“A human being requires meaning, a reason for being; something that gives direction to his life. A human being must be able to answer the question ‘Why?’ or ‘What for?’” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning).

The Second Vatican Council’s writing Veritatis Splendor speaks of “the obscure riddles of the Human Condition” (50). There are questions that tend to close in on one with the years: Why did God bother to make the world? How does the world function? To what purpose do we exist in that world? What are we here for? What’s the story about? Does it have a plot? Does it all make sense? Does it have any ultimate meaning? Why am I me? Is there an intelligent plan behind all the pieces of my life? Do I have a value beyond time? As we grow older, these questions become more persistent.

One can be audacious giving answers to these questions. One might consider how it sounds for any human being to claim to know God’s will. For a believer, one would be more accurate to admit what St. Paul says about the ways of God being inscrutable: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:33)

There’s the way Isaiah puts it: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9).

We want to think that our lives mean something, count as something more than just a momentary blip in the universe. We want to think that there is something more to life than randomness. We want to make sense of our own world.

Here are some negative views offered by some well-known people:

John Paul Sartre: “All existing things are born for no reason, and die by accident. It is meaningless that we are born, it is meaningless that we die.”

Leo Tolstoy: “The more intelligent we are, the less do we understand the meaning of our life, and the more do we see a king of bad joke in our suffering and death.”

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote: “We have not to rejoice, but rather to mourn at the existence of the world, its non-existence would be preferable. It is something which at bottom ought not to be.”

Clarence Darrow: “Life is like a ship on the sea, tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship headed for no port and no harbor, with no rudder, no compass, no pilot, simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves.”

There’s Shakespeare’s MacBeth: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” There’s Beckett’s characters waiting, waiting endlessly for the never-appearing Godot. And there’s Sisyphus condemned forever to the pointless pushing of that rock.

We want to make sense of our own personal world. There is the fundamental role that an individual plays in making meaning for himself. Frankl called us to realize that life expects something of us. John Henry Newman said: “God has commanded some work of me.” Confucianism places great emphasis upon “knowing the mandate of heaven”—a sense of being chosen to fulfill some transcendent command. God expects something very definite of us.

Carl Jung coined the expression Noogenic Neurosis which involves a loss of the feeling that life is meaningful. The individual sees no purpose in his life. Many people have lost a sense of purpose in their lives. Many realize that they have taken the wrong road. Jung also stated that such a person needed to regain a religious outlook.

I think almost everyone lives for something and wants to belong somewhere, wants to make sense of reality. I expect everyone seeks a cause or purpose to give his life meaning. Almost everyone has an interpretation of human existence. The Existentialist philosophers teach that we create our own meaning; there are no absolutes. There is the miracle of our own personal existence, and each of us plays a part in creating meaning for ourselves. One multi-billionaire stated that his goal was to die with more toys than the next guy.

A friend told me that for him, the meaning of life was to get through life with as much dignity and satisfaction as he could, doing as little harm as possible. Secularists have a materialistic view of human life and try to dodge religious questions.

One of my convictions is that what the earth gives us is often beautiful, but is too poor to satisfy us fully. We are all trying to get from this world more than she can rightly give (cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vatican II). Something is missing.

We have all experienced this to one degree or another. Even in our most satisfying times, we are aware of limitation. No matter how happy our lives are, this feeling of incompleteness or discontent never fades out. Nothing finite ultimately satisfies us. People are hungering for more than this world offers. Various worldly things are offered to give us that fundamental satisfaction, but they never keep their promise.

I think everyone knows what I mean. Everyone carries about inside himself a certain emptiness—a sense that something is missing. Chesterton said, “Even at home, I am homesick.”

C.S. Lewis asserted that the primary purpose of our lives— the reason for our existence on this planet—is to establish a relationship with the Person who placed us here. Until that relationship is established, all of our attempts to attain happiness—our quest for recognition, for money, for power, for the perfect marriage or the ideal friendship, for all that we spend our lives seeking—will always fall short, will never quite satisfy the longing (Armand Nicholi, Jr., C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, p. 104). When 66 years old, the atheist Sigmund Freud spoke of a “strange longing,” thinking there might be a life of quite another kind.

