Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Good Shepherd: I got my baby sheep!

Fr. Michael Denk
Gospel JN 10:1118

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

Last week we had our open house at the parish. Some of you may have been there or may have heard about it.

Fr. Martello is retiring, so the bishop will be giving us a new pastor. Whenever that is going to happen, the diocese sends someone out to hear the voices of the people. That’s what happened here last week. I wasn’t allowed in the room so that you could all speak freely, but I know there were a lot of different reactions.

I know there’s a lot of passion and that you’ve expressed a lot of love for Fr. Martello and for me. I know, too, there’s a little bit of fear. There’s a little bit of fear for me, too. “What’s going to happen when Fr.Martello leaves?” “ Am I going to be the pastor?” “Who is the bishop going to send us to be pastor?” Many people have said to me over the years -- and to other priests as well -- “We wish we could keep you here forever” and, believe me, I wish I could stay here forever. I love Amherst. Sometimes, though, as we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel reading, “I have other sheep to whom I must go,” and sometimes the shepherd does have to go to these other sheep.

We’ve all been experiencing a range of emotions. We go through this anytime we have to deal with
change. Fr. Martello, after four months of being in the nursing home, finally decided that the best thing for the parish would be for him to retire. He’s been having a tough time with that decision, too, so I thought I’d give him a homecoming gift. He wouldn’t let me have a dog, even though I’ve been wanting a dog forever, so I decided to get him this other gift. Her name is Peanut. Fr. Martello hasn’t seen her yet; you’re going to get to meet her first.

This is Peanut [a sheep]. Do you think Fr. Martello is going to like her? As I said, he wouldn’t let me have a dog, so I posted on Facebook that I wanted to get a sheep. Someone said, “You know, Father, normally people ask to borrow a cup of sugar, but you’re asking to borrow a sheep!”

I really wanted to get a sheep for my last Good Shepherd homily here. They’re a beautiful image for us. They’re a little bit timid and a little bit afraid. (By the way, I just met this sheep right before Mass.) The good thing is that shepherds have a way of getting to know their sheep. They do. This sheep, Peanut, for instance -- you can see we’re going to get along, right?

What I love about it, too, is that the sheep is often held around the shepherd’s neck. What is so cool
about it is that I can feel the warm breath of this sheep on my head. It’s really, really soft. It’s like a pillow on me right now. Another thing -- if I listen very closely, I can hear the sheep’s heart beating. It really is amazing how close a shepherd is to his sheep. I believe Jesus gave us this image of the Good Shepherd so we can realize how close He is to us.

Boys and girls, you’re going to be receiving holy communion for the first time. You’ll be receiving Jesus into you. He’s not only going to be close to you like this sheep is close to me, but He’s going to be in you.

You’re always going to have the Good Shepherd with you.

We sometimes have to go through difficult times. We’ve gone through changes of shepherds -- changes of pastors -- but the truth is, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows us. He knows what we need. He’s so close to us, He can feel our breathe. He can hear our hearts beat. He can smell us. Pope Francis says a priest is supposed to smell like His sheep, and I’m doing that today. This sheep does smell a little bit.

That’s how close the Good Shepherd is to us, and He’s never going to abandon us. Priests may come and go in our lives, but the Good Shepherd will never abandon us. Trust in this image. Trust that God is this close to you. He feels your breath; He feels your softness. He can feel your heart beat. He knows your innermost thoughts. Above all, He delights and loves to hold you, to walk with you, and to be with you through any dark valley.

 So it’s great trust we put in our Good Shepherd.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

We are all Witnesses: Lebron James and My Cousin Vinny


We hear this notion of being a witness in today's reading. In the first reading, we hear from Acts that, “God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” And then we hear in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus himself saying, "He opened their minds to understand all of the Scriptures," and He says, "You are witnesses of all these things."

So what is a witness? In June of 2007, we got to experience the huge billboards that went up in Cleveland with LeBron James on the side of them, black and white, and they said, "We are all witnesses."


Whether you realize it or not, if you have been to a Cavs game or not, we are all witnesses of LeBron James. If you live in Cleveland, you cannot help but be a witness. I myself have not had the experience of seeing him play. However, I hear from people that have, what an amazing thing it is to see him play. His power, his strength, his speed, it is an amazing thing to behold.

But what does it really mean to be a witness and why does Jesus say that we are witnesses of His death and Resurrection? How do we witness that today? How do we experience His Resurrection?

In the court of law, there are two different types of witnesses. There is what is known as an eyewitness, someone that sees something firsthand; they actually saw it, and they experienced it. I have to say that there is no one that actually got to experience the moment of the Resurrection. There are no eyewitnesses. No one was there at that moment; however, there are eyewitnesses, like in today's Gospel, that experienced Jesus in His Resurrected form. We can also be eyewitnesses today. We can experience Jesus in the Body of Christ.

