Thursday, April 24, 2014


Baxter is confused. Although he has begun his spring time shedding to thin out his fur, he can’t figure out the season. Some days it is sunny, warm and beautiful outside. He sits on the sill with the window wide open and enjoys the sights and sounds of life bursting forth in the yard. At other times, the windows are shut; the sky is gray; rain mixed with snow is falling; it looks like November 30th rather than April 30th. What is happening? Is this global warming, divine retribution or just the usual quirks of weather in Southwestern Pennsylvania? One day, Baxter is lying on his soft blanket all huddled in a ball to keep warm, and the next day, he is sprawled out on the kitchen tile hoping to cool off. He can’t be sure of what to expect from one day to the next.

We sometimes feel the same way, don’t we? Life gets full of uncertainty. What is going to happen to my job, my kids, my health, our peaceful world? While everyone complains about the weather, the climate of our lives raises larger and more profound concerns. We begin to live with worries. We think about the losses, pains and struggles that could happen, and we get anxious and preoccupied with possible disasters. After all, we have witnessed the violence of a mass school stabbing, of drug deaths, of unemployment, of terrorism and lifethreatening diagnoses in our backyards. What is next? How will we handle another disaster close to home? Will we be up to the challenge?

We need to take a deep breath, not just of air but of the Spirit of the Risen Lord. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, the breath of His Spirit brought two messages, fear not and peace. In the face of the list of disasters we named, these messages may seem naive and weak, but we need to think again. What do fear-mongering and rabble-rousing lend to solving the threats we face? Nothing. They confuse our thinking, cloud our judgment, and pit us against each other. The Spirit calls for clear and reasonable approaches, right judgment and unity in the Body of Christ. These are only possible if we rely upon a power that penetrates the crust of confusion our fears generate. This is the Spirit.

The peace of the Spirit is not a settled, comfort zone where nothing ever goes wrong. The peace the Risen Christ bestows is a deep sense of confidence in God working through us. It doesn’t guarantee to meet our expectations by regulating life according to our plan. It doesn’t assure that nothing bad or difficult or tragic will ever happen. It calls us to change course at times, to include new faces in our circle, to compromise what we want for what is best for the common good. These are the weapons of the Spirit that build a new understanding of God’s ways and our ways with God. Armed with this power of grace, we can face the disasters life brings without being overwhelmed or becoming cynical about the possibilities for a better world. Once we are touched by the peace of the Risen Lord, we can’t stop trying to conquer sin and death in whatever way we discover works.

So don’t worry if you are confused at times. The world can become a confusing place. Even Baxter will vouch for that. But get beyond your confusion with the help God offers in the Spirit who conquered the world. He will show us a new way, a better way, a way not yet imagined, but one leading us from confusion to wisdom, and from wisdom to peace.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Baxter loves the sunshine. When we have a warm spring day, he stretches out wherever he can find a beam of light shining through the window. I guess it’s his version of a tanning salon. When I touch him in this relaxed pose, his body is warm, but he doesn’t seem to mind it. He soaks in the rays, and lies there content in a stupor without a care in the world. Even the birds flying and hopping about outside won’t distract him from this state of peace and quiet. Although he can stay in the sunlight for hours, Baxter never gets a tan. He just absorbs the warmth and drifts off in its comfort.

Many of us are sun worshipers. Not literally, of course, but we are attracted to the warmth and light that comes to us from our closest star. Sunlight lifts our spirits. Its heat seems to have restorative power on aching muscles and creaking joints. And the ultraviolet rays turn our skin into bronze coverings that we love to show off and admire—despite the dermatologists’ protests. Something about the light calls us to take it in, enjoy it, and even wear it. We seem to be made for it.

We are made for the Light of Christ. God’s first words of creation were, “Let there be light,” and from this primordial light came life, reaching its pinnacle in the creation of humankind. But we weren’t satisfied with God’s light. We tried to extinguish it with our sin. Our pride wouldn’t allow us to accept the light as a gift from God to flourish as human beings. We wanted to control it, pick and choose the fruitfulness it gave us, and eventually hide from it to escape God’s presence. We led ourselves into darkness by our own devices, and deceived ourselves that this darkness was truly light. We distorted God’s original intent in creation.

But God would not leave us in this sorry state. Slowly, carefully, from generation to generation, He turned us back to the true light until, in the fullness of time, it shone on humanity, beaten and battered by sin and death, with the warmth of divine love and forgiveness. The darkness that came over Calvary represented the last stand of evil to conquer creation, and Christ defeated this darkness by His death on the cross. The cross shatters the power of evil to cloud our judgment, weaken our wills, and shape our desires to prefer darkness to light. It leads to the light of the Risen Lord which can never be extinguished.

The paschal candle is our sign of this light. It is lit at the Easter Vigil and burns through the Easter season. It lights the way to new life at the beginning and the end of our earthly existence, as we celebrate baptisms and funerals throughout the year. It is a light unlike all the others in the church--tall, strong, beautiful and constant—just like the Christ it represents to us. Its warmth doesn’t come from its physical fire, but from the fire of love this symbol is meant to inspire in each of us as Christ’s disciples. “Light of Christ” is proclaimed in the darkness of the entrance procession of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Once heard, this message is to continue through us, not wearing it like a suntan but living it through our character. Humble, generous, compassionate, forgiving, joyful people who serve others in their need reflect the light of Christ wherever they are.

