Rosemary Donovan’s Farewell

Rosemary Bernadette Donovan English

May 14, 1926 – March 15, 2015


Mass of Christian Burial

March 21, 2015

Church of the Most Holy Rosary
111 Roberts Avenue
Syracuse, New York

Entrance into church
Sprinkling with Baptismal Water
Placing of the Pall – Rosemary’s children

Opening Hymn: “Here I Am, Lord,”
We Celebrate Hymnal no. 829

Words of Remembrance – Rosemary’s children (See Appendix A, below)

Opening Prayer

Liturgy of the Word
Revelation 21:1-7 – Kevin Fitzpatrick
Psalm 23, led by Liam Fitzpatrick

R. Shepherd me, O God,beyond my wants,
beyond my fears from death into life.

1 John 3: 1-2 – Eileen Fitzpatrick
Gospel verse
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
Homily: Fr. Paul English, CSB  (See Appendix B, below)

Intercessions: Leslie English
R. Lord, hear our prayer.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Presentation of the Gifts – Barbara Canale and Eileen Donovan
Hymn for the presentation: “Prayer of Saint Francis,”
We Celebrate Hymnal no. 900

Preface and Holy, Holy.
Eucharistic Prayer
Doxology and Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
The Sign of Peace
Lamb of God

Holy Communion
Hymns during Communion:
“Be Not Afraid,” no. 877
“Hosea,” no. 704

Prayer after Communion

Prayers of commendation to the Lord
Song of Farewell: “Celtic Song of Farewell,” no. 726

Closing: “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” Soloist: Liam Fitzpatrick

There will be a funeral procession to St. Mary’s cemetery.  Those not participating are welcome at the Most Holy Rosary parish center where there are refreshments. The family will return after the graveside service.

Presider: Rev. Paul F. English, CSB
Altar servers: Victoria English, Mary Sullivan
Pall bearers: Jamie and Joe English, Andrew and Zach Wiley,Mary, Liam and Kevin Fitzpatrick

An Irish Poem

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no differences into your tone.
Where no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me. Let my name be ever
the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you. For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near. Just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
only better, infinitely happier and forever
we will all beone together with Christ.


Appendix A

Maureen's beautiful memorial p1

Maureen's beautiful memorial p2

Maureen's beautiful memorial p4Maureen's beautiful memorial p3

Appendix B

Rosemary Donovan English, 1926-2015

We humans don’t take well to change, do we? Even when that change is good for us!

We tend to find the soft spot on the couch, circle around three times and lie down!  And that’s it! We’re staying because it’s comfortable.

In the reading from the Book of Revelation we heard Kevin read: The former heaven and the former earth had passed away.  The former way of thinking about, of understanding there being a huge divide between heaven and earth… That passed away in Jesus Christ.  And Mom understood this. She lived it. Things are changed. Now we live in the new – we are welcomed, beloved, members of the same family.

Kevin read: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.”  This is a radical change! No longer should we paint this relationship as “God far away from us up there” and “we here on earth struggling by ourselves and hoping God will like us enough not to send us to eternal pain.” No! We belong to one another. It says we are God’s people. And He is our God.  It’s a special relationship: permanent, full of affection, pride at being part of each other’s life, belonging, the sense that our lots are thrown together – kind of like an Irish family!

We heard that the old order has passed away. Old thinking needs to go! It belongs to what is passing. What will endure is something new, something wonderful. God says, “Behold, I make all things new!” I just love this! You know, all things are new for Mom.

It must have been about three years ago that Mom began to have serious problems with her memory.  She often didn’t know who any of us was. Everyone who spent time with her noticed. Once I showed her a nice family picture and pointed out the names of each of us and I said, “these are your children,” and she looked at me and asked, “are you one of them?”  I remember driving back to Rochester that day feeling such sadness and loss. I felt I’d lost the bright, wise, intelligent Mom I knew so well. I loved her but I knew something would be missing from then-on.

Change is so hard for us!

Mom had ten pregnancies. Eight were born at or close to term. Seven of us are still alive.  Imagine what it must be like for a baby developing in the womb: It’s warm, it’s quiet, you’re constantly nourished, comfortable, surrounded by mother. How must it feel then, when contractions begin?  What must it be like to feel yourself being pushed out of the only life you knew? I think it’s every human’s first intuition of death.

When we think of living on this earth, living in this somewhat larger womb that provides our food, our air and water, the warmth of the sun, the closeness of family and beloved friends, the idea of going back to the tight confines of our mother’s womb holds no interest for us. We’re free! We move about and talk and see people and marvelous things! Life as we know it provides comfort along with the challenges.

Somehow, when our time on earth is through we go through something amazingly similar, really frightening because this life is all we know. And my faith tells me that what awaits, – what Mom has now – is more perfectly fitting for our soul than anything this earth can offer us.

Mom lived here nearly 89 years. In that time, she really lived! So many people with whom we spoke in the last few days told us stories of what she means to them, how she touched their lives in big and small ways. But with the march of time, her health slowly left her. In this past year she couldn’t walk, but did OK in her wheelchair. She couldn’t remember a lot of things but something special remained.

Eileen reminded me on Tuesday of the day Mom and she were talking and realized that Mom wasn’t sure who Eileen was. So she said to her, “do you know who I am?” Mom looked at her and said, “I don’t know who you are…but I know I love you.”

Eileen proclaimed the reading from the first letter of St. John in which we heard, “…what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  That’s very similar to something St. Paul wrote to the people of Phillippi: “On that day He will take our mortal bodies and make them into glorified bodies like his own.” Mom always used to say that after we die, at the resurrection of the dead, God would give us back our bodies, not the way they were when we died, but glorified. And she said with a nurse’s conviction that the most glorified our bodies are is when we are 17 years old – and that’s how we’ll be.

