Monthly Archives: January 2009

St. Anthony of Egypt

Today’s the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt, the 3th century hermit who, through his biography written by St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, became one of the most important sources of spirituality in the Christian churches of the east and west.

He played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine, who was deeply moved by reading his life. He’s called the father of monasticism because of his influence on the monastic movement in the church after his death.

If you look at his life, you see a simple, ordinary man who took the gospel seriously. Artists love to dramatize Anthony fighting temptations, which he did. But his temptations, when you look at them, are remarkably like our own–if we look at them.

They were constant and varied, sometimes to pride, to crippling anxiety, to lust, to pleasure. They were complex, shifting and troublesome.

For him temptation meant, not only confronting some sudden evil choice, but struggling through life with recurring doubts and deeply held illusions that weigh down the human heart. Temptation for Anthony was a part of human experience, and he showed it was also part of the experience of a saint.

He found, too, that temptation, far from being a time when God abandons someone, is a time when God is near. Beyond increasing self-knowledge, which it does, the experience of temptation reveals to the human heart the power of God’s grace. As he got older, he got increasingly optimistic. His constant message to others was:”Don’t be afraid.”

That’s one of the reasons people were attracted to this ordinary man: he was real, and he shared that experience with others. Speaking to him, they saw themselves as they were and as they could be.

St. Athanasius writes: “Seeing him, the villagers and those who knew him called him a friend of God, and they loved him as a son and as a brother.”

Healing Grace

In Mark’s gospel, after his baptism and gathering disciples, Jesus immediately begins a ministry of healing.  After curing the man in the synagogue convulsed by an unclean spirit,  Jesus goes on to cure Simon’s mother-in-law,  and then the whole town comes to the door of Peter’s house with their sick.

The healing he brings is not just for bodily life on earth; his healing is a sign of the kingdom that is to come, ‘where Christ will raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory.”

Above, all, we look for that healing, that ultimate healing that takes away our fears before death and helps us make our way to the life promised us.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and political activist, died a few days ago. David Brooks in his column in the New York Times yesterday wrote about the priest’s bravery in face of death.“ Some years ago, Neuhaus had a near death experience that gave him a certain grace before that reality we all must face…
When he wrote about his experience later, his great theme was the way death has a backward influence back onto life: ‘We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already under way.’

“It also made him almost indifferent about when his life would end,” Brooks writes. “People would tell him to fight for life and he would enjoy their attention, but the matter wasn’t really in his hands, and everything was ready anyway.

In his final column for First Things, a magazine he edited, he wrote.
“Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much I hope to do in the interim.”

We are having an Anointing of the Sick today here in our chapel.  May the Lord bring his healing to our house.

Fishermen from Galilee

We’re beginning to read from the Gospel of Mark in the liturgy these days. Yesterday, Jesus called disciples, some fishermen, to be “fishers of men”  and to announce his Kingdom. (Mark 1, 14-20) They were the people he chose.

The gospels never enhance or exaggerate their profile. They’re fishermen. Hardly the people you would pick to begin a worldwide movement. But their power is not the power that brings about the Kingdom. It’s Jesus, who shared his mission with them and, surprisingly, with us.

A famous 5th century mosaic in the  Church of San Pudentiana in Rome pictures the apostles dressed as Roman senators solemnly seated at a messianic banquet. Wouldn’t they  squirm in a role like that? Imagine Peter going about the city dressed like a Roman senator.

I don’t think so.

I think they always remembered who they were and where they came from. They knew their limitations and their failings. They were fishermen from Galilee, who had been invited to be part of a great enterprise through no merit of their own.

There’s nothing wrong with humility, which is recognizing the truth about yourself and where  power and wisdom come from.

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.