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Posted by on Nov 29, 2019

Knocking Over Stones and Setting Them Back Up Again

Knocking Over Stones and Setting Them Back Up Again

The day dawned overcast and cold. Snow was expected within a few days and the family had gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of our mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/sister/aunt. While all were there, a group of the men went outside to do some of the maintenance tasks that require more agility and strength — things like cleaning out gutters, washing windows, and so forth.

I watched from an upstairs bedroom, making beds and tidying up a bit. Some of the men were piling fallen leaves around the bases of the rose bushes in the back yard flower bed. A small child, a bit over 2 years old, was happily playing as the men worked. His father was keeping an eye on him while he worked.

Eventually the child noticed a stack of balanced rocks in the corner of the garden. He came closer to the rocks as I watched, fascinated with the way they were just standing there. I could tell he was going to knock them over by the way he approached and reached out towards them. I thought about opening the window quickly and calling out to him to stop, but I didn’t. I just watched. There would be no serious harm done if the rocks fell over.

Sure enough, the hand stretched out, the rocks were touched, and over they went. The child was a bit surprised. He hadn’t expected that to happen. But he wasn’t frightened or upset, just surprised. His father came over and squatted down beside him. Together they looked at the now fallen rocks and talked about what had happened. Then father picked up the first rock and laid it carefully on top of the larger stone that had been the base of the tower. The child reached to pick up the next one, and father helped him get it up and onto the first one. This continued until the entire stack of rocks had been rebuilt.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what I observed that morning. It could have ended so unhappily if father or anyone else had become upset about the results of the child’s curiosity. But everyone just took it in stride. A child had learned something about the world and gravity. He learned about putting uneven things together so that they stay balanced. And he learned that when he breaks something, he can help put it back together again. All very positive things to learn at a young age.

What did I see and learn?

I saw a beautiful example of how God observes our actions. Sometimes we reach out and touch things that will fall or break or should not be touched for another reason. Sometimes we do it deliberately. Sometimes accidentally. God does not interfere. God keeps watching as we learn what happens when we do that particular thing. God knows that we don’t always foresee the effects our actions will have. But God knows that we have to experience many things in order to learn.

I saw that when things have been broken and are put back together, they don’t always look the same. Sometimes they take a different shape or form. They are still beautiful, but in a different way.

I saw the wisdom of God in giving us family, friends, companions, and other people in this world. Like the father of my great-nephew, other people help us make things right again. They help us pick up the pieces of things that have fallen and maybe even been broken. Their acceptance allows us to learn without carrying a huge load of fear or shame around with us.

I saw a real-life example of reconciliation. Something was broken. Someone offered forgiveness. Together the broken was put back together for the enjoyment of the family community.

Putting the rocks back together in our lives

As we come to the end of our liturgical year and the beginning of a new one, it’s good to remember that our God watches us with great love, sending others to help us along the way. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest acts on behalf of God, offering forgiveness from both God and the  community, and helping us find ways to heal and repair what we have broken. In the penitential rite at the beginning of each celebration of Eucharist (Mass), we also ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. We ask each other to pray for us and help us in becoming more loving followers of Our Lord.

May we, like the little child I watched, always be open to learning new things in this coming year, trusting that when we make mistakes, others will help us see what has happened and help us to put things in order again. May we be forgiving of the mistakes of others, and quick to admit our own, asking forgiveness in turn. Together, like the father and son I watched, we journey through life on our way to our Father who watches with a smile as we work together to put the stones back into a new and still lovely order.




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Posted by on Sep 1, 2016

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

NASA South America 2007

South America – NASA Image – Public Domain


CNN published an unusual story of hope, forgiveness, and mercy “Escobar’s Son Lives with Two Truths”.

“I could easily have turned into Pablo 2.0, but I found out about the violence and the pain,”

What happens when you are the son of one of the world’s most notorious criminals? You say good bye to your father on the phone and get a call a few minutes later from the police from your father’s phone. What do you say when they tell you that they have just killed the man who loved you unconditionally with great tenderness?

How do you reconcile the man who is a great father with the man who set up the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, killed hundreds including police, lawyers, and judges while smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the United States everyday?

The usual television script would call for the son to follow in the footsteps of the father in a remake of “The Godfather”. Yet a young man decided not become Pablo Escobar 2.0 and gave up that name to become Sebastian Marroquin (say Marro-keen).

Marroquin chose a path of peace and reconciliation. In the recently released English translation of Pecados de Mi Padre (The Sins of my Father) as Pablo Escobar, My Father. Marroquin presents the loving father and the monstrous criminal. He talks about his own efforts to make amends with the children of the key Colombian leaders killed by his father. His reason, “because absolute silence kills us all.” The meetings have been very difficult for everyone involved but also healing. Some have told Marroquin that he is one of the victims himself and that no apology was needed since he hadn’t committed or ordered the murders.