I hope you’ve seen the amazingly beautiful picture of Mom that Dorothy Schmitt, one of Mom’s childhood friends and the mother of Liam’s boss, has kept all these years. When she discovered that Rosemary Donovan was Liam’s grandmother, she gave the picture to him.

And there she is: Beautiful Rosemary Donovan, all of 17 years old on a teeter-totter in the most beautiful fall coat, belt tied tight, her head back, her beautiful hair free in the breeze her eyes closed…

All things are new for her now. Her memory is no longer limited. In fact, I believe she has an understanding and a vision of things now that she never had on Earth.  “What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him…”

I so love and admire my brothers and sisters – each one! If you can see in Rosemary’s children, the kind of people described in the beatitudes we heard in the Gospel, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers…it’s because each one of her children learned the heart of the Beatitudes from our Mom:

  • Sitting in the kitchen with her as she prepared supper,
  • Tagging along like little ducklings on our daily walks,
  • In our teen-aged conversations with Mom as we encountered so many of life’s mysteries for the first time,
  • In her own loving examples of mercy (oftentimes involving a long wooden spoon, the backs of our legs and a phrase similar to, “YOU * LITTLE * SNIPS!”)
  • In our adult years when our Mom was also our true friend.

Today we heard: “The old order has passed away. See, I make all things new!” In human ways, our Mom grew old and became weak, by economic judgment, she was diminished, but right there beneath the surface, if you knew her at all, you knew a woman whose prayer never ceased, whose love conquered even dementia, whose spirit, whose example of kindness, whose spark of eternal life inspires us even now.

God, you’ve outdone yourself. My brothers and sisters and I are a bit jealous, but our faith consoles us with the knowledge – the sure and certain hope – that one day we will be with Mom and with you, Lord. May your beloved daughter Rosemary now sing and rejoice with you with her brothers, with her mother and daddy and with all those saved by your mercy in your wonderful peace!

Christ’s List

Each time Matthew 20:1-16 is proclaimed on Sunday (about the landowner who paid the workers the same amount, whether they worked hard all day or for only an hour), the American sense of economics and fair play gets a jolt!  You can see it in the faces of those listening; this just doesn’t seem right.  How could Jesus be holding up as the idea someone who was so patently unfair, and probably showing poor financial judgment as well as bias toward people who don’t work hard while undercutting people who “bore the day’s burden and the heat?”

     It’s funny how we Americans immediately go to the question of how much someone is being paid.  Of course, this is not only an American thing, or Jesus wouldn’t have told the parable in the first place, I suppose.  It’s universal, we could say.  Or perhaps human.
     For nine years, I lived in the immigrant city of Houston, Texas, where people from around the nation and around he globe go with the hopes of finding work and perhaps a climate more suited to humans (I speak as a northerner).  The work is there for many, particularly if those many have some things going for them before they arrive, like personal contacts in Houston, a good résumé — and white skin doesn’t hurt!  For others, it’s much harder.
     There are particular streets and intersections in Houston and around the urban South where immigrants (mostly men) arrive before dawn in their work clothes.  They leave their families at home in order to stand on the sidewalk at these intersections and hope that someone will drive up and offer them work for the day.  That way they can bring home some small amount of money that will enable their wives and kids to eat that day.  It is often that stark.
     At times trucks stop and invite four or eight of them to pile in.  On occasion one person is hired for the day’s gardening.  Sometimes a crew is needed to do demolition of a building and sometimes people are hired on until a construction job is completed.  It is an unfortunate reality, however, that since these immigrants are unskilled laborers and many do not have permission to work in the US, people will employ them for the hard work of the day and send them away without pay at the end of the day.  I don’t know how those people live with themselves, but it’s clear that when they see the immigrant waiting for someone to employ him, they don’t see a human being; they see a free garden or paint job.  What is the defrauded immigrant to do?
     Thanks to these willing workers, I was able to read Matthew 20 as I never had before.  I knew many immigrants from Latin American countries who had come to the US and Houston in search of the possibility of life for their families since trade agreements had eaten up the farms that fed and housed generations of indigenous families (who had never heard of a “title deed”).  Homeless in their own countries, they took the dangerous option of immigrating.  Of course, they were, probably without knowing it, following the First Principle of Catholic Teaching on Immigration.  (The U.S. Bishops teach at length in this page the three Basic Principles of Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration: First Principle: People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. The Second Principle: A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.  The Third Principle: A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.)
     When the crowd who heard Jesus tell the story, they clearly understood what was at stake here.  Day laborers kissing their wives and kids, going off in hopes of receiving a denarius, a coin that was the “usual day’s wage,” sufficient to feed a family for a day.  Put in starker terms, they were going out in order to keep their family from starving that day.  So the happy fellows who are employed early know that things will be fine for another day.  But those who are still there in the square at 9:00 in the morning?  They’re feeling a bit skittish, but there is still lots of day left…  Those who were still waiting at noon?  They were beginning to think about the empty stomachs of their families.  By 3:00 in the afternoon they were feeling desperate and by 5:00, downright despair because their wives and kids would be home waiting for sustenance for the day and now it was absolutely sure that they were going to have to deal with the hunger.  It happens every day in 2014!
     This landowner who pays each worker enough for each family to survive another day reminded me of Oskar Schindler, made most well-known by the film Schindler’s List.  He was a German businessman in Poland who saw an opportunity to make money from the Nazis’ rise to power. He started a company to make cookware and utensils, using flattery and bribes to win military contracts, and brought in accountant and financier Itzhak Stern to help run the factory. By staffing his plant with Jews who had been herded into Krakow’s ghetto by Nazi troops, Schindler had a dependable unpaid labor force. For Stern, a job in a war-related plant could mean survival for himself and the other Jews working for Schindler. However, in 1942, all of Krakow’s Jews were assigned to the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp, overseen by Commandant Amon Goeth, an embittered alcoholic who occasionally shot prisoners from his balcony. Schindler arranged to continue using Polish Jews in his plant, but, as he saw what was happening to his employees, he began to develop a conscience. He realized that his factory (by then refitted to manufacture ammunition) was the only thing preventing his staff from being shipped to the death camps. Soon Schindler demanded more workers and started bribing Nazi leaders to keep Jews on his employee lists and out of the camps. By the time Germany fell to the allies, Schindler had lost his entire fortune — and saved 1,100 people from likely death.
     By the end of the war, Schindler was not thinking like a businessman.  He saw fellow human beings, saw their plight and decided to do something about it.  It appeared, particularly to the Nazis, that he was making use of the slavery of the Jews in order to become more economically powerful.  They couldn’t imagine any other motive.  But Schindler’s motive was not capitalistic!  It was humanistic.  He saw that his situation in German society gave him the opportunity to save lives and he did just that.
     The landowner of Matthew 20 clearly is not thinking like a capitalist either, but like a humanist — or perhaps, since it is Jesus’ parable, he is giving a perfect example of what we heard today from Isaiah 59:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”  God is concerned about saving lives!  God really does care if a family goes hungry.  God is really concerned when a society has “plenty” yet some die of hunger or other poverty-related complications.
     Some might say, “Well, if God’s ways are not our ways or God’s thoughts not our thoughts, we can’t think or act like God does anyway; only God can.”  Tell that to the 1,100 people the former Nazi Oskar Schindler saved, or their thousands of descendants.  If God’s thoughts and actions can be seen in Oskar Schindler, they can be our thoughts and our actions too.
     I really like the fact that the Scriptures are not intended to make us feel comfortable with our way of thinking but to challenge us to a better way of thinking and acting.

