Have you ever been swept away inside the rhythms and sounds of a piece of music that expresses what words cannot? Have the sounds of a great singer ever seemed to rise like incense as s/he sang? There are times that have a timeless quality of human existence. There are some times of sensing the “deep down of things,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. There is the “more” to life than meets the ordinary eye. Behind all the ordinary stuff there are some “ultimate realities.” It is in music, art, literature that we come to respond to aspects of these realities (the word “art” is commonly used for all aspects of creative work, including, e.g., sculpture and architecture).

There are the creative persons, the creative minds, who bring sparks of enlightenment scattered through the darkness of the world. There are the creative titans: Mozart and Bach, Handel and Brahms, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, etc. who awaken us. Their names are associated with creativity and genius.

I believe we can listen to God through great music, paintings, literature, and art. We glorify God who has given such artistic gifts to human beings. Great artists are revealing God to us. As Goethe said of one of his own writings, it contains more than the author himself knew. All true art is revelation.

Great art, great paintings, sculpture, music, literature, film, poems, and other works can be marvelous aids in our journey to God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that beautiful art is an important way to experience God.

From creative musicians, artists, painters, writers, we can experience new levels of reality, have an awareness of a deeper sense of being alive, learn to live life more fully.

Where does the creativity come from? Interestingly, creativity has traditionally been called inspiration, a word that implies a touch of divinity. There’s a beautiful Norwegian legend that before some souls are put into a body, the soul is kissed by God, and during all of its life on earth, the soul retains a memory of that kiss and relates everything to it (cf. The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser, p.15). Artistic ability is a God-given blessing we marvel at.

Creativity is a lonely affair. It generally involves those who are willing to take on solitude. Creativity, such as writing, is done alone. There is the solitude and loneliness that surrounds the act of writing. Creativity is also hard work. Ernest Hemingway stated that he rewrote the concluding pages of A Farewell to Arms 70 times. He also stated that he thought it appropriate to do 100 rewrites of The Old Man and the Sea. There is often the sheer labor involved in creativity. With writing, a huge amount of time and effort may be expended on a single word or phrase. There is the power of carefully crafted words. The best plays, with their immortal lines, can evoke the big questions of our lives.

Poetry can have very important parts to play in life, and in the spiritual life. The reading of poetry is an excellent preparation for prayer. With the best poetry, the moment may come when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. There are the moments when a poet captures an emotion perfectly.

We need creative people in our lives: poets, painters, writers, actors, etc.—such gifted people are a precious gift. They give God a way of coming to expression. For example, Flemish painters do many paintings of home interiors, especially the way light moves about Dutch rooms. They make us see the domestic scenes with a sense of revelation—life is enhanced. Art is life-enhancing. It enables us to participate more fully in life. Plato believed that children should be taught music before anything else; in learning to pay attention to graceful rhythms and harmonies their whole consciousness would be magnified.

Most Catholics are deficient in a rudimentary appreciation of literature and the arts. In the late 19th century, Cardinal Henry Newman had to defend having literature courses in Catholic Universities.

The purpose of education and preaching is to highlight and make people more sensitive to the fact that we can listen to God through great music and art and literature. One tries to help people sense the beauty in art, music, paintings, poetry, the beauties of language. There is the power of great literature and music to change our lives. Words and music don’t merely say something, they do something. There is their awesome power. A handful of words, artfully arranged can be a magical thing. They can enable us to participate more fully in life.

Every gifted artist is a mouthpiece of God. Even great plays reveal God to us. When we read and study literature at its best, incorporate into our lives the best of creative artists, we glorify God who has given such gifts to human beings. Life is lived more intensely. There is more to life than surviving, thriving, and dying. Great art is the helpmate of religion. Gifted artists enlighten us. They can bring us face to face with some real, true reality. There is the artist’s gift of seeing things in their beauty and truth and weaving them into melodies that other people can understand. Great art evokes moods as well as ideas. So much of the common world, the hum and bustle of ordinary life, receives spiritual expression by painters, musicians, writers, etc. There are some words from Hopkins again: “For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.” There are moments when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

It was a typical Monday morning Mass with the usual suspects—seniors, retirees, homemakers and nonagenarians—when suddenly five minutes before starting time, a grandmother, her daughter and her daughter’s five kids, from 2 to 14, came through the door, followed in short order by another mother and her 7-year-old son, a father and his 3-year-old daughter, and a woman with her 4-year-old-niece.

The mood in church changed immediately. It could have been a screening of “Bluey,” the popular cartoon show about a Blue Heeler puppy, who lives with her family and gets into all kinds of situations.

Of course, it’s tough to have that many youngsters in one place at the same time and avoid pandemonium, and it was obvious all the adults were trying their hardest to keep the situation under control, until the youngest member of the entourage—a feisty 2-year-old, wearing blue spectacles, shorts and a T-shirt—decided to take the law into his own hands. While his 10-year-old sister held him, he started to do what 2-year-olds do best: perform.

He had no concern for social propriety or the fact that Father had just begun his homily about the Gospel story, where the mother of the Sons of Thunder, James and John, asks Jesus to let her boys sit on his left and his right when he comes into his glory.

The louder Father talked, the louder the young tyke squealed to the consternation of his mother and grandmother. The boy’s sibling caretaker hastily carried him to the back of the church to minimize the disruptions, so Father could finish his sermon and to avoid scandalizing the other adults who hadn’t seen this much excitement at Mass since the children’s choir was allowed back after the COVID restrictions ended.

The 2-year-old managed to arouse attention with his laughing and squealing and toddler hysterics, which only intensified when he broke away from his sister and started running between the pews with her in hot pursuit.

For every kid in church, his performance was more entertaining than Father’s homily. To a child, they were all focused on the back of the church to witness his lively antics. And the little guy didn’t disappoint. For someone who didn’t even know the English language, he was masterful at creating comical mayhem.

