Yard Sale

“I’m devoted to yard and garage sales, and love to spend time with friendly strangers in scuffed front yards and oily, dim garages.  Here’s a poem by Matthew Brennan, who lives in Indiana, from his 2016 Lamar University book, One Life.”

Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (2004-2006).

Yard Sale

“There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful.”
—  Emerson, Nature

The renters bring out their greasy table,
End of the month again: It sags,
Weighted and warped like them, unable
To hold much more than glasses and rags.

Old clothes and rusty tools compete
For space with magazines they stole
From garbage bins behind our street;
Each shoe reveals a run-down sole.

A few come by, inspect, and leave,
Almost always with empty hands.
But when, at sundown, all things cleave
To slanted light, and when it lands

So rubber, glass, and metal glint—
And for a moment make you squint—
You’ll see our neighbors bathed in gold
As if their worth cannot be sold.

Matthew Brennan

Saving Nails

“My late friend, the poet and novelist Jim Harrison, used to tease me about the buckets of bent nails in my barn, which I planned to straighten on some rainy day but which only accumulated. Here’s a fine bent nail poem by Thomas R. Moore, from his new book Saving Nails, from Moon Pie Press. Moore lives in Maine.”   –Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate

Saving Nails

I strip the porch roof, pick out the used
nails, and toss the shingles down onto

a drop cloth, remembering when I shingled
my grandmother’s roof fifty years ago:

the tar smell, the brackets, planks, and
ladders all the same, but level now

with hemlock limbs instead of locust.
I lug four shingles up the ladder, kneel

and drive the old nails home, slide
another shingle into place, pound,

toes bent, knees creaking. Miserliness,
a friend jokes about the nails, but I call it

caring, thinking of the man who gave
us this land on the cove, the cottage, the boat-

house full of boats. The only time I saw
him he was at his work bench, a rich

man straightening nails, moving from
the bent can to the anvil to the straight.



The Wind beneath your wings.

Once there was a bird who loved to fly. But one day, while she was high up in the air, it began to rain, and her feathers became so heavy that when she tried to land, she crashed and broke her wing. Eventually, she healed, but there was a problem. Every time she wanted to fly, something inside stopped her from leaving the ground. Day after day, her fear and anxiety held her down. She forgot who she was.

But one day, a strong wind came, caught her, and lifted her high into the sky. Terrified, the bird had no other choice but to open her wings.

And that’s when she remembered how to fly.

We all have moments like this in our lives. When we are frozen. When we forget who we are. Like when a bill arrives and you have no idea how you are going to pay for it.  Or, when someone at home has an addiction. Or we have to deal with controlling boss. Or when we forget to complete a school project.  Or a medical situation just drops into our lives, one that we never would have imaged we’d have to deal with. What are we supposed to do? We forget how to be happy. We’re overwhelmed. We have no idea what it means to ‘go in peace’.

But God remembers. And God gets to work.

Not by taking away our problems, our fears and anxieties. But by reminding us of who we really are. By being that strong wind that will life us up… just like that little bird.

That’s exactly what happened to Abraham in our first reading from Genesis.  We know the theological meaning here – a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus; a testimony to Abraham’s faith – but let’s be real: what was dinner like that night at Abraham’s home? Imagine his stress, his anxiety, his confusion when he looked into the eyes of his son. He must have questioned why that whole episode had to happen in the first place.

We’ve all been there. Struggling with God’s plans. Maybe it’s your Lenten journey this year.  The prayer, the fasting, the almsgiving. We might think: “Ugh. Here I am trying to make through today, and I’m also supposed to not eat meat, to be diligent in prayers, to give my money away to a charity.” Like that little bird, we’re frozen.  We know what we’re supposed to do, but we just can’t.

Abraham reminds us that God always has our best interests in mind. We need to remember and trust God through not only the blessing of what we can do, but maybe even more so in our greatest losses, our greatest disappointments, our broken dreams.

You can’t help but hope that the student marches in Parkland to protest gun violence are going to make a difference. That out of a horrible event, our nation will be changed for the better. The same with the Dreamers, as our Cardinal Cupich has spoken about quite a bit this week. Both reminders that God provides us the gift of hope in the moments of our greatest despair.

Maybe that’s why we read the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel. Our destiny, our “destination” – a peek into heaven. For just a brief moment, God’s provides a strong wind to get us in the air again. We see the promise of our own resurrection, our life in the presence of Jesus the Lord. He flew first, through death into new life. He showed us the way.

The sacrifice of Isaac happens at the beginning of Abraham’s life. Yet he is promised so much for doing what God asks him to do. Through his effort, the nation of Israel begins.

Imagine all the wonderful things God has in store for your life after you – like Abraham — face your difficult moments. To know that your problem is not the end of the story.

That’s’ the promise of Easter. That’s the reminder of Lent.

The great Billy Graham, who passed away this week, once said, “I’ve read the last page of the bible. It’s all going to turn out alright.”

May that be the wind beneath our wings this morning.



Ash Wednesday Homily (for students)

Blake Sheldon. Jennifer Hudson. Adam Levine. Miley Cyrus. The Voice. The judges. Last season. Even if you don’t watch the show, you’ve seen the commercials. Blind Auditions. A nervous singer on a dark stage, judges facing the opposite way, towards the audience.

Talk about stress. I bet it takes a lot of courage to be willing to be judged like that on national TV. Imagine how that must feel? If the judges like what they hear, they hit a red button, and the chair spins around in approval. A sign lights up beneath their seat. “I want you.” Wow.

We’ve all had anxious moments like those singers, haven’t we, when we wanted so badly to be chosen? Will the coaches choose me to start on varsity? What if my chemistry project doesn’t get chosen? Will I get accepted to my first choice of colleges? What if none of my friends show up after school?

Sometimes we are chosen. But sometimes we are not. Let’s face it: sometimes we are not at our best. Maybe we let ourselves down, took a few shortcuts, maybe started doubting ourselves. The mystics and psychologists tell us that if we dig deep enough, we’ll always find some stuff we are not proud of. That’s the core of what St. Ignatius refers to as a ‘loved sinner’ in the Spiritual Exercises. It sounds something like this….

How could anyone choose me? Why would any of those judges’ turn around for me?

When I was in high school, I used to think Lent was a sort of blind audition for God’s attention. A dark obstacle course, controlled by a God facing the other way. I used to think… if I pray, if I fast, if I abstain – just like what Jesus’ asks us to do in Matthew’s Gospel today – maybe God will judge me favorably. Love me a little more. Maybe bless me a little more.

But to paraphrase that great philosopher Dustin Henderson from Stranger Things, “Sometimes, my total obliviousness just blows God’s mind.”  No, it took a few years for God to teach me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. That there is nothing any of us can do during Lent – or any other time — that will get God to love us any more than He does right now. You can’t earn God’s favor. During the next 40 days, we’re all called to look with humility on our sinfulness… but the intent is to change our actions, our hearts, our minds — not God’s.

What am I saying?  It’s simply this: before you were born, before you even knew what an audition was, God had already hit the red button. His chair had already turned around. The creator of the universe is calling out your name, a smile ear to ear, despite your failures, your sins, your flaws. That’s what Jesus did, ransomed our sins through His death and resurrection. An economy of grace. Not an economy of merit.

You know, those Blind Auditions are only the first few episodes. The rest of the season continues with the Battle Rounds, the Knockout Rounds, the Playoffs. The real work begins after they singers have been chosen.  Just like us.

Imagine the bottom of God’s judging chair not saying “I want you”, but “I need you.”  To serve the poor, to go to confession, to defend the marginalized, to honestly repent,  to get involved in your parish, to help out with our school service programs, to go to Mass… these are the most important ‘acts’ you will ever perform.  That’s what the ashes mean. You are marked by God. To do great things.

But unlike The Voice, you’re not up on a stage all alone. As the Prophet Joel instructs the Israelites in our first reading, “call an assembly; gather the people, assemble the elders….”  So, too, with us. Just look around.

If the #Me Too movement has taught us anything, it’s that one courageous voice, multiplied by thousands – millions — can and does make a difference.

Just like the ocean of neon, our student cheering section, dressed so colorfully behind the basket at the Jesuit Cup. E Pluribus Unum. We all could feel the love. And win or lose, your cheers did not stop. And that’s the type of solidarity and support our world so desperately needs today. Are you up for the challenge?

C.S. Lewis said it best, of course.  He almost always does.

Even though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. A love not wearied by our sins, or our indifference. A love quite relentless in its determination to heal us… at whatever cost to us… and at whatever cost to Christ.

The Day (by Peter Everwine)

The Day

We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog,
still young then, running ahead of us.

Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans
circled beyond the swells, then closed
their wings and dropped head-long
into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped
your hands; the day grew brilliant.

Later we sat at a small table
with wine and food that tasted of the sea.

A perfect day, we said to one another,
so that even when the day ended
and the lights of houses among the hills
came on like a scattering of embers,
we watched it leave without regret.

That night, easing myself toward sleep,
I thought how blindly we stumble ahead
with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness!
then we turn and go on our way again.

But happiness, too, goes on its way,
and years from where we were, I lie awake
in the dark and suddenly it returns—
that day by the sea, that happiness,

though it is not the same happiness,
not the same darkness.

Peter Everwine lives in California, and his most recent book is Listening Long and Late from the University of Pittsburgh Press.


Christmas Eve Homily 2017

“How can this be?”

I can remember asking that same question when I first heard about on-line shopping. No cash needed. I remember asking that question when somebody explained to me what a GPS system was. And when I was told I could now adjust the thermostat in my house with an app. Or when I could lock my car from 20 feet away.

“How can this be?”

Now if you’re under 25, you’re probably thinking “What’s he talking about?” But for those of us who are a little older, all these things that we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago are now part of our daily lives, thanks to technology.  Like Charles Kettering quote about the Wright Brothers “They flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.” Think of how different your life would be without MRI’s? They can see inside you now! Laser surgery? Even without e-mail?

So tell me,… why is it that when we think of all the other unquestioned impossibilities in our lives, we give up so easily?

We say, I just can’t forgive that person. I’ll never get rehired in my line of work. I’ll never lose that weight.  I won’t be able to beat my addiction. I’ll never get a good medical report. I’ll never get over the loss of my mother… my father… my son…  my daughter…  my wife…  my husband. That’s impossible.

But today’s Gospel has a different message for us.  One of the most amazing messages we will ever hear!

When the angel Gabriel tells Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” he’s talking to us as well. Nothing is impossible with God. Most people thought that God becoming man – the Incarnation – was impossible. They thought rising from the dead was impossible. Miracles were impossible. Unconditional love was impossible.

And they were wrong. We are wrong.

You know, that word “overshadow” in the original Greek means “to envelop in a haze of brilliancy.” Well, God has enveloped your life “in a haze a brilliancy,” too. Sound impossible? Think for a moment how many people are happy to see you, depend on you, who love you so much. You are a bright light to your friends and family, to all gathered here today. God has made your light possible, your life possible. You are living proof that miracles happen.

Winston Churchill thought many things in his life were impossible. He was held back a grade during elementary school. When he entered high school, he was placed in the lowest division of the lowest class. Later, he failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy — twice. He was soundly defeated in his first effort to serve in Parliament. He finally began his political career as Prime Minister at the age of 62.

When asked if he ever doubted he could do the impossible, Churchill replied, “No. My attitude always was to never give up, never give in, never, never, never, never.” Shouldn’t we be even more trusting in God’s providence, knowing all the miracles Christ has woven into our lives?

Scripture tells us that when they lowered a paralyzed man down to Jesus through the roof on a stretcher, Jesus told him to rise because his sins were forgiven. When he did, the doubters were amazed. How could this be? They didn’t believe Jesus could do the impossible.

So why are we still doubting? If Christ can make the lame walk, imagine the miracles he can work in your life? Sometimes I think we are guilty of thinking God is too small. We are not dreaming enough.

Where do you need to start believing? In your ability to forgive someone from years ago? Physical healing? Getting straight “A”’s? Think about it: If technology can do so much, imagine how much more God can do for you when you ask in prayer, when you receive the Eucharist, when you follow Him, when you believe.

Today let’s not ask God “How can this be?” I mean, Mary has already asked that in her youthful insecurity and unknowing.

No, maybe let’s pray a new prayer this Christmas season…

“Lord, I know you can make the impossible possible. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. I know nothing in this life is perfect – starting with me – but you make all things new.  Give me the grace to face the uncomfortable situations, the harsh realities, the impossibilities in my life, knowing You are by my side. Help me to stop doubting, and start believing that You can change all things – because You have changed all things. I’m not asking for a perfect ending to my journeys. I’m asking to begin to learn to trust You as Mary did. And may my trust begin today.”