Israel Is Not Israel

The other morning, as usual, our local community gathered in our small chapel to pray Morning Prayer from The Divine Office.  Many know that this consists of a hymn, the recitation of two psalms and a canticle from scripture, a reading of scripture and brief response, the recitation of a Gospel canticle, intercessions and a blessing.  A good way to start the day.  We then generally linger long enough to decide who will cook that evening and to talk over any important events coming up in the next day or so.  It’s good for a community to start its day in prayer; we kind of align our hearts and minds.

     So back to the other morning.  One of the psalms from Thursday’s morning prayer (Ps 80) compares the people of ancient Israel to a vine that God “brought…out of Egypt.”  It goes on to say, “To plant it you drove out the nations.  Before it you cleared the ground; it took root and spread through the land.  The mountains were covered with its shadow, the cedars of God with its boughs.  It stretched out its branches to the sea, to the Great River it stretched out its shoots.”
     These words were very troubling to me on Thursday.  It was very hard to pray with them as if they were a good thing.  It outlines the eviction of people whose homes were long-established in a land and the subsequent colonization of that land to its farthest stretches.  Of course, the people of ancient Israel were the beneficiaries of this and some would argue that it was their land to begin with since God had promised it to them.  The piece of land that was Israel seems always to have been a place out of which one group has been pushing another group, claiming that they’re doing it in the name and with the help of God.
     Now I was taught when I studied the Psalms and the Hebrew Scriptures that there is a Christian interpretation of these works.  Israel, in the Christian understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, is the body of believers called the Church, all of us who follow the Son of God are the new Israel, the new Jerusalem.  We are a spiritual nation, if you will, whose home is not an earthly piece of land but is the Reign of God, not bounded by borders or human contrival, but universal and divine…which is all fine and good and I am able to pray with these ideas, elevating my view to the Heavenly things that God is calling us to live and share here on Earth and one day to share more completely with Him.  I get that.
     What I don’t get is how anybody can do to the Palestinian people what Israel (with supporters like the U.S.A) are doing to them right now.  I visited a Palestinian internment camp several years ago and saw the squalor in which a very large number of people are forced to live.  There is dignity in the people, but not in the situation.  This is not of their own choosing, but due to the chosen policies of the government of present-day Israel.  Daily more and more lands of Palestinian inhabitants (many of whose families have lived, farmed, worked for several generations) are taken over by “settlers,” an unbelievably benign name for thieves.  And the Palestinian people are enclosed by prison walls, are unmercifully treated when they attempt to move about in a nation of which they are citizens, constantly treated to aggression by Israeli forces (many of whom are heavily-armed teenagers).  The situation of the Palestinians is abysmal.  They are constantly pushed into smaller and smaller areas.  Israelis are living the 80th Psalm’s lines:  “To plant it you drove out the nations.  Before it you cleared the ground; it took root and spread through the land.  The mountains were covered with its shadow, the cedars of God with its boughs.  It stretched out its branches to the sea, to the Great River it stretched out its shoots.”
     Many argue that the State of Israel is, in effect, always just and always justified in its actions because this is their biblical homeland.  Others add that it was right to give them these lands because of the unspeakable treatment of Jewish people in Europe during the Second World War, the Holocaust.  On these two assertions hangs the notion that the way Israel treats Palestinians is justified.  But let’s examine this.
     In my prayer that morning, after the conversation about the meal and the activities of the day, I stayed in the chapel to linger on this conundrum.  How can I pray these words when they seem to be praising the very evil being perpetrated daily with no let-up?  How can I act as if it were not happening?  How can I spiritualize this and thereby neutralize the physical, psychological and spiritual harm being done now?
     It is clear in my mind that Israel is not Israel.  This goes beyond the Christian interpretation of Hebrew Scripture. What offends us as human beings about the Holocaust was not that it was Jewish people who were rounded up, enslaved, abused and exterminated, it is that human beings were.  Human beings, regardless of ethnicity, religion, skin color and even regardless of innocence or guilt must never be rounded up, enslaved, abused and exterminated. None of them.  Ever.  Including Palestinians. Yet Israel enclosing thousands of people in a tiny, walled-in area is rounding them up.  When Palestinians lash out and throw rocks or shoot pitiful rockets into Israeli land out of their sheer despair of ever having justice or peace anyway, word comes from Israeli authorities to clear out of a building or area, after which exceedingly powerful bombs level entire buildings and neighborhoods, usually killing many innocent people with no place to evacuate to.  This is not the victim Israel of the Holocaust.  And this is not God helping them.  This is plain evil.
     I find it perplexing that fundamentalist Christians are seemingly so supportive of Israel.  Why would they be?  Jews are not Christians and most would never want to be. And fundamentalists have one strong belief: if you are not a Christian, you are not saved, you are the enemy of Christianity, in league with the Devil.  In fact, if you are a Christian but not a Fundamentalist, count youself in the same damned group.  Fundamentalists are no friends of the Jewish people.  They are enamored of a novelist’s fantasy about the end of the world.  In it, Israel is re-established in the Middle East and the Temple of Jerusalem is rebuilt.  That’s a “sign” that the final battle will ensue and then Jesus will come back for all the fundamentalist Christians (or at lest 144,000 of them — and all fundamentalists count themselves among this minuscule number), bringing them to eternal bliss while the rest of us endure unspeakable suffering.  ‘Makes sense then to drive a people who is not Jewish out of Israel, in their fantasy-logic.  In other words, the relationship of Fundamentalists to the Jews is an “instrumental” relationship, the fundamentalists using the Jews and their political future in order to be assured of an unending heavenly vacation.
     Zionists may find this Christian fundamentalist fantasy convenient, even “instrumental” themselves, as they need allies to help them further their own ideology.
     But all of this has gone so far from God!  Instead, it’s about ambitions and fantasies, about self-serving, about enmity, racism, hatred, self-justification… That’s not the God I’ve come to know and love.  That’s not the God who most assuredly wept while the Nazis exterminated his human daughters and sons.  That’s not the God who certainly weeps at the treatment of his human daughters and sons today.  It’s not the God who inspired the prophets to speak words of warning to those who abused and those who abuse today.  It’s not the God who out of compassion for humans who continue to be selfish and wrong-headed so frequently became one with us, showed us that violence and mayhem will never bring about peace and well-being, but rather that peace and hard, self-sacrificing work will bring about a human understanding that we are all part of one another — more than brothers and sisters:  we are one another!  When we use and abuse someone else, we are using and abusing humanity, creation, all created reality.  What perversion!  We are better than that.  Israel is better than that.  But Israel is not Israel, not in any spiritual sense.  Not in the sense of the historical travesty of the Holocaust.  In fact, they have taken on the mantle of the oppressor.
     It’s sad; it’s infuriating.  And it’s hard to pray Psalm 80.

