Monthly Archives: September 2016

Friday Thoughts: A Simple Landscape


George Cole, “Harvet Rest”, 1865


A painter has a great advantage, as does a writer I suppose. He can scratch out, erase, and paint over. He can throw out and start again. He can expand the landscape or focus in on a detail. There is great freedom in creation. Yet none of it has any value unless it comes from and leads back toward God.

The great sweeping landscapes painted throughout the years. I want to dive into so many of them. To run toward the distant hills, to sit beside the babbling brooks, to hitch a ride on the hay wagon making its way round the bend. But most of all I want to join the peasants, working the fields or gathered around the base of a giant oak for a bite of second-day bread, and perhaps even a sip of slightly watered-down wine.

I want to hear the simple strings of a Spanish guitar, the worn-out wood of a French violin, the voice of yet another “Maria” toiling beneath the Italian plein air.

The pleasant thought of resting beside a river bed—of catching a not-so-quick nap within the shade of God’s ever-expanding and contracting canopy of leaves.

Even the bark of an English Foxhound could not interrupt thee!


I don’t want to be told that this isn’t reality. I don’t want to be told that it’s a bit romantic.

I want to live simply. I want to work an honest wage. I want to stop at noon to give the good God rightful thanks and praise.

I want to visit the graves of the dead with a bouquet of hope and faith.

I want to truly retire each night.


Love is enough.

It is enough for you and for me.


There is never enough if that we fail to see.


—Howard Hain



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St. Therese and the Poison of Unbelief


Saints are an antidote to the poisons of their times, G.K. Chesterton once wrote. They reveal what’s wrong with the world in which they live and counteract that poison by their own lives. Mother Theresa, for example, saw a world poisoned by its neglect of the poor.  She not only pointed out the evil but did something about it.

Padre Pio is another example. He’s a reminder that the denial of God present in a human being poisons human life itself. God is present in people, Padre Pio reminds us.

This Saturday is the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. What poison does she counteract? For one thing, her promotion of the spirituality of childhood opposes the current belief that we are self sufficient and can do anything we please. No, we’re not bigger than God.

Does Therese also counter the poison of unbelief? A recent poll from the Pew Research Center sees a dramatic rise in America since the 1950s in the numbers of those who describe themselves as “religiously unaffiliated.” Almost a quarter of Americans (4 out of 10 young people) now see themselves in this category, the majority describing themselves as unbelievers.

Unbelief is growing in America.

Therese had a “clear” “living” faith most of her life, but she was plunged into a darkness in her last days, a darkness she saw connected with the problem of unbelief. God permitted her to be “invaded by the thickest darkness,” she said, and “the thought of heaven, up to then so sweet to me, was no longer anything but a cause of struggle and torment.”

“Your child, however, O Lord, has understood Your divine light, and she begs pardon for her brothers. She is resigned to eat the bread of sorrow as long as You desire it; she does not wish to rise up from this table filled with bitterness at which poor sinners are eating until the day set by You. Can she not say in her name and in the name of her brothers, “Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!” Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus! if it is needful that the table soiled by them be purified by a soul who loves You, then I desire to eat this bread of trial at this table until it pleases You to bring me into Your bright Kingdom. The only grace I ask of You is that I never offend You!” (Manuscript C, chapter 10)

Sharing the darkness of those living in unbelief, Therese prays in their name, “’Have pity on us, O Lord, for we are poor sinners!’ Oh! Lord, send us away justified. May all those who were not enlightened by the bright flame of faith one day see it shine. O Jesus!” Therese saw her “struggle and torment” linked to unbelievers “ not enlightened by the bright flame of faith.”

Mother Theresa seems to have had a similar experience of the darkness.

Must other believers today share that experience of darkness, that “dark night”, in different degrees or different ways, so that “those not enlightened by the bright light of faith may one day see it shine?” It seems so.

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Morning Thoughts: Counting Drops


Massimo Stanzione, “Pieta”, (1621-25)


For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

—1 Corinthians 13:12



Some days all we can do is count raindrops. There seems to be little else on the horizon.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)

On days such as these, a friend, a family member, a neighbor—perhaps even a stranger—may ask us if anything is wrong.

The answer is short and straightforward: “No, nothing at all.”

Yet, it is precisely that.

“Nothing” is precisely the problem:

The abyss of faith.

It’s hard.

It’s hard to journey in darkness.

It’s hard to swim in a bottomless sea without attempting every once in a while to touch bottom.

It’s also hard not to wonder if there’s something dangerous swimming just below.

But we must resist temptation, no matter its shape or size.

