Monthly Archives: January 2009

Clean Water for Honduras

A young man from St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, NJ is traveling to Honduras tomorrow as part a his college’s chapter of “Engineers Without Borders.” They’re going to work on supplying clean water and better sanitation for a poor area of the country. You can read about the project at

I emailed Alec this morning:


I wish God’s blessings for you and your companions as you take off for Honduras tomorrow to be part of your college’s chapter of  “Engineers Without Borders.”  Lafayette College should be commended for encouraging this outreach to supply clean water and sanitation to the Yoro district, one of the poorest areas in that country.

From your work there last year you know the blessings you get when you go to a place like that and offer your skills and talent to the people. Those blessing will be there for you this time too, I’m sure.

I was thinking of something Pope Paul VI said years ago, “Development is a new name for peace.” You are bringing peace by what you are doing, peace because what you do brings those people the promise of a better life, peace because they realize the world beyond them has reached out to help them.

I told you I thought it was nice that you are going off after we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus yesterday at church. He made water one of the ways he brought life to people.

May he be with you there too. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you and seeing the pictures when you get back.

God bless,


Hope for Today

I visited a friend of mine the other day, a retired banker who worked for a major New York bank most of his life. He told me he’s getting more and more depressed by the financial situation taking place in our country and throughout the world. He keeps watching the financial news on television constantly and reading the newspapers and magazines, but  he doesn’t see any evidence that things are going to get better nor any foolproof solution for the situation.

All the experts and the pundits are stumped. He talks  to his friends about the situation and they’re not shedding any light on it either.

Well, of course, neither could I. Nobody has the answers, it seems, for what we’re facing today.

I did tell him, though, that I thought he should give his mind a rest and turn the television off and think of something else. It’s dangerous when we get obsessed by problems.

When I left him,  I thought of a phrase from the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. “We were hoping…” they said to the Stranger who began to walk with them.

They had put their hopes in something that didn’t turn out: a kingdom, a political order brought about by Jesus of Nazareth. “We were hoping…”  But with his crucifixion their hopes were dashed to the ground.

It”s always important when problems arise, whether personal or social, when things we put our trust in are shaken or destroyed,  that we look for hope to get us through.

That’s what Jesus did for his disciples that day on the way to Emmaus. He raised their hopes. When our hope is strong and well-founded, we keep going and are not overcome by fear.

The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which we celebrate today, is a time to strengthen that kind of hope. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And Jesus began his mission, hard and demanding as it was.

God said that to us at our baptism. We are his children, gifted with his wisdom and power. Who knows what we have to do to get out of the mess we see in our world today? But the hope that rests in God’s  promise  gives us encouragement and  patience to get on with the job until its done.

Baptism: Another Birthday

I sometimes have to preach at a baptism. Here’s an idea from a sermon by Maximus of Turin on the baptism of Jesus that I’m going to use someday.

He says we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his baptism  together in the liturgy because, though separated by years, his  baptism is another birthday.

“Then he was born from a virgin; at his baptism he is born in mystery. When he was born, his mother Mary held him close to her heart; when he is born in  mystery, God the Father  embraces him with his voice and says: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’

The mother caresses the tender baby on her lap; the Father serves his Son by loving testimony. His mother holds the child for the Magi to adore; the Father reveals that his Son is to be worshiped by all the nations.”

Baptism is another birthday. We celebrate birthdays yearly. Some celebrate a child’s baptismal day along with his birthday every year. The baptismal candle and robe instead of a birthday cake.

Might be a good custom to recommend

Clean Water

Sacraments,  earthly signs of divine mystery,  also shed light on some social questions we wrestle with day by day.

For example, water is the sign of Baptism, and what is more urgent today than the world’s use of this vital element for life? Like the air we breathe, we depend on clean water for drinking, agriculture, sanitation and hygiene.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) says that more than 1 billion people – about one in six people in the world – have no access to clean and safe drinking water, which then is a cause of poverty, conflict, disease and death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates  that 1.8 million children die every year as a result of diseases caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. Women and children, the usual providers of water, spend long hours walking to get water, often from polluted sources. The time they spend prevents them from benefiting from other work or from school.

The feast of the Baptism of Jesus usually ends our celebration of the Christmas season, as it does this year.  Jesus came that we might have life, and among his great signs promising life are signs of food and drink. Can we fulfill  his promise of life by working today to eradicate hunger and the lack of clean water in so many parts of the world? Doesn’t  a cause like that follow from our own baptism? It’s part of the first of the Millenium Development Goals agreed upon by the peoples of the world at the United Nations.

It’s interesting that among the earliest directions for the rite of Baptism in early Christianity–found also in Jewish purification rituals too–is the instruction that people be baptized in “flowing water, ” clean, fresh water.

The signs of our sacraments take us beyond personal salvation; they are signs for our wider world too.

Does Religion Answer All Questions?

Is religion about  answering questions, all questions? The perfect  Christian, then, would be someone who has the answer to everything.

I was interested in something Pope Benedict XVI said  recently on the subject of God.

“The words of St Ignatius spring to mind: ‘The Christian is not the result of persuasion, but of power.’ We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.

I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.

If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us.”

It seems to me that the Christmas season, which we’re still celebrating, is about a great mystery of faith. God has sent his Word, become flesh, and he has given us a share in his life. The pope is right, he (and we) don’t have to have all the answers; our first duty is to be humble before the power of God made visible.

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated today by all the mainline Christian churches of the east and the west, is a reminder of the universal call to salvation. 

As the Magi come to Bethlehem from afar, so all nations are invited to share in the promise of Jesus Christ. 

St. Leo the Great’s homily for today sees that promise made long ago to Abraham, who was told by God that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky.

“Let the full number of the nations take their place in the family of the patriarchs…In the persons of the Magi, let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not only in Judea, but in the whole world…

This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see…”

We should be like the star, drawing others who are far off, to know Christ, the saint says.

Like all mysteries, the mystery of the Epiphany is not over. It continues. How shall the nations of today, the peoples of the world, be led to Christ? How can we shine in the darkness, like the star, and lead them to the Child, the Word made flesh?

For more on the Epiphany, see