We heard in the Gospel, Jesus said, "You will witness the Gospel being preached in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem." We witness something today that the disciples never got to witness when they were alive. Literally, the message has been preached all over the world. So we are eyewitnesses of that. However, there is something that kind of holds even greater credibility in the court of law than an eyewitness, and that is an expert witness. We are all actually called to be expert witnesses.

Would you consider yourself an eyewitness of Christ? 

 Have you experienced the Resurrection of Jesus in the mystical body today? 

 Would you consider yourself an expert if you had to be brought to court to be an expert witness? 

 Could you be an expert witness?

One of my favorite movies that deals with this is, "My Cousin Vinny." This is a movie from back in the '90s. Some of you are going to love this homily; some of you are going to have no clue what I am talking about. If you have no clue what I am talking about, go watch the movie.

I almost cracked up at the first reading because it talks about youthfulness. I could not help but think of how Joe Pesci says "Two yutes." And how the judge says, "What are yutes?" And he says, "Two youth. I am sorry." In the movie, "My Cousin Vinny," here is the setup. It is in the final scene. Marisa Tomei won an Academy Award Oscar, amidst all these other dramas, for her supporting actress role in this film.

So here is one of the final scenes. I will not give you the spoiler. I am just going to set up how Marisa Tomei, this girl from Brooklyn, New York, was actually an expert witness. She has no law, she has no degree, she has no certification, but she is an expert witness. And this is how it happened.

There is a moment when Mr. Gabini, who is Joe Pesci, says, "Your Honor, the defense calls its first witness, Miss Mona Lisa Vito," who is his girlfriend, and she is wearing a leather dress, by the way.

The prosecutor says, "I object, your Honor. This is not an expert witness, nor is she on the list."

And Mr. Gambini says, "This witness is an expert in the field of automobiles, and is being called to rebut the testimony of George Wilbur."

The judge says, "Officer?"

"Would you please instruct the officer to escort Miss Vito to the witness stand?"

And the bailiff says, "Hold up your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

And she says, "Yeah."

"Miss Vito, you are supposed to be some kind of expert in automobiles, is that correct?"

She does not answer.

"Is that correct?"

Now, as she is doing this, she is mad at Joe Pesci, by the way. His fiancé is literally turning her head away from him. So the judge finally says, "Will you please answer the counselor's question?"

"No. I hate him."

"May I have permission to treat..." then he says, "May I have permission to treat Miss Vito as a hostile witness?"

She says, "You think I’m hostile now! Wait till you see me tonight."

The judge says, "Do you two know each other?"

He goes, "Yeah, she's my fiancé."

And the judge says, "Well, that would certainly explain her hostility."

"Your Honor, I object to this witness. Improper foundation. I am not aware of this person’s qualifications. I would like to voir dire this witness as to the extent of her expertise."

And the judge says, "Granted. Mr. Trotter, you may proceed."

A voir dire is when you actually see if they are an expert witness or not. The prosecutor is allowed to question her. If he does not think that she is suitable, he can kick her out. So he begins to question her.

"Miss Vito, what is your current profession?"

She says, "I am an out-of-work hairdresser."

"An out-of-work hairdresser. Now, in what way does that qualify you as an expert on automobiles?"

She says, "It doesn't."

"And in what way are you qualified?"

"Well, my father was a mechanic, his father was a mechanic, my mother’s father was a mechanic, my three brothers are mechanics, and four uncles on my father’s side are mechanics."

He says, "Your family is obviously qualified, but have you ever worked as a mechanic."

"Yeah, in my father's garage, yeah."

"As a mechanic? What did you do in your father's garage?"

She says, "Tune-ups, oil changes, brake relining, engine rebuilds, rebuild some trannies, rear end."

"Okay, okay. But does being an ex-mechanic necessarily qualify you as being an expert on tire marks?"

"No. Thank you, good bye."

The judge says, "Sit down. Don't move until I tell you that you can leave."

Mr. Gambini, Joe Pesci, "Your Honor. Your Honor. Miss Vito’s expertise is in general automotive knowledge. It is in this area which her testimony will be applicable. Now, if Mr. Trotter wishes to voir dire the witness, I’m sure he’s going to be more than satisfied."

The judge says, "Okay."

"All right, all right. Now, Miss Vito, being an expert on general automotive knowledge, can you tell me what would the correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air with a 327 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor?"

And she says, “________ (I can't say what she says.) It's a BS question.”

"Does that mean that you can't answer it?"

"No. It's a BS question. It's impossible to answer."

"Impossible because you don't know the answer?"

"Nobody could answer that question."

"Your Honor, I move to disqualify Miss Vito as an expert witness."

The judge says, Miss Vito, can you answer these questions?"

She says, "No. It's a trick question."

The judge says, "Why is it a trick question?"

"Because Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ’55. The 327 didn’t come out till ’62, and it wasn’t offered in a Bel Air with a four-barrel carb ’til ’64. However, in 1964 the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top dead center."