We must keep our eyes on the Island of Hope, with its very distinct Tree of Life, firmly planted, and reaching far above the horizon.

Instead of looking backwards or beneath, we must look to Christ lifted high up upon the Cross.


We too must ascend. We too must rise above knowledge, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” (Phil. 3:13)

And we must never despair. Never.

And why would we? God’s drops of love are everywhere.

Start to count them. Start to count this very day. Count the drops dripping from Christ’s open wounds. His crucified presence abounds; there are so many instances of Christ being put to the test—of Christ being nailed to the Cross—right in front of us, each and every day.

The Crucified Christ we personally discover within our immediate presence, literally within arm’s reach, just may be that same friend, family member, neighbor, or stranger who asked us just a little while ago if anything was wrong.


Count your blessings on the outstretched fingers of the Lord.

Order your days according to the Stations of His Cross.

For without the Passion there is no Resurrection.

That’s part and parcel of The Promise:

God became man, so that man may dwell eternally with God.

His promise is everything.

Our doubt is nothing.

And the space in between, the space between His promise and our doubt, is filled with the very real stuff we call “life”— “the nuts and bolts” of daily existence, the building blocks of the Body of Christ—the Kingdom of God.

We just have to continue to walk, in faith, one step at a time. Knowing that we never walk alone.

Christ is always with us. He shares our total existence—in all things but sin—and even that, He got to know well. For the Guiltless One took upon Himself our sins and those of the whole world.

Jesus not only hung upon the Cross, He was yanked on all the while He was up there—the weight of a fallen world ceaselessly pulling down on His spotless hands and feet.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…” (2 Cor. 5:21)



Absolutely nothing.

Jesus held back not a drop. He gave it all. And we in return are offered everything:

Sons and daughters of God. Co-heirs of the Kingdom.

How can we ever repay such a gift?

That’s the point. We can’t.

It’s grace. Pure grace.

Unwarranted mercy, non-merited compassion and forgiveness, unearned love.


Grace-filled moments such as these, when we realize just how small we truly are, bring us astonishingly close to the Creator of all—wonderfully close to Him Whom nothing can be compared.

They fill us with hope, the hope of what is to come, the hope of what Christ Himself promises.

In the meantime, let us keep counting raindrops. They too shall soon cease to fall. For one day, even faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see God “face to face.”


Beloved, we are God’s children now; 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.

—1 John 3:2


—Howard Hain



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St. Therese and the Passion of Jesus


St. Therese put two titles to her name after she became a Carmelite nun. She’s pictured with those two titles in this photo. One was Therese of the Child Jesus, the other was Therese of the Holy Face. She wished to be known by these two titles: Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

The titles came from religious experiences she had. The first occurred on Christmas day, 1886, when she was 13 years old. I commented on her experience of the Christ Child previously. Immediately afterwards, she writes about her experience of the Passion of Jesus. It took place one Sunday of the next year, when she was 14. Her description of the two experiences is found in chapter 5 of her autobiography.

Remember these are experiences of a young teenage girl, which reminds us God can come with his grace at any time in our lives, to any of us.

“One Sunday, looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground unnoticed. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls.

The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”

Therese went on to describe the conversion of a notorious murderer, Pranzini, who had just been condemned to death and refused to see a priest. She asked Jesus, “feeling that I myself could do nothing,” to be merciful to him. She had Mass offered for him, she begs God to be merciful.

Then, she reads in the newspaper that Pranzini just before he was beheaded took the crucifix from the priest at his execution and kissed it reverently three times and goes to his death. She knows her prayers are answered “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance!”

Look at her experience. She looks at the cross of our Lord and sees drops of his blood falling to the ground, like dew, unnoticed. Doesn’t this point to a forgetfulness of the mercy of God? St. Paul of the Cross would say “the world is falling into a forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus.” A forgotten source of strength, trust, hope and grace.

Therese is led to remember the passion of Jesus as a sign of the mercy of God. She hears the Lord’s words “I thirst,” not simply as an expression of Jesus’ physical thirst, but as expressing his desire to show love and mercy to all the world.

She experiences the power of this mystery, “I myself can do nothing.”

therese-holy-cardI’m preaching at St. Therese’s Church in Johnstown, PA, this week and I hear a good many here saying the same thing. “I myself can do nothing…Nothing about my kids or my grandchildren or myself for that matter. I’ve tried everything. I can do nothing. I’m worried about the world I live in, my country, my church and I can do nothing.”


Can we look at the Lord on his cross and hear his words, “I thirst.” Like Therese, perhaps “an unknown and very living fire” will take hold within us.