My normal grouchy grandfather reaction would have been, “Get that kid under control!” But as I watched all the kids giggling at this spectacle, I couldn’t help but smile and watch him entertain them.

I’m from that era when kids were immediately shuttled out of church at the slightest sign of commotion, and I’ve done that a lot myself over the years. However, now I’m inclined to advocate bringing all the kids in and not getting uptight if they act like kids.

How does that hymn go? “All are welcome, all are welcome in.”

As I was watching this toddler trying his hardest to get laughs, I thought of that popular saying, “What would Jesus do?”

Do you remember that encounter Jesus had with children, which is recounted in Matthew 19?

“Then, children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray,” the Gospel account says.

“The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.’” The disciples were the ones who were uptight when the kids came to Jesus. But Jesus had an entirely different attitude. He welcomed them, he wanted them to come. And you can be sure that he didn’t have any rules for good behavior when they came to him. I’m convinced he didn’t say, “Now, children, stand erect, be quiet, pay attention, be polite, don’t act goofy, and don’t act like children.”

I’m sure he loved when they acted like children, rather than children being forced to act like adults.

And so, what would Jesus do? As I watched the little boy, whose name I later learned was Patrick, having a grand old time entertaining everyone, I asked the question WWJD and immediately a thought came into my head. Jesus would be joining the kids because he loves children and he loves joy and he loves a good laugh or two.

“Did you know that in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted for 12 hours?” asked Nathan, tugging at my sleeve.

“That’s so interesting,” I replied, guiding him toward his seat. “Let’s sit down now.”

“But I still have to tell you about the alien movie I watched last night!” He clearly did not want to sit.

“Maybe later on when class ends,” I said, hoping that would settle him. It did – for a moment.

“Why can’t I sit over there?” he continued. “It’s too cold near the window . . .”

This was the scene that often played out before religious ed class began eight years ago, when Nathan was in fourth grade and I had volunteered to teach nineyear-olds about the Old Testament and the parables—not ancient Europe, and certainly not aliens.

The students, including sandy-haired Nathan, were really a special group: inquisitive and kind, but this young boy’s autism made it difficult for him to remain seated and attentive. It was not unusual for him to ask random questions, wander the room during prayer, and tell me that Adoration was boring one week, then kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and tell me that he had just met God the next. Class was sometimes a challenge, but even when his attention was brief, I knew his faith was strong. In time, I prayed that it would flourish.

Those students and I bonded that year, so we chose to remain together in my Wednesday evening class as they moved into middle school and Confirmation prep. Soon, I watched as they all, including Nathan, were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some I continued to see at Mass, the grocery store, or a high school event, but not Nathan. Until one Sunday in late summer.

During the sign of peace, I glanced toward another section of the church, and there, next to his mother, stood Nathan, with that same sandy hair, but seemingly twice as tall as I remembered. After Mass, I walked toward them, hoping to say hello, and found him not in the pew but kneeling at Mary’s altar, head bowed. The boy who had trouble sitting through 10 minutes of Adoration now continued to pray long after Mass ended. When he rose and blessed himself, a smile spread across his face, and he opened his arms to me. Still full of questions, Nathan asked this time about my family and our summer travels, then shared his plans for senior year and a new part-time job.

Though I saw glimpses of that nine-year-old wandering through the classroom, this was now a young man I hardly recognized. It’s not that he just grew up. The faith he held as a child, though somewhat concealed by distractions and frustrations, flourished with an understanding of God’s love I rarely witnessed in others his age. I saw it in his eyes, in the way he spoke, in his gestures toward the altar and the reverence he displayed.

“I’ve changed a lot,” Nathan said, though that’s never what I had wanted.

“Not too much, I hope.” “Don’t worry,” he replied with a half-smile.

“I still like aliens.”

Last winter, a friend of mine started planning a new book club and asked me to join. I hesitated. I was already committed to several others—my neighborhood book club which read the latest best-sellers and my after-school book club with students who devoured the library’s young adult section. Plus, I must admit, at times I longed to read something on my own. Yet I agreed, my interest piqued, since she chose an angle for this group which was missing in the others. A faith-filled one.

Gathered on a Saturday morning in her church’s community room, we sipped coffee and offered book suggestions, an eclectic group of women from various ages and stages. Some I knew; most I did not, but we united in a love of God, a devotion to faith (and books), and, if we were lucky, a community of newfound friends.

The following month, we began with excerpts, thankfully excerpts, of what my friend called the “tome” of St. Faustina’s diary and moved onto a shorter reflection on the life of Mary Magdalene, just in time for Lent. I missed the next discussion on a classic work of the Holy Spirit, and then we found ourselves at the onset of summer. To celebrate the season with a potluck by her pool, my friend chose Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, so reflective and inspirational, a book I had enjoyed over the years.

Into the suitcase I tossed my well-worn copy as we packed for vacation. While the rest of family braved the chilly ocean waters one afternoon, I sat on the beach, iced tea in one hand and, appropriately, Gift from the Sea in the other. Never before had I read it in this locale and never before at this point in my life. Hearing the sound of waves crashing in front me, I understood even better the author’s interpretation of the ebb and flow in the tide of our lives. Seeing my teenagers and their friends searching the shoreline for sea shells, I felt her comments about motherhood more deeply than I ever could as a young adult.

As I watched and listened, I also felt, as I did in the past, God’s presence which always seems so powerful near the sea. Despite the age we are or the stage we’re in, the psalms remind us: “More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty.”

As I continued reading, I wondered if the others would react as I did. What would give them pause? How would they connect spiritually? The woman in her 20s who recently started a new job. The woman in her 70s who finds joy in her grandchildren. At next week’s potluck, I imagine sharing, with a community of friends I once hesitated in joining, the stories and perspectives that emerged from this book, so different from those I realized in the past though equally valuable in a myriad of ways.

