One afternoon when I smelled spring in the air, I took the dog for a long walk around the neighborhood, and as we passed house after house, it occurred to me that we’re surrounded by a lot of caring, generous neighbors … who don’t go to church.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times. If your own family members don’t go, why should you expect your neighbors to?

On Sunday morning when I return from Mass, I see the usual suburban activity—people riding lawn tractors, brandishing leaf blowers, washing cars, puttering in the garden, going to soccer practice and shopping at Whole Foods. Sadly, church isn’t on the Sunday To-Do list.

Just to be clear, I’m not taking anyone’s inventory, although I probably should be taking my own more often. Even without doing an analysis, I’m pretty sure that except for a couple of families, the others have abandoned organized religion and became statistics in the annual Pew survey that’s always telling us about the increase in “nones,” also known as “the religiously unaffiliated.”

We’ve all seen polls that indicate organized religion has been suffering a serious decline and that the so-called “nones” are the fastest growing segment in America.

So much has changed since I was a kid, when our neighbors were Baptists, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and just about every other denomination, who headed to their respective houses of worship on the Sabbath.

When I got home from my walk, I asked my wife, “Are we the only ones who go to church?” She nodded solemnly. (OK, maybe we need it more than the others, but still.)

Our neighbors include a few lapsed Catholics, some Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Methodists, a Jewish family or two, a sprinkling of atheists and agnostics, and a whole lot of people who put politics before faith, which is probably a larger demographic than “nones” and “non-nones” combined.

Many of them share a common characteristic. They’re indifferent when it comes to Jesus, and their credo is probably something like: “He was a really nice guy who did good things, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”

Our own return to the Catholic faith took a while, but we were young and still had enough years to get it right, at least in theory because you don’t know how much time you have left, and it’s never wise to wait.

Since then, we both realized we’ve been magnificently blessed and that we made it back because —to quote the popular spiritual —“Somebody Prayed for Me.” I don’t know who it was, but someday I want to thank those people when I meet them in the next life.

I’ve talked to many of my fallen-away Catholic friends, and everyone has a convenient excuse: A nun whacked their knuckles with a 16-inch ruler in fifth grade, they heard a boring sermon, was too much to take, the grandkids have soccer games etc. etc. The reality is they have a thousand excuses but not one good reason.

This year, in an effort to share the spiritual wealth, we kept our outdoor nativity up until Ash Wednesday. If that wasn’t a sign we’re religious fanatics, I don’t know what is. We also put an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the living room window and one of the Divine Mercy in the dining room window. No wonder the neighbors cross to the other side of the street when they walk their dogs. They probably think we’ll accost them and start preaching.

The truth is we’re really grateful because we know what it’s like living without faith. We wish everyone had the same gift, because it is a gift, and all you have to do is ask for it, and then God will be right there to fulfill your request, faster than the Amazon deliveryman.

Faith is better than hitting the Connecticut Lottery. It’s better than a promotion to the executive suite. It’s better than the grandkids winning the state soccer championship.

Sad to say, the world is suffering a pandemic of religious indifference. Can you imagine how Jesus must feel as he looks at us with the infinite love in his Sacred Heart — and sees us responding to that love with a yawn?

It’s a dark world out there, but you and I, however imperfect, are called to be the light. So let’s get to it.

For years, my mother— and my grandmothers before her—made Irish soda bread throughout the month of March in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day. It became a tradition to bake the loaves not only for the family but for the neighbors, friends, and even the priests in our parish, a way to share the love of our Irish heritage. And, I came to realize, no matter how early Ash Wednesday was or how late Easter was, St. Patrick’s Day and our bread-making always fell somewhere in between.

In recent years, the tradition has been passed to me and now my daughters, with the grandmothers gone and my mother making only a batch or two to satisfy my dad’s craving (though he has not an ounce of Irish blood in him). When my brothers and I were growing up, no one in the family could bare to “give up” bread of any kind for Lent. Instead, we “gave out,” delivering loaves in mid-March, each marked with the sign of the cross and a bright green ribbon.

Our recipe card, with its torn edges, egg yolk stains, and remnants of flour in the creases, clearly reminds the baker to “cut a cross one inch deep side to side,” not always an easy task with that sticky dough. A brief prayer of “bless this bread” was added to give thanks. Though my mother said the technical reason was so the heat could penetrate to the thickest part of the bread for more even cooking, we all thought that the other, more spiritual reason was so much better. The cross we make through the center, I was told so many years ago, is a reminder of the crucifix and the Catholic faith of Ireland that has descended, like the recipe, to us. And when lifted from the oven, today as in years past, that cross is deeply embedded into the bread, an outward and natural sign of devotion.

The girls and I started our baking last week, purchasing extra flour and a large carton of buttermilk for the task. Though we leave out the caraway seeds (a throwback to my youngest brother turning up his nose to them as a child) and add a cup of raisins, it’s otherwise as close to my great grandmother’s recipe as you can get. The crosses were visible; all I needed was some bright green ribbon. Joking that this is his favorite holiday, my husband Patrick was ready to bring a plateful into work, and I was ready for deliveries.

As much as we delight in the baking, it is the cross and the “giving out” that remains central to this St. Patrick’s Day tradition, always in the midst of Lent. In the sharing of this traditional treat, sometimes dry but always deliciously familiar, we find joy and community as we literally “break bread” with friends—many not Irish, some not Catholic—in this time of penitence and discipline. We may hold off on chocolate, social media, or trips to Starbucks during Lent, but never the Irish bread, best enjoyed warm from the oven with a touch of butter and a prayer of thanks.