And the prosecutor says, "Well, um, she's acceptable."

Thus, Mona Lisa was able to qualify herself as an expert witness.

Now, she did not have any degrees. She did not have any qualifications that would make her an expert witness. She grew up with it; she knew it; she worked on them; she experienced it; she knew all the cars' makes and models because she lived and breathed this. Her father was one, her grandfather was one, her brother was one, her uncle was one, and she was one. She lived it and experienced it. So that is what it takes to be an expert witness.

So the reality is ”You are all witnesses.” Christ says this, "You are witnesses. You have experienced and seen what I have been and done."

Now, as I said before, some of us are eyewitnesses. In last week's Gospel, Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." So we are actually more blessed to be expert witnesses than eyewitnesses.

You do not need to have a degree. You do not have to be a priest. You do not have to be a nun. You do not have to be a theologian or even educated. However, you do have to have the experience. We all have to live and breathe this experience of our faith and our religion and of Christ.

There's 2000 years of history for to us tap into. And the truth is, most of you have probably been coming to Mass every single Sunday since you were a child. You have been living and breathing this from the time you were a child. You are an expert witness in this. And the question is, if you were called to be an expert witness on the stand, like Mona Lisa, could you pass the test?

If a prosecutor were challenging you on your voir dire, could you reasonably argue your faith? Could you actually share your experiential knowledge of the Resurrected Christ? Because one day you will be put on trial. We will all be put on trial. We will all have to go to that stand and witness to our faith. We must be able to speak the truth. We are all witnesses. Some of us are eyewitnesses, and all of us are called to be expert witnesses. We are all called to speak to the truth.

So, could you, if you were called to the stand, be that expert witness?

Watch the movie now Online!  
my cousin vinny hd

Or Buy the DVD

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Holy Thursday - 10th Anniversary of the Death of Saint John Paul II

As I mentioned at the beginning, it's so good to have Father Martello back and here at my side.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of John Paul II. He died April 2nd, ten years ago, 2005. I know that one of the things he struggled with toward the end of his life was Parkinson's, and he continued to do amazing things as our Holy Father, even with his Parkinson's.

What I would like to do is draw from the last Holy Thursday Mass he celebrated. There are three points he really focuses on: The first is that Jesus loved him until the end; the second is the washing of the feet; and the third is a commission to “do this in remembrance of me.”

So these three points: loving him until the end; the washing of the feet; and doing this in remembrance of me.

First, he loved his disciples until the very end. John Paul II said, "On the eve of his passion and death, the Lord Jesus wanted to gather his apostles around him once again to entrust his last instructions to them and to give them the supreme witness of his love."

It is such a great privilege to have Father Martello with us and for all of us to gather around the altar today to experience the love of God the Father.

"Let us also enter the large upper room furnished and ready, and dispose ourselves to listen to the most intimate thoughts he wants to confide in us; in particular, let us be ready to receive the act and the gift he has prepared in view of this final meeting."

There is something Jesus wants to do right now to you. There is something he wants to place in you, and it's his love. He wants you to experience his love on this Holy Thursday, so that you* can enter into the passion of good Friday and ultimately the resurrection of the Holy Saturday. [NOTE: You switched from YOU to WE, so I switched it back to keep things parallel.]

It's such a privilege to love until the very end. Father Martello and I often joked about what it's like to get old together. He looks at me as a young priest, and he's kind of getting older -- a little bit. If nothing else, he's grown a beard for us, right? That beard will be on for at least another four weeks. As long as the cast is on, the beard will be on. That's his defiance against his cast.

But it's been a privilege. [WHAT’S BEEN A PRIVILEGE? SHOULD EXPLAIN.] Father Martello has apologized to me a couple of times. In all sincerity and genuineness, he said, "I'm sorry you have to do everything. I'm sorry that I have been in here." [CAN YOU MENTION THE NAME OF THE PLACE, OR JUST WHAT KIND OF PLACE IT IS SO PEOPLE UNDERSTAND -- IN CASE THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON WITH HIM? OR MAYBE YOU COULD SWITCH WHAT HE SAID TO “I’m sorry I haven’t been there.”] But for me it has been an absolute privilege. You know, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

I think about Jesus as he comes to the end of his time, and about me coming to the end of my time with you here at St. Joseph. What a privilege and honor it is for me to take this role, to assist Father Martello, to really be an associate and to help him in every way.

I think of one of the most comical moments we've had in our time together. Sometimes it's like Driving Miss Daisy. I get to drive Father Martello around, and I love it. I actually do. He's a little bit slow when he walks, so I have time to run to the car and bring it back and valet him.

One time we went to the movies together. Actually, we went with a group of parishioners. It happened that one parishioner drove us there and a different parishioner was going to take us home. After the movie, we left the theater. I wasn't quite sure what kind of car would be picking us up out front.