The Right Way To Love God?

God is bigger than our minds can comprehend.

Susan Cottrell & FreedHearts


What does a “godly” person look like? Is there a right way to love God? Is there a correct path to follow Jesus?

I just returned from my fourth “Christian” conference of the year.

January I was in Chicago for the Gay Christian Network Annual Conference, where some 700 people gathered to celebrate, learn, and share community. Rob and I were among 200 parents, the rest were LGBTQ people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, gathered in the name of Christ. The worship, the camaraderie, the joy of the Lord, filled the conference hall. If you had been there, you would have basked in it! No denomination, no distinction, no made to feel second-class. They’re just brothers and sisters in Christ, full of gratitude for Christ in us, the hope of glory.

God is God.

In June I returned to Chicago for a “By Parents, For Parents” conference. Parents of LGBTQ…

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Race to the Bottom

My homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
August 3, 2014

Isaiah: Come, drink wine and milk…
Matthew:  loaves and fishes…

Each evening, religious women and men, priests and lay people pray Evening Prayer, which includes the beautiful prayer of the young Virgin Mary, when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the woman that all Jewish women hoped to be, the mother of the savior. Her prayer is called “the Magnificat,” when she recognizes that God is about to turn everything upside-down – or maybe right-side-up:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

From the mouth of the young Virgin, God states his mission in our world.

On the other hand…

The mission of publicly held corporations is to produce something. We may think what it’s producing is widgets, or the best quality product or the finest service, or being the most humane, showing a strong commitment to sustainability or a concern for human beings and their community…but we would be wrong.

The mission of publicly-held corporations is to produce quarterly profits for their shareholders. And if they don’t, they’re not being faithful to their mission. They would be committing the business equivalent of a “sin.”

They may practice those other things, as long as they don’t detract from quarterly profits, but when quarterly profits shrink, then protecting the Earth, or the quality of their product,or humaneness, or the good of the town, the region or the nation are the first to go along with good wages and benefits for the people who work there.

In order to fulfill the mission of maximizing quarterly profits, they will often see it as their duty to move to another town or state or nation or continent where they can be most profitable and to move again if some other town or state or nation can provide workers for lower wage and benefit costs, and cheaper raw materials.

Or they can sell the company to another corporation whose mission is also maximizing quarterly profits, but who usually have no connection or allegiance to the people of the town or state or nation, and who can hire people at a much-reduced wage and decide whether even to provide benefits. …And then may move the whole enterprise out of the region if it is not profitable enough.

