Tuesday, December 31, 2019


For all but a few of us, most New Year's resolutions get packed away with the last of the Christmas decorations. By Epiphany our behavior and the whole New Year are just as tarnished as they were before January 1st.

The problem with most of our resolutions is that they are too safe, too sensible and too self-centered. We resolve to make tiny cosmetic changes in our lifestyles -- but refuse to consider restructuring our lives and changing the paradigms by which we live. Saint Luke's single story about the boy Jesus offers us an example of what it would mean if we were to transform our lives by making the ultimate resolution, the mother of all New Year's resolutions, the resolution that ends all resolutions -- to declare that from this day forward we will be "about our Father's business."

Joseph and Mary, their friends, neighbors and relatives, all made the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. But as soon as the allotted time for the holiday was over, they hit the road -- anxious to get back to all the chores and responsibilities that filled their lives. Joseph, a craftsman working with stone and wood, undoubtedly had projects awaiting his attention. Mary would have had the hundreds of time-consuming tasks it took to keep her family fed and clothed. Like most of us at the end of an extended vacation, they were probably looking forward to getting back to the comfortable familiarity of their own hearth and home.

But the young Jesus refuses to let his relationship with God be regulated according to some prearranged, culturally imposed schedule. Instead of going along with the return-to-business-as-usual attitude, Jesus answered the most important call of all -- to be about his Father's business.

What would it mean if we were to act in a similar fashion? What would it mean to live, not according to human expectations or cultural patterns, but according to what God required of us? What does it mean to be about God's business, rather than other people's business, or even other people's definition of God's business? Jesus discovered at this early age that answering God's expectations can get you in trouble -- even with your own family. In fact, focusing on God's business may put an unexpected crimp in the family business."

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Holy Family

When we speak of the Holy Family, we speak of a family that struggled and suffered, like so many of us.

But, this family also knew profound hope.
They trusted completely in God. They call all of us to that kind of trust. And they stand with us. In our own time, they stand beside all who worry, who struggle, who search, who pray.

The Holy Family stands beside parents anxious about their children, worrying for their welfare. They walk with immigrants and refugees separated from those they love. They walk with teenage mothers and single parents. They console the prisoner, the outcast, the bullied, the scorned — and the parents who love them. And they offer solace and compassion to any mother or father grieving over the loss of a child.

This Christmas, they weep with the parents of Newtown and Sandy Hook. The Holy Family shares our burdens. But they also uplift us by their example. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were never alone. They endured through the grace of God.

They prayed. They trusted. They hoped. And in all that, they found peace and strength.
We might ask ourselves where we can find that peace, that strength, in our own families, in our own lives.

We find an answer in Paul’s beautiful letter to the Colossians.
This passage that we hear today is sometimes read at weddings. Like Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, it speaks eloquently of love.

But Paul wasn’t writing about romantic love. This letter we hear today is about how to form a healthy and holy Christian community. And from his words, we can draw lessons about how to form a healthy and holy Christian family. Put on compassion, Paul tells us. Kindness. Lowliness. Meekness. Patience. Forgiveness. And love.

It is all that simple — and all that difficult. I’m sure the Holy Family had moments when living those virtues seemed hard, or even impossible. But they did things most of us don’t. They listened to angels. They dreamed.

And they gave themselves fully to God.

They made of their lives a prayer.

If you find yourselves overwhelmed, just look toward the crèche. There is our model for living: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Those three people were often overwhelmed, too. Yet, in a time of anxiety and difficulty, persecution and tragedy—a time very much like our own–they showed us how to be people of faith, people of forgiveness, people of love.

They showed us, very simply, how to be holy.

H/T The Deacon's Bench

Holy Family

H/T to The Deacon's Bench for this video story.

It take 12 minutes to watch this beautiful video about a remarkable teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, Jeffrey Wright. It is inspiring to encounter during the Feast of the Holy Family. Here is love, pure love.

Parental advisory: keep a Kleenex nearby and be prepared to hug your kids like crazy. Then be prepared to watch it again and send it to everyone you know.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Sunday Word

The Feast of the Holy Family

No matter how broken, how guilty, how unforgiving we are of even ourselves, God forgives and he loves. Even in failure he is there for us and in Him we can go on. We are unique and our relationships are also, but at the same time some things are alike. I’m sure parents of adolescents can identify with the disappearing Jesus and the “where were you?” “what were you doing?” The typical answer is “nothing!” So today we see a short glimpse of the “Holy Family” even they had some foibles. But God is perfect and He gives a lot of forgiveness and love.