So a driver pulls up and flashes his lights, and I take Father Martello over to the car. I open up the door. Fr. Martello gets in the back seat. I go around to get in the back seat. I look and the driver is a stranger. Can you imagine the shock for this person who’s expecting his 12-year-old daughter or son to get into the car, and he sees the two of us instead? It was like something straight out of Goodfellas. That's one of my favorite memories.

Early on when he was in the hospital, I was privileged to get to shave him and wash him. He was really weak then, but he's doing really well now. He looks great and is feeling great and is able to walk around. In the beginning, though, he really was weak, and again, I can say I was privileged to have the opportunity to care for him. I know Father Martello doesn't [didn’t] like it. Just like Peter: “You're not going to wash my feet.” I tried, believe me.

But it's a real privilege to be able to love someone like that and to be loved like that. I think about John Paul II. As he grew older, he had to allow himself to be cared for. When he spoke with the doctor who diagnosed his Parkinson’s, he discovered the doctor had depression, and he offered him pastoral counseling and care.

The second point is the washing of the feet. During that last supper, Jesus rises, takes off his outer garments, and begins washing the disciples' feet. At first Peter resists, and then he understands and accepts. We too are asked to understand and to accept: The first thing the disciple must do is prepare himself to listen to the Lord. That's the first thing we must do: understand what Jesus is asking of us. We must sit at his feet and try to understand -- open our hearts to accept the invitation of his love. Once we understand that, we accept how God wants to love us right now, whatever our state of life.

Only then will we be invited, in turn, to do what the Teacher did. We, too, must be committed to washing the feet of our brothers and sisters, expressing in gestures of mutual service that love which is the synthesis of the Gospel: to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Also during the Last Supper, knowing that his hour had now come, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, then gives it to his disciples and says, "This is my body.” He does the same with the cup. "This is my blood.” And he commanded them, "Do this in remembrance of me." Truly this is the witness of love taken to its very end. This was one of the last days of his life, and this what he wanted to give to his disciples.

It's initiative. It's Jesus who first goes into that mode of loving. It's Jesus who kneels before his disciples and washes their feet, and that washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist become what we celebrate today: The revelation of his love in the Eucharist and in the washing of the feet. Receiving his love, feeling his love, and then going out and serving and caring for those whom we love.

Maybe you have someone in your life right now that you’ve taken care of. I know one of the most difficult things for people is when their parents get old and infirm and they have to begin taking care of them. Sometimes that becomes a full-time job, a full-time vocation. You're being invited to a very sacred time, a very special time, and it will not go on forever. Only for a time is Jesus calling you to this wonderful privilege of service.

Finally the third point: “Do this in remembrance of me.” The remembrance the Lord left us that evening encompasses the entire point of why he came to this earth, the moment of the sacrificial offering to the Father out of love for humanity. This is the remembrance and it's placed in the context of the Last Supper. This is how we remember him. This is how we experience his love today. This is what motivates us to love others.

“Do this in remembrance of me.” It is the mystery of our faith. This is what the celebrant proclaims after saying the words of consecration, and all of you respond with that joyful mystery. This mystery, as John Paul says, is that God loves us so much it’s incomprehensible. It's incomprehensible that he wants to be with us right now in the flesh, in his body and blood. He wants to come into us.

The table of the Lord in the simplicity of the Eucharist is where we share the bread and wine. It's where we come together as brothers and sisters. This message will radiate throughout the entire world and it's too clear to be missed: those who take part in the Eucharistic celebration cannot remain impervious to the expectations of the poor and needy.

Those of us who gather and receive the Eucharist cannot help but love those who are in need. This is where we come to be loved and to be strengthened so we may serve.

We celebrate the gift of the Eucharist and the gift of the priesthood tonight. I know that's why Father Martello is here: his priesthood is so important to him and the celebration of the Eucharist is so important to him. As I mentioned at the beginning of mass, we pray for him every single day -- at daily masses and at Sunday masses; every day we pray for our pastor, Father Martello, and it's been a wonderful privilege. I want you to know that he's also been praying for us.

I always try to bring him Chipotle, but one of the things he asked me to bring him was actually his mass book. I brought him a mass book that came from my family, so he's been celebrating mass in the nursing home. He's been doing that for all of you. He's actually been more effective now as a pastor than he ever could have been -- through his suffering and through his illness that he's offered up for all of us and sacrificed in unity with the mass.

So remember the great privilege it is, first of all, to gather here and to celebrate the Eucharist. Jesus loved us until the end. We get to experience his love right here. And he promised to love us until the very end.

The second thing is that he promised the washing of the feet. We must first listen to him. We must first come to hear his word and to receive his body and blood and then we become disciples.

Finally, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Every time we do this, and the priest says, “This is my body; this is my blood,” Jesus is present. He's real. He's with us. And after we receive them, he also says, "Do this in remembrance of me." Go out into the world and wash the feet of people who need it.

