the old priest suddenly realized that he had been more worried about pleasing his people than about preaching the Gospel. He had been more worried about rocking the boat than about challenging his parishioners to look into their hearts to see if they were satisfied with what they saw there.

The week following his eye-opening retreat, the old priest looked up the Scripture readings to prepare his Sunday homily.

As he read the Gospel, these words of Jesus leaped right off the page: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The priest resolved, then and there, that he was going to share his soul-searching with his parishioners. So he began his homily by saying:

“My homily this morning will be exactly 30 seconds long. That’s the shortest homily that I’ve ever preached in my life, but it’s also the most important homily I’ve ever preached.”

With that attention-grabbing introduction, the priest gave his 30-second homily. He said:

“I want to make just three points. First, millions of people in the world are hungry and homeless. Second, most people in the world don’t give a damn about that. Third, many of you are more disturbed by the fact that I just said damn in the pulpit than by the fact that I said there are millions of hungry and homeless people in the world.”

With that the elderly priest made the sign of the cross and sat down.

That homily did three things that many homilies don’t do.

First, it caught the attention of the people.
Second, it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the gospel.
Third, hopefully it made the people look into their hearts.

The story of this priest and the gospel reading make the same point.

Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not primarily, observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain rituals.

That’s what many people in Jesus’ time had turned religion into. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious.

To illustrate the hypocrisy of such legalism, William Barclay tells this story – about a Muslim pursing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the chase, the Azan, or public call to prayer sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him.

It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously in his time.

Jesus made it clear that religion isn’t something you do at certain times on certain days. It’s not saying certain prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love – love of God and love of neighbor. Love in action.

Today’s Scripture reading invites us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us: “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The Scriptures also invite us to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us:

Act on (God’s) word.
If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.”

I hope this homily today did 3 things:

First – it caught your attention.
Second – it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.
Third – it makes all of us look into our hearts!

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Posted by on Aug 18, 2009

Aurelius Augustinus – You Done Us Wrong?

Aurelius Augustinus – You Done Us Wrong?


While camping recently with my wife and daughter in the redwoods near Santa Cruz, I spent some time with an enlightening and very readable book.

Christopher Hall in Learning Theology With the Church Fathers does a good job of summarizing St. Augustine’s notion of the fallen nature of humanity. St. Augustine is convinced that something went terribly wrong when Adam ate the forbidden fruit so that we are not capable of really loving and knowing the good until we are redeemed in Baptism. Of course this led not only to the notion of infant baptism but also to the notion that unbaptized infants would suffer the wrath of God in eternal punishment. It is logically consistent but it seems to be extreme and never became as much of a prominent idea in the Orthodox East as it did in the Catholic and Protestant West.

This doesn’t square with the Black civil rights assertion of human dignity: “God don’t make no trash!” In fact, it seems at odds with the fundamental goodness of creation which St. Augustine upheld in the face the Gnostic conception that creation was a mistake by a lesser god and matter is evil.

Today we might explain these things as laziness, psychological conflicts, compulsions, addictions, or unhealthy repression.

In St. Augustine’s defense, we should remember that he is also considered one of the founders of psychology. His concepts of memory, will, and understanding as the core of individual identity still hold up in the face of contemporary neuroscience. It seems that the key problem he wrestled with from his own experience and that of people he observed was our ability to know what is good and not to be drawn to it in a way that compels our will. In other words, we know the right thing to do and we do the opposite.

For Augustine, the arena of sexual behavior was particularly problematic. Unfortunately, for example, he didn’t have our understanding of human sexual anatomy and physiology and he felt that what we would call involuntary responses were a sign of lack of control and the conquest of the will. His promiscuous sexual behavior prior to his conversion appears to us post-moderns as bordering on addiction. Today, in contrast, we might view orgasm as something healthy and transformative. In fact, we have made it something holy at the core of the sacrament of matrimony. However, the momentary obliteration of memory, understanding, and will made it highly suspect for an upper class Roman like St. Augustine living during the decline and fall of the empire.

Relaxing in the redwoods enjoying creation seems an awful lot like a certain lost garden. Does God really need to be appeased or does he just continue to reach out to us in love – the beautiful love of creation? Are we only saved in Christ if we are baptized? Is salvation questionable outside the community of the baptized faithful? The traditional and orthodox answers are yes. Is everything else outside the assembly’s official teaching false? The official answer is yes.