Closing the pages and preparing to brave the chilly waters myself, I lifted a prayer of gratitude for books and friends, family and faith, God and the sea.

Whenever I get discouraged— and lately it happens a lot after I read the news—I try to think of people I’ve met who are what they call “powers of example” in 12 Step programs. You could say they’re my “spiritual powers of example.”

Imagine this scenario: Several times a day, I’ll shake my head in disappointment at the way things are going in the world and wonder if it will ever get better. But that disappointment is dispelled when I cross paths with someone who brings light into the darkness. I’m convinced God sends certain people to give me encouragement, which is something all followers of Christ need from time to time in our aggressively secular society.

These “spiritual powers of example” are people of no real worldly consequence. No politicians, no celebrities, no corporate leaders, no social activists. No one of particular prominence.

They come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally share one fundamental characteristic— they “put God first in everything they do.” Those aren’t my words. I borrowed them from actor Denzel Washington’s commencement address at Dillard University, when he told the graduates the most important thing they could do in their lives was to put God first in everything. I’ve never heard a celebrity say that before.

That approach to life is a common denominator of the people Jesus sends my way to revive my hope. Some of them are young men and women committed to Christ, who make me realize that despite all the hubbub about the so-called “nones” turning away from religion, Jesus is at work, doing what he does best, making all things right. Never doubt that Jesus is always at work despite what the state of the world makes you think.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the nonagenarians, those women and men in their 90s, who after all these years are still working for Christ in the vineyard.

One fellow I recently met is turning 100 in a few weeks and still plays golf, but more importantly, he still goes to daily Mass. He’s a true hero. When he was 19, he flew bombing missions over Nazi Germany.

Another person who inspires me recently passed away at 93— Sister Catherine Theresa Sottak.

For a long time, my wife Sandy tried to track her down because we hadn’t heard from her. Then, earlier this year, she opened a letter from New Hampshire with her obituary. Sister had died February 7, 2023. The obituary, which her sister sent, told the remarkable story of woman who entered the Daughters of the Holy Spirit at 16 and spent her life without fanfare working in the vineyard for Christ, all over the world.

She taught in Alabama, where she was principal of a Catholic school, and later in Burlington, Vt., Bridgeport and other cities. She went into nursing and worked with migrants in Maryland. In 1983, she became a missionary and traveled to Nigeria, where she served in a pre-natal clinic. She was also active in a ministry to the poor in Alabama and Haiti, before returning to the provincial house in Putnam, Conn.

Sandy met Sister Catherine while she was a visiting nurse, caring for a teenager in a coma for seven years after a boating accident. They were both in a healing prayer ministry.

The obituary confirmed what she already knew, that Sister Catherine was the most saintly woman she’d ever known.

If we ever had doubts about our faith, being in the presence of Sister Catherine immediately dispelled them. She was everything we’re called to be as Catholics, but can never quite achieve.

One other thing. Everyone who knew her would always say Sister Catherine was surrounded by the scent of roses. That, the Church teaches, is called the “odor of sanctity” — a sweet and pure aroma of flowers that lets you know you’re in the presence of a holy person.

The night before she and Sandy flew to Venezuela on a pilgrimage, Sister Catherine stayed at our home. In the morning, I immediately noticed that the bedroom smelled of roses, and I couldn’t resist asking her the obvious question, “Sister, do you wear perfume?”

She smiled and promptly responded, “Oh, no. Never.” All the good she did in her life and the number of people she touched are incalculable. Only God knows for sure. But her guiding principle was simple. She put God first in everything she did.

Sister Catherine, pray for us.

From childhood on, summer and I have been the best of friends. When I look back, most of the good memories of my childhood are connected with summer.

A new summer has begun; we have the gift of another summer. God grant us the good sense to enjoy the remainder of this summer, to exult in summer. Grant us the wisdom to know that there is a time to play, a time to cease from our labors. It is a season of ease. Summer is meant to be the season of leisure days, a time to revel in life. Summer carries a sense of escape; we leave the office early on Friday and take long weekends. It is “the Good Old Summertime.” Life should be easier. I have a vivid memory of a day when I was 11 years old and it was a summer morning, and the day stretched ahead promising nothing but good and happiness. The summer morning air was streaming with the pulse of life.” As the Lebanese writer and artist Kahil Gibran put it: “to wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving”—to enjoy life while it was still fresh and new.

I love the sweet smell of summer rain, the blue skies with some cloud puffs, those long summer twilights, as John Keats put it, “what is more gentle than a wind in summer” (Sleep & Poetry). I loved the outdoor summer concerts. The world does bad things to us all. Still, the Creator intended life to be enjoyed; to enjoy thankfully all that God gives us to enjoy. There is the smiling side of life, when nothing is more important than the best choice of ice cream.

I’ve known dying people who prayed that they might have the gift of one-more summer.

There’s the words in Job 37:14: “Harken unto this, O Job, stand still and consider the wondrous works of the Lord.”

I recall a day when my family had a beach picnic at Valley Stream State Park. We were all together. It was a lovely day, and life was still in its bloom, dissolving age was far away. Why did my Mama and Pop have to grow old and die? My brother is dead too; he died of Alzheimer’s disease. But that day at Valley Stream, we were all together and happy. That day life was a very great gift. Did we realize it at the time? There’s that marvelous last line in the play Our Town:

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? No … The saints and poets, maybe— they do some.”

Summer’s lease is all too short. The summer begins to wither away. As someone put it, summer is too beautiful to stay. Dusk comes a few minutes earlier, and sunrise a few minutes later than they did a month ago. Day light begins to shorten. The season begins to wither away.

I hate to see each day end. I let each of them slip away unwillingly.