I don’t have to tell you that this leaves families and neighborhoods and towns and regions in awful shape because they really are not part of the mission of corporations. They are at best, an economic factor in their mission of maximizing quarterly profits. This, in our time, is called “the race to the bottom.”

The Pope has spoken and written a lot lately about this, and it challenges our way of thinking quite a bit.

In his magnificent letter “The Joy of the Gospel,” he wrote these challenging words: “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule..Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God…”

Through the prophet Isaiah, the one true God is calling out to the victims of the selfish race to the bottom in Isaiah’s time, and saying, “I am with you. I am taking your side: come and enjoy all the security and relaxation that only a small few lavish upon themselves now!”

You see, God is also in a race to the bottom. But God is racing to where suffering people are, to share with them in solidarity, and help, protecting them, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things.

In my nearly 30 years ordained, I’ve noticed that the Church attracts needy people. It’s not a “bug,” it’s a feature. And it’s been this way at least since Jesus walked the lands of Palestine and ministered to the needy as well as the sinful. So I can imagine the crowds that followed Jesus were needy people. We might call them the non-elites, the halt, the blind, the lame, widows, orphans, “riff-raff,” women and children.

So in today’s Gospel, at the end of their long day, I feel like shouting, “Good for the disciples, feeling concern for the people’s needs!” This shows me that they accepted and internalized Jesus’ message, his mission, God’s mission.

God’s mission is the common good. People’s good. His beloved children’s good, of all faiths and races, of all skin tones, all shapes and sizes. He’s very active in making the common good come about. In the earliest times, He sent teachers, judges, prophets and preachers, and even his own Son to show us how to be actively concerned like God is – and our mission is Christ’s mission.

So what’s stopping us?

Well, scarcity scares most of us, just like it did the disciples when they saw so many thousands of people and only a few fishes and loaves of bread. We might be thinking, “What would I do if my corporate employer abandoned this place?” “Or fired me for having Christ’s values and not quarterly profit maximization values?”

And as long as that fear freezes us in place, deters us from acting and doing what we know is needed and is right, we’re always going to live with scarcity!

But Jesus doesn’t. He sees the goods of this world as things that serve humanity, for our well-being, whether that’s loaves of bread and fishes or whether it’s money.

Pope Francis wrote: “Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.”  With their human eyes, where the disciples see only scarcity, Jesus sees possibility, opportunity to show God’s covenant of love and protection in action.

So while his disciples weren’t the rich elites, they did have two things:
something they could give to people in need
and Jesus who with confidence tells them that giving will turn out better than their fear of scarcity allows them even to imagine.

Let’s find ways of actively promoting the common good as a parish family, trusting the Lord, not fearing scarcity, but loving as he loved and loves now, though his people, the Church.


Thinking about my childhood, I keep coming back to my neighborhood and school.  These were incredibly important in my own sense of who I was and how I saw the world.  In fact, if I’m honest, these still affect me deep down.

Ours was a nearly total Catholic neighborhood and many — most — of us attended the parish school, a Catholic school administered and taught by young sisters not much older than we!  I must say, they provided an excellent education, even as they “donated their services,” not receiving a salary for their work but rather a meager stipend to their local religious community.  They lived their vow of poverty while other Church people decidedly did not.  But I digress…

In our Catholic neighborhood, if not “ghetto,” while there was one Jewish family, not being Catholic was basically unheard-of.  One who didn’t know Roman Catholics might be tempted to assume that it was a homogeneous place, bordering on, if not well over the line of boring.  Those who know Roman Catholics and especially those who have had the Catholic school experience will know differently.

While a great deal of emphasis was placed on conformity and uniformity, from dress to liturgical and prayer styles, one human proclivity, magnified in an American context, that differentiated these otherwise identical Catholic school children was class, and this expressed itself in wealth, in privilege and in the most odious of them all, entitlement.  There were the “haves” and the “have-nots,” but it was truly less about possessions or money than it was about the stupefyingly divisive and destructive practice and effects of entitlement.

In the 1960s there was a song called, “The In Crowd.”  It might as well have been the anthem of the privileged and entitled elites of our parish and neighborhood.  They set the fads.  They decided who was “acceptable” and who was “out.”  They did not learn this from the trees; their families tended to be members of the local country club, with all its pretension and evident need to believe themselves superior to those who did not benefit from “membership.”    Of course, children whose families were not in the adult version of the “In Crowd” looked on longingly at the privilege and group-think self-assurance, and wished they could be brought into the enclave, but for that received from their classmates derision and outright unkindness.

I wish I could chalk it up to envy, but even as a child, while I desperately wanted to be in an “In Crowd,” I was repelled by their pettiness and never attracted to their sense of entitlement to all the best things society/school/parish had to offer.  I knew myself to be as worthy of good things as they.  Of course, any action or verbal protestation of equality on my part — or of any other person who was not in their elite band — received a ready-made chorus of jeers and unkind taunts.

Fortunately, both among family members and with other friends who were not deemed to be of the “In Crowd” class, my brothers and sisters and I were able to develop great friendships and build a level of self-esteem that happily didn’t depend on perceptions of “class” or “entitlement.”

That doesn’t mean that today when I meet or learn of adults expecting the same entitlement to all they want, I am not offended and even horrified!  Adults living with the notion that because of their birth, their skin tone, or their wealth, they are entitled to a “yes” to their every request/demand, make the world a much less good and wholesome place.  In fact, if you think about it, that type of attitude is a not-even-very-subtle prejudice being perpetrated by the people who expect everything their way.  Their pre-judging has to do with everybody else, that somehow everyone really has no option but to “jump to it” when an entitled person makes a demand known.  And should they be so courteous as to make it in the form of a “request,” Heaven help the person who denies it!

