John 9:1-41

Dear Friends, once again we have a story of conversion from St. John on our Lenten journey. Jesus is the light of the world calling us out of the darkness of the blindness of the spirit.

I like to call this the Catholic way of conversion. This where we think we see but continue to get new light as we stay faithful to the struggle of living our commitment. Unlike last week where the Samaritan woman fought Jesus at every step until the final cave in, today the blind man begins with the beautiful encounter with Jesus in the restoration of his sight. Each of the following encounters brings him an ever-expanding new light.

Much to his surprise, the newly healed blind man had a ways to go. Each step was laden with obstacles that demanded yet another decision and a stronger commitment to Jesus. He responds to the crescendoing inquiries and hostility by choosing Jesus at a deeper level each time. In verse (9:12) he says, “a man named Jesus.” In verse (9:17) he says, “He is a prophet.” Then in (9:38) he professes, “I do believe (in the Son of Man) and he worshipped him.”

St. Teresa of Avila’s story follows this pattern. She was a mediocre religious for twenty years. Basically, she let the dry rituals of convent life define her but she stayed in the struggle. Then she evolved with a transforming encounter with Christ. She moved from her head to the deepest recesses of her heart and discovered she was loved without condition or limit. This was only possible as she fought off the spirit-killing tentacles of religious life in her time. This was a religious life far removed from the fire and passion of the Jesus of the Gospels. When the light of Christ lit up her heart, She was on the way to far-reaching change. This new light was anchored in the growing awareness of the limitless mercy of God revealed in Jesus. Thus, her mantra was, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.” In the process, Teresa moved on the painful but joyful journey from being a pious nun to a glorious saint, a reformer of religious life and a Doctor of the Church.

I have a much more personal and simpler story that follows the same pattern. One Sunday Mass in my fourth grade I received two hosts from the priest. Working out of my theological and cultural construct this evolved into the most traumatic moment in my life up to that point. I was sure l was going straight to hell if I swallowed the second host. I could not stop the Mass to give it back. Engulfed in fear and anxiety, I placed it on the side of my mouth with the hope of returning it to the priest in the sacristy after Mass. No such luck. It melted away. To my amazement, the floor did not open to free my passage into the everlasting flames I was sure that awaited me.

At the end of the Mass, I raced to the Monsignor to express my sorrow and innocence in the disaster of the two hosts. He said with a gentle pat on my head, “Ah boy, that’s no problem. Don’t you worry about it.”

That priestly encounter gave me a twenty year head start on Vatican II. I figured if they taught me so much fear of God, maybe I ought to look for a better program because that program had all but assured me I was seconds away from the everlasting fires of hell. It was pretty confusing for my quizzical fourth grade mind.

The blind man in today’s Gospel is a good example of one who kept his eyes on Jesus. Although he was born blind, he seems to be the only one to grow in his expanding sight to truly let Jesus light up his world. In contrast, the leaders stayed in the darkness as did the neighbors while the poor parents were frozen in the shadows of fear. The blind man did keep his eyes on Jesus so in the end he could say “I do believe Lord.” (John 9:38)

Like the blind man, I began a journey to meet Jesus in a way quite different from what I had learned in the Baltimore catechism. The message of my Carmelite sister to “keep our eyes on Jesus” is extremely helpful as I continue searching for the mystery that is Christ Crucified and Christ Risen. It is a challenging and lifegiving experience that offers all of us the chance to encounter the light that is Christ, the light of the world. It is our special task as we continue our Lenten journey.

In Christ,


Teresa’s Program and Addiction 

Question #4: “Given the deep scientific basis for May’s insights on addictions. How can your favorite author, Teresa of Avila, have anything relevant to say about addictions?”

Teresa of Avila had none of the benefits of Gerald May’s gifted and exceptional scientific background. She had no awareness of the intricate connection of body, mind and psyche in today’s understanding of addiction. Yet, she had a profound experience of God in her life of prayer. In fact, it was brilliant enough that she was named the first woman Doctor of the Church.