For me, a deep loneliness always comes with summer ended. I can picture September’s barren porch where leaves are gathering. The end of summertime aways brings to me memoires of many lost and lovely things.

Summer, life at the apex. It is a time to take pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved, in loving

Blessings on your summer. May God grant us all blue skies this summer. Let summer in.

I would suggest an attitude which wants to use summer to instill in a child a love for living, which gives him/her the feeling it is good to be alive, it is good to be on this earth enjoying God’s gift of life.

Can people be religious and not spiritual? The answer, of course, is yes. “I’m spiritual, not religious” is a common response. Many people’s definition of religion is simply “not hurting anyone.” Many people who leave the Church say they want more from religion that rules. Pope Francis warned against defining holiness simply as strictly following specific laws. The truth of the matter is that religion is not the point, spirituality is.

The religion of my youth involved an occupation with saving one’s soul, avoiding hell, shortening purgatory. However, with time, I recognized that ordinary life was full of grace and mercy and there were “God Sightings”, times and ways in ordinary events of our daily lives when we were aware that God was making himself known. We can identify God’s loving interventions in our lives. There is a transcendent reality behind ordinary events. God speaks to us through events. Luke describes Mary “pondering all these things in her heart.”

Also with time, I developed, with many others, a consciousness that we were made for something more than we were now experiencing. There’s an emptiness ready to be filled. There’s something Simone Weil said: we are in danger of starving to death, not because there is no bread, but because we think we are not hungry. Close contact with the worldly usually arouses in me a longing for the spiritual. A writer named Selma Lager was right in warning that the soul cannot live on fun alone.

God has various ways to draw us to himself. In George’s Herbert’s poem (“The Pulley”), God says that if a human being can’t come to him through goodness, “weariness may bring him.” At this time, many feel a certain weariness with the world.

Then we are told that God expects something more from us than submission and reverence. He wants us to love him. Deut. 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” And there’s Jn. 14:21: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

God wants us to love him! I’ve been trying to figure out what loving God is all about. Soren Kierkegaard said “it is God’s passion to love and to be loved.” God’s love is not a general love. It is a love addressed to each one personally. And God’s love is to the utmost: Mt. 10:34-36: “Anyone who loves father or mother move than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”

Thomas Aquinas said we are Capax Dei—capable of God. We are creatures with a capacity to have a direct relationship with God, with the Infinite, with the One sustaining the universe.

Karl Rahner stated it is natural for humans to seek God we have an inherent orientation for Him, and it is possible to have a loving relationship with the Creator. Indeed, there is Rahner’s famous statement: “The devout Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will cease to be anything at all. For devout Christians will no longer be sustained by the religious customs” (Theological Investigations, NY: Herder & Herder, 1971).

I’m fascinated with Moses’ relationship with God. Moses, slow of speech and slow of tongue (Ex. 4:10) ends up speaking to God “face to face,” and one speaks to a friend (Ex. 33:11). God declares something like love for Moses – “you have found favor in my sight, and I know your name.”

I’ve been trying to figure out what loving God is all about. Spiritual writers speak of how we develop a relationship through prayer and reading; one must pray regularly and read regularly. In prayer, we speak to God; in reading, God speaks to us. Spiritual development requires time and effort.

The early Christian scholar and theologian, Origin of Alexandria (185-253), said loving God consists in becoming as much like God as possible; there is a configuration to God. This would involve taking on God’s qualities of love, compassion, understanding, hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, less inclined to judge others. Christian writers in general speak of love, humility, and detachment as indispensable in a love of God. One enjoys solitude more.

I’ve experienced moments of unusual closeness with God. These occurred at distant intervals; they were only passing visits. But I have never fallen in love with God. I haven’t had this kind of emotional connection. There have been some brief glimpses from time to time. Lately, I feel God closing in again, and I long to call out to him.

I’m convinced there are people who suddenly or gradually fall in love with God. One encounters this among the elderly who live lives of peaceful gratitude to God.

However, saints like Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux assert that the friends of God are few. Therese of Lisieux goes so far as to say: “Oh, how little God is loved on this earth, even by priests and religious! No, God isn’t loved very much.” Julian of Norwich (d. 1413) said: “Most people are spiritual babies.”

A book by Diana Bass gives a reason why so many people leave the Church. She notes that people will go where they are fed, and if they are not fed at church, they leave. (Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as friend and teacher)

It’s June, and the wedding season is upon us, which reminds me of our wedding, when there was so much festivity the wine almost ran out, just like at Cana.

Let me put this in proper perspective. There was so much festivity, I considered shutting down the open bar. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

The Wedding Feast at Cana lasted five to seven days. They knew how to celebrate in Jesus’ day. To recap, the guests were probably into their second or third day of celebration, when the wine ran out, which had the potential to become a major embarrassment for the family.

Ever-observant and attentive to the needs of others, the Blessed Mother turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.” And Jesus famously responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

His use of the word “Woman” often startles us. I’ve even wondered what might have happened if I called my mother “Woman.” Let me speculate and take you back to Sunday dinner at the Pisani household. My father, my two sisters and I are seated around the table, preparing to feast on my mother’s famous veal parmigiana.

She’s finishing up in the kitchen, and I can’t resist tasting a forkful, but the veal is warm, so I call to her: “Woman, this veal parmigiana needs to be heated.”

Woman responds: “Then get off your lazy (word deleted) and heat it.” I guess Woman didn’t appreciate my constructive criticism.

However, to clarify, in Jesus’ time, the use of “woman,” which might be translated as “lady” or “ma’am,” was not a sign of disrespect. He used the word again as he hung on the cross and said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” It has also been considered a reference to Our Lady as the “New Eve.”

Back to our narrative. The Blessed Mother turned to the head steward and, “Do whatever he tells you,” which is profound advice all of us should take to heart.

