Saturday, December 21, 2013

We Are All Called to be Holy Families

            One of the really great things about being a deacon is that we can be married and have a family. Wanda and I have been a family for 46 years. Over the years our family grew into sons and daughters and grandchildren and in-laws.  It also grew to include several cats and a wonderful little beagle named Kate.
            When I was ordained a deacon my family grew again to include the members of our parish, and all those with whom I minister in psychiatric hospitals, in spiritual direction, and in support groups. I have been blessed to know and live the meaning of family.
            On December 29th we will be celebrating the Holy Family. We look at the family of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and see the ideal of what every family should strive to be: a relationship based on mutual love, respect and trust. And today, in the third millennium, we recognize that there are many types of families. There is the nuclear family, and the extended family; the work family, and the parish family; and many variations of each. Wherever there is a human relationship built on love, there is a family. And whenever that love is unconditional, there is a holy family.
            Throughout his preaching Jesus calls us to love and forgive each other as God loves and forgives is – unconditionally without any strings. He calls us to never close the door of our heart to another person, even when another’s heart has been closed to us. Jesus calls us to be a holy family to one another. We are all called to be holy families, despite the drama and dysfunction we sometimes find ourselves mired in; despite the mistakes we inevitably make; despite the hurts and scars we bear and sometimes inflict. We don’t have to be perfect. We just can never give up, never stop loving, never stop reaching out.
            On this upcoming feast of the Holy Family, in this season of Christmas, let us examine the relationships, the families that we are, or once were, part of. Let us reopen any locked doors in our hearts and take the first step to reach out across the house, across the miles, across the years, even beyond the grave to heal any relationships that have been broken.
            With the grace of our loving God in our hearts, we can be that holy family we are called to be.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent: A Reminder That It Is We Who Are On Our Way Back Home To God . . .

December 1st is the first day of Advent. Traditionally we have seen Advent as a time of waiting for God to come to us. But Advent is really a reminder that it is we who are on our way back home to God; and that when our time on earth comes to an end, we will have to account for what we did and what we failed to do along the way.

The readings and gospels during Advent call us to wake up, to snap out of it and pay attention to our own readiness to stand before God. In the first reading on December 1st, the Prophet Isaiah tells us to put away the weapons of anger and bitterness and to walk in the light of the Lord. In the second reading Saint Paul tells us to awake from sleep, to stop kidding ourselves, lying to ourselves about what’s important in life, and to throw off the works of darkness. In Saint Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls us to remember and not repeat the mistakes of the people in Noah’s time. They were so preoccupied with their own wants and needs; they didn’t believe anything bad would ever happen, that they would ever be called to account. And then one day out of nowhere the flood came and wiped out their work, their preoccupations and their lives.

The Church uses the readings and gospels during Advent to help us recognize the transitory nature of much of what preoccupies and consumes us. None of it will last. This doesn’t mean that we become piously detached from everyday life and its responsibilities. We can still plow the fields and commute to work; we can still grind the flour and raise our families. But we can do all this in a mindful way that carries God’s love and mercy into all the circles of our life.

While most of what preoccupies and consumes us will not last, the one thing that will last is love. Throughout the gospel Jesus tells us that we must love and forgive others unconditionally: this includes those who are most in need, and those whom we may not like very much, and even those whom we have a hard time forgiving or embracing. This is the measure against which we will be held accountable.

Advent is our reminder that one day when we least expect it, we will stand before God to account for how much we really did love and forgive other people. Let’s not be like those people in the time of Noah. Let’s stay awake and be ready for that day. There can be no unfinished business.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Jesus said, "All that you see here — the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone.”Will you and I be ready to face that day when it comes?

Next weekend we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday in the Liturgical calendar and it marks the end of the Church year. The Church has been preparing us for this over the last few weeks with readings and gospels that speak about the last days, the end of time as we know it. 

We can look at today’s gospel as a prophecy about the end of the world. We can see it as foretelling a cataclysmic moment in human history when the righteous will be swept up to heaven in rapture, and the not-so-righteous will be swallowed up into hell. Or, we can see it as a wake up call, a reminder that, through our Baptism, each one of us has been hired by Jesus to be a construction worker, a builder, of the Kingdom of God — and time is running out.

No one knows how and when the world will end. What we do know is that time, our own unique individual time, will end some day. The end of the world will come for each of us at the moment we cross the threshold of life into death. And when our end time does come, we will be asked to account for what we did with the precious time we were given.

I believe that when we die each one of us will sit alone in a little room with God and watch the movie of our life. And in that movie we will see where we loved and where we failed to love. And sitting there next to God, the source of all goodness and love, we will judge ourselves on how much we loved, really loved; how much we forgave, really forgave; how much we helped others to find goodness and wholeness and healing in their own lives, their own unique circumstances.