Therein lies the real basis of a family and relationships. To commit to each other requires love and patience and forgiveness but all that is always in God. He has to be the foundation for family. The commitment of two people requires that they give themselves freely to the other. God is discovered in this way and a couple grows and shares and spreads that love.

We see that kind of love in the Gospel today. Mary and Joseph’s relationship was certainly unique and they had the most unique special needs child in history. Imagine their dilemma between letting go and protectiveness. His “Father’s business” and growing up. The angel told them they would have a son but they had to figure the rest out themselves. Like all of us they did their best. I suppose that today we are celebrating their best. God is good to us what further needs do we have?

Friday, December 27, 2019


"God is my salvation ... my strength and my might; he has become my salvation."

John the Baptist didn't have a sweet and soothing message for those who were waiting for the Messiah, and we can't expect this season to be any more comfortable for us than it was for stable-bound Joseph, Mary and their baby boy. Since the time of Christ, children have been thrust into dirty, dangerous and desperate situations. Jesus was born in a war zone, one in which the carnage was catastrophic. Herod's "Slaughter of the Innocents" caused the daughters of Rachel to weep with inconsolable grief. The Holy Family, homeless and no visible means of support, fled to safety in Egypt and lived as aliens with their child in a strange land.

"God is my salvation ... my strength and my might; he has become my salvation."

Thursday, December 26, 2019


Christmas means we have been surprised by God.

Sometimes, like Herod, we are surprised by fear.

Sometimes, like the Magi, we are surprised by wisdom from the ordinary.

Other times, like Mary, we are surprised by angels unaware.

Many times, like the shepherds, we are surprised by joy.

But always, like planet earth on that silent night long, but not that long ago, we are surprised by a God who is full of surprises. Are we open to receiving God's surprises, which are around the corner of every hour of every day?

The love of Christ: That is the source of all Christmas surprises and true Christmas joy. It is the simple center of the holy day/holiday which has become increasingly elusive as our festivities have become more frenzied and our lives more frantic.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019


Christmas marks the moment when, in order for our relationship with him to be restored, God sent his Son into the world so that we could have forgiveness, a fresh start, and membership in the family of God. Connecting with God required a costly death.

Truly relating, really connecting with those around us, will require a death as well. It might be the death of your pride, of your comfort zone, of your expectations or demands, of your perfect schedule, of your desire for somebody else to go first, or of your need for someone to see your side and say "you're right." What will have to die in order for you to do some costly connecting?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Christmas marks the moment when, in order for our relationship with him to be restored, God sent his Son into the world so that we could have forgiveness, a fresh start, and membership in the family of God. Connecting with God required a costly death.

Truly relating, really connecting with those around us, will require a death as well. It might be the death of your pride, of your comfort zone, of your expectations or demands, of your perfect schedule, of your desire for somebody else to go first, or of your need for someone to see your side and say "you're right." What will have to die in order for you to do some costly connecting?

The Last days

Advent does not lead to nervous tension stemming from expectation of something spectacular about to happen. On the contrary, it leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing me to realize that he for whom I am waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of my heart.
Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth, but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in my life slowly and steadily and be received as the one I learned to know while waiting.
—Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (Crown, 2013).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The final days of Advent

Advent is about the many ways in which the Lord comes. 

 He came historically at Bethlehem in the fullness of time. In the liturgical year he comes to us sacramentally. He will come again at the end of the world as Judge of the living and the dead. Christ comes to us also in the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ Mass and, in a special way in Holy Communion. He comes in the person of the priest, who is alter Christus, another Christ. He comes in the words of Holy Scripture. He also comes in the person of our neighbor, especially those who are in need of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The advent symbol

During Advent, John the Baptist has been reminding us in the liturgy to "make straight His paths". When we come to the Lord in death, or He comes to us in His Second Coming, He will make straight the path whether we have during our earthly lives done our best to straighten it ahead of time or not. Let us now, while we may, make straight the paths by which Christ Jesus comes.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christ's home on earth

I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant: We are beggars, it’s true. The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letter to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer,” December 1, 1943, in God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Westminster John Knox, 2012), 6.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Marianist Monday

Advent/Christmas/New Year’s 2019 – 2020

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

Sacred Scripture seems to hold mountains in high regard. Consider, for example, these passages from the book of Isaiah:

“In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All the nations shall stream toward it; many people shall come and say, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths.” (Isaiah 2: 1 – 3)

“The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them . . . There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11: 6)
“On this holy mountain, the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples, a feast of rich food and choice wines.” (Isaiah 25: 6)

Unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a fan of mountains. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly like to admire their beauty from afar. But climbing mountains – well, that’s another story entirely.