In what has become known as Teresa’s Program, we have some truly helpful insights that supplement May’s teachings about addiction and the spiritual life. Teresa saw prayer as the central component of the individual’s purification and transformation on the journey to becoming one with God. She describes clearly the deep personal changes involved in a faithful prayer life. These changes are similar to eliminating the consequences of addiction in our day.

Teresa understood that the source of true prayer was the heart. The Bible mentions this more than a thousand times. Her genius let her see the chaos in the heart as the product of what we call today addictions. The heart was a battlefield where good and evil struggled mightily to gain control. One of Teresa’s gifts to Christian spirituality was to identify the interaction of prayer and the three virtues of humility, detachment and charity as a source of peace and order producing purity of heart. All of this takes place in a gradual journey demanding constant faithfulness to the struggle. The internal order and peace resulting from purity of heart, is the great treasure of the gospel parable.

The necessary interaction of the virtues and prayer helps the prayer grow in intensity and the virtues increase in their integrity and influence. This shared support gradually increases the peace and order flowing from purity of heart. This is the beginning of liberation from the chaos of the unchallenged addictions.

May describes the elimination of addictions as the outcome of freedom that opens to love. Teresa envisions energizing prayer by bringing an internal order that joins the virtues and prayer in shared growth. This, in turn, leads to a deeper, clearer and more free movement to be one with God.

The language, and even some points of emphasis, offered by Teresa and May are different. The reality of internal transformation, however, is truly the same.

The Three Virtues

Humility: Teresa repeats regularly that humility is the truth. The bottom line of our reality is that God is the Creator and we are the creature. Humility lets us embrace this certain truth.

For Teresa, humility is not about a loss of self-esteem. This is a dishonest and damaging misuse of humility. Such a state is disturbing and conflicted. Teresa, on the contrary, says, “Humility does not disturb or disquiet however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight, and calm…this humility expands the soul and enables it to serve God more.” (Way of Perfection 10.2)

To know and embrace the humble truth about ourselves is a source of our freedom. This is the same freedom that comes with withdrawal from addiction. We slowly begin to see more clearly who God is. This realization is the essential source of our humility. We also see the truth about ourselves with the gift of this virtue. Humility opens us up to the necessary personal conversion that leads to constant growth in self-understanding. It lets us grasp the wonder of God calling us into the Mystery of Love even in our broken and sinful state with all of our addictions.

Detachment: By detachment Teresa implies that we must put all things in their proper perspective. We need to relate to everything so they bring us closer to God. This particular relationship, that hobby, our cell phone, our favorite entertainments and all of our other possessions and relationships will either bring us closer to God or be a barrier in this search. The effects of original sin, often displayed in our addictions, drive us to make certain creatures our idols. In our culture, one of the great forces pulling us away from God is in the hunger for security. The three false gods in this deceit are possessions, power and relationships. Detachment attacks this perversion of reality so entrenched in our deceiving hearts.

True detachment unleashes our fundamental longing for God and sets our heart free. Jesus’ gospel teachings about detachment are about learning to love. Only when things are seen in the right light, with a detached heart, do they open the way to God. Otherwise, things are used only to prop up our selfish agenda, contrary to our goal, to seek God.

Charity: Charity is the proper acceptance of others. Love expressed in charity for our sisters and brothers is the index of our spiritual growth. For Teresa, the authenticity of our spiritual journey is measured by the quality of our interpersonal relations. This neighborly love moves us towards the center where God awaits.

This call to communal love is an exceptionally difficult barrier and challenge on our spiritual journey. Our selfishness most often is an expression of our addictions. Our addictions deepen our self-centeredness. We easily fall into a pattern of self-righteousness. Teresa understood this, saying, “Beg our Lord to give you this perfect love of neighbor. Let his Majesty have a free hand, for He will give you more than you know how to desire because you are striving and making every effort to do what you can about this love.” (Interior Castle.5.3.12)

Teresa has a simple example of how profound this practice is in ordinary life. She says if there is a person that we find difficult, we should go out of our way to support and help that person. If that individual receives praise, we ought to rejoice as if the praise is for us.

The Ultimate Goal

The journey to God is an interaction between these three virtues and prayer. We need to pray to be humble, detached, and loving. They open us to grace, the only way to escape of our addictions. This process will continue throughout our life.

Teresa saw our freedom from all creatures as decisive to the spiritual journey to God. This freedom happens by reducing the dominance of self-interest and by diminishing possessiveness and worldly honor. May describes the same process as breaking loose from the dominion of addictions.

The pursuit of God is a slow, steady development with little leapfrogging ahead. A necessary, incessant determination is at the heart of Teresa’s program, integrating prayer and a lifestyle guided by the three virtues. This is walking with Jesus in the way of freedom and love.

Question #4: “Given the deep scientific basis for May’s insights on addictions. How can your favorite author, Teresa of Avila, have anything relevant to say about addictions?”


Jn 4:5-42 

        Dear Friends, Today’s story of the Samaritan woman is the first of three episodes addressing our sinful humanity and the call to salvation this Lenten Season. The blind man and the raising of Lazarus are John’s two other powerful invitations into the saving experiences of Jesus that we encounter in our life.

        There is level after level of messaging in today’s Gospel. I hope to ponder the beauty of being drawn into a saving dialogue with a very persistent God. Jesus is talking about thirst which is a very appt symbol for the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

        Right off, the woman basically rejects any kind of dialogue. For a man and woman to be talking in public was a gross violation of a deep sexual taboo. Then add the Jewish and Samaritan elements of hostility and you have an explosive situation. It is as if she says to Jesus, “You truly are one ignorant hombre to ask me for a drink. Do you have any idea how much trouble this can bring to both of us?”

        Jesus cuts through her defenses for the first of many times. He asks about her husband. She goes theological on him to avoid this delicate topic. Her relationships are the last thing she wants to talk about. Nor does it seem to be Jesus’ concern. With the woman and with us Jesus’ agenda is about the possibilities of the future not the often painful issues of the past. Mercy is quite accessible with Jesus.

        Jesus persists. As before, He takes her response and goes deeper and His truth bubbles to the surface. Eventually, she takes a sip. It frees up her fears and resistance. She soon discovers she is on to something good here. She is a great example in contrast to the leaders of the Jews. In spite of the personal cost, she is open to the dialogue and exposure to some painful self-awareness. She is a model for us. We, too, thirst for truth, understanding, mercy, a change of heart and a new beginning.

        As she finally opens herself up to Jesus, she experiences a new freedom and a power beyond her dreams. She casts off the burden of her disgrace and all the other destructive baggage that was her life along with the hurt in her heart.

        She embraces the living water of Jesus and begins to grasp that this is what she had always been seeking in the confusion and self-deception that had been the driving force of her life. Now, our Samaritan friend becomes a disciple to her townsfolk. She understood that the living water of Jesus was a gift of salvation to be shared with all.

        As Jesus had said earlier to the first disciples, she now proclaims to her townsfolk, “Come and see!” (John1:39) They do, and are joyful in what they find.

        This is a story of salvation and how it works. It is our story. Our God is a patient and insistent God who is open to our search, accepts us in our brokenness and has a permanent invitation to the living water. As with the Samaritan woman, who is a symbol of sinful humankind, God is waiting for us. The dialogue and interplay with the reality of our life experience are pregnant with the possibility of the new life that the living water brings. As we gradually surrender our fears and defenses, we are able to admit and name our thirst. It is of such depth and magnitude that only Jesus can quench it with the power of His word that is the living water.


Mt 17:1-11

Dear Friends. In all three cycles of Lent, each Second Sunday’s gospel focuses on the Transfiguration. This gospel episode is obviously an important element of our Lenten journey. Our task is to let it truly enlighten us as we prepare to celebrate the great act of love that is the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

The key to the passage in all its beauty and complexity are the words of the Father: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)

Right before this, Peter had recognized Jesus as the Messiah only to deny his mission to suffer and die. (Mt 16:13-23) Now the Father is once again inviting Peter and us to take Jesus in all of his truth, not just a diluted version to fit our limited standards.

In rebuking Peter, Jesus challenged all of us to lose our life, to take up the cross and to follow him. (Mt 16:24-25) The event of the Transfiguration is our invitation into the mystery of the Suffering Messiah. Like Peter, we are called to try to balance the seemingly contrary truths of Jesus as Messiah and Jesus the Crucified Savior.

