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Posted by on Feb 11, 2024

Touched by a Healing Hand

Touched by a Healing Hand

How many times have we heard, “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t eat that. It fell on the floor!” “Ten second rule…” In our society, we distinguish between things that are physically dirty and therefore unsafe to touch or eat and those that are physically clean and safe. We don’t tend to think about things as dirty or unsafe by the very nature of their being, though some foods such as grubs are shunned in our typical American diets. But this has not always been the reality of how peoples classify the things with which they come in contact.

The discovery of microbes such as bacteria and viruses changed our understanding of what causes illness or the infections that can follow injuries. Before their discovery and our growth in understanding of how microbes work, when people got sick or had an infected wound, it was not unusual for the blame to be assigned to an angry deity or a sorcerer/witch or the sin of the person or the parent of the person who was born with a handicap. Bad things didn’t happen to good people. People broke the rules of the gods and bad things happened.

Anthropologist, Mary Douglas, in Purity and Danger, wrote a study of the ways in which peoples classify things as safe (pure or clean) or dangerous (unclean). She noted, for example, in the Book of Leviticus (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46) that skin conditions that caused visible differences in the health or appearance of the skin were considered to be leprosy. Since some of these conditions are contagious, those who contracted them were banished from the community. They were classed as “unclean.” Interestingly, however, once the entire body was covered by the sores, the person could again be seen as whole and readmitted to the community. She suggested that the critical issue was whether the condition was whole or affected only a part of the body. Mixing healthy and non-healthy skin on one body was unclean.

The rules set up in the time of Moses were still in force during Jesus’ life. People with skin lesions were required to stay away from others and warn others not to approach them. When a man with leprosy approached Jesus, begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean,” Jesus broke the social and religious rules. He reached out and touched the man, saying, “I will do it. Be made clean.”

The man was healed immediately, we are told. Jesus then sent him to the priest to be examined for any sign of disease. He told the man who was healed to offer the necessary sacrifice of thanksgiving and return to his regular life. Despite Jesus’ order not to tell anyone how he had been healed, the man told everyone he met about it. He was so happy; he couldn’t contain or hide it! Needless to say, people in ever greater numbers hurried to Jesus, asking for healing. (Mk 1:40-45)

We too are called to be channels of healing. Perhaps not the same kinds of physical healing that people received from Jesus’ words or touch. But through our lives and the way we interact with those we meet, healing can and does occur. We don’t always know it has happened. That’s all to the good. Keeps us from getting all puffed up about our good works. But as we reach out in care and respect for others and meet them in their daily joys and struggles, we imitate Christ and bring the Good News to our world. (1 Cor 10:31-11:1)

So, who are the kinds of people we are afraid to touch, whether actually or figuratively? Who do we exclude or require to hide from polite society? Do we welcome children and older people on the autistic spectrum into our gatherings and lives? Do we care for, welcome, and respect children and adults who are not binary in their sexuality, members of the LGBTQ+ community? Do we help new neighbors from other countries to get the services they need and help them get started rebuilding their lives in our communities or do we exclude them? Do we comfort and help those whose loved ones have rejected them? Do we support those whose marriages and families have fallen apart or do we exclude them and their children from our church communities? How do we deal with people who have mental health conditions that affect their daily lives?

There are so many times and places where we meet God’s dearly loved children (ages newborn to the very old). Let’s pray that we have the courage and wisdom to see each as a sister or brother, dearly loved by God our Father and our brother Jesus. In God’s sight, all are worthy of being touched by the healing hand of love. Will our hands be the ones that begin that loving healing?

Readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B


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Posted by on Jul 24, 2021

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Grains and Bread in Abundance

Barley loaves, the gift of the man from Baal-Shalishah to the prophet Elisha and the gift of a child to Jesus, share the spotlight in the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Both the first reading from the second book of Kings (2 Kings 4:42-44) and the gospel reading from St. John (Jn 6:1-15) feature a person who brings a gift of food to the prophet. The prophet receives the food and instructs that it be shared among the people who are present in the crowd. The crowd is large and the small amount of food offered would never be enough to feed everyone, but the prophet doesn’t back down, insisting that the loaves be shared among the people. There will be enough for all.

As it turns out, in each case there was indeed enough for all. There was even bread left over. In the case of Jesus, the amount left over was enough to fill twelve wicker baskets. Granted, you and I don’t know how large a wicker basket was in those days, but the five small loaves given by the child to Jesus would not themselves have filled twelve baskets when broken into pieces unless they were tiny baskets for a doll house, let alone after they had been shared among the crowd.

There are many layers of meaning in these narratives. The fact that the man shared twenty barley loaves with Elisha indicates that he had plenty of food. Sharing it might not ordinarily have been his first thought. The fact that he was identified by his place of origin indicates that what he did was noteworthy. Those with plenty often don’t think of sharing, especially if what they have would not be enough to feed everyone and still leave some for themselves. Yet God provided for all the people, as Elisha had declared would happen.