The Blessed Mother wasn’t deterred when Jesus hesitated, because she knew he would grant her request. That’s encouraging to those of us who pray for her intercession. It might not have been the right time, but Jesus answered his mother’s request nonetheless, because Jesus always answers his mother’s requests.

Jesus told them to fill six large stone jars with water and said, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” When he tasted the water that had turned to wine, the waiter called the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” St. John the Evangelist tells us that “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

The Wedding Feast at Cana is one of the most beloved Gospel stories, frequently depicted in art. At the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, classical painter Paul Armesto recently completed a 43-by-14-foot mural of the occasion. The second largest in the world, it covers an entire wall of the McGivney Family Center and has 72 figures.

“Next to the Resurrection, the Wedding Feast at Cana is the most celebratory event in the Bible,” rector Father James Sullivan says. “It has themes of marriage and family and the first miracle Jesus performed.”

The largest mural of Cana was painted by Paolo Veronese in Venice in 1563 and later stolen by Napoleon and brought to the Louvre in Paris, where it’s displayed opposite the Mona Lisa.

Armesto’s work has much symbolism. Light emanates from Christ, who is the central figure with the Blessed Mother. Nearby are the 12 apostles. Judas is the only one looking away from Jesus. There is an elderly couple and a dog, who is fixated on Christ, indicating all creation gives glory to God. Close to Peter is a rooster, foreshadowing his denial of Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Also included are the artists Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto.

Armesto, who spent months painting the mural, has works on display worldwide. For him, art has one ultimate purpose: “To praise God, who is the only Artist, the Creator.”

The beginning of summer brings thoughts of lazy days and firefly-speckled nights, hours spent outdoors in hopes of peace and rejuvenation. “Peace be with you,” we say to those around us on Sunday morning, wishing each one times filled with contentment.

While looking through photos on Instagram last week, I came across one of a Massachusetts harbor at sunrise. The image was so serene—sailboats in the background and a little dinghy off to the left, perfectly calm waters smooth as glass, and a sky the color of violet with sweeps of light pink in the distance. I imagined the photographer smiling as he took the picture, the sounds of seagulls and lapping waters the only distractions he likely had while capturing it that morning.

The heading read simply “This is what peace looks like.” That evening, I couldn’t agree more.

It had been an exceptionally busy day with commitments and responsibilities piling on top of each other. When one minor bit of chaos subsided, another began, so by the time I saw that photo late in the evening, I was ready to settle onto one of those sailboats and find my own little moment of peace.

Clicking to save that image, I thought about the heading. Standing on the dock that morning, that’s what peace looked like for him, but maybe a gust of wind blew by soon after or a captain started his engine, breaking the serenity. Such moments are often fleeting and finite, though we continue to find them—or they find us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes spontaneously.

On the Saturday of Father’s Day, when both the rain and our schedules had cleared, we decided to hike for the afternoon at a state park, taking advantage of the increasingly rare days all together as a family. Setting out on the orange trail, we headed for “Little Falls” but somehow ended up on the blue trail.

“It’s an adventure!” my husband Patrick said. Soon Abigail announced, “Little Falls is this way. Take a right!” Just then, the rain clouds opened again, albeit briefly. “Should we head back?” Elizabeth asked, pulling up her hood. Determined to find those “Little Falls,” we continued, until finally hearing the sounds of gushing water. As it turned out, the falls weren’t so little after all. The steep cascade, resembling a staircase, rose up before us, and after much rain, the waters flowed abundantly. We stood in awe, not another hiker in site, and gazed heavenward at this undisturbed natural formation.

After a while, I prompted them to pose for the camera. As I snapped the photo, a mosquito flew toward Elizabeth. When Abigail tried to brush it away, she knocked off Patrick’s hat in the process, causing laughter among us. I checked the picture. The “Little Falls” stood majestically behind them, and the sky was clear once again.

Within that moment of happy chaos was also a moment of peace, the beauty of nature around me and my family in front of me. Though not as perfectly serene as the boats in the harbor at sunrise, for me, that was what peace looked like.

“The ultimate evil in the temporal world lies in the fact that the past fades, that time is a perpetual perishing” (A.N. Whitehead).

I have now my full share of years. I’m a man of many winters and vanished summers. So much is done and gone. When I look back over my life, I have the sense of having made a long journey. I can look over a vista of the past, a landscape traveled. I have taken to looking back on my life more often.

I was born one mild and rainy day in the merry month of May—a Sunday to be exact. I’m told I was a quiet child. I had a happy childhood, except that I had been afraid of too many things. It was Shakespeare’s Constance who said she was “a woman naturally born to fears” (King John).

There are all those livedout days of long ago, when the world was sweet with promises. Looking back, I can remember images from those days. I can picture that teenager running down Bleecker Street past a row of apartment buildings, trying to catch a bus. I remember my mother waiting at the window to watch me go and return from school; the mother who lives on in me and will always be part of who I am.

I have always had a taste for solitude. The need for solitude has always been paramount with me, both in joy and in sorrow. Too many waltzes have ended, and I’ve had my times of sorrow. Happiness enough has fallen to my lot. However, my life’s timeline has a break that took a lot of inner recovery. I have never fully recovered. I learned to redefine my life, but it was never the same. The man I see looking out at me from the mirror is a handsome enough fellow, but his expression is sad.

The dead are very close to me these days; people I loved and learned from—people who loved the young man I once was. I yearn for certain beloved faces. Living witnesses of my life are increasingly few. We fade and dwindle and dissolve. “Count then your blessings, hold in mind all that have loved you and been kind.”

There’s a line from a poet in modern India, Kavi Pradeep, who writes of “the song that I came to sing.” Each of us has ben given a song to sing. I wonder what is the song that I came to sing? Gerard Manley Hopkins put it his way: “What I do is mine; for that I came.” Real happiness involves the realization that one is doing what one is supposed to be doing; and unhappiness involves waking up to the realization that one is not doing what one is supposed to be doing.