Think right now about someone in your life whom you get to care for. Think about that great privilege, and remember that this isn't just by chance. This is a time in your life when Christ is really allowing you a great moment and a great privilege to "Do this in remembrance of me."


John Paul II 10th anniversary of his death
Holy Thursday, 17 April 2003

1. "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1).

On the eve of his passion and death, the Lord Jesus wanted to gather his Apostles around him once again to entrust his last instructions to them and to give them the supreme witness of his love.

Let us also enter the "large upper room furnished and ready" (Mk 14: 15), and dispose ourselves to listen to the most intimate thoughts that he wants to confide to us; in particular, let us be ready to receive the act and the gift that he has prepared in view of this final meeting.

2. So, while they are eating, Jesus rises from the table and begins to wash the disciples' feet. At first Peter resists, then he understands and accepts. We too are asked to understand: the first thing the disciple must do is to prepare himself to listen to the Lord, opening his heart to accept the initiative of his love. Only then will he be invited, in turn, to do what the Teacher did. He too must be committed to "washing the feet" of his brothers and sisters, expressing in gestures of mutual service that love which is the synthesis of the whole Gospel (cf. Jn 13: 1-20).

Also during the Supper, knowing that his "hour" had now come, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, then gives it to the Apostles saying: "This is my body"; he does the same with the cup: "This is my blood". And he commands them: "Do this in remembrance of me" (I Cor 11: 24.25). Truly this is the witness of love taken "to the end" (Jn 13: 1). Jesus gives himself as food to his disciples to become one with them. Once again the "lesson" emerges that we must learn: the first thing to do is to open our hearts to welcoming the love of Christ. It is his initiative: it is his love that enables us, in turn, to love our brethren.

Therefore, the washing of the feet and the sacrament of the Eucharist: two expressions of one and the same mystery of loveentrusted to the disciples, so that, Jesus says, "as I have done... so also must you do" (Jn 13: 15).

3. "Do this in remembrance of me" (I Cor 11: 24) The "remembrance" the Lord left us that evening encompasses the crowning moment of his earthly existence, the moment of his sacrificial offering to the Father out of love for humanity. It is the "remembrance" that is placed in the context of a supper, the paschal meal, in which Jesus gives himself to his Apostles under the appearances of bread and wine, as their nourishment on the journey to the heavenly homeland.

Mysterium fidei! This is what the celebrant proclaims after saying the words of the consecration. And the liturgical assembly responds, joyfully expressing its faith and adherence filled with hope. The Eucharist is a truly great mystery! A mystery "incomprehensible" to the human mind, but so full of light to the eyes of faith! The Table of the Lord in the simplicity of the Eucharistic symbols - the shared bread and wine - are also revealed as the table of concrete brotherhood. The message that radiates from them is too clear to be missed: those who take part in the Eucharistic Celebration cannot remain impervious to the expectations of the poor and needy.


To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man’s weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. (SD 23)

God suffers with us in doing so he suffers more than we do and as long as there sis suffering in the world, he shares this suffering, he experiences compassion. Von Balthasar

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Divine Mercy Sunday: Suicide Survivors of the Golden Gate Bridge


As harps for the winds of heaven,

My web-like cables are spun;

I offer my span for the traffic of man,

At the gate of the setting sun.

-Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge 
An Ode to the Golden Gate Bridge

I came across an article from The New Yorker entitled: "Jumpers:  The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge."

I couldn't help but think of Divine Mercy Sunday and have kept it in mind for some time. In the article we get to hear from survivors, the less than 1 percent who get a second chance at life.

Through it all I hear echoed the voice of the Psalmist:

I was hard pressed and was falling,

but the LORD helped me.

My strength and my courage is the LORD,

and he has been my savior.

-Psalm 118

Every two weeks, on average, someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is the world’s leading suicide location. (*)

Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

Another survivor, Kevin Hines, was eighteen when he took a municipal bus to the bridge one day in September, 2000. After treating himself to a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles, he paced back and forth and sobbed on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong. A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did. “I was like, ‘F*** this, nobody cares,’ ” he told me. “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was: “What the hell did I just do? I don’t want to die.”

Thousands of people have committed suicide by Jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, less than 1% survive the deadly jump.  What happens to those 1%? 

Ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes.  “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later.

The current system for preventing suicide on the bridge is what officials call “the non-physical barrier.” Its components include numerous security cameras and thirteen telephones, which potential suicides or alarmed passersby can use to reach the bridge’s control tower. The most important element is randomly scheduled patrols by California Highway patrolmen and Golden Gate Bridge personnel in squad cars and on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle.

Kevin Briggs, a friendly, sandy-haired motorcycle patrolman, has a knack for spotting jumpers and talking them back from the edge; he has coaxed in more than two hundred potential jumpers without losing one over the side. He won the Highway Patrol’s Marin County Uniformed Employee of the Year Award last year. 