Barley, not wheat?

Barley loaves were the most common form of bread in Israel and most of the Middle East at that time. Barley has been cultivated in that region for over 10,000 years. It grows well in areas where water can be scarce. It ripens early in the spring, having been planted in the fall. It is higher in many nutrients than wheat and is easier to prepare for eating. (It’s also used in making beer – another common use for it even today – but that’s another story!) Unleavened barley loaves were a regular part of the diet of the people who listened to Elisha and to Jesus – the ordinary folk.

Wheat is also an ancient grain, though it was less commonly used in baking in Israel. It grew well in Egypt, where the annual flooding of the Nile provided a reliable source of water. It ripened later in the season and was less nutritious. It took more work to process it into a useable form. The Egyptians developed bread and ovens in which to bake it into leavened loaves. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were instructed to eat unleavened bread, baked in haste for the journey. Wheat bread was seen as the bread of captivity and of the wealthy and powerful. It didn’t become common anywhere else until the Romans conquered Egypt and took it home with them. Even then, it was still food for the wealthier classes.

The child brought five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus, willing to share his own lunch. With this gift of love, near the feast of Passover, Jesus was able to feed five thousand men, along with the women and children who accompanied them. For St. John, this was a sign of the true revelation of who Jesus is – God who has become one of us – Jesus who becomes the new Passover Lamb. This event was seen by the early Christian community as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist – bread is taken, blessed in thanksgiving, broken, and shared with all. There is always enough to share – God sees to that.

A Miracle? A Sign?

Did the miracles happen just as they are described? Were there really no more than twenty loaves in the first case and five in the second? That is not something that we can say with any absolute, 21st Century Western Historical-minded certainty. Stories such as these were never intended to be “historical” in our sense of the word. The important thing is that bread, simple, commonly eaten bread, was shared by all in the crowd. If others besides the man identified in the first story or the child in the second also shared what they had, would that not also be something of a miracle? If folks took food with them into the countryside when they went to hear a prophet, would that be surprising? You and I would usually take something with us when going out into the countryside to hear someone speak, right? Surely at least some of those who couldn’t expect a food truck to show up out there would have taken something.

Bottom line, God provides. How? God provides through the loving presence of a community who look out for each other. St. Paul reminds the people of Ephesus (Eph 4:1-6) that they are to live “in a manner worthy of the call” they have received – the call to be the children of God. Humble, gentle, patient, loving, sharing a unity of spirit through a bond of peace. They/we are to be one – one with each other and one with our God and Father.

So out we go into the field, each taking our few barley loaves and fish, our gifts and talents, to share with those we meet along the way. We share with those who are members of our community. We also share with those who are outside our community. No one is to be excluded from the love of God and God’s community, because God loves all of creation, including all of us.

See you at Mass,


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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas


El Santo Papa dejó su texto preparado para contestar la pregunta que le había puesto una niña rescatada de la calle.  Con lágrimas, gemiendo, Glyzelle Palomar contó en pocas palabras las miserias que había padecido y preguntó, “Hay muchos niños abandonados por sus propios padres, muchas víctimas de muchas cosas terribles como las drogas o la prostitución. ¿Por qué Dios permite estas cosas, aunque no es culpa de los niños? ¿Y por qué tan poca gente nos viene a ayudar?” En este video podemos ver el escenario y la compasión del abrazo del Santo Padre.

¿Qué respuesta es possible al perenne problema de la maldad? El Papa Francisco no trataba de evadir la cuestión con palabras blandas y dulces. Enfrentó la cuestión enseñándoles a unos 30 mil de los fieles y desafíandoles. Primero notó la escasez de mujeres en las presentaciones y la importancia del punto de vista feminino. Dijo el Pontífice que la mujer se puede hacer preguntas que los hombres “no terminamos de entender.”

Podemos entender algo añadió El Santo Papa “cuando el corazón alcanza a hacerse la pregunta y a llorar.” Solamente por lágrimas llegamos a la verdadera compasión que se puede transformar al mundo. El Papa Francisco describió una compasión mundana por lo cual solamente sacamos una moneda del bolsillo. Añadió que si hubiera Cristo demonstraba esa compasión, hubiera pasado unos momentos con algunas personas, y se hubiera vuelto al Padre. Jesucristo entendió nuestros dramas, dijo El Papa, cuando fue capaz de llorar y lloró.

Declaró, “Al mundo de hoy le falta llorar, lloran los marginados, lloran los que son dejados de lado, lloran los despreciados, pero aquellos que llevamos una vida más o menos sin necesidades no sabemos llorar. Solo ciertas realidades de la vida se ven con los ojos limpiados por las lágrimas.”

El Papa desafió a los fieles “No olvidemos este testimonio. La gran pregunta ‘por qué sufren los niños’ la hizo llorando. Y la gran respuesta que podemos hacer todos nosotros es aprender a llorar.”