Looking back on my life brought the realization of how chance and coincidence dictated one’s history. Things might have worked out differently, other choices may have been made, other relationships developed, other opportunities acted upon. How differently things might have worked out if only a small change had occurred at any of a dozen different junctures. Why did I turn out to be the version of myself I am and not another? I viewed my life as replete with “coincidences”, “lucky breaks” and “occurrences”.

I have become convinced that there are no chances or coincidences. Everything that happens is within God’s providence. What I thought of as “coincidences,” “lucky breaks,” and “occurrences” were the result of divine interventions; grace was at work. There were certain incidents, words, replies, questions which passed as the effects of chance, but when examined, proved the presence of God. We often see God most clearly in retrospect. On reflection, I recognize that the providential goodness of God has been following me all the years of my life, and Christian hope involves not calculating the possibilities on purely human grounds. I believe that again and again, at certain moments in my life there was an experience of God, the presence of God. My journey through life was a journey in which God was present along the way. When I reflect on my life, I can sometimes say God acted there; there was God’s feathery providence.

Those black clouds on the horizon never did in fact arise.

There are all the ways grace acts in the world. There are Hopkins’ memorable words: “I greet Him the days I meet Him, and bless when I understand.” God can move in mysterious ways. One of Paul’s main doctrines is: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” In Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock, there is the line: “You can’t conceive of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

At this time in my life, I no longer think of myself apart from God. There is much more thought of God, and I leave the future to God in whose love I have confidence: “I bore you up on Eagles’ wings.”

I believe that pieces of a jigsaw have fitted into place. The persons I met, the places I’ve been, the things I’ve been asked to do, etc., have all coalesced into a pattern. and I feel convinced that, as Hopkins put it: “What I do is me, for that I came.” What I’m doing, I ought to do. I’m sure many people think that way.

When he was asked what the happiest day of his life was, Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t say being crowned Emperor of France, or any of his military victories, or even his first marriage to Josephine, Viscountess of Beauharnai, not to mention his second marriage to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma.

No. Napoleon famously proclaimed, as only an emperor can, “The most important day of my life was my First Holy Communion.” That’s a curious response from a man of ambition and power who almost ruled the whole world, who battled with the Pope, and who ultimately left his faith. Nevertheless, he realized Communion is more than a wafer…it is Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

In his biography of Napoleon, Hilaire Belloc wrote, “His preparation for his First Communion he always remembered, and that day stood out for him all his life.”

Maybe all of us should prioritize what’s important in our lives. Our possessions? Our popularity? Our prestige? Or Jesus in the Eucharist? It took me a lifetime to realize the Blessed Sacrament isn’t just an important thing. It’s the most important thing.

At this time of year, young boys and girls—most of whom will never achieve the global prominence of Napoleon —receive their First Holy Communion, and that occasion should be nothing less than regal, because they’ll be receiving the King of the Universe in the Blessed Sacrament.

Decades ago, when my oldest daughter was preparing for her First Holy Communion, it was such a momentous occasion that my father was coming to church for the first time in 50 years.

I wanted to be as discreet as possible, but I can only describe it as mayhem, sort of like the first 75 shoppers rushing into Walmart on Black Friday to get a $100 flat screen TV. There was none of the reverence and piety that the good sisters drilled into us decades before, when we knelt at the altar railing and raised our heads to have Jesus put on our tongues.

I’m not suggesting that you need to kneel and receive on your tongue; however, at my daughter’s liturgy, when the priest called the kids to come forward, they rushed the altar like fans at a Taylor Swift concert. Then, they took Communion in their hands and ran back to their seats with it.

I still painfully recall one boy looking at the Blessed Sacrament between his fingers and chortling, “It looks like a potato chip!”

What troubled me most of all was my father’s reaction to this free-for-all. The guy hadn’t gone to church in decades, but even he realized something was wrong. He shook his head and muttered, “This isn’t right.”

That was 35 years ago, and I like to think a new day has dawned.

There will never be true reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and there will never be belief in the Real Presence if we don’t teach our kids these eternal truths. We have to teach it everywhere—in our homes, in our CCD classes, in our parishes, in our Catholic schools and especially in our Catholic colleges.

We have a long way to go when you consider that twothirds of Catholics don’t believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist, even though there’s ample scientific evidence to demonstrate that teaching of our faith.

Take time to examine the evidence. Explore the exhibit of Eucharistic miracles created by Bl. Carlo Acutis, titled, “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.” Or watch the captivating talk by Father Chris Alar, MIC, titled “Eucharistic Miracles: The Scientific Proof.” You’ll understand why they say the Eucharist is “the summit and source of our Christian life.”

Napoleon may have understood worldly power, but not the power of God.

“There are no limitations to Christ’s power, as God, which he exercises through his humanity in the Eucharist,” Servant of God John Hardon, SJ, once said. “The only limitation is our own weakness of faith or lack of confidence in his almighty love.”

At the end of his life, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena. All his temporal power was gone. He died, lonely and defeated, at 51. At the time of his greatest crisis, he should have turned to the Eucharist, as we all should.

Emperors, kings and presidents come and go, but Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is forever.

My mother-in-law turned 87 this month, and when my husband asked how she would like to celebrate, her answer was simple: “For the family to be together.”

So, one recent Sunday afternoon, we gathered around her small kitchen table, elbows bumping, and enjoyed carrot cake and reminiscing. “What else does someone need who’s lived this long?” she said. Maybe a new purse for the spring, but she really wanted the gift of our time.

When I dropped off the mail the other night to an elderly neighbor who had been away, we chatted for a moment about his vacation before I said, “Have a nice evening!” As I reached for the door handle, he asked, “Oh, can you stay for tea?” The dishes were still in the sink and my plants needed watering, but I paused and settled down for a cup of chai. Though anxious to flip through the mail, he really wanted the gift of my time.