I think I was traumatized back in the summer of 1967. I was only eleven years old at the time. My family was driving back to Long Island, coming home from a vacation in Quebec City and Montreal, Canada. My dad was a member of the New York State Assembly at the time, and an environmentalist group had convinced him to spend the night at Mount Marcy Adirondack Lodge, which, as far as I was concerned, was located in the middle of nowhere. We arrived just shy of midnight (very scary – lots of wild animals growling and howling in the night) and woke up bright and early the next morning to join naturalist Bob on a trek up the foothills of Mount Marcy. Somewhere in the Balletta family albums, there’s a photo of my brother and me – frowning, exhausted, drenched in perspiration. We were not happy campers!

About twenty years later, my dear friend Bro. Ryszard Decowski persuaded me to go hiking with him at Harriman State Park – against my better judgment. We were climbing up what was, in reality, a beginner’s trail but what seemed to me more like Mount Kilimanjaro. Near the top, we came to a rock ledge that we had to scale in order to reach the summit. I froze in fear. I looked down: a sheer drop along a craggy rock wall led to certain death! Ahead of me: a rough-hewn trail that afforded this city-streets-lover no possible foothold! I had nowhere that I could go, and the narrow path behind me was already filling with more experienced and now impatient hikers who were ready to ascend to the summit.

To make a long story short, Bro. Rysz made it to the top, and, with a mixture of awe and encouragement in his voice, shouted out, “Steve, you gotta come up here. You can see the New York City skyline from here. You won’t believe it!” Well, with that, I scrambled up the rest of the trail, found firm footing, and beheld a spectacular view of my beloved Manhattan. I had accessed my inner Sir Edmund Hillary, and I was richly rewarded.

And that brings me to the point of this reflection: You gotta climb the mountain. By that, I don’t mean the high peaks of all fifty states, or of the world over (although, if you can, more power to you). No, I mean that we have to climb the spiritual mountains in our lives. The going may get rough. The climb may prove arduous at times. But we gotta keep climbing. How else will we experience the rewards of the summit? How else will we reach the heights for which we were created by God? How else shall we taste of the great banquet that the Lord has provided for us on His holy mountain?

My fear is that it’s easy to become discouraged and to stop climbing, even to return to base camp.
Remember C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce? The title might lead the unsuspecting reader to think Lewis’ novel is about marital difficulties, but it’s not at all. Instead, it’s about the chasm between heaven and hell, which Lewis dubs “the Grey Town.” As the plot unfolds, we follow the travels of a dozen or so people who take an imaginary bus ride from “the Grey Town” to “the Valley of the Shadow of Life,” where they are urged by the Spirits they meet to climb the “Mountain of the Lord” and, there, find God.

Sadly, most elect to go back to the bus stop and return to “the Grey Town.” Resentment; self-righteousness; anger; envy and jealousy; sloth; superiority and its soft underbelly, inferiority, all prevent most of the passengers from making the climb. Ultimately, they prefer the comfort and familiarity of “the Grey Town,” dreary and colorless as it may be.

Might we be like those passengers on the return bus trip back to “the Grey Town”? In all aspects of our lives? Probably not. In some – perhaps persevering in prayer, attending Sunday Mass, repairing some important but now strained relationship, or kicking some bad habit – I would guess, for the vast majority of us, the answer is “yes.

That’s why we have to push ourselves to keep climbing.

As we lace up our hiking boots for the new year, maybe we ought to ask ourselves a few questions: In what areas of my life have I stopped climbing? Why have I done so? Why have I preferred the valley to the heights?

Have the comforts of the base camp become so alluring that I don’t want to expend the energy that climbing would require?

For those of us who are a bit older: In those areas of my life where I can no longer legitimately make the climb, do I encourage those who can? Do I offer the wisdom of a seasoned albeit now slower and weaker climber? Or, do I simmer in the resentment and cynicism of someone whom the climb has left bruised and battered, but not much better for it?