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Posted by on Jan 17, 2015

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry


Hubble's View of NGC 5584Vatican astronomers, Br. Guy Consolmagno and Fr. Paul Mueller have penned this provocative question as the title of their new book. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? deals with the most common questions they receive. Generally the questions assume a conflict between science and faith. Their first task is to reduce the assumption of conflict and to look at the information in an analytical and thoughtful way.

For example, they take on the star of Bethlehem and rule out many of the scientific explanations. It was most likely not a supernova as Kepler had proposed. It may have been a conjunction of planets as proposed by Molnar in his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. However, limiting the question to how it occurred and which laws of nature were violated can miss the point. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles don’t always mean a suspension of the laws of nature. The point of the star of Bethlehem is that God gave a great sign. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles, whether they accord with the laws of science or not, are some great sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Br. Consolmagno defines science as an ongoing conversation about facts. It is not a book of rules. Likewise religion is conversation we have within our church, among ourselves, and with God. He concludes, “One of the joys of science and philosophy is learning how to live and enjoy a mystery.”

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Posted by on Jul 4, 2010

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

July 4, 2010 – Parades, Celebrations and Prayers

Fog near Monterey Bay

The Fourth of July dawned foggy and cold this morning in Santa Cruz. Not too surprising. It is, after all, “fog season.” Usually the fog lifts by early afternoon, but it’s after 3 now and except for it being a touch ligher, there’s no blue sky near the ocean.

It’s been an unusual Sunday for us. The celebration of the Mass we usually attend can’t take place when the 4th falls on a Sunday because the Aptos 4th of July Parade starts in the street beside the church (Resurrection Parish). Our pastor offered a “Park, Pray & Parade” special to all who wanted to attend the 8:15 Mass, but that’s a bit early for my family. So we chose to visit another parish community this week.

We arrived just on time for Mass at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz, after having been diverted by a detour due to closure of the road that passes the church. We came in the back way and parked behind the old school building. Arriving at the front of the church, the reason for the road closure was apparent. A brass band was playing, people were milling around, dressed in their “Sunday best,” (not a common sight in Santa Cruz on a holiday weekend) and lots of young girls were dressed in long white gowns, with capes and trains and wearing glittering crowns. We’ve lived here a long time, but this was the first time we’d arrived for this celebration.

We went into the church and discovered that the Portuguese community was having their annual celebration of the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. St. Elizabeth (1271 – 1336) was Queen of Portugal and noted for her devotion to the Holy Spirit and her care for the poor. Married at the age of 12, she was none-the-less a strong spirited woman who was not afraid to think for herself and even defy her husband. It is said that when he forbade her to take food to the poor, she continued to do so anyway. One day he caught her and asked what she had hidden under her cloak. She replied, “Roses.” He scoffed at that response because it was January and roses are not blooming in January in Portugal. He tore her cloak open and found, to his amazement, that she was indeed carrying roses.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth (Isabel) was also known to be a peacemaker. When her husband and son, leading armies against each other, met on the battlefield, she marched out between them and made them come to terms of peace. Later, in her old age, she did the same when her son prepared to fight the king of Castile.

In Santa Cruz and around the world, where Portuguese communities live, the feast of St. Elizabeth is celebrated with special prayers to the Holy Spirit and blessings for the girls. This celebration occurs every year. I’d seen the procession after Mass – everyone walks from the church, up over the freeway and down to the Portuguese Hall in the park nearby for an afternoon of feasting and fun. It was a blessing to share Eucharist with them this year.

After the final hymn, in Portuguese, the choir led those who had not yet processed out of the building in the song, America the Beautiful. It seemed fitting. Here we all were. People literally from all over the world. Old folks and children. Parishioners and visitors to the community. People from all different walks of life. Social liberals and social conservatives. Gathered together to hear the word of God, celebrate Eucharist together and pray with thanksgiving for the gift of a wise and generous queen centuries ago, the gift of a nation with “freedom and justice for all” that we have received from our forebears in this country and to ask for the gift of wisdom for ourselves and our leaders now, in this time, with the challenges we face today.

The  original words of the hymn, and it is indeed a hymn, are worth pondering as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this country today.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Amen! May it be so.

Happy 4th of July!

(Words of America the Beautiful by Katherine L. Bates. Music by Samuel A. Ward.)
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Posted by on Apr 14, 2009

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Easter Monday 2009: The Post Modern Blues

Borgognone 1510

Borgognone 1510

Easter time in the 21st century is a curious season. We are living in a time in which the rationality of the Enlightenment has been obliterated by the irrational violence and deconstruction of the Modern Era which ended with the creation of the atom bomb. In the 20th century we saw the the rise of the irrational as a counter to the idea of reason as the engine of human progress. Advances in science and engineering led to death on a massive scale whether in its industrial production form in the genocide of Jews and other peoples or its explosion from the sky in carpet bombing of Dresden or the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The darkness within the brilliance of the human heart and mind was also manifest in the Vietnam War epic movie “Apocalypse Now” based on the theme that facing the horror of one’s evil can only lead to self destruction.