MONROE/TRUMBULL— Knitting needles, colored yarn, and soft fabric. It is these ordinary items that have inspired a 10-year mission dedicated to comforting children. What began as a desire to bring solace to survivors of the Sandy Hook tragedy and their first responders has grown into a commitment of service well beyond this small community.

After Monroe resident Jeanne Malgioglio and a friend organized a collection of 37,000 green and white scarves for Newtown over a decade ago, they were amazed by the incredible outpouring of love from around the world and wanted to continue their efforts for others. That is what spurred Malgioglio in 2014 to create the first Connecticut chapter of Binky Patrol, a national non-profit organization that makes and distributes homemade blankets to critically ill and traumatized children.

A parishioner at St. Stephen Parish in Trumbull, Malgioglio understands not only the importance of serving others but people’s desire to do so. “People want to help. As kids, we learn that Jesus wants us to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ They just need a pathway to do so,” she said.

Now, accompanied by a myriad of volunteers from around the region with their own needles, fabric, and endless skeins of yarn, she coordinates the Trumbull/ Monroe chapter of Binky Patrol, helping to bring thousands of blankets to hospitals and shelters as well as organizations such as the Center for Family Justice, Malta House, Blessed Sacrament Parish, and Room to Grow Preschool, a program of Catholic Charities. In addition to these local organizations, donations have also been made to residents of Uvalde, Texas following the school shooting there and to communities in Florida and North Carolina in the aftermath of recent hurricanes.

“It keeps growing and growing,” said Malgioglio of the program. “I almost always have a garage full of blankets!” With a delivery just after Christmas, this Binky Patrol chapter has now donated a record 19,000 handmade blankets, including knit and crocheted ones for babies as well as others for older children that are either quilted or fleece-tied, ideal for creating a cocoon of warmth and security.

“We’re always collecting because there is always a need,” she added. “Sadly, you never know when a tragedy may hit. These blankets show children that they matter and that someone cares about them.”

Those who care include groups throughout the diocese and beyond but are often concentrated within church and community organizations, including sports teams, parish youth groups, and Confirmation classes.

“Kids love making them, especially for other kids. They might earn service hours, but they do it regardless,” Malgioglio said, noting that some recipients then decide to make blankets themselves, including Trumbull resident Shane Miller.

When he awoke from surgery to repair a broken arm at age 11, Miller remembers being wrapped in a brown and white fleece binky, comforting him at that uncertain time. Soon after he recovered, Miller attended his first Bink-athon. “It’s what sparked my love for making these blankets,” he said.

Several years after his surgery, he organized an event through his youth group at St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, making dozens of fleece blankets for young trauma victims. “I’ve had the privilege to visit places like the Center for Family Justice and meet recipients of these blankets. I see the impact they have on them,” said Miller, now a 21-yearold college student in Vermont.

His mother Sandy has seen that impact firsthand.

“Binky Patrol isn’t just people making blankets for sick kids,” she said. “It’s about connecting with a child who may be feeling lost, alone, or scared.”

Malgioglio is currently working to collect hundreds of binkies for children at the Head Start program in the Naugatuck Valley.

“We’re always looking for new groups to assist with making blankets,” she said. “We’re called to serve and help others. What better way than with the comfort of a binky?”—a tangible way to let a child feel protected, supported, and loved.

(If you would like information on how your group can assist with the Binky Patrol, contact Jeanne Malgioglio at

I still remember that fateful evening eons ago when my father opened my first report card, for my first semester in first grade at Sunnyside School in Shelton. His eyes glanced over the grades and focused on the “C” I got in some course or other. Was it art? Was it arithmetic? Was it the alphabet? I don’t remember, and I don’t want to remember because it was a dark day in my young academic life.

He didn’t respond the way modern parents typically do, with positive reinforcement, constructive criticism or encouragement. Decades later, I recall his exact words: “We don’t get Cs in this house.” Oops. Who knew? I didn’t get the memo.

That was what you might call the first day of the rest of my life. From then on, I lived in constant fear of going home with a C or worse. From then on, my father would analyze the ups and downs of my grades as if my report card were the quarterly earnings statement of his retirement portfolio.

In my defense, I never went to kindergarten and had to learn numbers and the alphabet in the first grade, so the rest of the class was already way ahead of me. From that moment, I never got another C, although I came darn close, and if it weren’t for a few sympathetic teachers, I would have incurred the wrath of my father.

There was Mrs. McGrath at Sunnyside School, who taught grammar, which for the life of me I couldn’t understand. I probably should have failed the final, but she had mercy on me. The irony is that years later, I taught English grammar and composition.

Brother Thellen, my Latin teacher at St. Joseph High School, showed mercy too and let me squeak by with a B when I was sure I deserved a C+. I won’t even mention calculus.

It’s sad how that frightening encounter with my father left an indelible impression on me. In addition to the anxiety, I always felt inadequate and never could do well enough.

You were expected to be at the top of the class. You had to excel on standardized tests, you had to get into a good college, you had to have a great GPA and you had to be an honors student. Later in life, you had to get the promotion, earn the bonus and stand out from the crowd.

This kind of behavior only reenforced what Thomas Merton called the “false self.”

“Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self,” he said. “This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him.”

So much striving to excel. That sort of thinking can haunt you, especially when you believe God responds the same way. I was convinced God was like my father and didn’t accept Cs either. It had to be high honors on your spiritual report card if you wanted to get accepted into heaven.

But if God operated that way, the people with the longest obituaries in the New York Times would be the ones sitting in the place of honor at the heavenly banquet. How unfair would that be?