For the young: Am I patient and understanding of those who are huffing and puffing up the mountain, who are way behind me, but who are still, by God, making that climb?

And, perhaps most importantly, as family members, friends, and members of the Church, how can we encourage one another to keep climbing?

Fellow mountain climbers, our lives are decidedly not about resignation and stagnation. Ultimately, they are about hope, about aspirations, about climbing higher. And hope implies action – not frenetic activity – but steady, steadfast action – what we might call fidelity – because we believe – no, we know – that “God works all things together for the good for those who love him.” This is “the thrill of hope for which the weary world rejoices.” Let us hope, because, as St. Clement of Alexandria has warned us, “If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.”

And if the mountain seems to high, the incline too steep, the climb too arduous, our bodies too out-of-shape, and our souls too weary, let us remember that Jesus comes more than halfway down the mountain to meet us. That after all, is the meaning of the Incarnation, which we celebrate in this Christmas season. This is our faith; this is our hope. And our hope impels us to climb that mountain, the holy mountain of the Lord.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers: Advent Blessings, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year,

Bro. Stephen

P.S. REGISER NOW: Help My Unbelief,” A College-Age Alumni Men’s Retreat. Starts Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. and ends 3:00 p.m. the next day. Meribah Retreat House. 1904 Muttontown Road, Muttontown, NY 11791.
Sign up at www.provinceofmeribah.com/register

Sunday, December 15, 2019


Wrapped in Saint Luke’s gospel, the first Christmas carol sung is the one composed by a young mother named Mary who was suddenly expecting a child. It’s a song of praise to the Lord which we now know as the Magnificat, but it’s also a song that sets the stage for the mission that her divine and human Son will undertake.

Some scholars and theologians have seen Mary’s song as proof that she should be numbered among the biblical prophets because her song was composed “under a prophetic impulse.”

Others think that Saint Luke placed these words in the mouth of Mary as a way of introducing the themes of his Gospel and Jesus’ future ministry. If we assume the former, however, and we see her song as divinely inspired, then it’s not a stretch to see this as a song Mary repeatedly sang to her unborn child and, if so, to see it as an influence imprinted on him even before he emerged in a manger in Bethlehem.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

He has helped his servant...

The announcement of the Savior’s coming went all the way back into Israel’s history — all the way back to Abraham.

So Mary sings,

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

God promised Abraham that from his family, all the families of the world would be blessed. From that family came a nation called Israel, whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt and gave them a promised land. There, God established a king, David, and promised David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever and establish God’s justice and mercy and peace — God’s kingdom — for the whole world.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The time of waiting

The time of waiting was coming to an end, and all Mary could do was sing!

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she sings. Her song is designed to magnify, intensify, reflect and make brighter what God is doing through her son, God’s Son.

Indeed, God announces the imminent arrival of the Promised One to the very people who need to hear it most: the poor, the lowly, the broken and the marginalized — those who have no power.

Mary represents them as a young woman, barely perceived as a person in that patriarchal culture. She had no status and no prospects. With a common name, she was living in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

And yet, she sings: “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The favored one

We must remember that when the angel greeted Mary he addressed her as “favored one.”  Mary was the “favored” or blessed with the task of bearing the Messiah. Like her ancestor Abraham, God “favored” Mary, an ordinary girl in an ordinary place, and blessed her so that she might be a blessing to the world, a vital link in the covenant chain that God had begun with Abraham generations before.

We call her blessed because she blessed the world by saying “yes” to God: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

The blessing that God will work through her will come by way of the Son that she bears, God’s own Son, who will come to save his people from sin, but also to overturn the power structures that had so long held people in slavery. She sings:

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Mary sings

Mary sings about the promise of what happens when God occupies the earth as its true king. When God is king, all human power structures get overturned — the proud are replaced by the humble, the hungry are filled and the wealthy go hungry.

If you pay attention to the verbs in her song, they are all in the past tense. Mary sings as though these things have already happened. Such is the confidence of faith! The child whom she carries is God’s own Messiah, and this Messiah is actually God come in the flesh: the king who comes and announces in his words and actions that the kingdom has arrived.

To put it another way, we might say that Mary’s song is the outline for everything that God’s Son will do when he grows to manhood.