But in all this I, too, may actually have a prejudice.  A prejudice against the type of thinking and acting that divides the world into “In” and “Out,” and presumes oneself to be “In” and therefore deserving of (entitled to) whatever desire may be his or hers.  Yes, I definitely am prejudiced against that type of thinking.  What’s more, it is not my practice to be swayed by it.

Look, if someone who is wealthy and believes him- or herself to be entitled threatens not to support some good thing with which I am associated if I do not acquiesce to his or her demands, I will recommend kindly that they find someone else who will do their bidding.  And if they don’t support what I am associated with in the first place, with an even more free conscience I can deny a demand/request (for, indeed, their requests are demands) that is not in keeping with the mission — and not worry about losing money since none had been given in the first place.

Thinking about my childhood, we used to call the physically brutal kids who stole our lunch (we never had lunch money) “bullies.”  Bullying has become quite an important issue in recent years, especially among the young and vulnerable, and particularly due to the despair into which bullying has thrown so many youth.  The outcome:  suicides, murder/suicides, mass-shootings…  Bullying among our young is a nefarious thing.  But you know, bullies grow up.  And many continue to do what bullies do:  “exercise selfish power over those whom they can overpower.”  As long as people bow to bullies, the bullies continue to believe that they are (perversely) entitled to whatever they want.

I’ll be prejudiced against that all my life long.

Homage To A Wonderful Friend

It was my honor to preach at the funeral of Mark M. Muench today at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Fairport, New York.  Mark grew up in Syracuse, but we met at St. John Fisher College in Rochester.  For the last four years, Mark had been very incapacitated by cancer — he had been stricken with a glioblastoma in his brain.  Mark was almost exactly three months older than me.  It’s sad to lose him, but this I know:  I am a better person for having known him and been his friend.  Requiescat in pace!

Mark M. Muench
Funeral Mass
Our Lady of the Assumption ChurchFairport, New York
March 27, 2014
In the first reading that Mary chose for this celebration of Mark’s life, we hear that there is a time to plant, a time to give birth…

Beginnings… always beginnings, but do you remember first meeting Mark?

I really can’t remember where or how I met him. It was at St. John Fisher College, I know that, even though we both grew up in Syracuse, actually a few neighborhoods apart. Maybe I met him in our dorm, Haffey Hall. It could have been playing basketball or hanging out with other students and Fr. Trovato in Campus Ministry (or as it was quizzically called at the time, the Religious Affairs Commission).

But I do know that it’s felt to me – and to many of us – like we’ve always know Mark. So quickly and easily we became part of his life and he a part of ours.

As long as I knew him, Mark was an athlete, a good one: tall and sleek and as agile on the basketball court as he was on the slopes on through the green. He knew how to have fun, and to compete.

St. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, is an old man (Perhaps he was 58) and he said that at that point of his life he had been poured out like a libation, that his life was coming to an end. But no regrets! Like an athlete who really did give his all. But this is no game; it’s about a man’s life and about all the good things he chooses to practice every day that define what his life is about. No regrets! Instead, there are memories, for St. Paul, for Mark, for us, of a life well-lived, of relationships well-loved, situations transformed for good – Mark never walked into a situation and made it worse.

Jesus says to his disciples when his life on earth is close to its end,  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God. Have faith also in me.”

So our faith, though it may be small or weak still it reminds us that on the other side of this world, beyond the air we breathe, after the pain we endure, the other side of our body wearing out and our eyes finally closing to all that we see here, the Father of us all has prepared a place for us where the things and experiences we’ve all learned are good here, in this life, are awaiting us: things like deep, loving friendship, things like joy fuller than any we’ve tasted so far, peace our hearts don’t even dare to dream of.

And I hope there are long, lush, green fairways! C’mon, those are pretty much the closest thing to Heaven on a balmy summer day, aren’t they? I do hope, with the Church, that when God restores our glorified bodies, we’ll be able to whack some sweet drives down the middle and putt out for birdies. I hope that for Mark.

The writer of Ecclesiastes mentions some powerful things that good people do for the ones they love:

They heal, they build, they laugh, they dance.

There’s a time to scatter, but there is also a time to gather. Throughout our life we seek: seek a deep love, seek a person who smiles all the way into our hearts and our spirit smiles back.

And there’s a time when we lose that person. Mary, Andrew, Brian and Christopher and all who love this loving, smiling, deeply funny and endearing man, this week feels like a real loss. Yet our faith tells us what our senses cannot:  That in the sometimes unbearable silence – there is a time for silence but there’s a time for speaking.

As you go through your days and weeks and years…in unexpected and at the same time familiar ways, you’re going to hear Mark’s voice:
that funny laugh, the voice of the guy who never gave up, but always found an angle to get back in and try; in some kindness you do or someone does for you; in a room full of joy; in the easy times of friendship; in the powerful peace that God gives…  In that kind of silence, there will be a time of speaking, Mark speaking, and if you’re ready, you’ll hear him and he’ll fill your heart again, as he always has, because he is very much alive with God and he’s no longer struggling or in pain, but instead he’s free and joyful and cracking everyone up, just like he should – for all eternity. Because for Mark, now and all his life, it’s been a time to love. And now he’s enjoying the presence of the One who is love.

We will meet again.  Then with our God and with the saints, and with Mark and all who have gone before us we’ll rejoice again and love again and our hearts will be at peace again.

One more thing: If you admire Mark for something he used to do, some way he made the world better, that good thing need not end with Mark’s body’s completing its mission. If you can think of one of the many good things that he used to do and decide to take it up and make sure it continues on, then in a real way, Mark resurrects in you and me and all of us.May God bless you.

Oscar Romero – martyred on this date in 1980

Romero Garcia

 Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, mártir:  ¡PRESENTE!