The Father’s words tell us it is as God’s Beloved Son that he will suffer and die. Our task is to embrace Jesus on his terms and “Listen to him.” (Mt 17:5)

Peter had a long journey ahead of him. Only slowly did he learn to “Listen to him.”

(Mt 17:5) Eventually, he did indeed learn to let both the life and teaching and especially the Pascal Mystery of Christ be his model. Jesus became a map and a guide. Not doubt, his recalling the experience of the Transfiguration helped him to face the darkness of life.

It is the same with us. As we face the seemingly endless challenges of good and evil: whether the war in Ukraine or the unending gun violence, the turbulence of our polical scene or the burden of the distortion and abuse of the multiple expressions of our sexuality, or the simple but relentless demands of family life or the various passages in life from beginning school to aging. All these, and so much more, call us to “Listen to him.” (Mt17:5) He is the Beloved Son.

Lent is a time to prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ with new joy, stronger faith and growing love. This is the great mystery of our faith and that opens the mystery of our life

As many times as we have heard the story, it still holds the seeds of light and wisdom, of hope and tenderness. It reminds us how close God is to us and how thin the curtain between the divine and human truly is. We are always on the edge of our human frailty and mortality. Equally, we are on the threshold of eternal life and happiness. Whether it is the brokenness of our relationships, the consequences of sin, or the corruption of our world, we need to search the depths of our hearts and “Listen to Him!” (Mt 17:5) He will reveal anew that the last word is not sickness, injustice, prejudice, and the foibles of nature’s awesome power or even death. The last word revealed in the Crucified and Risen Christ is life and the victory of love. Once again, our journey to Jerusalem in Lent and, more so in our life, is an invitation to enter into the mystery. This mystery joins the Divine and suffering in the suffering and glorious Messiah. It leads to the victory of Easter.


Mt 4:1-11

Dear Friends, one of the great gifts of Vatican II was an invitation to embrace the Word of God. My personal journey to with the bible has been intriguing. I have moved from total disinterest and ignorance to love and commitment leading to regular study and prayer of God’s Word. A special gift in this venture has been a true appreciation of the Old Testament more properly called the Hebrew Scriptures.

Today, my knowledge and love of the Hebrew Scriptures continues to grow. I also bring an extensive life experience in my encounter with the Scriptures. So now, I really relish the Golden Calf story which is intimately connected to Lent’s first Sunday Gospel story of Jesus’ temptations. His encounter with Satan is modeled after the Chosen People’s time in the desert and their infidelity.

The Jewish sojourn in the desert betrayed God’s call to reliance and faithfulness. Their failure to trust in God is contrasted with Jesus’ fidelity in rejecting Satan’s deceits.

Jesus, the New Israel in the eyes of Matthew, discards all the pleas of Satan. Each temptation, and each responding Scripture quote by Jesus, is taken from chapters six to eight in the Book of Deuteronomy where the story of the Golden Calf holds center stage.

In each of the three temptation stories, the appeal to Jesus is to be a Messiah not rooted in faithfulness to the Father. He is being tempted to be a Messiah of worldly values, of power, prestige, privilege and possessions. All these values are contrary to the divine plan of salvation. Jesus rejected Satan’s ploys. It was the Suffering Messiah of Isaiah that Jesus embraced. He was determined to proclaim the Kingdom from a position of simplicity and vulnerability not power and dominance, not wealth but poverty, not exclusiveness but inclusiveness, not indulgence but service, not stressing the rich and powerful but the special option for the poor and marginalized. In the end, Jesus knew it was love not the law that was the source of victory over all evil, even death!

Jesus refused to let anything or any person replace God in his life. In this effort he relied on the Word of God. This is where he found the strength to stare down evil both in the desert temptations and in his crescendoing battle with iniquity that led to the Cross.

The failures of Moses’ folks in the desert mirror our failures today. These rejections of God’s plan are rooted in a divided heart. The modern day version of the Golden Calf comes in many forms. The human heart has a seemingly inexhaustible ability to create new idols that basically give us a false sense of security. We replace God as the center of reality. This process is called sin. Money, sex, drink, drugs, prejudices, hostilities along with the ever-growing hunger for more possessions are simply today’s upgraded model of the Golden Calf.

The human heart simply finds new idols more comfortable than the demanding love of the God revealed in Jesus. We loath the insecurity of being creatures. Much of our life is a quest for personal security seemingly guaranteed in wealth, power, reputation and indulgence. Through these ventures we are trying make smaller gods that we can control. The end product places ourselves at the center of reality.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us the true model of faithfulness in the midst of the devil’s slick deceptions and illusions. Jesus will not accept the version of the Kingdom according to the standards of Hollywood or Wall Street or Main Street. Only the Word of God will reveal the true Kingdom. Jesus shows us the way of faithful acceptance of the Father’s call where there is no space for the comfort and illusion of the Golden Calf.

With the beginning of Lent, the Church invites us to search our soul, to discover our Golden Calves. Now is the time to clean our house of all the idols. Now, at the beginning of Lent and throughout these six weeks, we are being invited to present an empty and longing heart to Jesus and to walk with Him to Jerusalem.


Mt. 5:38-48 

Dear Friends, Turn the other cheek! Walk the extra mile! Give the cloak along with the tunic! It sure seems like Jesus is asking us to be a doormat for our enemies. That is totally different from Jesus’ intentions. He wants us to engage the hostile one not with the escalation of violence but in a search for an opening to rebuild the relationship.

Jesus is challenging us to offer no resistance in a world that savors and glories in revenge. As if this is not enough, Jesus is telling us to love our enemies. This is neither logical nor seemingly possible. However, it is so much less than what Jesus modeled in his Good Friday experience. We need to listen to it and bring it into our heart without blocking it with the common sense urge to say it just is not possible in our lived experience.

The following is one scholar’s interpretation that makes some sense. However, even its practicality demands tremendous self—sacrifice and patience. The key is to understand the examples in today’s Gospel as they were experienced in the culture of Jesus’ time.

Here is how it works. Jesus is asking us to shame the person so we can talk. Dialogue hopefully will lead to reconciliation. We saw an example of this in the work of Gandhi and Dr. King.

First is the cheek thing. Obviously, for someone to slap you on the cheek, the red zone of hostility will be shocked into full alert. However, in turning the other cheek, the person would have to use the back of the hand. This was a very shameful thing in the culture of Jesus’ time. So, the choice for the aggressor was to discredit oneself or begin to talk.

The mile leading to the second mile is also a cultural trap. Roman soldiers by law were free to demand any Jewish person to carry their baggage for a mile. Anything beyond that and the soldier was liable to be in serious trouble. Again, a conversation was possible.

The same principle works for the cloak and the tunic.

Jesus is asking us to respond to violence in a non-violent way that leads to the possibility of peaceful resolution He modeled this in His life and most profoundly in His Passion and Death.

All six items Jesus uses in this extended section of the Sermon on the Mount lead us to healing of human relationships. They all lead to the conclusion of the section in verse 48: ”So be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:48)

For all of us, it is a slow and stressful journey to free our heart from the depth of our bias and blindness. We need to try to free the wheat from the weeds that are so deeply interwoven in the depth our hearts.

There are two passages in the Second Eucharistic Prayer for Children that are especially beautiful and simple. They offer an opening for today’s Gospel call to walk in the way of love.

We pray: “He came to show us how we can love you Father, by loving one another. He came to take away sin, which keeps us from being friends, and hate, which makes us all unhappy”.

Later on, we pray: “Remember, Father, our families and friends, and all those we do not love as we should”. I have a long list in that latter category of insufficient love that holds the invitation of prayer for a lot of people who would never dream of prayer from me.

Here is a beginning. Eliminate the hatred as much as we can and expand our horizons of love to “those we do not love as we should”.


Mt. 5:17-37

Dear Friends, Today’s Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is portrayed as one who fulfills and brings to greater depth and clarity to the Torah, the teachings of the Old Testament. Matthew is emphatic that Jesus is not breaking away from the Old Testament. He is clearly showing the true meaning of the teachings that had not matured sufficiently. He is inviting us to go deeper to find the true meaning in all their wisdom and beauty. Jesus is placing the heart at the center of their interpretation rather than mere formal observance. This is not rejection of God’s prescriptions but rejection of the distorted practice of the leaders.