- He will scatter the proud and self-righteous by exposing their true selves.
- He will challenge powerful kings like Herod and Caesar, by demonstrating the power of love.
- He will advocate for justice, mercy and peace.
- He will sit with the poor, hungry, sinners and outcasts, filling them with hope.
- He will denounce the wealthy who oppress the poor.
- He will expect his followers to deny themselves, pick up a cross and follow him.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mary sings with joy

While Mary sings with joy, we know what all of this will cost her.

A sword will pierce her soul, she is warned when Jesus is just a baby.

She will lose him and frantically search for him for three days when he’s a boy because he is about his father’s work in the temple.

She will think he has gone completely mad when he turns 30 and leaves home to start preaching and challenging powerful people.

She will suffer the agony of watching him die on a cross, nailed there by the powers that always do that to those who would oppose them.

Mary may not have had all this in mind when she composed her carol, and it is quite possible she sang this song again and again when it seemed like things were going horribly wrong for her son.

Then again, when she saw him alive three days after his death, her song would have meant even more!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Caesar Augustus

aint Luke explains that when Jesus was born, Rome was in control and Caesar Augustus was the emperor. Augustus considered himself a “son of god” and a “prince of peace.” He had coins minted that proclaimed those titles to the world. His divinity, however, was self-proclaimed, and his idea of peace involved eliminating all of Rome’s enemies.

In fact, this was the way of every emperor. When a new emperor came to the throne, it was heralded by messengers around the Roman world as “good news,” but it was good news only for those in power, whose peace was maintained at the point of the sword.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Good News

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people,” proclaimed the angel.

God’s promised return was happening, but in a way that no one expected. God was not returning as a conquering hero, a glorious cloud-surfing warrior coming back to destroy Israel’s enemies.

No, the “sign” given to these shepherds was a leaky, burpy, dirt poor little baby, born in a barn in a nowhere town called Bethlehem.

And yet, this is why the whole world was ringing — a glimpse of heaven and earth coming together, as God had intended from the beginning. God was coming to dwell with his people to redeem and save them. The long-awaited Messiah, the true king, was the Lord himself, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a tiny baby, fully human and fully divine.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

New Saint Highlight

John Henry Newman
On October 13, 2019, in St. Peter’s Square, at a Mass with over 50,000 attendees, Pope Francis declared Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, Cardinal John Henry Newman, Margurite Bays, and Giuseppina Vannini saints.

Cardinal John Henry Newman

Born: February 21, 1801
Died: August 11, 1890
Life: John Henry Newman was born in the city of London on February 21, 1801, to John Newman and Jemima Fourdrinie. From a young age, he hungered for truth. This desire would ultimately lead to his conversion to Catholicism. Raised an Anglican, Newman became an Anglican priest at the age of 27, as well as a professor at Oxford. In 1845, at the age of 44, Newman converted to Catholicism. He studied theology in Rome for several years before being ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. Pope Leo XII appointed Newman as Cardinal in 1879. Interestingly, Newman had neer been a bishop (typically one must be a bishop before becoming a cardinal). Today, Newman is chiefly remembered for his theological contributions, including an incredible defense of Catholic education. He is also remembered for being instrumental in the foundation of the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin.

Monday, December 2, 2019

New Saint Highlight

On October 13, 2019, in St. Peter’s Square, at a Mass with over 50,000 attendees, Pope Francis declared Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, Cardinal John Henry Newman, Margurite Bays, and Giuseppina Vannini saints.
Left to right: The official canonization images of Mariam Thresia, Giuseppina Vannini, Irma Dulce Lopes Pontes and Marguerite Bays
Giuseppina Vannini, Founder of the Daughters of Saint Camillus
Born: July 7, 1859, in Rome
Died: February 23, 1911
Life: Giuseppina Vannini (born Giuditta Vannini) was born to Angelo Vannini and Annunziata Papi. Her parents both died within a few years of each other, leaving Giuditta and her siblings orphans when she was just seven years old. Giuditta was separated from her siblings and sent to an orphanage run by Vincient Sisters. At the age of 28, Giuditta felt called to religious life and entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Charity in Siena. Due to poor health, Giuditta was unable to continue in the novitiate and was asked to leave. Still hoping to pursue religious life, Giuditta did not give up on her call from God. A few years later, in 1891, she met Father Luigi Tezza. Eventually, with his help, she founded the order of the Daughters of Saint Camillus, taking Giuseppina as her religious name. The mission of the order was to care for the sick. On December 8, 1895, she was made the Superior General of the order. Today, the order 800 sisters working in 22 countries.