This beautiful poem (English translation below) was written by Mons. Pedro Casaldáliga, Bishop of São Félix do Araguaia, Brazil.  It weaves together the ancient prayer, the Angelus, prayed at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.  The prayer begins, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.  And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.”

As Casaldáliga writes, the people of Latin America already know him to be a saint and martyr, and they love him.  We should pray for his beloved poor people, and ask Monseñor to pray for us, that we would have hearts like his own.

When one is murdered, particularly by political forces who consider one dispensible, the people call the name and all respond, ¡PRESENTE!  (S/he is among us!)

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Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, mártir:  ¡PRESENTE!

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SAN ROMERO DE AMÉRICA de Pedro Casaldáliga

El ángel del Señor anunció en la víspera…
El corazón de El Salvador marcaba
24 de marzo y de agonía.

Tú ofrecías el Pan,
el Cuerpo Vivo
-el triturado cuerpo de tu Pueblo;
Su derramada Sangre victoriosa
-¡la sangre campesina de tu Pueblo en masacre
que ha de teñir en vinos de alegría la aurora conjurada!

El ángel del Señor anunció en la víspera,
y el Verbo se hizo muerte, otra vez, en tu muerte;
como se hace muerte, cada día, en la carne desnuda de tu Pueblo.

¡Y se hizo vida nueva
en nuestra vieja Iglesia!

Estamos otra vez en pie de testimonio,
¡San Romero de América, pastor y mártir nuestro!
Romero de la paz casi imposible en esta tierra en guerra.
Romero en flor morada de la esperanza incólume de todo el Continente.
Romero de la Pascua latinoamericana.
Pobre pastor glorioso, asesinado a sueldo, a dólar, a divisa.

Como Jesús, por orden del Imperio.
¡Pobre pastor glorioso,
por tus propios hermanos de báculo y de Mesa…!
(Las curias no podían entenderte:
ninguna sinagoga bien montada puede entender a Cristo).

Tu pobrería sí te acompañaba,
en desespero fiel,
pasto y rebaño, a un tiempo, de tu misión profética.

El Pueblo te hizo santo.
La hora de tu Pueblo te consagró en el kairós.
Los pobres te enseñaron a leer el Evangelio.

Como un hermano herido por tanta muerte hermana,
tú sabías llorar, solo, en el Huerto.
Sabías tener miedo, como un hombre en combate.
¡Pero sabías dar a tu palabra, libre, su timbre de campana!

Y supiste beber el doble cáliz del Altar y del Pueblo,
con una sola mano consagrada al servicio.
América Latina ya te ha puesto en su gloria de Bernini
en la espuma-aureola de sus mares,
en el retablo antiguo de los Andes alertos,
en el dosel airado de todas sus florestas,
en la canción de todos sus caminos,
en el calvario nuevo de todas sus prisiones,
de todas sus trincheras,
de todos sus altares…
¡En el ara segura del corazón insomne de sus hijos!

San Romero de América, pastor y mártir nuestro:
¡nadie hará callar tu última homilía!

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SAN ROMERO DE AMÉRICA by Pedro Casaldáliga

The angel of the Lord announced on the eve.

The heart of El Salvador marked
The 24th of March and of agony.
You offered the Bread,
the Living Body
— the broken body of your People;
Their spilled Blood victorious
— the peasant blood of your People in massacre
that has to dye in wines of joy the exorcised dawn!

The angel of the Lord announced on the eve,
and the Word was made death, again, in your death;
since it is made death, every day, in the naked flesh of your People.
And it was made new life
in our old Church!

We are again ready for testimony,
San Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr!
Romero of an almost impossible peace in this land of war.
Romero in purple flower of the intact hope of the entire Continent.
Romero of the Latin American Passover.
Poor glorious shepherd, assassinated for money, for dollars, for foreign exchange.

Like Jesus, by order of the Empire.
Poor glorious shepherd,
by your own brothers of the pastoral staff and of the Table…!
(The curia could not understand you:
no well-to-do synagogue can understand Christ.)

Your poor, yes, accompanied you,
in faithful exasperation,
pasture and flock, all at once, of your prophetic mission.
The People made you a saint.
The hour of your People consecrated you in the appointed time of God.
The poor taught you how to read the Gospel.

Like a brother wounded by brother murdering brother,
you knew how to cry, alone, in the Garden.
You knew fear, like a man in combat.
But you knew how to make your word, in freedom, ring like a bell!

And you knew how to drink from the double chalice of the Altar and of the People,
with one single hand devoted to service.
Latin America already has you in its glory of Bernini
in the foamy halo of its seas,
in the angry canopy of the alert Andes,
in the song of all its roads,
in the new Calvary of all its prisons,
of all its trenches,
of all its altars. . . .
In the secure altar of the sleepless heart of its children!

San Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr:
no one will silence your last homily!

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For a powerful article about Monseñor Romero — as a reflection for this day, have a look at John Dear’s reflection:

And a brief film on his assasination, see Daniel Freed’s work:

San Romero de América:  ¡PRESENTE!

A Week South of the Border

Thirty-two years ago, I moved to Mexico City to take up my second year of studies in Theology as a Basilian in temporary vows.  I lived with several other Basilians in formation in a very poor section of Mexico City called San Juan de Aragón.  It was my first time to travel to Mexico, but I was inspired by my hero, Fr. Bob Power, CSB — a dynamic priest who spoke near-perfect Spanish and who pastored the parish of Sainte Anne de Detroit by calling forth leadership from among the people.  Bob had studied his full degree in Theology in Mexico and I wanted to do the same.  In their wisdom, the members of the General Council saw fit, after my pushing and pushing, to allow me to spend my second year there.  What a year!