So here we are on the cusp of the third millennium. Human progress seems more of an illusion. In fact, our Post-Modern sensibility is all about the inability of reason and science to get at ultimate truth. Everything is examined and found wanting. Physics has become the study of relativity, uncertainty, and mathematical models. Religion and philosophy are the products of language we create. The scriptures of Christianity are cultural creations which tell us more of the people who wrote them. They are robbed of their revelation.

Human romance and love are reduced to methods for the socio-biological dispersion of one’s genetic load. Religious experience is suspect because there is no way to know whether one is just engaging in psychological projection to create a hideout from the ultimate reality of the purposelessness of human existence. We are here by virtue of  a cosmic accident with a very low probability.

In our world, there is the torture and death of Good Friday but there is no need for a Resurrection or any life beyond our current suffering because it is not possible since we can never know the nature anything beyond nature with any certainty. So here is the greatest event of all human history and our greatest personal hope – the Resurrection and it is a non-event on a beautiful spring day that is to be borne with a grim courage in a time when miracles cannot happen.

The news is too good. Maybe that is why we are stuck on the Friday of Crucifixion. The pain we know is better than risking its loss in the certain joy of Resurrection. As people of the Resurrection we would have to leave too much behind – hurt, anger, fear, and death.

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2008

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus – August 6

The Transfiguration of Jesus was reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as in the second letter of Peter. Jesus and three disciples, Peter, James and John, went up a high mountain (traditionally identified as Mt. Tabor) and “He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Two men joined Jesus on the mountain top and spoke with Him there, Moses and Elijah – representing the Law and the Prophets. Peter, ever ready to act, offered to put up three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But just then a cloud overshadowed them all and a voice from the cloud proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell down and were terrified when they heard the voice, but Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid. He also told them not to tell anyone else about what they had seen “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9)

Following the Transfiguration, Jesus continued on his way to Jerusalem and his eventual death and resurrection. Only following the Resurrection did the experience on the mountain top make sense to Peter, James and John.

While most of us don’t have such dramatic “mountain top experiences,” in the course of our lives as believers we do have special times. It may be our Baptism or First Communion. It may be Confirmation. It may be an experience of healing through Reconciliation or Anointing of the Sick. It may be a homily that particularly spoke to a trouble or concern and gave the hope needed to continue moving forward in faith. Sometimes the mountain top comes during private personal prayer. Sometimes it comes during a group activity.

Mountain top experiences are to be treasured. They don’t happen often. And they are always followed by a return to the ordinary activities of life – activities that seem dull, boring, unimportant, even worthless, in comparison with where we have been and what we have experienced. Yet both are part of life and both move us forward on the path to our ultimate goal, union with the Lord.

When you’ve had a mountain top experience, be patient with yourself and with your family and friends who may or may not have shared it with you. It’s not easy to jump back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Do what has to be done to keep soul and body together (i.e. prepare meals, get some rest, go to work, “chop wood, carry water”), but do these activities with an awareness that there’s a transcendent reality just beyond your ability to perceive it normally, that gives meaning to all of the day to day activities of life.

As time goes on, you’ll undoubtably have cause to remember the mountain top and draw on the strength and consolation you experienced there. Jesus went from the mountain top to the cross. His followers rarely have to crash quite so dramatically into disgrace and apparent failure as He did, but the hard times will come – no need to go looking for them. And when they come, try to remember the love you experienced on the mountain top. Our God loves you – just as you are – and will be with you in the hard times as well as the good times. Jesus went before us, and He stands with us. On the mountain top and in all the other times as well.

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Posted by on Feb 11, 2008

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Feast of the Day: Our Lady of Lourdes – February 11


“The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross. Then I commenced not to be afraid. I took my rosary again; I was able to make the sign of the cross; from that moment I felt perfectly undisturbed in mind. I knelt down and said my rosary, seeing this Lady always before my eyes. The Vision slipped the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but she did not move her lips. When I had said my rosary the Lady made a sign for me to approach, but I did not dare. I stayed in the same place. Then, all of a sudden, she disappeared. I started to remove the other stocking to cross the shallow water near the grotto so as to join my companions. And we went away. As we returned, I asked my companions if they had seen anything. ‘No,’ they replied. ‘And what about you? Did you see anything?’ ‘Oh, no, if you have seen nothing, neither have I.’