The Church, in preparing us for the end of the year with these readings, is helping us call to mind our own mortality, our own inevitable end time. None of us knows how much time we have left. Each new morning, as we open our eyes, God gives us 1,440 brand new minutes to use. We can use them with love to heal our world and cherish our relationships with others; or we can waste them in bitterness and anger.

The great thing about the end of the Church year and the reminder about the end times, is that we still do have time — time to love, time to forgive, time to come outside of ourselves and be present to others. We have this gift of time to fix whatever is still broken in our lives; to heal any damaged relationships; to make ourselves whole.

Like Jesus says in today's gospel, "All that you see here — the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone." We don't know when the end of the world will come; but we do know that it will come for each of us. And when that day does come, all that will remain for eternity is the love we gave while we still had time.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18: 9-14           
Jesus told this parable to those who thought they were very righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up front by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get to the temple.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus has a way of turning our preconceived notions upside down. Over the past few months we’ve heard a couple of gospels that have ended with an unexpected twist. We heard how a priest and a Levite, the Jewish equivalent of a deacon, crossed the street to avoid helping a man who had been beaten unconscious by robbers and left to die in the gutter. It took a Samaritan, a resident from the wrong side of the tracks, a despised foreigner from a tribe that proper Jewish society looked down upon as a bunch of ungodly social outcasts, to stop and treat the wounded man with compassion and love. Jesus tells us that this Samaritan, this despised social outcast, was much closer to God than the priest or the deacon.
Then we heard how a local religious leader, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to his home for dinner, but failed to welcome and offer him with the customary courtesy of a washcloth to clean the dust of the street off his feet. It took an uninvited prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Jesus tells us that this prostitute was much closer to God than the local religious leader.
The above gospel, about the Pharisee and the tax collector, also ends with a counter-intuitive twist. We would expect a parable about a piously scrupulous churchman and a greedy and dishonest public official to end with the churchman as a role model, but not so. Jesus tells us that it was this tax collector and not the churchman who went home justified in God’s eyes.
Who were these two people, the Pharisee and the tax collector? It helps to take a look at their background. The Pharisees were members of a sect within Judaism. They were looked upon as role models of piety. They believed in following every single religious rule and regulation to the letter. The tax collectors back then were not like IRS workers today. They were often wealthy men who purchased the right to collect taxes from local residents. They did this in a brutal and exploitative manner adding hefty commissions for themselves. They were hated as cruel and dishonest agents of the Roman occupying power.
The Pharisee in this parable is not praying with sincerity. He’s not even really praying to God but rather boasting and trying to reinforce his own self-esteem by judging and trashing someone else. The tax collector, in contrast, sits with his head buried in his hands, in the back of the temple examining his own conscience and humbly asking God for mercy.
Jesus uses this parable to show us how God wants a humble and contrite heart, and how self-righteousness and being judgmental of others really drives us away from God.
The above gospel puts a question to each of us: Am I like that Pharisee? Do I judge others whose lifestyles, marital status, or choices are different from mine? Or who vote differently than I do? Or who prioritize different moral issues? Are there times when I am tempted to look down on others; to feel that I am morally superior or closer to God than others; to think that another person is unworthy to call himself or herself a Christian, unfit to receive Holy Communion?
We cannot know what’s in the heart of another person. We cannot judge another’s relationship with God. We can only sit before God with our own humble and contrite heart.
This gospel also offers great consolation to us. There is nothing that we can ever do that will make God stop loving us. No matter what we’ve done in the past, no matter what sins we’ve committed or how bad we think we are God accepts our humble and contrite heart.
God is merciful and unconditionally loving. God calls us to love each other in the same way. In the end, this will be the only thing that really matters.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Harvest is Abundant in Everyday Life

      Throughout the four Gospels we hear Jesus telling his disciples, and through them us, to go out and cure the sick, cleanse lepers, drive out demons and raise the dead. But what the Gospel writers left out was the part about raising our kids, cherishing our spouse, doing our best at our job, and being present to our relatives and friends and the people we serve.
      Curing the sick and driving out demons are valuable skills, especially in today’s economy. But serving God as a sister, a priest, a brother or a deacon are also wonderful and loving vocations. No less wonderful, no less loving, however, are the vocations of being a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend. Our vocation in life is right where we are, right where God has planted us.
      It takes faith to cure the sick, and courage to drive out demons. But it takes faith, courage, love, and stamina to raise a child to adulthood; to be a lifelong best friend and sweetheart to a spouse; to be a loving relative, friend, worker, or boss. These are the vocations in which God has planted us. The harvest of our vocation is abundant. That harvest is love.
      Yes, curing the sick and driving out demons are spectacular achievements. But channeling God’s love in everything we do and in every relationship we have, that’s a vocation.
      My sisters and brothers, the harvest is abundant in our everyday life.

Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, June 17, 2013

“If anyone wishes to come after me, that person must take up his or her cross and follow me.” Luke 9: 23

      I have a dear friend. His name is Tom and he’s only 51 years old. Tom and I worked together for ten years at a large medical center in the northeast. Being around Tom always made the rest of us in the IT department happy. He never took himself too seriously. He was always looking on the bright side of life, and he loved to make us laugh.
      A few weeks before this passed Easter, Tom went to the emergency room with severe pain in his side. A week later, after several scans and blood tests, Tom was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable pancreatic cancer. He was given less than eight months to live. Tom spent Easter Sunday with my wife and me and we have been spending a lot of time together since then.
      Tom is very organized. He has been going through and cataloging all the memorabilia from his life, from his kindergarten report cards to hundreds of photos of him with his parents and all the places he has visited on vacation. He has made plans and paid for his funeral, his cremation and the spreading of his ashes in the same sea where his mom and dad were laid to rest six years ago. He has selected the liturgy and readings for his funeral Mass and asked me to preach the homily.
      Tom shared with me that he doesn’t question or blame God for his terminal illness. He doesn’t believe that God made him ill or willed his cancer. In Tom’s own words, “God doesn’t make these things happen. They just happen; we are only guests on the journey of life.”
      I have been privileged and blessed to witness the degree of trust Tom has in God. He is carrying his cross and following Christ with courage and love. My friend Tom is teaching me about real faith.
      Life is a gift and it is beautiful. But sometimes life doesn’t make sense; there is chaos, there is darkness; bad things happen. Sometimes, no matter how good we are, how loving; no matter how hard we try; we cannot escape the pain and contradictions of human existence.  The symbol of our faith is itself a contradiction — the cross, two opposing beams of wood made from the tree of life, yet used to torture and destroy life — and in the center of the contradiction we find God in human form.
      But the message of the cross is hope. It tells us that we are not alone, that God is with us in the chaos and the darkness; he is present in the pain, the loss, the suffering; he is there at the center of the contradiction, the center of the cross. And some day, once we are free of the constraints of human existence and the limitations of human understanding, it will all make sense: there will be a happy ending - or more truly, a happy beginning with God for all eternity. The cross is our promise of that from God; it is our answer to the problem of suffering and evil in the world; it is our receipt for God’s love.
      We all have our own personal cross to carry, maybe more than one. Let us continue to do so with courage and faith, like my friend Tom, at peace in the knowledge that God is always with us at the center of our cross, holding our hand, loving us, leading us safely home.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Embracing the Blessed Trinity

            May 26th is Trinity Sunday, the day that we acknowledge and celebrate the central mystery of our faith: a mystery that we can never hope to fully understand in our heads, just to know and embrace in our hearts.
            When I was a young boy in Catholic school back in the Bronx, I was dazed and confused about the Blessed Trinity. Were there three Gods? Was there one God with three faces? The Dominican Sisters who taught us were wonderful. With patience and love and above all faith, they taught us to celebrate, if not to fully understand, God’s three-dimensional relationship with humanity.
           They tried diagramming the Trinity on the blackboard. But I couldn’t grasp it. They used Saint Patrick’s metaphor of  “the shamrock” to show how God can be three in one, and one in three. They gave us the analogy of the Trinity as candle, flame, and light. But I just didn’t get it.
            Though I couldn’t, and still can’t, use logic to explain the Trinity, I have come to know and embrace it as truth in my heart. I owe this in part to two great saints, Augustine and John.
            Saint Augustine was a doctor of the Church and one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time. He wrote that for many years he was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the mystery and to be able to use logic to explain it.
            One day he was walking along the seashore struggling to figure it out. Suddenly, he saw a little child sitting alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand and ran down to the ocean with a tiny, little cup. She filled the cup with seawater, ran back and emptied it into the hole she had dug in the sand. Back and forth over and over; she ran down to the ocean, filled her cup, ran back and poured it into the hole.
            Augustine finally stopped her, “Little girl, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” Exasperated, Augustine asked her, “How do you think that you can empty this enormous ocean into this tiny little hole with this tiny little cup?” With love in her eyes she answered him, “And you, Augustine, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.
            While Saint Augustine helps us to embrace the mystery of the Trinity with faith, Saint John gives us a framework built around love. In his first letter in the New Testament, Saint John writes, “Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love.”
            God is love. And from that love God created us. On Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge and celebrate our God as Creator of the universe, Creator of you and me, Creator and source of all goodness and love; our God who knew each and every one of us by name eons before we were born; our God who gave us the gift of life and loves us unconditionally. We acknowledge and celebrate our Creator God as a loving Father for all of us.
            God is love. And from that love God redeemed us. On Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge and celebrate our God as Redeemer and Savior of the human race; our God who loves us so deeply that he took human form and came into our time and space to rescue us from our mistakes, and to redeem us by example; our God who chose to ride the bus of life with us, to live, laugh, weep, suffer and die with us; our God who was born a baby in a manger, wept at Gethsemane, and died on a cross just to save us and show us the way to get home. We acknowledge and celebrate our Redeemer God as Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, Savior and Brother for all of us.
            God is love. And from that love God sanctifies us. On Trinity Sunday, we acknowledge and celebrate our God as the Sanctifier of all living things. Like a universe-wide web of love, God’s Holy Spirit echoes the redeeming love of Christ and sanctifies us, over and over again with grace, so that we in turn can be instruments of God’s love and healing for our world. We acknowledge and celebrate our Sanctifier God as the Holy Spirit, the personification of the love that flows between the Father and the Son, the love of God that permeates every corner of the universe.
            God loves us so much. He created us as God the Father. God loves us so much. He became one of us and saved us as God the Son. God loves us so much. He remains with us forever and ever as God the Holy Spirit.
            God is Love. The Blessed Trinity is a relationship of Love. God calls each and every one of us into that relationship. As Jesus told us, the window, the doorway, the hole in the sand through which we enter into that relationship is real pretty simple: it is love – love of God and love of neighbor.