Dr. Jerome Motto, a local psychiatrist and suicide expert, had a patient who committed suicide from the Golden Gate in 1963, but the jump that affected him most occurred in the seventies. “I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner,” he told me. “The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’ ”

Mother Teresa once said "We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.

Joseph Strauss believed that the Golden Gate would demonstrate man’s control over nature, and so it did. No engineer, however, has discovered a way to control the wildness within. (*)

Kevin Hines, who is bipolar, attempted to take his life by jumping off the bridge when he was 19.

Now a suicide prevention advocate, Kevin, is one of just 34 people (less than 1%) who survived falling from the bridge.

Mr Hines said jumping off the bridge was "an instant regret".

"The millisecond my hands left that rail, I thought, 'what have I just done? I don't want to die, God please save me', and then I hit the water," he said.

"You fall four seconds, you hit the water and get vacuum sucked down 70 or 80 ft - when I opened my eyes I was alive.

"All I desperately wanted to do was survive - suicide experts call this being 'shocked into reality'."

Mr Hines said the coastguard arrived at the scene quickly, thanks to a motorist who saw him jump in and rang for help, and that was not his only stroke of good fortune.

"In the water, something started brushing underneath me and bumping me up - I thought at first I was going to be eaten by a shark," he said.

"Later on, a man who saw me on a television show about suicide prevention got in contact to say he'd been there that day - he said it was a sea lion and the people above believed it was keeping you afloat until the coastguard arrived."

I wonder if that was his guardian angel or God working through one of his creatures.  

"Today is not tomorrow - just because you're having mental health struggles today, it doesn't mean you will for the rest of your life," he said.

"I live with chronic suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, depression, mania - I am able to cope with them because I know how.

"I use ten steps every day to stay mentally well - they include things like education into my disease, medication, exercise, proper sleeping and eating habits.

"Do not be quiet - stand up and get the help that you deserve." (*)


I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.

-Psalm 118 

God spared Kevin Hines life and in that we get to hear one example of the final thoughts that go through someones mind after they take the jump.

Ken Baldwin: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”  His life too was spared.

What Divine Mercy Sunday reveals to us is that "Everything in life that we think is unfixable is fixable." Thankfully for those who survive, even suicide, or for those who haven't we trust in the Lord.

Maybe you know someone who struggles with mental illness or addiction. Maybe you know someone who has committed suicide.

Maybe you struggle with mental illness or addiction. Maybe you have thought of suicide yourself.

We have to hope that in those moments of "wildness within" when we can't control ourselves, God can save us. God can come through the "locked doors" of our hearts and minds. God can tame the "wildness within". God can fix what we think is "unfixable." God can save us when we are falling.

Christ is really the only "bridge" to the Father. He is the one that can save us when we are falling.  He is the one who can tame the "wildness within".  This Divine Mercy Sunday we realize that nothing is "unfixable."

We have a savior.

As harps for the winds of heaven,

My web-like cables are spun;

I offer my span for the traffic of man,

At the gate of the setting sun.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Homily: Space Travel of the Heart

Happy Easter! Truly He is risen!

This is the first Easter my whole family is not going to be together. Many of you know I have a big family: six kids. The three girls are married, now my older brother Bobby is engaged, and I’m a priest, and we all have our own things going on. So my family will get together, but not all will be there. It’s the first time this has happened, and it’s causing a little bit of heartache and tension in the family. I think the desire for all of us is to be together. Even Fr. Martello, the last few months, has been in the nursing home, and it’s been hard not having him here with us. In a more profound way, though, he’s been with us through his prayer and through his celebration of the Eucharist.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, left us a great gift in his writings. and the greatest of these was a three-part series he called Jesus of Nazareth. The first part focuses on the birth and infancy narratives found in the gospels, the second on his life from his baptism to the transfiguration, and the third on his entry into Jerusalem through his resurrection. One of the concepts the Holy Father develops can be translated “space travel of the heart.”

He talks about the ability we have to space-travel from our heart and in our hearts. How is it possible for all of us to travel in space and to be together from our hearts? Well, it’s possible through the mystery we celebrate today -- the resurrection. A problem of our modern world is that we have a tendency to separate God from the material. We figure everything on earth belongs to us and to science. God takes care of the spiritual. He’s out there. The reality, though, is that God is both, spiritual and material. Not only is he both spiritual and material, but he has complete power over the spiritual and material. Don’t forget, God brought us into creation. In the beginning, there was nothing. God spoke, and by his very word he brought about the heavens and the earth and all the rest of creation. Not only that, but he continues to create.

Sometimes I think we have this image that God created the world, then stepped aside and let it go. That’s not reality. Reality is that God continues to work with us in all of creation. There are, though, three significant moments, three moments where he does something especially extraordinary. He goes outside of what we can fathom; outside of how nature normally works.