The good news is Jesus’ performance reviews are nothing like the reviews you’d get at Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t punish or penalize you if you’re not perfect.

There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that goes: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection,” which is a wonderful attitude to have.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect, because when we start thinking of ourselves as perfect— and act as if we’re perfect—we’re moving further from him.

He just wants us to keep trying to do better every day and asking him for help, which he’ll certainly give. With Jesus, it’s OK to be ordinary. He’ll judge us by how much we love, not by how much we know.

St. Francis de Sales said it best with words worth remembering: “Have patience with all things but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are a perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.”

So Dad, wherever you are— and I hope it’s the good place—I guess you’ve learned by now that Jesus doesn’t mind Cs. With him, it doesn’t hurt to be an average person because he takes you where you are on your spiritual journey and helps you move forward.

Entering her living room on a recent chilly Sunday, I was warmed with a greeting of open arms and a wide smile. She remembers me, I thought, relieved, for sometimes she does not. Taking my hands in hers, she squeezed tight and commented, as she often does, that I needed warmer gloves. I told her I would get some.

“Just tell me your name again,” she said. I did.

“And you come every week?” she asked. I do.

She settled herself in the worn, tan recliner. “Ah, I thought so. Come sit.”

I first met Barbara more than two decades ago when we volunteered together through our church. Though 40 years separated us, we bonded, and I had been to this same house, sat in this same room, many times. Different commitments took us in different directions until we were reunited last fall when I began bringing her holy Communion on Sunday morning. Homebound with dementia and short term memory loss, Barbara’s recollections of me were only from the past.

As I opened my bag, she asked why I had come, despite my telling her just moments ago. She sighed and shook her head, seemingly annoyed at this disease that has robbed her of so much. Somehow, though, her wit and sense of humor remain. “So how old am I anyway?” she wondered. Ninety-two, I replied. She laughed, saying, “Well, that explains it!” A moment later, she frowned and asked, “Have I taken Communion yet?”

While I laid out the corporal and lit the tiny candle, we reminisced. I reminded her of our years working together and how my daughters—so little at the time—loved to visit and play with her hamsters. She smiled, remembering, then paused and asked. “Have I taken Communion yet?”

Opening the prayer book and placing down the pyx, I glanced at Barbara, whose mind had moved into the more distant past. She talked of her childhood home, gray with white shutters, and how she took a left when walking to school and a right when walking to church. Suddenly, she was with me again and asked for the third time, “Have I taken Communion yet?”

On my first visit months ago, I didn’t know if Barbara would join me in prayer or even if she could consume the entire host. Though she struggles to remember so much, including when her brother died, if she ate breakfast, or whether her son came by the day before, her recitation of the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and all responses are flawless. There is no pause, no confusion. She prays and looks heavenward, taking Communion without hesitation and reverently saying “Amen.” Her mind is not on hamsters, breakfast, or her childhood. She is fully present in her own unique way with God and with prayer. Though so much else is forgotten, Barbara retains a deep familiarity with her faith, an integral part of every one of those 92 years.

Preparing to leave, I told her that we would pray and reminisce together again soon.

“Will you be back next week?” I will.

“Have I taken Communion yet?” You have.

“Did I say all my prayers?” Perfectly.

Ihave now my full share of years. It is not an extraordinary life by any means, but luckier than many, I think, and happier than many, I think. I have experienced God’s grace and power in my life; there’s been a benign Providence. I’ve sensed the hand of God. There were genuine encounters with the Holy One. I’m confident the Lord takes a personal interest in my life. Catholic teaching tells me that. God desires to be in relationship with me (Psalm 41). My past life is brimful of God’s goodness. There were particular ways the Divine Goodness showed in my life. The victory of grace ends most of my stories. I no longer know myself apart from God.

Catholic teaching tells us that the primary purpose of our lives on this planet is to establish a relationship with the Person who placed us here. The true purpose of our existence in this world is to look for God. I’m at a point where I no longer know myself apart from God. I cannot identify myself to someone without mentioning Jesus. Like Marcus Aurelius, I say of all things and events around me, “This has come from God.” I sense the inescapable reality of God. God is present at all times and places, We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. God is everywhere, often incognito.

The victory of grace ends most of my stories.

I have a snapshot of myself aged 12 or so with my backpack and cold-weather gear. My frightened eyes are clearly in the picture. My frightened eyes are still in pictures. Some people keep getting gentler as they grow older. As I get older, I get increasingly grimmer, or more exactly, sadder; There are times when so much strikes me as unutterably sad.

My life’s timeline has two broken places. There was the death of my wife that took a lot of inner recovery; I have never fully recovered. I learned to redefine my life, but was never the same. My brother’s death has been another among the losses that define my life. I got used to being lonely. The house and I are often alone. I have deduced a few things about life; for example,

I have deduced the idea that happiness is based on generosity and love. My active means of serving God is more and more by passive gentleness and kindness and trying not to be too exacting of others.

I have a crop of inextinguishable regrets. Like many others, there are things I wish I hadn’t done, things I should have done, but there are things I’m happy to have done.

Sometimes I can grow weary of myself. As Hopkins said of himself, “I have lost interest in myself.” But I’ve never been bored. Reading is one of the greatest graces in my life, and I’m good at steady drudgery,

God is present at all times and in all places. There are places to which I would like to return.

So I worry my worries. I look forward to the years to come as a time to deepen my life with God, knowing God in a deeper way, coming to know God intuitively.

The book, The Cloud of unknowing, has the dictum that God cannot be known by thought, but only by love. The only definition of God we find in the New Testament is when it says that “God is love.”

But who ultimately knows the way of things. How do things work in God’s world? I get messages I’m never going to figure out. Things remain ineffable. Much must remain forever mystery, beyond calculation and control.

I look forward to the years to come as a time to deepen my life with God; to know God in a deeper way, intuitively

I hope I will find a heart more compassionate and less judgmental, more humble and less self-righteous, more grateful and less resentful.

But, above all, I say to God: “Thanks, thanks for everything. Praise, praise for it all.”

I’m a notorious name-dropper. There was the time I was five feet from Bill Clinton at an editors’ meeting in Washington—along with a few hundred other journalists puffed up with self-importance.

Then, there was the time I had a lunch with Bill Buckley, not to mention that dinner party with Henry Kissinger, who was pontificating about China. So what if there were 75 other people there?

And how can I forget the day I met Senator Dick Blumenthal at the country fair and told him what had to be done to straighten out Washington … along with a dozen other voters.

I guess you could say I have friends in high places.

Name-dropping, you see, is a way of life in business, politics, entertainment, and just about everywhere that peons strive to climb the ladder of success. It pays to mention a big shot in a conversation because people are impressed when they think you know someone rich and famous.

The truth is name-dropping can be pretty annoying. But there’s one name none of us drop nearly enough. In fact, many of us are afraid to mention it in public. That name is Jesus.

Jesus Christ is a name above every other name, as St. Paul told the Philippians, when he said, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The Holy Name of Jesus has power, so we should say it more than we do. Why? Because you never know the people it will help, the souls it can save, and the healing it can bring.

On January 3, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. St. John said: “In the name of Jesus, we obtain every blessing and grace for time and eternity, for Christ has said: ‘If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it to you.’” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves.’ At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission.”

Unfortunately, the only time most people drop Jesus’ name is as a curse, meaning they use it in vain. For those of you who still remember those notorious Ten Commandments that Charlton Heston brought down the mountain—I never met Charlton Heston, or Moses for that matter —you’ll recall the second one was “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

I recently had a reunion with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, so long I don’t want to say because you might put me in the same age bracket as Moses. We went to high school together, back before high school kids had cell phones, back before cell phones were invented.

It became apparent during our conversation they were suffering from a spiritual hunger, even though they didn’t realize it. One fellow said that on Sundays, he goes to the “Church of the New York Times.” (I groaned in dismay.)

I sensed his need for Christ, which is a universal need many people try to satisfy with money, fame, possessions and power.

When you drop Jesus’ name, people will want to hear more. No matter whose company you’re in, don’t be afraid to get Jesus in the conversation because amazing things will happen, even if it takes days, weeks, months, or years. You see, Jesus’ name leads to miracles.

All of us can remember occasions when a friend or coworker or family member wanted to talk about faith but was hesitant. That’s exactly where my friends were, so I did a little name dropping. I didn’t tell them they had to proclaim Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, or get baptized in the Jordan River. However, by casually mentioning his name, they knew I had friends in the highest of places. They also knew it would be OK for them to talk about Jesus when they were ready.

So don’t be afraid to say Jesus’ name with reverence, with love and with hope because you might just help save someone’s soul.

By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I was at a party with the Karate Kid? Well, he wasn’t a kid anymore … and I’ve got selfies to prove it.

The season’s first snowfall came quietly, almost hesitantly, right before dusk on the evening of the Epiphany. I noticed the tiny flakes, illuminated by the porch light, just as my daughters called out in unison “It’s snowing!” with childlike joy. We had all decided to stay in that night, cancelling or postponing plans in expectation of the storm. Though only a few inches fell, it was enough to coat our neighborhood in pure, immaculate beauty, just perfect for the new year.

As night descended, the flakes did so as well, heavier at times, and we decided to head outdoors, for there are few wintertime pleasures I enjoy more than a walk in the snow, especially at night. We found hats and warm boots, dormant since last March, and stepped into a world of wonder and awe, our usually busy neighborhood transformed. No cars drove by. No residents walked their dogs. Muffled sounds of a distant plow and our feet crunching on the snowy driveway were the only disturbances to this crystalized wonderland. I glanced up at little ice particles covering the tall barren branches that reached heavenward and marveled at God’s natural creation, wondering why it always seems more powerful in winter.

As we moved down the street, the stillness remained, and we relished it. No one spoke. There was no need. The words of Psalm 46 “Be still and know that I am God” replayed in my mind as I honored the peace and beauty that he created around us. It forced us all to pause, not only our conversations but our pace as well. Clunky boots and the uncertainty of ice played a part, though any loud sound or quick movement would have felt out of place. God’s glory was at work here, and I didn’t want to miss a moment. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays and a hectic week back at work, I needed this time to soothe and refresh my active mind. Maybe my family did too.

Turning the corner, we saw the remnants of a neighbor’s Christmas display, the multi-colored lights glowing faintly under a thin layer of white. Suddenly, the wind stirred, swirling snow up and around us like tiny stars, a burst of brilliance in the shadows of this moonless night. A fitting reminder, it was, of this night so long ago when the Magi followed one brilliant star to lay prostrate before their newborn king.

Like the new fallen snow around us, a new year was beginning—clean, unblemished, albeit brief. I knew later that night, the muffled sounds of the distant plow would come closer, clearing our road and disturbing the snow, as we would the next morning with whatever accumulated in the driveway. The freshness of early January—and its purity—is fleeting, with challenges and blemishes ahead, but maybe that’s part of its beauty. We appreciate it more, knowing it can’t last.

Even after those first few inches of snow melted several days later, I retained not only mental photographs of our evening walk but the feelings of closeness with those around me, ones to keep alive long after any remaining snowflakes have disappeared.

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). (Extra)

December—the year is fraying out. There’s a sadness when the last page of a calendar appears. The weary year has now run its race. She has known some youth and age and heartbreak and, hopefully, love. The year’s shortest days come now with their latest sunrises and earliest sunsets. There are more than fifteen hours of darkness and nine hours of daylight. Soon after three thirty in the afternoon the light begins to fade.

The woodchuck and chipmunk, the frog and turtle and snake are all hibernating. I understand the fish in a pond go down deeper for the winter and seals migrate south to wintering locations along the coast. The crows and blue-jays remain part of the winter scene.

December 21 is the longest night of the year and the time we slip into winter. It is the winter solstice; from now on the days become longer. The ancients took to measuring the shadows. If the length shortened by a finger’s breath, it proved that the days were beginning to lengthen.

The date for Christmas was chosen for its connection with the winter solstice. There is rejoicing just before Christmas at the natalia solis invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun.

December is the nativity. In the child in the manger we see God made visible. Eternity enters into time. The invisible becomes visible. The Absolute comes into history. The reality that sustains existence becomes one of us.

The Creator of the universe becomes a dependent infant. One can imagine a mother burping God on her shoulder. God slept on our earth, sneezed, coughed, and blew his nose. He walked to school and spilled his milk.

Christmas can be a special hell for those families who have suffered a major loss. Christmas is a time when we are aware of whom we lack, of who is not home. There are those of us who sit alone and cheerless at Christmas time thinking of happier times, remembering the faces of those who are dead. The Christmas of my childhood has gone. Christmas is a memory of other days.

Still, Christmas, as Titus 3:4 says, is the time when the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared. Therese of Lisieux said that the meaning of the Incarnation was to make love visible.

The gift of time is perhaps the most meaningful gift. As has been noted, the most significant gift of the Magi was not the myrrh and frankincense and gold, but the time and trouble they took to bring them. The hours and efforts at crowded stores can serve as a testimony of love and a gift of self.

The philosopher, Duns Scotus, and the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins did not understand Christ’s descent into creation primarily as the reparation for sin. They saw it as an act of love which would have taken place whether there had been any sin.

The God whom earth and sea and sky Adore and laud and magnify,
Whose might they own,
whose praise they tell,
In Mary’s body deigned to dwell.

(Hymn, Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer, Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

I often think about the shepherds. It says in the Gospel that the shepherds spoke with angels and became heralds. Apparently, their eyes were able to see the Divine One in the stable. What happened to the shepherds afterwards? Did they simply go back to the homely obscurity from which they came?

As time passes, I grow more enamored of God. I may even be beginning to fall in love with God. I have a growing interest in spirituality. I think that, at some point in life, we acknowledge the ache we feel deep within for something more. We know we wanted something more besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a different kind of want. There is a problem with the capacity of human love to satisfy fully the hunger of the heart.

The Scriptures tell us that mercy is the deepest quality of God’s love. There are the beautiful words of Lamentations 3:22-23: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies never come to an end. They are renewed every morning.” Hopkins put it this way: “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—Because the Holy Ghose over the bent world broods with warm breast and Ah! Bright wings” (God’s Grandeur) At the heart of reality is mercy.

St. Teresa of Avila used to call God a Gardener. She said she knew that the Divine Gardner paid special attention to her.

Finally, great things happen in silence. On that first Christmas Eve Jesus came in silence: “While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of its course, your almighty word, O Lord, leapt down from your throne in heaven” (Wisdom 18:14-15)

When it came time for his only daughter’s wedding, Dr. John Farens told her, “Even though I can’t walk you down the aisle physically, I will walk you down the aisle spiritually.”

And he did—as she went to meet her groom, Jesus.

Sister Maria Antonia of the Holy Wounds of Jesus became a Bride of Christ on the Solemnity of All Saints, when she professed her first vows. Three years ago, she left home and the world she knew for a contemplative life at the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Roswell, N.M.

The phrase “Bride of Christ” is more than a whimsical medieval metaphor to express the commitment of women who give their lives in service and prayer to Jesus. Yes, it’s much more than a metaphor. It’s a reality.

At first, Donna Farens couldn’t understand why her daughter Brianna, who was so popular, so talented and so beautiful in every way, would turn her back on a career in medicine and lock herself away from the world.

Instead, this young woman— who had a smile that could light up a room and was known for her contagious laughter and tender hugs, who graduated from St. Joseph High School and Providence College, who traveled to Latin America to work in mountain villages and to Denver to help the homeless—chose a cloistered contemplative life in the tradition of St. Clare of Assisi.

Many people wondered “why” when Brianna entered the monastery. They asked the same question of St. Clare more than 800 years ago.

The religious order offers the best answer: “Why did Assisi’s loveliest debutante of 1212 want to lock herself up in a cloister? Why did laughing, singing, sought-after Clare want to live in silence and prayer? Why did a girl, whose home was a castle, desire to be poor, to live by the work of her hands and the alms of the faithful? What the world calls ‘everything,’ Clare assuredly had. It was not enough. Her heart was too great to be filled with less than the whole. She simply plunged herself into the Heart of God. There she could fulfill her destiny.”

They are called Poor Clares because in the Franciscan tradition they live by their work and from alms, while spending hours each day before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the rest of us.

Donna Farens said, “Brianna was very much looking forward to becoming a Bride of Christ and living her life for him.” And Sister Maria Antonia told her parents, “The longer I am here, the more I’m convinced this is my true calling.”