            In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .

Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life
Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Sunday, March 10, 2013


            There is a special kind of service that comes from the heart. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, diakonia. It is the root of the English adjective diaconal and the noun deacon. We Christians are called to be a diaconal people: a people in loving service to God and to our neighbor.
            The role model for deacons and for all baptized Christians is the Servant Christ. Jesus, as he is depicted in the gospel for Holy Thursday, sets the example of how we are called to live our lives. At the end of that Gospel, after he has washed the feet of his friends, Jesus tells them that he has given them a model to follow: “As I have done for you, you should also do.”
            It’s not just the symbolic act of washing the feet of another; it’s not just the act of serving. It’s that very special service that comes from the heart - diakonia – that we are called to.
            Real diakonia, genuine loving service, needs to be freely given to everyone. Not just to our loved ones but also to those who have hurt us deeply; also to those who act and live in ways we find hard to understand; also to those who have turned away from God and from all human goodness.
            This is what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies: If we only love those who love us, what great thing is that? But if we love, genuinely love, those who hurt us, that is the real deal. And Jesus is the realest deal that ever was or ever will be.
            We all know the Holy Thursday gospel story; we all have the image of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. What many people miss, however, is the presence of Judas, the person who hurt and betrayed Jesus. Judas is not excluded - Jesus washes his feet with the same loving service he extends to the others.
          As Lent comes to an end, as we prepare to meet the Risen Christ, let us examine our lives, and reach out - like Jesus - with forgiveness and loving service to those who have hurt us, even if it’s not reciprocated. Perhaps the greatest Lenten gift we can offer to God will be to reach out to those with whom we are estranged and reopen the doors and the windows of our hearts.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Letting Go of Our Baggage

Luke 5: 2, 4 – 6, 8
Jesus saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets . . . He said to Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Peter answered and said, “Master, we have worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as you say and lower my net one more time.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets were filled to capacity.
            “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but I will do as you say and lower my net one more time.”
            Saint Peter must have been pretty discouraged and depressed. He and his crew had been fishing all night and didn’t have as much as a goldfish to show for it. Tired, empty and feeling like failures, they climb out of their boat and drag themselves and their nets to the shore.
            As they finish washing their nets, they notice Jesus standing on the beach smiling at them. He tells them to put their disappointment, their discouragement, their self-criticism, aside; he tells them to let go of their emptiness and negativity, and to trust him enough to try one more time. He tells them to put out into the deep and lower their nets. And once they take this leap of faith, the emptiness and the negativity disappear, and their nets become filled to capacity.
            Some of us may have dragged ourselves out of bed this morning, like Peter and his crew, carrying emptiness and negativity in our hearts: maybe the loss of a loved one, or a relationship, or a job; maybe some bad results back from a biopsy; maybe some anger, guilt or hurt that we’ve been carrying around for many years.
            But despite that emptiness and negativity we still clicked on this blog. And Jesus speaks to us through the above Gospel. He tells us to never give up; to trust him enough to put out into the deep of life and lower our nets one more time; to let go of any anger, guilt, hurt or self-doubt that haunts us so that we can be filled to capacity with God’s unconditional love.
            “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but I will do as you say and lower my net one more time.”
            As we walk through this day of life, let us hear Jesus calling us. And let us have faith like Peter to say ‘yes’, to trust Jesus enough to put out into the deep of life and lower our nets one more time. It is our ‘yes’, our willingness to let go of our baggage that will make all the difference.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry