Author Archives: Chuck Thompson

Stop. Listen. Change Your World.

At the Renew My Church summit earlier this month here in Chicago, a presenter told a story that I’d like to share with you this morning.

On the evening of April 14th, 1912, the Titanic’s wireless operator Jack Phillips received several ice warnings from ships in the area. The first one said this…

Ice report in lat 42.n Long 49w saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs also field ice. Weather good clear.

The Titanic, speeding along at 22.5 knots, was heading straight for the ice field. But Phillips was trying to send hundreds of backlogged passenger messages through the Cape Race relay station, about 400 miles away. There was a nearby ship (the Californian) who was also sending messages. Now, in 1912, they didn’t have an iCloud, so the California’s signals were interfering with Phillips’ ability to send his messages. Annoyed, the Titanic operator told the other ship to stop transmitting… even as the Californian was sending the Titanic ice warnings.

Here’s his actual response.  “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race.

The Californian, stopped for the night due to ice, was less than an hour away from Titanic. Philips never read the messages. Or if he did, it was too late.

We’ve all felt like the operator on the Californian.  Not as tragic, of course. We tried to say something we thought was helpful, and we were ignored. Maybe a suggestion at work that gets shot down. Maybe you try to give advice to your kids, or advice to your parents, and it goes nowhere. You get the feeling that people are telling you to go away.

“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” A blind man calls out to Jesus, but he’s rebuked. Really? Who does that?

I do that. For me, if I listen, it usually because it means more work. If I listen, I’d have to change my plans. If I listen, maybe I’d have to admit I was wrong.

That’s why I needed to hear this Gospel story this morning. Yes, the blind man asks for what he wants, and is rewarded. Yes, Jesus is busy, but he always hears the cry of those in need. Yes, our faith has the ability to heal us.

But those people in the crowd, the ones who don’t have time… that’s me.

And maybe, sometimes, that’s you, too.

So this week – with school chugging along, with work getting busy, with the doctor’s appointment, with our weekly volunteering – let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us, trying to help us. Will we stop what we’re doing and really listen?

Let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us to ask for our help. Will we stop what we’re doing and do what we can to heal?

Can we all remember – because it’s happened to all of us — what it feels like to be the blind man. To be rebuked. To be silenced. To be told to shut up, even when we are trying to do good.

I’m sure there’s a part of all of us that is angry at Jack Philips, all those lives lost because he didn’t want to someone to bother him. But he didn’t know. Just like there’s a part of me that feels anger that some people would want to stop Jesus from healing the blind man. But, in a way, they didn’t know.

Imagine, then, if we all could remind each other – though prayer, in song, in word and deed – how much we do know, following the example of Jesus, stopping and listening. Being served. Serving others.

Building the kingdom of God.

Seek first to understand.

When was the last time you really listened?  It’s hard. There are many things that can distract us from what’s important – school, work, family, money. But within each of these moments, God is at work in our lives. And maybe God has a message for us, a thought to lift us up when things aren’t going well. To hold us high when others are trying to bring us down. If we listen carefully, God’s deep message of forgiveness, of grace, of insight, will bring us comfort in the tough times. We just need to listen carefully.

The problem is, sometimes, we are not really listening. Like the disciples in our Gospel today, we get so busy thinking about ourselves, our problems, our sins, our addictions, that we become deaf to the truth walking right beside them.

I was reminded of Steven Covey’s advice, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” If you’re like me, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, we basically ignore the other person, pretend we’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation but miss the meaning entirely.

Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. We listen to ourselves as we prepare in our mind what you are going to say next. We decide ahead of time what the other person means before they even finish talking sometime. Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival–to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated. That’s really at the core of Catholic Social Teaching: the value and dignity of the human person. We want someone to listen to us. That’s why prayer is so important. We know God is listening attentively.

So, imagine then if we all affirmed, validated, appreciated everyone we come across? Trying not to respond defensively, angrily, or out of fear? Imagine if we all really listened first, tried to figure out what was being said, before we spoke or acted?

Today, Jesus is reminding us how to listen.

If someone who is lonely, who is depressed, wants to talk to you, please listen.

If you see someone who is poor, who is abandoned, who is an immigrant, please listen.

If you are a Democrat or a Republican, maybe try this week to really listen to the other side. What do they get right? What do they really care about? It doesn’t mean we have to agree. But demonizing the other will get us nowhere.

We all need to listen to our bodies. Our over-worked and over-stressed lives. What is all that stress trying to tell us?

And finally, if you know someone who has left the Church, especially recently, we need to listen to them. We need to understand, before those of us who remain can be understood.

Jesus reminds us today how we should listen. Not getting caught up in our own opinion like the disciples. If anyone one of us wishes to be first, let us be so blessed to be the last. If any of us want to be heard, let’s begin by being the servant of all who are trying to say something.

The Mud Room

The Mud Room

His muddy rubber boots
stood in the farmhouse mud room
while he sat in the kitchen,
unshaven, dealing solitaire.

His wife (we called her Auntie)
rolled out dough in the kitchen
for a pie, put up preserves
and tidied, clearing her throat.

They listened to the TV
at six, he with his fingers
fumbling the hearing aids,
she watching the kitchen clock.

Old age went on like that,
a vegetable patch, a horse
some neighbor kept in the barn,
the miles of grass and fences.

After he died his boots
stood muddy in the mud room
as if he’d gone in socks,
softly out to the meadow.

David Mason is the former poet laureate of Colorado and a professor of literature and writing at Colorado College. His most recent book is The Sound: New and Selected Poems, from Red Hen press.

