In the boat

Big stormy ocean wave. Blue water backgroundWhat’s as tall as a 10-story office building, snaps large vessels in half and inspires a small tribe of surfers to launch themselves into an unholy maelstrom? Giant waves. The bigger the better — or worse — depending on who’s talking; better for extreme surfers, worse for seafarers. Until very recently giant waves lived only as lore. There was the story of the Tlingit Indian woman who returned from berry picking to find her entire village disappeared. The polar explorer Ernest Shackleton once reported narrowly surviving “a mighty upheaval of the ocean,” the biggest wave he’d seen in 26 years of seafaring. But witnesses of a 100-foot wave at close range rarely lived to tell, and experts dismissed stories about these waves because they seemingly violated basic principles of ocean physics. It was only 15 years ago, when the British research ship Discovery was caught in an endless North Sea storm and struggled to station-keep for more than a week before it could break free. The scientists had been lashed to their bunks while the maelstrom swirled around them – all the while the data recorders were at work.  The data recorded seas 60 feet high, with some wave faces spiking at 90 feet and higher. With such reliable data established, satellites began confirming that these rogues, freaks, and giants of the ocean were far from rare. Continue reading

Kingdom and Mystery

Kingdom_of_GodThe year was 1957. The “space-age” began when the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite into earth orbit. The same year General Motors produced the classic “57 Chevy” – more properly known as the Bel-Aire. It could be yours for $2,400. The price of a new home averages between $12,000 and $20,000.  You could rent a home for around $100/month. A week’s worth of groceries was under $20. Gasoline was about $0.24/gallon. A pack of cigarettes cost… well, that doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t be buying cigarettes anway. A top-named TV star was Roy Rogers (the cowboy, not the restaurant). Gunsmoke and Perry Mason were top-rated TV shows. Rock Hudson, John Wayne, Kim Novak, Marilyn Monroe, James Stewart – to name a few –  were the top stars in Hollywood. And here was the menu at McDonald’s: hamburgers: $0.15 ($0.19 for a cheeseburger) with french fries and drinks, $0.10 each. The year was 1957 and St. Francis of Assisi parish was founded in Triangle, VA.

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Looking deeply

corpus-christiMy favorite comic strip is “Calvin and Hobbes.”  If you are not familiar, it features Calvin, a preternaturally bright six year-old, and Hobbes, his imaginary tiger friend. The comic strip manages to infuse wondering (and wandering) on a cosmic scale into an ageless world of lazy Sunday afternoons, space adventures, and tales of befuddled babysitters, teachers, and parents. What I most enjoy about Calvin and Hobbes is that it reminds me of our capacity to be surprised, to imagine, and enter into mystery and wonderment. Calvin’s openness to the mystery of it all allowed him entry to even the theological arts where he mused about the combination of predestination with procrastination, finally concluding, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die.” Continue reading

Walls and Pentecost

wallsWith all the news this past week about the horrific conflict in Israel and Gaza, it is natural that part of the conversation at the friary dinner table has been about the conflict, Holy Land pilgrimages we have participated in, what we’ve seen, all adding to the discussions of the terrible tragedy that unfolds. Inevitably the conversation will mention the wall that separates the Holy Land in and around Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, The Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Holy Sepulcher on one side of the wall. Bethlehem, Bethany, and other places on the other. As one travels around the area outside of metropolitan Jerusalem, you see other walls – those of the Jewish Settlements. There are settlements in hardscrabble places of Israel. But there are more that kinda’ resemble Reston Town Center only with high walls and secure entrances.

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A moment of time

There are moments in this life when I wished I processed more insight about what was happening in the moment that is now. They are often moments caught up in the midst and whirl of things; moments when I look back and wished I had paused and considered what was stirring within. Attentive to the now.

Lent is a season when we are called to take time and pray for the wisdom to be attentive to the moments leading up to the celebration on Easter. But what about the Easter season? Those 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost have come and are almost gone. There is a lot whirling around our lives that make the quiet of Lent seem long ago and far away. Continue reading


jesus-and-child“You is kind. You is smart.  You is important.” Such are the words from the African American maid Aibileen to the white child Mae Mobley Leefolt in Kathryn Stockett’s best seller, The Help. Possessed of plain looks and seemingly slow ways, little Mae Mobley, was such a disappointment to her socially upward mother, Elizabeth.  But each and every day, Aibileen spoke those words of encouragement to Mae Mobley. “You is kind. You is smart.  You is important.”  When Mae Mobley is old enough to speak, it becomes a triple affirmation she repeats and begins to grow into.

Maybe when it comes to living as children of God, we need to be reminded of who we are. And so our Scriptures offer us words of affirmation: “You are filled with the Holy Spirit.   You are loved”   “You are my friendsContinue reading

In the first light

workers-in-vineyardThere is something poetic, mysterious, and magical in a vineyard before the harvest on an early morn with the dew on the vine and the first light of a just-rising sun glistening upon the fruit. But, if you are like me, you probably do not have any experience in the vineyards except perhaps as a visitor.

The vineyard does not just happen by itself. There is a complex dance between the vine, the branches and the vine grower. For example, did you know that a single grape vine can produce as much as 13 feet of new branch growth in one growing season. What happens if all that new growth remains un-pruned? It would not be unusual for that un-pruned vine to have as many as 300 fruit producing buds. While that might sound great, that’s way too many buds for the plant to support. You might have lots of produce, but it will be incredibly low quality, and good for nothing. It would probably just end up as fuel for the fire. You would have to remove as much as 75% of the buds and the associated vegetative growth so the plant can properly develop and ripen the fruit it produces. The goal is always good fruit.

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In Christ Alone

So often the first or second reading does not form the core of a Sunday homily. In the US Catholic Bishop’s document “Fulfilled in Your Hearing, ” they are clear that the purpose of a homily to cast the light of the gospel into the lives of the listeners – and so, and rightly so, the gospel takes a preeminent place in the hearts and minds of Sunday worship. And yet there is beauty, truth and goodness in the other readings which, especially when from Acts of the Apostles or the Epistles, are the voice of a pastor speaking to a community of faith. Sometimes the words are comforting and sometimes challenging: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” How are we as Christians to understand this? Please take about 10 minutes and listen to a Sunday Sermon from Bishop Robert Barron unpack this one simple, challenging verse from Acts 4:12.

Being good shepherds

Christ the Good ShepherdAfter having graduated from the US Naval Academy – the first cauldron of forming leaders for the Navy and Marine Corp – and after finishing nuclear power training and submarine school, I reported as a bright shiny Ensign to my first submarine! I was ready to be a deep-diving, backing down full at crush depth, denizen of the deep – “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “Hunt for Red October” all rolled into one.

Turns out the submarine’s supply office had just been medically disqualified from serving on submarines, I was the next officer to walk aboard, and so the Captain assigned me as Supply Officer (and Food Service Office) for a submarine that was in a 30-day intensive dry dock refit in which they removed and replaced the galley. Yikes. How did I do? Well… that’s another story.

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