“I thought I had been mistaken. But as we went, all the way, they kept asking me what I had seen. I did not want to tell them. Seeing that they kept on asking I decided to tell them, on condition that they would tell nobody. They promised not to tell. They said that I must never go there again, nor would they, thinking that it was someone who would harm us. I said no. As soon as they arrived home they hastened to say that I had seen a Lady dressed in white. That was the first time.” [2]

On realising that she alone had seen the apparition, and not her companions, she asked her sister Toinette not to tell anyone what had happened. Toinette, however, was unable to keep silent, and told their mother, Louise Soubirous. Both girls received a beating, and Bernadette was forbidden by her mother from returning to the Grotto again.[3]

On Thursday February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, an impoverished, uneducated, 14 year old French peasant, had an experience that would not only change her life but would make would make her home town an international destination for pilgrims. Bernadette was not unlike many of the millions of girls around the world today growing up in stark poverty. Her parents and 5 siblings lived in a one room prison cell that had been abandoned because it was no longer fit for prisoners. Bernadette’s father was a miller and her mother took in laundry.

St. Bernadette would have a total of 18 encounters with the Lady of the grotto. The last one would be July 16. In the process of these visits, a miraculous spring of water would appear. People would be healed. The Lady would refer to herself as the Immaculate Conception. The grotto would be closed by authorities and people forbidden to pray there by the mayor of Lourdes.

Today, Lourdes hosts 15 million pilgrims a year. Paris is the only city in France that has more hotel rooms. The beautiful young woman, who died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis of the bone, refused to return to the grotto seeking a cure, saying only that the water was for others. Today 150 years after the first apparition, St. Bernadette’s body is still marvelously intact and uncorrupted.

St. Bernadette and the events of Lourdes met with intense skepticism and careful investigation by religious, political, and scientific authorities. Subject to medical and scientific review, thousands of healings have been documented which do not have a natural explanation. Yet only a fraction of the sick and infirm are healed physically. The prayerfulness and the experience of a community of faith continues to draw millions every year.

There is a saying associated with Lourdes that is especially appropriate. “To those who believe no explanation is necessary; to those who do not believe no explanation is possible.”

st-bernadette-of-lourdes.jpg St. Bernadette – the young girl

st-bernadette-soubirous.jpg St. Bernadette – at rest

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2008

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Saint of the Day: St. Blaise, Bishop & Martyr – February 3


Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God protect you from all ailments of the throat and from all forms of evil. Amen.’  ~Blessing given on the feast of St.Blaise

St. Blaise was martyred for the faith around 316. That is all we actually know about him.  However, his feast has been celebrated from the very early centuries. The Catholic Encylopedia and other scholarly sources reject the Acta or Deeds of the life of St. Blaise as history and regard them as legend. According to this old story, St. Blaise was bishop of Sebastea in Armenia and was tortured and executed under the persecution of Licinius after he had been discovered in the countryside. As he was being led off by his captors, a mother brought him a baby who was choking on a fish bone. St. Blaise prayed for the baby, who was immediately cured.

Consequently, St. Blaise has been associated with the relief of throat ailments, both physical and spiritual. (Spiritual aliments would include things like gossiping, coarse language and lying.) When I was a boy in the 1950s, this day was marked by the blessing of throats with crossed unlighted candles. For those of us who were altar boys, it took a little reminder that after the Last Gospel (the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel), the final blessing and the prayers for the conversion of Russia (they must have been heard after all), we had to return to the communion rail and accompany Father for the blessing of the throats. Like many of the Latin rituals, its beauty and the sweet beeswax smell of the new candles was somewhat marred by the rapid droning of the blessing and a certain assembly line efficiency, as we made several circuits of the communion rail.

As nice as it was, we never focused on his witness as bishop and martyr. There was just enough documentation to verify that St. Blaise was an historical figure and to spare him from the fate of St. Christopher, whose legend was quietly declared a myth. Everything else about St. Blaise is veiled in legend and the mists of time.

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Posted by on Jan 25, 2008

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Feast of the Day: Conversion of St. Paul – January 25


January 25 is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (Acts 22). Most of us are familiar with the story. Saul – his original name – was a Pharisee who was persecuting the very first Christians. (At that early stage believers called themselves Followers of the Way. The name Christian would come about later in Antioch)

St. Paul was on his way to Damascus with documents authorizing him to arrest and bring back Christians to Jerusalem for trial by the religious authorities. Scripture makes no reference to a horse, which is usually part of the depiction of the scene in which St. Paul is blinded by a bright light and falls to the ground. He hears a voice utter the now famous words “Saul, why are you persecuting me.” In the exchange, St. Paul asks who it is that is speaking to him – the response, “I am Jesus, the Nazarene..”

According to scripture, we know that Paul was from Tarsus and that he was also a Roman citizen. His letters to the early congregations (churches) are the oldest documents in the New Testament. They reveal a man who is thoroughly Jewish in his mode of thinking and speech. Yet he is Christianity’s link to the larger Hellenistic world.

For those who like to emphasize the important role of St. Peter in the development of the Church, it can come as a shock that he and St. Paul disagreed so strongly about the incorporation of non-Jews, or gentiles. Some of us contemporary Catholics – with a certain sense of ironic humor – see this conflict as the first among many between a Pope and a theologian.