The first of these moments is the virgin birth. When Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, it was not by a man. It was not by man and woman coming together, which is the way nature would normally work. God did something extraordinary. The Holy Spirit came to Mary, and she conceived. She bore God in her womb, and He was born into humanity.

The second moment is the resurrection. It never happened before that someone proclaimed he would suffer and die, then rise, and it actually happened. When the disciples went to the tomb, they discovered not only that it was empty, but that the burial cloths were still there. It was as if someone had stolen the body, but they wouldn’t have removed the burial cloths, then taken the naked body. They would have taken everything, and yet the burial cloths were there and the 10-ton stone had been removed. He rose from the dead. God did something beyond what we could fathom. He took this body that had died and, instead of allowing it to decay and become corrupt, he raised Jesus body, mind, soul, and divinity into heaven. At that very moment, the material world as we know it completely changed. He brought matter. He brought Jesus. He brought his body to himself.

Finally is the Eucharist. If God has control over matter; if God entered into humanity in the incarnation; if God can raise Jesus from the dead … God can also take the matter of bread and wine and transform them into his very essence -- into the body and blood of Jesus.

Pope Benedict once said that “Indeed matter itself is remolded into a new type of reality. The man Jesus, complete with his body, now belongs totally to the spirit of the divine and eternal. From now on, spirit and blood, humanity and divinity, have come together and are joined. God has complete power over all of creation, and he is working in all of creation.”

What that means is that there is unthinkable closeness between God and us. No longer is it us down here and God up there. God is united with us and with all these things -- the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the Eucharist -- because God wants to be in us, close to us, with us. God is present.

In Jesus’ resurrection, matter itself is remolded into this new reality. Since we ourselves have no experience with this, we can’t understand it. It’s not surprising; it oversteps the boundaries of what we’re able to conceive. In reality, when Jesus rose from the dead, he didn’t depart from us. When Jesus rose from the dead, he took the material world, his body with us [?], into heaven. Jesus is with the Father in heaven, and what does that mean for us? We are with the Father in heaven. Because Jesus has shared his life and his matter and his spirit with us, we are with God the Father. The reality is that we can only experience this if we live in the resurrection. We now only experience being with God if we are people who have been baptized and live in the spirit of the resurrection.

So those three things again -- the virgin birth, the Eucharist, and the resurrection -- came to us because God wanted to be close to us. He wanted to be close to you.

For 33 years, God could be touched. God could be held. God could be hugged. God could be embraced. [Is embracing the same thing as hugging?] God could be heard. But when those 33 years were over, he didn’t want the relationship to end, so when he died, he rose from the dead so he could be with us always. But he didn’t want it to end there; he wanted to be even closer to us, so we have the Eucharist. Through the power of the resurrection, through God having control over the material world, these simple gifts of bread and wine become his body and blood, and we get to be with him. This is what Pope Benedict calls space travel of the heart.

When we live in the resurrection, we are not limited by the material. That means that when we receive the body and blood of Christ and we enter and become Jesus, we are not only able to be with him, but we are able to be with our family from whom we may be separated. You get to be with your loved ones. You may have people who are serving in the war. You may have people you’re estranged from. You may have family living across the country. In the Eucharist and the power of the resurrection, you get to experience this space travel of the heart. You get to be with them.

Maybe you have lost someone over the last year, or more recently.  Maybe you have a loved one who has died and is in heaven.  

Because we receive the Eucharist, we experience this space travel of the heart.  Then suddenly, we get to be with them, and they get to be with us.   All of the Sacraments help us to experience this transformed matter:  God taking water.  God taking oil.  God taking bread and wine.  God taking people and transforming them into the Resurrection.  And ultimately, the space travel of the heart allows us not only to be with those we love, but to be with God.   Then, because of the Resurrection, God is always with us.  Jesus is always with us.  He is never apart from us.   

In the Funeral Liturgy, every time I celebrate a funeral, I talk about this for those of us that believe life is changed not ended.  This life is now transformed.   When Jesus died and rose from the dead, He did not go away from us.  He actually came closer to us.  I just invite you, if you feel distant from God, if you have been away from the Church, if you have been away from the Sacraments, if you have been away from Christ, maybe, right now, He is calling you into this life of the Resurrection.  Maybe, right now, He is calling you to take your body, and your matter, and transform yourself into this reality of the Resurrection so that you can be with Him.   This is what we celebrate today on Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the body.   When we experience the receiving of the body and blood of Christ, not only do we die with Him and suffer with Him like we have for the last 40 days, but suddenly, beyond comprehension, we rise with Him.  We live as Christ.   Christ is in us and we are in Him.  We become the Resurrection.   

We, too, can experience this space travel of the heart.   That is what we celebrate during this Easter season. 