What about the Spirit hovering over the abyss? About the eruption of God in space-time? Is our teaching about faith or about certainty? The church fathers sought revelation in the written books and the book of nature. Does not all creation shout the glory of God? Did not Jesus put all things right? Would a God of love do it for just a few?

Would a father or mother provide for only some of their children and leave the rest in eternal darkness? “Evil as you are would any of you give your son a scorpion when he asked for bread…” Would a father or mother require death by hideous torture of a beloved son?

In terms of making some sense of the death of Jesus in a culture in which thousands of animals were sacrificed each day as part of official worship, the notion of Christ as the final and only suitable victim is comprehensible. His final and complete sacrifice also explain the loss of the Temple and the genocide of a people lost in hopeless insurrection. How else could the death of God’s son make any sense? Yet once we begin this paternal projection and anthropomorphism of the One God, our words and images fall on hard ground.

Per usual, I have begun at the end, since Learning Theology With the Church Fathers actually begins with wonderful treatments of what we used to call De Deo Uno (the one God) and De Deo Trino (the triune God). Hall takes the wise course of not trying to explain the indescribable but begins by the efforts of the early Hellenistic church trying somehow to grasp the reality behind the hymns of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one God and to Jesus as the Eternal Word.

How can this be? Yes, that is the question, whether one is caught up in the majesty of the redwoods or the radiant light from light, begotten not made causing them to break forth into the Song beyond all hearing that is Music, Word, and Divine Rhythm.

St. Augustine’s famous Chapter 10 of The Confessions says it much better than I could.

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

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Posted by on Jul 17, 2009

“Who was that saint who was a mercenary, Mom?”

“Who was that saint who was a mercenary, Mom?”

St. Camillus de Lellis

St. Camillus de Lellis (feast day July 18) was the man in question. An earlier post gives more details of his life. However, in brief, here’s a thumbnail sketch of it. Born in the mid-1500s, he founded an order of religious men who dedicate their lives to the care of the sick and dying. But before be became the founder of a religious order, he was a soldier, a mercenary, a gambler, and overall rowdy fellow. His mother, who was nearing age 60 when he was born, had a dream in which she saw him wearing a cross on his chest. Those condemned to death wore crosses on their chests on their way to their execution, so she feared that he would grow up to be a criminal or leader of criminals. She died when he was about 13 and didn’t see his rowdy adolescence and young manhood. I assume she continued to intercede on his behalf after her death — and her prayers were answered. By the time he was 25, his life turned around and he dedicated his remaining years to care of the sick.

Today we take it for granted that Christians/Catholics will care for the sick and dying. We have many hospitals and religious orders that do just that. But in his time, it was a new idea. Sick and dying people who found themselves in hospitals rather than receiving care from loved ones in their beds at home were often neglected, fed as little as possible, sometimes beaten and even taken to the morgue before they were actually dead. Camillus believed that was wrong and set about to change that reality. He began working in a hospital from which he had been ejected as an unruly patient. He got rid of employees who abused patients and brought in others who would treat their patients with care and compassion. As he explained, “We want to assist the sick with the same love that a mother has for her only sick child.” It was not to be just a job or an impersonal service. In caring for the sick, the understanding of St. Camillus and his brothers in the order was that they were caring for Christ as they cared for the sick and dying.

Camillians were among the first to go out onto battlefields and care for the injured and dying. In this, they preceded today’s Red Cross by approximately three centuries. The red cross on a black cassock worn by Camillus and his followers was a reminder to them that hospitals, like churches, were also houses of God and the voices of the sick were music in God’s garden.

The life of Camillus de Lellis is a reminder to us that God does not call perfect people to do great works. God calls everyday, ordinary people to step up and try to make things better in the day to day world of their lives. Those who have not suffered a bit, gotten bumped around a bit by life, or even crashed into chasms of suffering from which they could not emerge without help are generally not going to be as capable of letting God work through them. If we think we can do whatever it is ourselves, then we don’t let the power of God burst through us to do it so much better. Saints like Camillus de Lellis show us how much can be done when we let God lead.

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