What is most significant about St. Paul’s conversion is his acceptance by the leadership of the early Christian community. Although they had substantial reasons to distrust his sincerity, they forgave an enemy – even one who had been an accomplice in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. They forgave a man who arrested and imprisoned their family members and friends. The book of the Acts of the Apostles shows that the leadership and the community had their misgivings, but they helped the repentant Saul to demonstrate his conversion, acting as mentors, teachers, and friends. Some helped more than others, and many not at all, yet it was enough.  And as they say… the rest is history.

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Posted by on Jan 8, 2008

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

5 Loaves, 2 Fish, and a Lesson for the Community


Today’s Gospel reading is from St. Mark, the story known as “the feeding of the five thousand” (Mk 6:34-44).

In this familiar story, Jesus and the twelve apostles have traveled across the Sea of Galilee to a deserted area, to get away from the crowds of people and get a bit of rest. The people had seen where they were going and followed on foot, around the lake. Mark says that Jesus was “moved with pity” when He saw them and began to teach them. It was getting late and the disciples suggested that Jesus should send the people back to the towns so they could find food and places to spend the night.

Jesus surprised them by telling them to feed the people themselves. They protested that it would cost “two hundred days’ wages” to feed so many. This didn’t faze Jesus. Instead, He asked, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” They returned with the news that they had five loaves and two fish. Jesus instructed them to have the people sit down in groups. Then He took the food they had, blessed it, broke it into pieces and told the disciples to pass it out among the people.

When everyone had eaten their fill, they gathered up what was left and found they had 12 baskets full of leftovers.

In this last week of the Christmas season, following our celebration of the shining forth of the light to the Gentiles too, what are we to make of this story? Why is it told here?

It seems to me that it’s here with good reason.

First, however, it’s important to understand a bit about the customs of the people at the time. We’re used to going places and taking a food with us, which we can eat in front of others without experiencing any social requirement to share it with people who are not part of our group. That was not the case in Palestine at the time. If you had food, you could only eat it if you had enough to share with those in the group with whom you found yourself. Hence the disciples’ dilemma – where and how could they get so much food?

It seems to me that we should assume that families took some food along with them when going out into a deserted area with their children. Most of us would grab something for the children (and for ourselves too, in most cases) when racing out the door to see a celebrity, if for no other reason than to keep the children quietly occupied during the event. I don’t think it would have been that much different in those days.

However, no one would have had enough to feed all of those around them, so the food would have stayed packed up, hidden within the robes and traveling bags of the people.

When Jesus told the disciples to share what they had with the large crowd (5,000 men plus women and children), He didn’t tell them He was going to multiply the food miraculously. He just gave thanks for the food they had, asked a blessing on the meal, and began sharing it. With that example, everyone else who had food with them was freed to take it out too, and share it with those around them. It became a great picnic! No one was restricted to only what they owned or had brought. On the other hand, no would have felt compelled to hide or guard what they had. All could share it. And the result was that there were 12 baskets more of food than was needed!

During this week, as we reflect on the great gift of salvation having been extended to all peoples, this lesson is appropriate. We each have something. It may not be much. But it is something that we can share with the community, with our community on a local level and with our larger global community. There are problems that need to be solved. There are wrongs to be righted. There are joys and sorrows to be shared. None of us can do everything. None of us can change all of the structures of our society or our church. None of us can even meet all of the needs of our individual families. However, all of us can step out in faith and do a little bit. Show a little compassion. Give a hand to someone who is down. Listen to someone who needs a friendly ear. Pray with someone who is alone.

As we do this in faith, we join the larger community of Christian witnesses who have truly changed the world, one problem and one little step at a time. Jesus asks us to look at what gifts we have, give thanks for them, and then start sharing them with those we meet. As we respond to His leadership, “miracles” will happen in our world.

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Posted by on Dec 13, 2007

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Saint of the Day – St. Lucy of Syracuse: Hope for an End to Religious Violence


December 13 is the feast day of the early Christian martyr, St. Lucy of Syracuse (283-304). There is really very little that is known about her, except that she was killed under the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. She was revered by the early church and her name has been included in the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass in Rome from the early centuries.

This lack of information did not prevent subsequent generations of Christians from creating an elaborate legend. In it a beautiful young woman decides to dedicate herself to God as a virgin, gives her dowry to the poor, and her rejected suitor denounces her as a Christian. Her beautiful eyes are gouged out, but God miraculously gives her an even more beautiful pair of eyes. This led to Medieval and later depictions of St. Lucy carrying her gouged out eyes on a plate.

In northern Europe and Scandinavia, celebration of the feast of St. Lucy adopted pre-Christian elements of worship of the goddess Freya and observances of the winter solstice. Freya’s chariot is pulled by cats across the winter sky. Distributing cat shaped rolls on St. Lucy’s day is still a popular custom. Lucy means light, so the association with the winter solstice is not surprising. Candles were lit on St. Lucy’s day and girls would sometimes wear wreaths with lighted candles in their hair. (Please do not do this at home, or anywhere else for that matter!)