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Blaming Leaders

It’s easy to blame leaders, and we do it all the time. The parade of world leaders speaking at the UN last week offers some easy targets. And we getting ready to elect a new leader here too.

St. Augustine, in a sermon on the Good Shepherd, calls church leaders to be like Jesus and warns them not to lead the sheep astray.  When they are like Jesus they are “in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.”

And so we must pray for good leaders for our church and also for our country. “May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!”

But Augustine goes further and says we must do more than pray, we ourselves must be “good sheep,”  because “if there are good sheep then it follows that there are good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd.”

Does that mean we get the leaders we deserve? In blaming them, are we also blaming ourselves? Add to a prayer for good shepherds, a prayer for good sheep.


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26th Sunday C: Social Justice: What is It?

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

The last two Sunday’s our first reading has been from the Prophet Amos. Today’s reading from Amos is linked to the story that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel. He speaks of a rich man living very comfortably, living luxuriously, who can’t see the poor beggar, Lazarus, outside his door. God judges him severely.

Having these two readings together, we can understand why some people in Jesus’ time thought he was a prophet. Jesus’ message about the poor was like that of the prophets. We can see also how important social justice is in the gospel. We can’t have religion without justice. Religion without justice is an affront to God who wishes all his children be justly cared for and loved.

Let’s take a look, first, at Amos, the prophet. Amos was ordinary sheepbreeder, he bred sheep in northern Israel about 700 years before Christ. In his time Israel was very prosperous and so were the countries around her, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, but their prosperity came at a price. They had everything they wanted–at least, the elite of those societies had everything they wanted. More often than not, though, their prosperity came at the expense of the poor.

In our readings these last two Sunday’s you hear Amos’ severe indictment, not only of the people of Israel, but of her neighbors as well. They’re trampling on the needy. He fiercely attacks those who are well off and don’t see the poor of the land.

“…lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches,” eating the best food, drinking the best wines, not caring at all about those who are falling apart around them.

Amos was an ordinary sheep herder, but he knew what was going on, and he wasn’t afraid to say what he saw. He calls out everyone, kings, rulers, political people, priests, religious leaders, business people, anyone who’s cashing in on the needy and the poor of the land.

The Lord won’t forget what you have done, he tells them.

God won’t forget what you have done. Notice, the prophet doesn’t appeal to economics and say it’s not good economics to neglect the poor and have a society of “have’s and have nots.” No. The prophet doesn’t appeal to politics and say a fractured society isn’t good for a community; it’s going to lead to violence, riots, internal instability. No. The prophet doesn’t appeal to human good feeling and say that being good to the poor will help you feel better about yourself. No.

A prophet like Amos sees the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. That’s who the prophet is: one who sees the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” The goods of this world are not just for some people, for the few. This world is God’s world, and it’s meant for the good of all. That’s what the prophets say. That’s what the saints say, saints like Mother Theresa say the same thing. They see the world through God’s eyes and God’s values. That’s what social justice means, it’s justice for all.

That’s what Jesus says in his parable today. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say much about the rich man who’s dressed well and eats well. He doesn’t tell anything about the house he lived in, or his status in society or the way he got his money, or his wealthy friends, or where he spends his vacations. No. In fact, he doesn’t even tell us his name.

The only name Jesus offers in the parable is the poor man’s name, Lazarus, who has the same name as the man Jesus raised from the dead. How different too that is from our society, which knows the names of all the rich and famous and forgets the names of the poor.

We need to listen to prophets and saints. We need to listen to the teaching of Jesus in the gospel. We need to see things right. We need to see this world as God sees it.

And we need to act justly in our world, justly to all.

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St. Vincent Strambi

I find the biographies of most of our saints–I’m thinking now of the saints of my community, the Passionists– weak in history, which tends to remove them from their time and their interaction with it. That makes them less challenging. They can make you believe that holiness means withdrawing from the world you live in when, actually, to be holy means engaging your times, not leaving them.

The world we live in is the path we’re put on when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we are displayed. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’ve been thinking of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist who lived in Italy as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century. His cross was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dreams of conquest and the changes brought about by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which for him was inspired by the sufferings he saw in the world around him.Some say over 4 million people were killed in the Napoleonic wars, military and civilians. So much innocent blood was shed then.

Strambi was part of that world; his blood was being shed too, not literally, but in the crucifying events of war, confusion, famine, sickness and change that affected his church, his community, his diocese, his country and the people he served. His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus came mainly from his experience of his time, I think.

Father Fabiano Giorgini, a fine historian who died recently, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

I wonder, too, if a new generation of hagiographers is needed, drawn from the laity and not from religious communities who may be too prone to promote their own heros.


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