     The other Basilians were wonderful men, all from economically poor families, but rich in faith and in their love for the Congregation.  One of the things that hit me right away was the fact that each of them had two sets of clothes: their regular, every-day clothes and shoes and their special events – like Sundays – clothes.  They were tremendously clean and their clothing was immaculate, but unlike the guy from the north who (characteristically, even today) overpacked, they did not worry about what they were to wear.  Great challenge to one of my North American assumptions about the necessities of life!  Food was always delicious but never in abundance.  The staples of Mexico, especially poor Mexico are corn tortillas, beans and chile.  Some don’t eat chile, by the way.
     We studied together at the Jesuit university there, the Iberoamericana, home to the children of the wealthiest, the socialites, the politicians, and to a poor band of religious men and women who studied together at a fine Faculty of Theology (Facultad de Ciencias Religiosas), learning 1980s-brand Latin American theology, reading primary sources, having long discussions of how the Bible and the Revelation of God seem to make the most sense from the point of view of those considered “throw-aways” in society, people living on the margins who, in polite, capitalist society, “don’t count.”   Another assumption severely challenged.
     News about my home country, the United States of America in the time of the Reagan presidency was very different in Mexico and across Latin America than it was here.  In fact, that last sentence can be changed to present tense and maintain its truth value.  Other countries see us differently, of course, but they also are allowed to see and read and talk about things that are just not available to us who live in this country.  In my idealistic young man’s mind, I thought that if I translated articles I was reading in the Mexican press and sent them to friends in “the North” and to the U.S. government, they would see what the American press had not shown them.  Then things would get better.  It took me some months, but it finally dawned on me that what I had presumed, that the government was unaware and needed to be told, was tragically naïve, that the assassinations in Guatemala and El Salvador, the massacres and opression were not only known by the government of my country, but bankrolled, trained and often led by members of my country’s government.  All my life — and no doubt all American’s lives — we have heard and assumed that ours is “the greatest country in the world.”  I knew that not to be true after several months living outside of it.  I still loved my country, but now the blinders had come off and I could see how such an assumption was not only naïve, but actually dangerous in that it left us Americans unable even to conceive of such great evil being done in our name and with our consent — and tax dollars.  Politicians who wanted to do clearly illegal and deeply immoral things would not be deterred by people who lived by the “greatest country in the world” ideology.  This one hurt — a lot.  In fact, it probably shook my core foundations so much that I would deal with bouts of depression both in Mexico and when I returned.
     All of my illusions, my assumptions, the things they taught me (us) as a kid as true and necessary and God-ordained…  Shaken to their bases.
     While all this was rumbling through my soul, two more long-standing prejudices were also being challenged by lived experience.  One was that poor people (poorer than I had ever experienced) were often joyful people.  I, in my North American vision, presumed that poverty  deprived people of the possiblility of joy, but it turns out that relationships and small moments of grace, sharing prayer with the community, falling in love, turning 15, buying a bicycle, finding a job — all were moments of immense joy.  Joyful poor people.  Who knew?
     I also learned a huge lesson about being human.  Yes, that basic.  I learned that we humans have a basic, minimum amount of food that we actually need not only to survive but to thrive — and it’s much less than I presumed.  Eating is a joyful, tasty experience, especially when enjoyed with others, but not something we need to do all day, not something we need to do to such abundance that our clothes don’t fit us correctly for an hour or so…  We are strong and smart and able to do many, many things with the merest basics.
     What I’m saying here is that the poor people who lived in our neighborhood, as much as the Jesuits and their collaborators at the Universidad Iberoamericana, were my teachers.  The Jesuits in Theology.  The people in Humanity, their humanity and my own, and understanding that there is so little difference in who we are at the base.  It’s what we load on that separates us, and it makes us less joyful, less able, weaker and tending toward an addiction to “stuff.”  I’d like to say that I transplanted this insight into my life once that year was over and I returned to one of the largest, most wealthy cities in North America, Toronto.  I think I am a different person thanks to my life in Mexico, but in my heart, especially recently returned from the people who taught me so much, I felt daily as if I were betraying them and in a way, betraying God.  It took me several years to come to a sort of peace, though not entirely, with living in North America.  I still feel deep in my soul that as long as there is one sister or brother suffering from the evils of poverty, injustice and war, I can’t sit back and say, “everything’s alright and I’m satisfied.”  The Jesuits have a saying that I wish I had come up with.  They say that once people have experienced life in some other poor country in their Volunteer Corps, they’re “ruined for life.”  But it’s not a destructive “ruin.”  It’s also called “solidarity.”
     Anyway, I was blessed with a chance this past week (just off the plane a couple of hours as I write) to visit Mexico City again, as well as Tehuacán in the state of Puebla, both of which places Basilians live and work.  My Basilian brothers, at least one of whom was there in 1982-83, continue to amaze me by their simple lifestyle, their joy, their sense of solidarity not only among themselves but with the people of God in their charge and across the world.  Wherever there are people suffering, our brothers know something about them and often pray for them in Mass or community prayer.  We have some young men who have recently shown interest in the Basilian Fathers in Mexico.  Two professed temporary vows last summer and two will enter a year of discernment for the same profession (a year called the Novitiate) this summer.  There is a sense among them all that what they do means something, that in real and tangible ways God is being shared through their apostolic activity, their loving presence, their prayer and example.  I come back so grateful for the gift of a year among the people of Mexico and among my Basilian brothers — and grateful for this week in which they showed me deep hospitality, fraternal love and humble honesty.
     One thing that is more challenging now than it was when I was 26 is the travel.  But I’m counting on the replenishing power of sleep now to assist with the kinks in my back, neck and legs!
     May the Lord Jesus and his blessed mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe watch over you all and share heavenly peace with you and all God’s children.