Are you at the front of the line?

All of us have had to deal with long lines and crowds. It might be waiting in line for an amusement park to open, or registering for classes, or those crazy early morning Black Friday sales, or maybe general admission to a concert. Sometimes in these moments, we have to be a little ‘aggressive,’ a little ‘pushy.’ Not rude, not entitled. But we’ve waited long enough. It’s our turn at the front of the line.

Especially if it’s for our family. Anything to do with gifts, medical bills, safety, child care – over the years I’ve learned that no one else will speak up for my family unless I do.

In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be first in line for spiritual things. Both Jarius, the synagogue official, and the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s Gospel, are a little pushy. They need to get to the front of the line.

For them, it’s literally life or death. They don’t care about the crowds, the risks, the possibility of being rejected publically. They just want to be first in line, in that moment, to be healed.

When my daughter hurt her knee a while back, she came to us and told us that something wasn’t right. We took her to a doctor, set up an appointment for the MRI, did everything we could to take care of her needs. But if my daughter had never said anything – if she just kept to herself, content to let things be the way they were – no healing would have taken place. We couldn’t have helped her.

It’s the same with our relationship with God. We need to move to the front of the line in order to be healed. It might be physical healing, or accepting our physical limitations. Maybe it’s a money situation, a bad loan, and all the stress that goes along with that.

We can ask God to heal someone we know, someone we volunteered with, someone homeless, or an immigrant who feels very confused right now. That’s how healing begins. In prayer. Before Christ.

Ancient medicine didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have, but they knew about healing. One of the common words for illness in the first-century world was the Greek term astheneia, which meant a “lack of vital force.”

Healing was a transfer of vitality, of spiritual energy, from the healer to the one who needed healing. Christ promises each one of us that vitality. That’s the promise of the Eucharist.

Shouldn’t we all be a little eager to be reach out then, to be first in line, for that blessing? Do we believe the first line of our 1st reading from the Book of Wisdom, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”

Ours is God of life, of healing. Don’t be afraid to tell God what you need. He will answer you. “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”

What would you say, right now, if you could speak to Jesus at the front of the line? Knowing that God often works through not only healing, but also through what is not healed?

The woman in today’s Gospel got herself to the front of the line, and boldly reached out to God. Likewise, we need to reach out in faith with what we desire. Despite her shame, her fear, her doubt, she got the Lord’s attention. We need to do the same. We need to be first in line spiritually for not only ourselves, but everyone in our lives.

What will you ask Jesus, today, when you get to the front of the line?


Pilgrim journey.

St. Ignatius called himself a “pilgrim” and viewed his entire life as a pilgrimage. While we can view all of life as a pilgrimage, many people take time out of their regular schedules to travel as pilgrims to sacred sites around the world. This month we consider the idea of pilgrimage through stories shared by contemporary pilgrims….  (Click here to continue)



During the Second World War, a group of American soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France. A soldier was killed, and his comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield. They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines, next to a small cemetery, surrounded by a small fence. With their captain’s permission, they set out for the church. When they arrived, an elderly priest answered the door, and they asked if they could have one of the plots in the cemetery.

The priest paused and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow that here. You can bury him outside the fence, if you wish.” And so the soldiers dug a grave… and buried their friend… just outside the fence.

The next morning, these same troops were suddenly issued new orders, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye. But when they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite. Tired and confused, they finally knocked on the door of the church, and they asked the priest if he remembered where their friend was. “It was dark last night and we were exhausted,” they said. “We must have been disoriented.”

The old priest paused for a bit, then said. “I have a confession. After you left, I could not sleep. I went out early this morning… and I moved the fence. He’s in the cemetery now.”

Sometimes, in order to the right thing, we all need to move a few fences. Maybe it has to do with our stuff at work, or our health, or confronting someone we’ve excluded from our lives… but we all have moments where we know “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.” But just like that elderly priest, God has big plans for us. We just need to trust Him in our difficult and awkward situations.

And maybe that’s what’s behind today’s Gospel. Once again we see the Jewish authorities — as well as Jesus’ family — not willing to move a fence. How can He drive out demons? What do you mean He’s ‘healing people’? He’s out of His mind! That’s not how things are done around here. Jesus knows them, of course. He knows the obstacles. So perhaps we can say that Jesus is not permanently excluding his family… maybe He’s just waiting for them to move a fence. To see the Kingdom of Heaven in their midst. Just like us.

See, we know that committing to a relationship with Christ is hard work. And He never puts a fence in our lives that we can not move. Maybe we’re not welcoming at first either, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay there.

So, where are your fences? Someone needs you to be a listening ear because they are in a difficult relationship…. Maybe you’ll have to drive an extra 10 miles to give someone a ride home who you don’t really like… maybe it’s about going to Mass on vacation… a son or daughter needs to move back home because they got laid off.

We never know the graces and blessings God has in store for us when we decide to do the right thing. It may be hard at first, but just like that old priest, it’s never too late. To ask for forgiveness. To forgive. To visit the sick. Feed the hungry. To console the brokenhearted.

As a community of faith, we’ve had to move some fences before… like when we heard that God became one of us in the sinless person of Jesus. That He rose from the dead and is now seated at God’s right hand. That He lives within each of us through the Holy Spirit. That He gives himself to us (through his body and blood) in Holy Communion. That He destroyed death — not just for himself, but for us too. If you think about it, every one of those ideas were probably resisted at first.

A fence needed to be moved.

So… who is knocking at your door? What fences will need to be moved in your life? What is God asking of you today?

landscape romantic forest trees

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