While the legends associated with St. Lucy elaborate the sufferings of a martyr, what is overlooked when we separate historical fact from fantasy is the reality of violent religious persecution and the witness of Christians in the most dire of circumstances. We might have the impression from our notions of ancient history that the wholesale murder of Christians occurred only under certain Roman emperors. However, persecutions and the witness of Christians have continued to the present day. There are some estimates that 65% of Christian martyrs actually gave their lives in the 20th century and the trend is continuing in the current century.

From Palestine to India to China and North Korea, through Africa and Latin America, Christians are being oppressed and killed for their faith. The conflicts are with Moslems, Hindus, Communists, right wing dictatorships, and leftist guerillas. Certainly, Christians have oppressed and killed members of other Christian and non-Christian groups. Clearly, religious, ethnic, tribal, and political conflicts will continue to lead to oppression and death. Many times the veneration of martyrs of any group is used to move a community to violence.

Nevertheless, as Christians, when we commemorate martyrs such as St. Lucy, we should re-commit ourselves to the beatitudes, especially “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Our witness – the Greek word is marturia – should be to remove the social and political causes of violence and oppression for all groups. This is a naive and foolishly unrealistic goal, but so is the Kingdom of Heaven, as testified to by martyrs like St. Lucy.

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Posted by on Dec 11, 2007

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Saint of the Day – Our Lady of Guadalupe


On December 12, 1531, a middle aged Indian convert, St. Juan Diego opened his “tilma” where he had placed the roses that the Lady on the Hill had told him to take to the bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga. His earlier attempts to tell the bishop of the Lady’s request to build a shrine on the hill of Tepeyac in her honor had met with polite skepticism. The bishop had wanted a sign, and roses in December in the high altitude and cold temperature of Mexico City would have been enough of a sign. However, when St. Juan Diego let down the poncho-like cold weather garment, made of century plant cactus fiber, maguey, the roses tumbled down on the floor and the reluctant messenger followed the eyes of the astonished bishop as he gazed on the Indian’s tilma and fell to his knees. Unique among all of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, this one produced a physical artifact. On the tilma was the image of the Lady who would come to symbolize a new mixed-race people, a nation, and the aspirations of Catholics throughout the Americas.

Like most Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, my earliest memories are of this miraculous image. Our Lady of Guadalupe is so much a part of the culture, and so pervasive, that the miraculous image is a symbol with multiple layers of meaning. The words of Psalm 147 in Latin “Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi” – “He has not done so with any other nation” – are often associated with the image. More idiomatically, they are taken to mean, “He hasn’t done this for anyone else.” While the Psalmist originally applied these words to God’s unique relationship with his chosen people, the meaning has been appropriated by Mexicans and the Latin peoples of the Americas.

From the first days of the apparition to the present, the miraculous image has symbolized a heavenly acceptance of the indigenous and mixed native and European inhabitants. The Virgin does not have blond hair and blue eyes like the Virgen de las Mercedes ( Our Lady of Mercy) of the Spanish conquerors. She is dark complected, with brown eyes and black hair, this Lady of Tepeyac. However, she does not have the pronounced Moorish features of the black Madonna of Guadalupe found in Extremadura in southern Spain.


The devotion to the Spanish Madonna of Guadalupe reached its height in Spain in the 1400s and 1500s, since she was the patroness of the global explorers who set sail from Extremadura and also the patroness of all the Spanish lands of the New World. Many years before the apparition in Mexico City, Columbus named an island in the Caribbean Guadalupe (now Guadaloupe) in her honor. Historians can probably fill us in on the details of how the Lady of Tepeyac became identified with Guadalupe. Perhaps the Spanish preferred to believe that their explorer patroness had made an appearance in the Americas. Nevertheless, the secret password of identity for Mexicans and those of Mexican descent is Tepeyac. For those who have been conquered, scorned, and rejected and yet have built a vibrant and dynamic civilization, what greater recognition could there be? Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi.

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2007

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Saint of the Day – St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin


December 9 is the feast day of St. Juan Diego (1474-1548), who was born Cuauhtlatoatzin (kwah-oot-laht-oh-ahtzin) – Talking Eagle. St. Juan Diego was declared a saint – on July 31, 2002, – by Pope John Paul II on his visit to Mexico City. The Pope declared him protector of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and reminded the thousands who gathered of their responsibility to promote social justice and equality for their oppressed and marginalized brothers and sisters.

Juan Diego was a member of the Chichimeca nation, in the Anahuac Valley, near Tenochitlán – present day Mexico City. He was a landowner, farmer and weaver of mats, and a married man. He was 47 when he witnessed the conquest of Tenochitlán by Hernán Cortez in 1521. He and his wife were baptized in 1524 or 1525 by the first missionaries, who were Franciscans. He took the baptismal name of Juan Diego and his wife’s baptismal name was María Lucía. A few years later, María Lucía became ill and died.