During the ceremony, she professed vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and enclosure and received a black veil and knotted cord. The bishop said, “Receive this veil, which proclaims that you belong entirely to Christ the Lord in the service of the Church. In imitation of your mother, St. Clare, may you be an image of the Church: a spouse wholly given in humility of heart to Christ, who is loved above all others.”

And she responded: “Christ has set a mark upon my face, that I should admit no other lover but him.”

As the abbess placed a wreath of flowers on her, the sisters sang in Latin: “Come, spouse of Christ, receive the crown which the Lord has prepared for you from eternity.”

Looking at the photos, you realize this is a true marriage. There’s joy and there’s love and there’s commitment.

And what of the groom? For a moment, think of Jesus, not in his divinity but in his humanity— Jesus, who must look at this sorry world with a sad heart, and who must be grieved by the evil, the anger and the indifference. Where can Jesus turn for comfort? No wonder he has called this bride to him, with her devotion, her laughter and her smile.

Jesus deserves that smile to remind him of those who truly love him for who he is and not for what he can give. May that smile offer him comfort in his suffering, may it offer him consolation to know he’s found a bride who cares more about him than herself.

And what of Dr. John Farens, the father of the bride? As they say, he didn’t lose a daughter, he gained a son, who just happens to be the King of the Universe. (To see a video of Sister Antonia’s profession, made by her friend Jillian Sharp, go to

I never expected, on the First Monday of Advent, to be sitting in a small church in rural Pennsylvania, squeezed between my husband and daughter, waiting for a funeral procession to begin. I should have been at school, reviewing the homework with my freshmen or on a break, contemplating which treat to bake for the neighborhood cookie swap. Instead, I was in the fifth pew, silently preparing what to say to comfort my grieving sister-in-law on her father’s sudden death.

When word came that the older man had passed, my sister-in-law said that, having lived a life of faith, her father was prepared to meet the Lord, though she struggled to let him go. Friends expressed great sympathy to the family, whose hearts were even heavier with the loss so close to Christmas. Though it would have been difficult to lose him at any time, the absence was felt much more deeply now as everyone else seemed caught up in holiday joy. The sadness permeating St. Mary’s Church contrasted deeply with what was supposed to be an Advent filled with hope. The experiences of that day, however, helped me realize that it still was.

Though the mood was somber, the church itself and the simple décor around it were not. From that fifth pew, I had a clear view of the Advent wreath, with one tall purple candle faintly glowing, sitting beside the podium. The Giving Tree, with a few tags still dangling, stood near the statue of St. Joseph. Several gifts, neatly wrapped, were already placed beneath it. When we had entered the church, a manger, empty except for stray pieces of hay, rested near the front steps, ready to welcome the holy family. Parishioners here had begun preparing for Jesus’ birth, just weeks away, and ensuring that children in the community would find joy under their own tree. Of course they had, I thought, for despite the grief, despite the darkness, it is still Christmas.

I remember feeling similarly during the pandemic when we spent the holidays apart from loved ones, many even unable to attend Mass. Though anxiety and uncertainty surrounded us, it was still Christmas. The following year, when I lay bedridden, weak with an unexplained illness, I felt the shadows more than the light.

Nevertheless, it was still Christmas. Christ would come, as he always does, and that alone is reason to celebrate.

Like that empty manger outside the church, one that may be cold and dark, we know through our faith as Catholics that it will soon be filled with joy and a holy presence when Jesus, the light of the world, is born. No illness, no grief, no pandemic can prevent Christ’s coming and assuring a blessed Christmas for all.

As we prepared to head home later that day, I told my brother we would understand if they couldn’t make it up to Connecticut for our holiday dinner. He nodded. When I embraced my sister-in-law, however, she smiled and said, “We’ll see you at Christmas.” My heart rejoiced, and I prayed that, through the darkness, she would hear the hosts proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem! Hark—the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!”

It is November, with its Feasts of All Saints and All Souls Day. On these days I do remember people who figured prominently in my life, people with whom I identified myself. Many of them were relatives, the familiar people whose faces I can picture and voices I can remember. They were the voices of home, of summertime, and Sundays and holidays, and meals together with all the simple joys. I can see before me the faces of grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews and nieces, god-fathers. Their memory bring back happy times and some situations touched by suffering. Et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, “and for all who rest in Christ.” How much meaning these words have gathered.

So many people I loved are gone. In the language of St. Paul and the early Christians, they “fell asleep.” Mk. 5:39: “And when He had entered, He said to them, ‘why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’”

Death after death has marred my life and I find myself more and more alone. One can have a fear of some final loneliness. So much fear in the world is fear of this loneliness.
All the people who had loved the young man I once was are gone. For me, a whole world has lived and died. There’s been so many deaths, one after the other. So much is ended. It makes for a lonesome world. Sometimes a procession troops through my mind of all the people I’ve loved and were now dead. There are those who can never be replaced. With them gone, the world seems strangely empty. I thought them immortal. There are times when I catch myself looking for some of them, even expecting to see them. Sometimes I do feel a special sense of their presence in my life.

A number of times I was with a dying loved one. I learned that all of us take with us the knowledge of having loved and having been loved. Research has proven that the five last things which people most want or need at the end of their lives are:

• Granting forgiveness
• Seeking forgiveness
• Expressing gratitude
• Demonstrating love
• Saying good-bye

My Aunt Mae died without a sound, as if to spare her visitors any further trouble. She died softly and quietly. She raised her eyes to heaven, smiled with an expression of mingled happiness, surprise, and delight, and expired.

The loss that marked my life more than anything was the death of my wife, Marcy. It was as if she were going away from me and I could not hold her back. It was as if she were bidding me farewell. I’m convinced that dead she watches over my life.

I’ve often asked God to allow my dead wife to come for me on my deathbed. I often think of old men struggling on alone, experiencing the weariness of survival. Their body has become a burden and a chore for them. It feels as if their body has betrayed and confined them.

As Saint Therese of Lisieux said: “Dying is the last thing I’ll have a chance to do well.” I hope I won’t have left behind any unsaid apologies and unstated affections. The way I would like it to be would be would be no doctors, no hospitals, no sickness and shame, just a sudden step across the line. I would like to end my life giving as little fuss as possible.

There is a Jewish Midrash that says that when a fig is gathered at the proper time it is good. The owner of the fig tree knows when their fruit is ripe for plucking, and he plucks it. It is the same way with dying. God knows when the time of the righteousness has come. As Julian of Norwich said: “His wisdom and love do not allow the end to come until the best time.” I’d like to die in harness, peacefully and composed. There’s an anguish that troubles me at the thought that some day I won’t “be here.” We are all destined to have someone say of us one day, “He’s gone.”

You know, I can still vividly remember my 8th grade classmates. They are not nameless. They are known. I feel they were mine, and shall ever be. An ancient Aztec Indian prayer states that all is on loan; we are only on loan to each other for a short time.

In John 11:23-25 Jesus makes the promise that anyone bereaved of a loved one wants to hear Jesus say to him/her: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even if they die, will live.”

As I grow older I grow more inclined to see death as the gateway into life, the end of the journey, and the arrival home. The time will come for me to weigh anchor for the final journey. I believe the promise that our death will reunite us with those loved ones who have died, that we will once again see their faces and hear their voices. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of her parents meeting each other and their dead children in heaven.

There’s that reunion I imagine for me, a gathering of loved ones that awaits me. Sometimes I picture all the people I loved and lost marching toward me from their graves.

I’m disinclined to exit. But I surrender to the mystery of God’s love and mercy.

“One short sleep past and we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death thou shalt die” (John Donne).

“All life death does end, and each day dies with sleep now. It is all death life does end, and each day lives forever” Enough! The Resurrection.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

There’s one more quote I very much like:

Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held just ourselves And immortality.
We slowly drove,
he knew no haste,
And I had put away my leisure too,
For his civility (Emily Dickinson).

When I went to the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference recently, I heard a new approach on how to increase vocations to the priesthood. An approach that we all have to embrace, not just for more priests, but to save our Church and to save our country during these troubled and desperate times.

Father Anthony Federico, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Hartford, stood before 600 men and told them: “I am here today because I am not satisfied with empty churches, and I am not satisfied when Holy Mother Church is degraded because I do not believe the Son of God died on the cross for what we see today.”

So what is he doing about it? Every night, he goes before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on his knees and “begs him for total renewal in our Church.”

Then, he appealed to the audience and said: “I ask you to beg with me, I ask you to beg the Lord for new priests in our Church.”

To be sure, he’s doing other things besides begging Jesus, but it has to start with begging … and not just ordinary begging. We have to beg Jesus face-to-face before the Blessed Sacrament.

Our Church and our world are beset by countless intractable problems that won’t be solved by another task force, another committee, another report, another focus group, another survey, or another study, with or without artificial intelligence. Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine, and they keep people employed, but unless we’re begging Jesus for help, they won’t mean anything.

It’s reached a time in the history of the Church and our country for us to fall on our knees in humility before the Blessed Sacrament and beg Christ to save us. We have to beg for more priests, for our family members and friends who have fallen away from the faith, for our own faith to be strengthened, for our divided country, for our divided Church, for an end to war, for an end to the anger and anxiety, and for hope and courage.

When Father Federico told his story about going before the Blessed Sacrament every night, he didn’t say, “I asked him.” He didn’t say, “I appealed to him.” He didn’t say, “I petitioned him.” He didn’t say, “I urged him.” More than once, he said, “I begged him.”

When it comes to Christ, none of us should think begging is beneath us.

Do you remember the Gospel story about that very annoying and very persistent Syrophoenician woman who approached Jesus because her daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit? She had more chutzpah than the entire island of Manhattan.

St. Mark said she fell at Jesus’ feet and “begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.” At first, Jesus rebuffed her and said, “It’s not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Hearing that, anyone else would have crept away downcast, but she came right back at him with her famous retort:“ Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

“For saying this, you may go,” he told her. “The demon has gone out of your daughter.”

Jesus gets it. Do you remember the parable in Luke’s Gospel about the need to pray with persistence?

Jesus said: “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time, the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her, lest she finally come and strike me.’”

The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”

We have to be like that widow. We have to be like that Syrophoenician woman. We have to “call out to him day and night,” as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

We wondered if it would ever happen. While the other siblings were settled, he was the restless one. We thought he was content being “fun Uncle Dave,” as his nieces and nephews called him, but we were wrong, for all he needed was a little more time. My youngest brother, the supposedly confirmed bachelor who was known for spontaneity, a love of travel, and his city apartment, was getting married.

Though he often had a date for holidays and events—kind, engaging women whom the family welcomed—after a few months, he’d usually say that they were just not “the one.” He watched as friends around him married and settled down. Many had children. One became a priest. To an extent, he enjoyed his single life and the freedom it brought, but I knew my little brother longed for a partner, one to share his life. This became more apparent as he approached his mid-40s, and we wondered, maybe his plan wasn’t God’s plan.

Then, about a year ago, Dave confided in me that he had met Christie. From the first time he introduced her to us at Easter dinner last spring, we saw something different. The ease of their interactions. The genuine laughter between them. The moral values they shared. The way “I” quickly became “we.” Maybe she’s “the one,” we thought.

“No, he’s still just fun Uncle Dave,” Elizabeth assured us, wondering about this woman who had captured the heart of her beloved godfather. “It’s hard to even picture him married!” Abigail answered.

We felt the same, even as the dating apps and well-meaning colleagues introduced him to others looking for love. No one, though, was a partner with whom he could imagine spending his life. It wasn’t until he paused from looking and trying that a new co-worker saw an empty seat next to him at a meeting and struck up a conversation. A connection was made, and he admitted that from the start, he thought he had found “the one.”

Like my brother, Christie had rocky relationships and wondered if she was destined to remain single or to settle for someone just to please others. Even as she struggled and approached her early 40s, hope remained. Was her plan God’s plan?

It was, for them both. It just took a little longer than some.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” I have often thought of this passage from Ecclesiastes in the weeks since Dave called us to share his news. The seasons they spent apart were necessary to bring them together. God led my brother and Christie down a myriad of pathways that seemed, at times, confusing, but in reality, those experiences led them exactly where they needed to be—with each other in mid-life near that empty chair in a meeting room.

Though I think they will both retain their spontaneity and love of travel, fun Uncle Dave will now have a wife, and the city apartment will now be a split level in the suburbs, a home where we can all gather “under heaven.”

I find it hard to turn the calendar page to September. September generally brings some of the rarest days of the year, some glorious days that are among nature’s best. There are luminous days and nights that brim with stars. The calming, cooling touch of September breezes bring the relaxation from summer heat. There is the sparkling freshness of a September morning, and the special softening light of September six o’clock. Those soft September twilights fold over the land.

However, September is always tinged with sorrow. These loveliest days of the year also bring the knowledge that time moves and everything comes to an end. The poet Thomas Parsons caught the mood of September well:

The world is brighter than before –

Why should our hearts be duller?

Sorrow and the scarlet leaf.

Sad thoughts and Sunny weather!

This glory and this grief. (A Song for September)

September brings Labor Day, the day that ends the summer as surely as a period ends a sentence. Summer is relinquished, summer has lost its grip. For me, September brings a sadness that another end has come into life. Summer has come and gone, has come and gone. My heart seems to sense time moving and I become uneasy; time passing, passing like a leaf falling, time passing, fading like a flower, time passing like a river flowing, time passing. For me, September is time hastening. “I know that summer, scarcely here, is gone until another year” (Edna St, Vincent Millay, The End of Summer). I have to suppress tears each September when I leave the beach reluctantly. More and more I think of life as a series of heartbreaking good-byes, of having and letting go, embracing and parting. I’ve come to fear time itself—the slow grinding of time.

In September the sun edges south, days shorten and nights deepen. September brings the crickets and the katydids growing loud in the lengthening nights. The crickets chirp and the katydids rasp as they have chirped and rasped since long before humans appeared on this earth. They provide the music of the September night, the melancholy voice of summer’s ending, a summer gone. It is like taps for another summer. The cool weather will silence them.

September is a month that gleams with goldenrod. There is goldenrod everywhere. Thoreau called it “spilled sunshine.” But there are also the dying gardens, waning flowers living their last days. Trees begin to look withered at the tops, and the maples begin to show flashes of red and yellow September is the month when birds gather in restless flocks, migration on their minds. The swallows and orioles leave early. Their restless voices is the sound of the need to go, the excitement of migration. Others will be on their way before month’s end.

My own awareness of time has become constant and even oppressive. I’ve become very conscious of my earthly allotment of time. The sovereignty of God over the length of our lives is clearly taught in Scripture. Job 14:5 states “Man’s days are determined. You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” There’s Psalm 139.16: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

The Cloud of Unknowing states “so take good care of time, and how you spend it. Nothing is more precious than time. God is the giver of time. At the judgment there will be an account of the spending of time.” So many of the days and years of those allotted to me have passed. The Second Vatican Council, in its text Gaudium et Spes, 26, makes the interesting observation that God’s Spirit directs the unfolding of time. I wonder how many of my allotted years have passed with their thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours. How many more days will God’s patience still grant me? How many more chances will I have to welcome the summer.

Pope John Paul II put things well: “Time belongs to God. This is not our own. We are allotted a certain period of time in this world. Then we move into what is called God’s time—eternity. We try not to waste time, rather to use it effectively.” There is an appointed time for everything. Our days are numbered. There is an appointed end of all things. Our term of life is fixed.

In Hopkin’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland” the transitoriness of life is compared with the sand slipping inevitably through an hourglass in stanza four:

I am soft sift

In an hourglass —at the wall

Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

And it crowds and it combs to the fall.

In Greek mythology there is a titan named Kronos. His name means time. He was regarded as a lord of the universe. Kronos swallowed the days. He was greedy. The devourer, seeking what he might devour.

Lately I’ve a sense that it is the time for something to happen. It is the time for an event to happen, or the time for an emotion to be felt. There is the sense of a time which goes with the fullness of things.

Always I have wanted to salvage some moments from the rush of time, to be able to find ways of freezing time and preserve certain events from Kronos and the flow of time.

I’m intrigued by what John Haught says about the transient character of a moment (What is God p. 25). There is the transient character of the moment. It is impossible to hold on to it. It slips out of your grasp. Where did it go? It was present a few moments ago, but now another present has slipped into its place. Did the earlier moment slip into nothingness? Did it undergo an absolute perishing? Where did it come from in the first place?