My younger daughter’s 17th birthday is coming up. When her godmother asked what she could get her, Elizabeth barely hesitated. “Let’s just go out to lunch. I have so much to tell you!” she said. And that’s the plan—lunch at a favorite café and surely lots of stories and laughter. Even at 17, when clothes and gift cards may also be on her list, Elizabeth really wants the gift of her time.

At the conclusion of Mass last week, after announcements about the raffle and parish picnic, our priest reminded the congregation to visit the Adoration chapel whenever possible.

“Come spend an hour with the Lord. When we give of ourselves, there is great satisfaction,” he said. “And what better gift to give him than just a little bit of your time?”

Though these circumstances couldn’t be more different, what is desired is so similar, so simple—a chance to share in the undivided attention of a loved one.

I have always heard that few people remember specific gifts given throughout the years, but time spent with others is never forgotten and certainly never wasted. When the pressure to give the perfect material gift or the excuse of having so much else to do is removed, we realize there is little more precious than time, especially in a world when there never seems to be enough of it. And being together to show our gratitude and friendship is surely the most meaningful.

I have long understood the importance—and joy—of sharing nothing more than an afternoon chat, a cup of tea, or a favorite memory with those I love, though I didn’t consider these experiences like time in Adoration. When I have sat in that chapel kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament or prayed quietly alone at home, I treated it more as Jesus’ gift to me rather than my gift to him. It works both ways, however, for any giver and any recipient can benefit from time spent together.

Eventually, those visits with others must be put on hold, though Jesus, as the very best listener, will allow me yet another cup of chai.

Western culture has become increasingly secular. The spirit of our age seems to involve the denial of transcendence. Many consider the development of atheism as a sign of progress.

There is the growing number of self-confessed atheists. According to a 2008 survey, only two percent of the U.S. population was atheist, while 10 percent were agnostic. In 2018, it was estimated that 26 percent of Americans were atheists. This was much higher than the three-to-11 percent rates that were consistently found in surveys.

There is the New England Skeptical Society made up of Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County. This society hosts a virtual event titled “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.” The Italian Catholic Bishops Conference concluded that 30 percent of the Italian population is atheist – around 18 million people.

More college students are calling themselves atheists. Nonreligious identity has become increasingly important to many (“nones”). At Harvard University, there is the “Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy”. The young have been invited to imagine, with John Lennon, the positive effects of a world with “no religion.” In the academic world, the working assumptions seems to be that every serious person is an atheist. There are atheist websites, blogs, journals, conferences that provide a network of support for atheists.

One cannot deny that atheists can live fulfilling lives that are meaningful and happy. The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner was sympathetic to contemporary atheism. Atheists deserve to be taken seriously. Atheists I know describe themselves as trying to salvage the best that life has to offer right now. They claim that this life is quite enough to give their lives meaning as well as intellectual satisfaction. They settle into a comfortable unbelief. Many see their atheistic lifestyle as something that can contribute to a better world.

The “New Atheists” (e.g. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens) would have Judaism, Christianity, and Islam simply disappear, after which we should be able to go on enjoying the same lifestyle as before, only without the nuisance of suicide bombers and TV evangelists, without worrying about getting blown up by God-inspired fanatics. They compare God to belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

The Second Vatican Council stated “believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their learning and growing in the faith and the Scriptures they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion” (Gaudium et Spes 19-21). It’s true—most criticisms of religion are of immature religion.

My own thinking about atheism involves some basic questions: How and why did the big bang start? How and why can something come from nothing? How and why did the constants of the universe arise to create the perfect conditions for human life? How and why did consciousness evolve from which we have purpose and meaning?

For me, the big questions are: What is it all about? Why are we here? Who are we? Why is there a world?

Atheists commonly respond by telling how the universe is old enough to have allowed chance and physical laws ample time to experiment with different chemical and environmental combinations. There have been billions of years of evolution.

The claim is made that truth can be attained only by science. Atheists in general insist that only what can be measured is real. Science alone can give a reliable knowledge of reality. The late Carl Sagan insisted that modern science would engender the same awe as religious faith.

Science can say a lot, but it can’t say everything. There are channels other than science through which we experience and understand the world. There are works of art, literature, music, philosophy and theology—dimensions of reality that science can’t reach. There are a couple of other problems I have with atheistic claims. For example, atheists avoid the idea of creation by claiming that the universe is eternal. That would imply that there would have occurred in the past an infinite number of events, and the number of future events is potentially infinite. I have trouble with the concept of beginningless time.

A few other thoughts: One can marvel at the eye’s capacity for vision, how many different sorts of parts the eye has and how precisely their functions must be coordinated to produce vision. This is repeated in organ after organ. To me, this points to the hypothesis of a supernatural architect who arranges things by an enormous intelligence. Overall, I think God is the animating force of the entire evolutionary process. There is an incomprehensible power with limitless knowledge that started the whole universe going in the first place.

I do think that, to some extent, many people become atheists so they don’t have to worry about pleasing and being judged by God.

Atheists claim that only evolutionary biology can provide an account of why people are religious. I think that so many people are religious because God has structured our nature towards himself. This world on its own is not enough to satisfy the human hunger for meaning and happiness. Human beings are ultimately understood in relation to God. Augustine was right: “You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are ever restless until they rest in Thee.” There is a gravitational pull towards God.

The Protestant theologian Karl Barth said that atheism is a ridiculous invention. Sometimes I have a sense of what he meant. People act as if humans were alone, as if their deeds were carried out in the dark, as if there were no God Who saw, no God Who knew.

Shortly before his death, in the spring of 1980, the hard-core atheist Jean-Paul Sartre made a startling disclosure: “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here: and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” (Is Man the Measure? An evaluation of contemporary humanism, Norman Geisler, Baker, 1983, p. 46-47.)