Report Cards and New Resolutions.

Well, we made it — our Church year is over! That was fast one, wasn’t it? You might not have even realized it, of course, with Thanksgiving and Black Friday this week. Yes, this is the last Sunday of the Church year. It’s sort of like our New Year’s Day. It’s a chance to look forward, of course, but also an opportunity to look back. A chance to consider some questions like… was it a pretty good year in matters of faith, or not so good? Were we good disciples, or mediocre ones? Did we stay on the good path, or did we stray all over the place?

Think about it. If you had to give yourself a report card measuring how well you followed Jesus this past year, what grade would you give yourself? And maybe more importantly, what New Year’s resolution are you going to make in order to keep those grades up?

That’s a tall order, I know. But seeing as our Gospel today — one of the few places in the New Testament where Jesus tells us how we’ll be “graded” – is about evaluating our experience, maybe we should give it a try.

I mean, we get “graded” all the time, don’t we? Like at our jobs. About how well we work with co-workers who don’t do their fair share. Company policies that make little sense. Customers who act rudely or who are completely unreasonable. Bad hours. Low pay. Managers who don’t understand. Everyone agrees to be evaluated – that’s how we get better. I bet there are many people here this morning who evaluate others!

Now, business wisdom tells us that when we look out over our works places, we just need to focus on what is most important. And what’s most important? Well, many would say that your primary responsibility is to do what you can to make your boss happy.”

Don’t worry about all the other stuff going on — the office politics, cliques and gossip. Simply try to do what your boss expects of you. And nine times out of ten, your evaluation will take care of itself.

And maybe that’s what the Solemnity of Christ the King is all about. A day on which we are reminded to focus on what is most important. Indeed, that’s why Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a response to growing secularism and nationalism in the aftermath of World War I. But it’s not the same as the work place. For Jesus is not just some kind of “boss”. He’s not someone that we have to serve grudgingly. He’s not someone that gets to tell us what to do because we have no other options for income. He’s definitely not someone we simply “work” for nine-to-five and then forget about until the next day.

No, this solemnity celebrates a king who doesn’t tower over us, but loves us. Who doesn’t control us, but invites us into a deeper relationship with him. Who doesn’t rule through intimidation or fear, but through compassion and mercy. Who doesn’t seek to exact revenge, but forgives and forgives and forgives again.

In other words, our primary response to that kind of love, to that type of leadership from our King, is to love others in the same way. Everything else will take care of itself. To treat the poor, the orphaned, the widows, and the foreigners in the same way we would want to be treated. The way that God treat us.

That’s contagious, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to do the same? So, let’s get back to the report cards. How did we do this past year, based on what St. Matthew just explained to us?

“I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

Or, another way to ask that today might be — how kind were we? How compassionate? Did we show mercy? Were we as forgiving as with people in our lives as they were with our lives? Were we as generous and as loving as we could have been, as much as we appreciate generosity?

Now, I have a confession to make. I did not make the honor roll. I think I need to hit the books (that is, learn to love) a little better. My sinfulness took me away from God this past year, and in order to do better, I’m going to need some help. Maybe you can relate?

But there is no need to travel far to find assistance on this. Remember our first reading from Ezekiel, when God says “I myself will look after and tend my sheep?” That’s the consolation I need. When we are lost – when we are not getting good grades – God will find us. God will give you the strength to get all your homework done. He’ll be with you through every test. You will be a straight A student.

See, Ezekiel went around trying to change people during the Babylonian exile. He makes it clear that Yahweh himself will from now on take over the shepherding of this people. Not a conquering power. Yahweh will seek out the lost and bring back the strayed, just like Israel’s return from exile and resettlement in the Holy Land.

“The injured I will bind up; the sick I will heal.”

By finding the lost, by healing the sick, by saving them from the darkness, the cloudiness, by giving them rest, by bringing low the proud and the foolish who appear to be winning… this King will take care of them.

Shouldn’t we trust God do to the same? Starting this Advent, with a clean slate, looking ahead to the next twelve months?

I think I just found my New Year’s Resolution.