This is an extraordinary account of repentance offered and mercy given. How many of us would even speak to the son of the man who murdered our father? How many of us could look past our own pain and rage to absolve the murderer’s son and bring him into the ranks of the victims? Generally, human history is replete with examples of revenge after wave of revenge lasting for generations.

Marroquin’s main reason for promoting his book is that he feels that the coming release of season two of “Narcos” by Netflix glamorizes his father and gangsters.

“I am not worried that the image of my father is bad. What worries me is the image of him that says, ‘It’s cool to be a narco trafficker.'”

A new parable for our time?


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Posted by on Aug 4, 2012

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney

August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.

St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

 Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

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 May 7, 2011

Sharing in Divine Mercy

The second Sunday of Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening. He appeared among them, wished them Peace, showed them His wounds and asked for something to eat. Then He breathed on them, the breath of the Holy Spirit,  and told them to forgive sins. He told them to continue the work He had begun, taking the Good News of God’s love out to all the world.

When I was growing up, the message of this Gospel’s story of the granting of power to forgive sin was generally presented in terms of the power of priest to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance (now more often known as Reconciliation). However, as I listened to the Gospel proclamation last Sunday, the Good News I heard was of the gift given to all of us as followers and disciples of Jesus – the power to forgive those who hurt us in some way.

Forgiveness does not come easily to anyone. When hurts come along, it’s often much more satisfying to plot revenge, or bask in a stew of martyred pouting or otherwise hold on to the hurt. But Jesus knew something we often miss. The one most hurt, the one most diminished, the one who suffers most from such behavior is the one who engages in it! Perhaps that is why He was so quick to forgive those who had abandoned and denied Him just a few days earlier.

As we live our calling as followers of Jesus, we share the task of bringing forgiveness, reconciliation and peace to our families, communities, nations and world. Anything that stands in the way of this mission is to be suspect. We can’t forgive through our own power. Some wounds are just too deep for our human ability to heal. But Jesus is with us and He can heal them if we are willing to open them to His touch. And as we receive healing, we are called to pass it on, so that the waves of forgiveness and healing at last embrace all the people of the world. It’s truly a noble calling.

Peace be with you.

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Posted by on Mar 9, 2011

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Ash Wednesday: Spiritual R & R – Reconciliation and Renewal

Receiving the Ashes in the Sign of the Cross

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. It tends to be a day when people think about what they are going to give up in preparation for Easter. Fasting can be seen as a convenient type of dieting. Almsgiving can be reduced to cleaning out the closets.

However, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are ancient practices in societies and religions all across the world. They are ways to produce altered states of consciousness and encounters with the divine. In the Christian tradition they are part of the “via negativa” or negative way. Generally, we tend to see this type of deprivation against the historical backdrop of hermits in the desert rejecting the “flesh” of worldly temptation and indulgence. Of course this conflicts with our consumer culture of comfort and instant gratification. It also conflicts with a more positive psychological model in which the focus on human weakness is replaced with a focus on human self-fulfillment and actualization.

In the secular model of well being, human and social limitations can be overcome by refocusing our attention and modifying our behavior. Hammering down our feeling and emotions – especially sexual ones – is sometimes seen as harming mental health. By denying our interior tensions and conflicts, we can fail to confront the real challenges we should be facing in our psychological development.

Lent itself is an old word for Spring – that time when the world comes to life again. The “via negativa,” the more traditional model of asceticism (an interesting Greek word for athletic training), and the contemporary model of self affirmation are not really opposed. They can actually be healthy correctives. If we focus exclusively on restraining ourselves we not only ignore opportunities for growth, we can also ignore what God is calling us to do. Focusing only on my needs and self-fulfillment can also lead to such an inward narcissistic self-absorbed focus that we cut ourselves off from true happiness.

In subsequent posts, as we journey through Lent, I will share with you some more reflections on being happy, holy, and healthy. This is a wonderful season for reconciliation with ourselves and others and a time of renewal for our call to serve and to engage in the coming of the Kingdom – the age of justice.

So.. what am I going to get for Lent?

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Posted by on Aug 5, 2008

Pablo Escobar, Jr and The Parable of the Merciful Son

Saint of the Day – St. John Vianney: August 4

St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney (1786-1859) was the parish priest of the village of Ars and is known primarily by that title even in English, “The Cure d’Ars”. Canonized in 1925 St. John Vianney is the patron of parish priests. In many respects he is a thoroughly modern saint.

He was born into the midst of the French Revolution and into a devout rural family who worshiped in secret with outlaw priests who refused to become state functionaries. The upheaval of the revolution closed schools, hospitals, and other institutions. For the first time in human history, the state asserted itself without religion as it destroyed the old Catholic order – the Ancien Regime. The “Goddess of Reason” was enthroned in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Priests, nuns, and the Catholic nobility were killed, forced into hiding or exiled.