On Sunday, December 9, 1531, while he was walking to Mass, he saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the hill of Tepeyac. Our Lady of Tepeyac would become known more widely as Our Lady of Guadalupe, because of the similarity of the dark complexioned Virgins in both Tepeyac and Guadalupe in Spain.

St. Juan Diego spent the rest of his life as a hermit and caretaker of the chapel which had been built on the hill of Tepeyac after the apparition, at the request of the Lady. The Virgin Mary appeared as a Native American to a Native American Christian. The impact on the vast indigenous population and the Spanish conquerors was stunning. Not only did this apparition mark the beginning of massive conversions, it was also the beginning of the Great Mixing – El Gran Mestizaje – the creation of a new uniquely Mexican ethnic group, blending Europeans and the indigenous peoples.

While it would be nice to give this post a Hollywood ending by enlarging the camera angle from the Indian kneeling before the Virgin Mary and panning to a sweeping vista of sunrise over the great volcanoes surrounding Mexico City, we really should not. St. Juan Diego’s life was a very gritty reality. The death of his wife and millions of other native people from European conquest and disease was another layer of bitter sadness laid on top of the hardships of being subject to the Aztecs. St. Juan Diego saw everything he knew and understood swept away before his eyes – something that later generations of Mexicans would also experience more than once.

He appears to be one of the few saints who tried to avoid The Lady he knew was waiting for him, because his uncle was very ill and he needed to get a priest for his uncle before he died. Instead, she met him as he tried to get around the hill of Tepeyac. The Lady reassured him that his uncle would be okay and that he should just trust in her. He did, and as they say, the rest is history – the history of a new day for a vanquished people.

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Posted by on Dec 3, 2007

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

St. Francis Xavier and Me


December 3 is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, “Apostle to the East.” Francis Xavier was born in Navarre, Spain in 1506, to a wealthy and influential family. However, his family lost their lands in 1512 when Navarre was conquered by troops from Castille and Aragon. His father died in 1515.

Francis went to study in Paris when he was 19 and met Iñigo (Ignatius) Loyola there. To make a long story short, Francis eventually joined with Loyola as one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Francis is best known for his missionary work in India, Malacca, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan. From 1540, until his death on an island off the coast of China in 1552, he traveled and preached throughout the East, frequently returning to Goa in India. He left behind communities of Christians in each place he visited and pioneered the missionary style of the Jesuit order through the compromises he worked out with the existing Christian community, founded by St. Thomas the Apostle, in India.

There are many biographies and studies written about St. Francis Xavier’s life, teachings, influence in the Church, and miracles.

My family has had a close relationship with St. Francis for several generations in the Pacific Northwest. Jesuits were among the first to arrive in eastern Washington and brought with them a devotion to St. Francis. Growing up in parishes staffed by Jesuits, we shared in the tradition of the “Novena of Grace” each year in March. In fact, my parents’ first date ocurred when my father picked up my mother from her teaching assignment in northern Idaho and escorted her to the Novena in Spokane!

As a child, many of my early memories are related to the family tradition of attending Mass and the Novena from March 4-12. Each year we went, with our own prayer requests, and gathered with hundreds of other people from Spokane and the surrounding areas to praise God and ask St. Francis to intercede for us. There were people we only saw once a year – at the Novena.

Some years  the prayer intentions were very practical – a job for a relative out of work, health for a sick relative, help with school work, etc. Other years the intentions were more “spiritual” – help in overcoming a bad habit, help in discerning a life path, greater understanding of the Holy Spirit – little things like that!

Important things happened during or after the Novena. Two cousins who were born during the Novena were adopted into the family – we had been praying for a child for each family that year. Other children have been born into or adopted into the family in the year following the Novena. One of my brothers survived a difficult birth on March 4 and was given an extra middle name, Francis, in thanksgiving. Relatives got jobs. People got well. An uncle returned to the Church as he lay dying during the Novena. My Great Grandmother and my Grandmother both died on First Friday during the Novena. 

Sometimes funny things happened, like the year my youngest brother dropped a “steely” marble at the back of the church and it rolled all the way to the front, causing a stir as it went all the way! Mom was not amused, but we’re all still laughing about it.

The relationship with St. Francis is not limited to those nine days in March. At harvest time, when a storm threatens to ruin a crop before the field is harvested, prayers go up to “St. Frank” to protect it. When a relationship needs a boost from the Holy Spirit, prayers go to St. Francis. And when something goes really well, prayers of thanks go up too. It’s good to have a powerful big brother (saint) to help out.

A little over ten years ago, a young man from a Goan family knocked on our front door, hoping to sell a medical software program to a medical group we managed. The software was not what our group needed, but he became a close friend. We found many common threads in our educations, life experience and shared bond as Catholics. He in turn has introduced us to his family and many of his friends, including those who are the founders of and who have opened this world of internet blogs and vertical discovery engines such as to us.

It seems St. Francis Xavier is still looking out for us in this increasingly small, small world and doing his part to continue spreading the Good News.

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