The 19th-century mathematician, Bernhard Riemann, once said: “I did not invent those pairs of differential equations. I found them in the world, where God had hidden them.”

Finally, there’s St. Paul’s interesting statement: “God has made the whole world prisoner of unbelief that he may have mercy on all.”

I’ve developed a new style of prayer. You might call it “ad hoc” prayer or “spur of the moment” prayer, because it comes and goes as the occasion requires or, more accurately, as the Holy Spirit moves me.

Let me tell you a story. I was leaving the Italian restaurant with my take-out order of a large pepperoni pizza, gluten-free penne with Bolognese sauce, chicken milanese and a side order of broccoli rabe—so much stuff they had to pack it in a large box. On my way out, I passed a fellow coming in the double doors.

He was dressed in a leather Harley motorcycle jacket with assorted accessories, and when he saw me, he came back and held both doors for me. It was an unexpected random act of kindness. (Don’t you love them? And don’t you just hate when someone lets the door slam in your face?)

“Thank you,” I said, immediately realizing it deserved more than a mere thank you. Of course, I couldn’t tip him because that would have been inappropriate. Sometimes all you can do is say thank you. But sometimes the occasion requires more than a thank you. It requires a grander gesture of gratitude … like prayer.

So I uttered the first prayer that came to mind: “Lord, may I meet this guy in heaven someday, along with his family and friends … if that’s not asking too much.” Of course, when it comes to someone’s salvation, it’s never asking too much for Jesus.

Lately, I’ve been constantly petitioning him, when I’m on the street, on the train, in the supermarket, at the gas station, in the bank, at the stoplight—whenever my path crosses with someone in need or someone who’s shown kindness. That’s when I’ll say, “Jesus, help him please.” Or “Jesus, help her please.” Or “May we meet in heaven.”

I realize Jesus isn’t my personal assistant, but that doesn’t stop me from petitioning him as often as possible for strangers, in addition to their family members and friends, for good measure.

I have the feeling that Jesus wants us to pray for the conversion and salvation of strangers because he really wants to see them all in heaven someday, and he’ll do anything to get them there. His sacrifice for our salvation was so great that he doesn’t want anyone left out.

While he was on Earth, Jesus was always reaching out to strangers, or they were reaching out to him. Remember the Samaritan woman at the well, the SyroPhoenician woman whose daughter was possessed, Zacchaeus, the little tax collector in the sycamore tree, and the blind man at the pool, not to mention the woman caught in adultery?

Jesus looked on the periphery for those who needed help and who very often didn’t even realize they needed help. There’s a lot of people like that today, who think they don’t need a Savior because they’re convinced they have all the answers. That can be a very destructive attitude when it comes to our spiritual lives.

Always try to pray every day for people who may have no one to pray for them. Your simple prayers could very well be the difference between their getting into heaven and not.

I have a suspicion that when we arrive in heaven, we’ll be absolutely amazed at the number of people who are there because we took a moment to say a prayer for them. We probably won’t even remember that we said a prayer. Although we may forget, Jesus never does. He will have answered all our prayers and done a lot of heavy heavenly lifting to get them through the gates. I recently read an anonymous quote that said, “If you are praying about it, God is already working on it.”

So be generous with your prayers. Keep them short and sweet, as my father would say, and spread them around generously like the sower in the field.

All you have to say is “Lord, help them please.” As short as that is, if it’s sincere, it’s enough. Share the spiritual wealth. There are a lot of strangers out there who don’t even know what prayer is and who could use a few, especially when they least expect it.

Many years ago, a little girl sat with her parents, her grandmother, and her baby brother in the front pew of a church on Easter Sunday. Too young to understand the profound significance of the day or the importance of the readings, she focused on the flowers adorning the altar. “Aren’t they pretty?” her mother whispered. “Those are tulips, and that’s an Easter lily, and there’s a—”

“A lily?” the little girl interrupted, a bit too loudly. “Like Lilly?” As the story goes, she turned toward her grandmother, whose name was Lillian, and gave her a quick hug. From that day forward, the little girl’s grandmother was never known as “Grandma” or “Nana” to her grandchildren, but simply “Lilly,” in honor of the beautiful Easter flower.

As that little girl, I have no memory of this morning or the realization I made during Mass, though my mother’s frequent retelling of the story has embedded the images and the dialogue in my mind. I adored my grandmother, as any little girl would, and always connected her with Easter, from that morning when I was only two, until the day she died—frail and delicate like the flower itself. Even today, decades later, when I see the lilies appearing at the florist before Easter and take in their sweet scent, I am reminded of Lilly and the story that is as familiar to me as the flowers themselves.

In addition to the beauty of Easter and the glory of the celebration, it is also the beauty of consistency that I love about this day—the unchanging Gospel readings of Jesus’ resurrection, the traditional music prompting us to “rejoice and be glad,” and yes, the flowers, with those large, trumpet-shaped lilies in the center of every display. In a season when we focus on what is new in a religious, secular, and natural sense, sometimes we are drawn to what we know best.

Last week, following Easter Sunday, with spring break upon us and the world suddenly radiant in every shade of green, we drove down to Maryland for a few days to visit old friends. After walking through bustling Baltimore, we came upon a small church with its doors slightly ajar, beckoning us in. Though miles from home, in a city and a state that I did not know well, I was nevertheless surrounded by the familiar as we quietly entered. The brilliant stained glass, the 14 Stations, and the large wooden crucifix greeted us. And, being the Wednesday after Easter, the display of lilies still adorned the altar.

Like that child of yesteryear, I am drawn to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow” as Scripture advises us, drawn to both the powerful association with Easter and the loving association with my grandmother, which to me were always intertwined. As we sat for a few moments of silence in the front pew of that little chapel, the story of a little girl and her grandmother came alive for me once again.