Light-up night for us isn’t the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is the beginning of the Easter season. As the Christian faithful who celebrate this season, we need to take a cue from Baxter. Seek out the light. Soak in its warmth. Don’t worry about getting a tan, but worry about carrying the warmth with you. This is the light of God’s love which can never be extinguished. We are its witnesses and messengers. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Baxter’s drinking habits get him all wet. When he licks the pool of water created in the tub from the running spigot, his head and back become soaked. It doesn’t seem to deter him from getting the drink he desires. He keeps slurping in the cool refreshment until he is satisfied, and then he turns around and walks to the other end of the tub. That’s when he has learned to splash. I say, ”Shake, Baxter. Shake off the water.” After many encouragements, he gets it now. He shakes his head and torso so that the excess water on his fur coat splashes over the inside of the tub. This saves me from having to clean up the splash marks on the floor and walls from his shaking outside the tub. Baxter is trainable when he wants to be trained.

Remember splashing in water when we were kids? Maybe it was the bathroom tub, or a swimming pool, or a mud puddle on the street or in the back yard after a rain. There was nothing more fun and funny than making ourselves and everyone around us wet. Sometimes we did it with abandon, splashing ourselves nonstop until we ran out of energy or there was no more water left to splash. Sometimes we did it as a joke, waiting for an unsuspecting person to come along beside us and then splashing their face or clothes. Splashing makes water a toy we use to enjoy ourselves and others. It causes us to laugh without a care about the wet clothes or hair that result. Even at a mature age, splashing can make us young again.

On Easter and through the season, we splash ourselves with holy water at the liturgy and sign ourselves with it upon entering and exiting the church. We remove all sources of this water on Good Friday and leave these dry until the Easter celebration. Then we use it with abandon, splashing everyone in the assembly while we sing and rejoice. What’s up?

We throw the Easter water as a sign of the divine joke God played on all humanity in Christ’s death and resurrection. When we thought sin and death had won out, when we resigned ourselves to defeat by the forces of darkness, when we had lost hope that the world could be a better place because God’s grace was present in abundance, God turned the storm around. He took the waters of destruction and made them the instruments of new life. Channeled through the cross, God releases the waters of grace in a torrent of love, forgiveness and healing through Christ’s death and resurrection. And we are asked to play in it, enjoy it, celebrate it and share it with those beside us in this weary world. Easter is God’s splash on the whole world, and in our baptisms, we play along with God’s outpouring of His life to save us.

Happy Easter is more than just a polite greeting. It is a declaration that, in Jesus, God has prevailed over all odds, and like children in a pool, or Baxter in the tub, we can revel in the refreshment and light-hearted goodness we feel. In the face of sin, darkness, and death, Christ’s resurrection has made a splash that will soak the world in forgiveness, light and new life. So don’t be afraid to get wet and have fun here. God is shaking His grace on us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Baxter gets lots of toys, but he doesn’t seem to hang onto most of them for very long. When he gets a new mouse, ball, feathery foil, or whatever, he bats it about and bites it to give it his personal touch. Then, after a few days, it’s gone. I look for it, searching high and low, but nothing appears. I ask Baxter, but he gives me the "dumb look." "I don’t know what you are saying. Toy? What’s that?" Sometimes that’s the end of it. I never see the particular object ever again. However, every now and then, one of the lost presents is uncovered - when I move a piece of furniture, when I clean under the bed, when I look in the back of a closet. Suddenly, the long lost item is back, sometimes permanently, but often only temporarily, and then it vanishes again.

Yes, Baxter hides his favorite things. Maybe he’s worried I will take them for my own. Maybe it’s his feline instinct to keep a little of the leftovers from the hunt for a rainy day. Maybe he’s a hoarder, unable to part with anything he gets. Whatever the reason, Baxter hides his prizes for safe keeping.

We sometimes have the same problem with our faith. We think of our Catholic faith as a precious gift from God involving our most personal and intimate feelings and beliefs. So we keep it private and protected. It’s not something we bring up in social situations or invite strangers to discuss with us. We can bat it around with our close friends and family, but otherwise, it is not appropriate conversation in polite company. After all, everyone has his or her own opinion about God, Jesus and the Church. What is gained by starting an argument over these? No one ever wins, and people just go away upset.

But not to share our faith is to hide what is best within us and about us. The love, forgiveness, goodness and mercy of God mark believers with at least the intention to try to be better persons. Not that we always succeed, but we are not satisfied with our faults and failures. This can inspire others not to give up on themselves either.

Jesus' humility and compassion set the conditions for the sharing of our faith with others. Never in His ministry does Jesus set out to condemn the other person. He engages with others always to help them, to understand them, to improve their lives, and so to love them. Any witness we give is empty and selfish unless it intends to do what Jesus did. So often in the gospels we hear Jesus speak of the Father, so that others will know they are His children. He promises the Spirit, so that others will understand that they are not alone in this world but have the providence and wisdom of God at their disposal. He heals, forgives, feeds and teaches that others may be whole, satisfied and enlightened. Whatever the other needs to see God in their lives is what Jesus does for and with them. That is the model of evangelization we need to follow. We don’t force feed the faith. We serve others to serve the faith to them.

So don’t hide this great gift like Baxter hides his toys. He still hasn’t learned that toys are the most fun when they are used for play. We still have to learn that the faith is most fruitful and fulfilling when it is used in service to others.