In today’s selection from Matthew there are four of six statements that begin, “you have heard it was said…but I say…”. They all deal with Jesus bringing us to a much more challenging understanding of the Old Testament teaching. They all deal with human relations. Today’s Gospel’s four statements are murder, adultery, divorce and oaths. Next week we will have the other two: revenge and love of enemies.

When I was a young priest, I was a firebrand for racial justice. I was abundantly blessed with the youthful gift of enthusiasm and cursed with an abundance of youthful self-righteousness. One day, one of my older and wiser Carmelite brothers told me I would be more effective if I worked at calling forth and not putting down when dealing with people. Since the log in my eye was of the XXXL size it took me quite a while to grasp the wisdom of my brother’s advice. Slowly, it began to take focus. To call forth and not put down simply means to give due recognition to the human dignity of the other.

Jesus had a clear handle on the process. All six of his statements are a beautiful expression of celebrating the people’s human dignity.

Here’s a thought on just one of Jesus teachings in today’s Gospel selection. In talking about, “You shall not kill” Jesus says, “whoever says,’ you fool’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna’”. (Mt 5:22)

Just think how important names and labels are in any movement of a group seeking freedom and dignity. We went from Colored to Negroes to Blacks to African Americans. We went from fruits to fags to queers to gays to one with a different sexual orientation to LGBTQ and, apparently, we ae not finished yet. Each of these changes was difficult, and often painful, because it slowly surfaced a deeply engrained prejudice. Each change was a step closer to recognizing the basic human dignity of the “other”.

The Gospel has a perfect example of this in the story of the Prodigal Son. In our common sense view of reality, the father would have been totally justified in calling the son, “You fool”!

The Gospel story tells us the father gave no such expression. His response was much more elegant. He commanded the servants to get ready for the party to celebrate because “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found”. (Lk 15:23)

Jesus understood the Torah as the true path to a meaningful relationship with God and our brothers and sisters. He wants his followers to see the Torah’s beauty and power. Jesus was not rejecting God’s revelation. He was reforming the distorted practice that had evolved. All of his gospel message is rooted in this gift to the Chosen People. The Sermon on the Mount is a call to wholeness and holiness.

Jesus is inviting us to ponder the depth of the power of the names we use for others. They need to express and celebrate the human dignity of the other. They need to lead us to call forth and not put down if we “are to be perfect just as our heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:48)


Mt. 5:13-16 

Dear Friends, One of the shocking facts about the religious scene in the U.S. is this. Roman Catholics are the largest religious group. The second largest are those who have left the Roman Catholic Church.

Somewhere along the line a great number of us in both of these groups failed to get the memo from Jesus that we need to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

When one delves into the reasons so many people have left the Church, the reasons are many and the blame is on all sides. However, the response has to be to get back to the Gospel message. We need to evangelize ourselves and others. Paul VI taught us that evangelization is the process of “bringing the Good News into every stratum of humankind and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi #19) He went on to say we need witnesses more than teachers. For him, a witness was one whose life spoke so loudly and clearly you could not hear what he or she was saying.

In these three verses in today’s Gospel, Jesus is calling us to embrace the totality of the Sermon on the Mount. He is telling us to live the message and to proclaim the message. He is asking us to let our life be the gospel message for all to hear and welcome.

This evangelizing that proclaims the gospel is all about love. We have a good example of how to manifest this love in today’s first reading from Isaiah. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” (Is 58:7) This life of service, no matter how humble, is truly letting our light shine. It genuinely lets us be the salt of the earth. This opens the way to love that transforms us and our world. This is our calling in today’s Gospel. This is how we are witnesses who do not need words to proclaim the message.

We, as a Church and we as individual followers of Christ, need to encounter the power and the beauty of the call to let our light shine. We need make a difference by embracing life in the footsteps of Jesus. Reconciliation and service, forgiveness and generosity lead to the healing powers that crush division and wipe out the insipidness of mediocrity. This is the true call to unity. We need to bring the focus back to Jesus as He presents himself and his message in the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon is loaded with strategies for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.