After the revolution subsided, Napoleon attempted to gain complete control of the Church in France and even took control of the Papal States, removing the Pope from Rome and bringing most of the Cardinals to Paris. In 1812 Napoleon’s fall began with the disastrous retreat from Russia in winter. The Industrial Revolution would follow, ending forever the cultural matrix of European Christianity.

St. John Vianney’s 73 years of life would span the trauma of the ending of the Divine Right of Kings to the rise of the rights of the common man. He would become emblematic of a Catholicism redefining itself, as it was torn from the 1,500 years of prerogatives and burdens of its affiliation with the state dating from the reign of the Emperor Constantine.

St. John Vianney began by re-asserting the centrality of God in his own life and supporting those in the parish who still practiced the faith. It is important to note that his vocation was in itself something of a miracle. Due to the upheaval of the times, he had no formal education until he was 20 and had great difficulty with Latin. To make matters worse, he got drafted by Napoleon and ended up as a deserter in hiding. An unlikely amnesty made it possible for him to return to his studies. If there hadn’t been such a severe shortage of priests, it is possible that he would never have been ordained.

His personal example of holiness in terms of his prayer and his charity to all made a deep impression. Sunday had become just another workday. Taverns were places of dissolution and much of the social order had broken down. “Dances” were part of a wild party scene involving promiscuity and adultery. Orphans and the disabled were exploited and left to fend for themselves. Over several decades, he led a movement to remedy these problems and to encourage religious devotion, while promoting service to others.

When the bishop attempted to assign St. John Vianney to other parishes, the community protested until the bishop relented. By our standards, his personal acts of penance and mortification, his meager diet, and short hours of sleep, appear to be excessive and even harsh. Reports that he was assaulted by the Devil at night strike us as bizarre, maybe even pathological. Yet they were witnessed by men in the parish who came when they heard the commotion.

Interestingly, he was not severe with his parishoners or penitents in the confessional. In fact, he was known for having won over a prominent woman who was a Jansenist and led her from a severe and demanding conception of God.

Not all of his fellow priests agreed with his approach or pastoral style. In fact, we might say that his special gifts in his historical circumstances may have created the ideal of the parish priest as a solitary super hero, like the desert fathers or the anchorites of the early Church. This calling is something one can respond to, but it cannot be fabricated and put on like a suit. Fr. John Cihak, in “St. John Vianney’s Pastoral Plan”, helps us understand how his example can guide parish priests today.

There is one major factor that is alluded to in the wonder of St. John Vianney’s life and ministry, but it is especially important for all of us who are parishioners today. God worked extensively in the life and ministry of St. John Vianney through his family, those who sheltered him as a deserter, and the people of Ars. Whether the pastor is single or married, the position is one of the most exposed and the most lonely. In denominations with a married clergy, and in the case of Eastern Rite Catholic priests and Latin Rite Catholic deacons, the spouses and children of clergy have a special opportunity and burden that only we can support by our prayers, understanding, and kindness toward them.

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Posted by on Aug 23, 2007

Harden Not Your Heart

Many years ago I was teaching a 5th and 6th grade religious education class (otherwise known as CCD in Catholic circles). It was a lively group of children, many of whom were quite outspoken. We gathered weekly in a church hall after their regular school day. I always let them move around a bit, talk with each other and work on a cross stitch project while I was getting the space ready for our class. It helped them transition into the time we would spend together. It also helped them get to know each other, because they came from four or five different schools.

One particular day, a very lively, expressive girl, I’ll call her Marcie, decided that she didn’t like something I had said in greeting or in calling the group together. I don’t remember now what it was, but none of the other children thought anything of it.

When I called the children to gather in a circle for our opening prayer verse and song, Marcie joined the circle but faced away from the rest of us, towards the outside, saying she wasn’t going to be part of the group because she didn’t like what I had said.

It’s not often that a teacher gets such a perfect example handed her on a platter, so I shamelessly moved ahead and used it! We were, after all, studying the sacraments, including Reconciliation, that year. I asked the other children to look at Marcie and notice what she was doing. She had chosen not to be part of the group and had turned away from us. We had not turned from her. None of us had rejected her in any way. It was her choice to turn away and would be her choice to turn back to join the group. That is the way it is between us and God. God never turns away from us. We may choose to turn from God — and we are the ones who can choose to turn back at any time. God will never force us to act in either direction. It’s entirely up to each of us.

And what did Marcie do while I was speaking? Before I finished the first sentence, she had turned back to the group and was apologizing to all of them for giving me the chance to make a “religion” lesson out of what she had done. They were quick to make her feel at ease again.

I remembered Marcie and that day today as we prayed the Psalm at Mass. “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.” (Ps 95:7-8) God’s voice calls us. I hope we can respond as quickly as Marcie and the other children did to join the circle listening to His voice.

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