That is what we celebrate in the mystery of the Resurrection, the birth of Jesus, and ultimately, in the Eucharist that we share.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Naked Man Running - Passion Sunday

mark4 (1)

Click here to listen to Homily: 

Today, as the Passion is proclaimed, we enter into holy week -- the holiest week of the year. The Church invites us, after the proclamation of the gospel, to give a brief homily, and I’d like to reflect on one passage in particular. It’s only found in Mark, which we heard today, and it reminds me of a common nightmare many people have experienced. It’s an absurd nightmare, and the passage I’ve chosen to reflect on can also seem so absurd that we even kind of laugh at it.

The common nightmare is that you’re driving to work, or you’re off to make an important speech, or you’re about to walk out in front of a large crowd, and you realize you’re completely naked. There’s this sense of embarrassment and shame.

In today’s gospel, we hear about Jesus being betrayed by the kiss of Judas, then we hear He’s denied three times by Peter. When He’s handed over for His crucifixion, His disciples leave Him, so He has this experience of everyone abandoning Him, denying Him, and fleeing from Him. We finally hear this, found only in Mark: “Now a young man followed Him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about His body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”

So, he was seized, and he was so terrified that he left his clothes behind, and he ran off naked into the sunset. When we were created, we were naked without shame before God. From the time of the fall, there’s been a tendency to run and to hide from God, so if you think of Adam and Eve, they were afraid because they were naked, and so they hid.

Scripture scholars debate about who this young man in Mark’s gospel was. The man was not named. All we know about him is that he was wearing nothing but a linen cloth -- so, a white cloth. Many scholars believe this is symbolic of us; symbolic of the newly-baptized. When you were baptized, you were given a white cloth, and at that moment of baptism, you became a disciple of Christ. So this man is symbolic of us.

Now Jesus, when He was entering into His passion, was abandoned by His closest friends. He was betrayed by the kiss of Judas and denied by Peter. Even His disciples fled, and then there was this man who came in the white cloth, symbolic of all of us, and “when he was seized, he left his clothes and ran away naked.”

Ultimately, this holy week is our moment of truth -- to see if you and I will stand by Jesus in His passion. It’s the moment of truth to see if we are willing to suffer and remain with Him in His suffering or if, when we are seized, we will run away, terrified and naked, embarrassed and in shame.

The truth is, each and every one of us, as we enter into this holy week, will be tempted to distract ourselves from the Passion. This is the holiest of holies. Palm Sunday we read the entire Passion because it sets the tone for entering into the passion of Jesus. During this week, you’re going to have many opportunities to enter into that passion. The most important days are Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: the Triduum. It’s one liturgy celebrated over three days.

Holy Thursday includes the washing of the feet. It’s the commemoration of the institution of the priesthood and of the Eucharist. We will have Mass, and that is the beginning of the liturgy. At the end, there’s no blessing, there’s no singing. We leave in silence. Good Friday we come back and continue that service. We venerate the cross by coming forward and kissing it. Again, we leave in silence, and then we spend that time, from noon until three, in silence. On Holy Saturday, we come back at dark for the Easter vigil. There’s a fire outside, and we participate in the Church’s most sacred liturgical celebration of the year. We all have candles, and we listen to the readings in darkness. That leads us, finally, to the passion, to the death, and ultimately to the Resurrection.

You have a great opportunity to enter into this holy week.

Now maybe, at the beginning of Lent, you made some kind of resolution for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and maybe you’ve given up on that. I encourage you to redouble your efforts and really enter into this holy week. Allow it to be a time of sacredness and devoutness for you. During the sacred mysteries, Jesus gives us this opportunity to walk with Him as He is crucified, to stand with Him as He suffers and dies -- to be with Him through the Paschal mystery -- and ultimately to enter into His resurrection.

Now the difficulty is, we hear about this disciple, this newly-baptized disciple, who leaves his garment and runs away naked. You will be tempted not to enter into this Passion. You will be distracted and tempted to do some other things -- to play some sports, to take in some entertainment or to participate in other leisure activities. Ultimately this holy week is your moment of truth. You are that disciple who has the opportunity to stay with Jesus in His passion, or to flee to do something else.

For the Marcan community in the time this gospel was written, there was persecution. Mark would give the people this challenge, and it’s a challenge all of us are given today: Will you follow the example and the righteousness of the passion of Jesus, or will you betray Him as Judas did, or will you flee at the first sign of conflict as Peter and the other disciples did, and as this young man did?

This is the moment of truth. Will you be with Him in His passion, or will you run away naked and ashamed?

Wonderful App for the Examen


Blessings for Holy Week! You will all be in my prayers even though I’m taking a bit of a break from posting the book this week.

In the meantime I wanted to share with you an app that teaches and reminds us how to do the examen, a wonderful discernment tool and spiritual practice. The examen is a wonderful way to listen to God’s invitations in our life, helping us to look over our day and to be aware of how God is acting in our life, and how we’ve responded.

Read the entire review here!