A mother once said to me, “Children are one of the great sources of meaning; they are gifts of God. The only trouble is they’re not God, they are only children. So I became restless again.” As for myself, my Christian religious faith has it that the ultimate structure of reality involves a redemptive participation in the sufferings of Christ, and that we are destined to participate in the divine nature. Our final fulfillment is found in what is called the Beatific Vision of God seen by our risen bodies.

“The glory of God is man fully alive, but the life of man is the vision of God” (St. Irenaeus, cf. Signs, Superstitions, and God’s Plan: The Human Quest for Meaning, Brian Schmisek, Paulist Press).

Istill remember the first time I met an atheist. I wish I could say it was as memorable as the time I met Henry Kissinger or Mike Love from the Beach Boys, but it was just upsetting.

I was 13, and until then, everyone I knew believed in God even if they didn’t go to church. My uncle invited me to dinner with their neighbors, and during the conversation I mentioned God—this was back in the days when you could talk about God without being assaulted—and the fellow immediately informed me: “There’s no God. This is all there is, and when it’s over, it’s over.”

That combative, self-assured statement startled me. I tried to debate him, but like most atheists, he had all the answers. To make matters worse, he was a lawyer, and I was a teenager struggling to punch up and relying only on the Baltimore Catechism and what the Sisters of St. Joseph taught me. Nevertheless, I clung to my beliefs based on faith, and he clung to his based on intellectual pride.

Since then, I’ve met scores of atheists in the most unlikely places. A growing number are college students, who fancy themselves too smart to believe in God. Consider Harvard University, where a reported one out of three students is atheist or agnostic. That same mentality exists in Hollywood, where it’s trendy to deny God’s existence, and the entertainment industry typically portrays believers as immoral ignoramuses.

I’ve discovered that disbelievers share common characteristics: They’re too smart for God. They blame God for the pain in their lives. And they’re too proud to believe there’s a God more intelligent than they are.

I’ve also encountered another species of atheist I classify as “the lazy atheist” or “the indifferent atheist.” They don’t care whether God exists because they’re obsessed with more important matters like the pursuit of pleasure, prestige and possessions. Some were never given the tools to find God and grew up in families that didn’t care whether God existed.

I remember the time my friend’s 5-year-old son came home from school, confused and anxious, and asked, “Mommy, who’s God?” I don’t remember her answer, but I do remember thinking, “How did it ever come to this? Her priorities are all messed up.” From the beginning, kids should have a relationship with God even if they don’t study the Baltimore Catechism—although it helps. Remember these foundational principles:

“Who is God?” God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things—that includes you.

“Why did God make you?” God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.

Pretty simple stuff. Pretty profound stuff, actually.

Today, there is a growing number of militant anti-theists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens—author of “God is Not Great”—along with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the angriest of all, novelist Sir Philip Pullman.

Their thinking is often based on the premise there can’t be a God because of the way his followers behave. While our behavior can be abominable, it doesn’t disprove God’s existence. It only proves we don’t live up to the ideal.

When it comes to atheism, the basic ingredients are always anger, pride and intransigence. Vicka Ivankovic, one of the reported seers at Medjugorje, offered this insight:

“Blessed Mother says that those people who are in hell are there because they choose to go there. We all know there are persons on Earth who simply don’t admit God exists, even though he always tries to nudge them onto the path of holiness. They just say they don’t believe, and they deny him. They deny him, even when it is time to die. And they continue to deny him after they are dead. It is their choice. It is their will that they go to hell. They choose hell.”

Pray for them. It’s their only hope. Anyone who doubts God’s existence has a simple recourse, as a Sister of Mercy once told me: all you have to do is ask. If you ask with a sincere and humble heart, God will give you all the proof you need. But you have to ask.

When night falls earlier, days grow cooler, and we all begin to snuggle into our homes as winter approaches, my thoughts turn to what radiates comfort and warmth. It’s not the pellet stove whirring in the family room or my mother’s crocheted afghan or our cat curled against me on our sofa. My thoughts turn to soup.

I grew up humming Campbell’s jingle, “Soup is good food,” in my head while I sipped my bowl of alphabet soup and, in college, I devoured the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, taking both inspiration and nourishment from the simplest pleasures. I remember the fable of “Stone Soup,” marveling at the traveler’s ability to feed so many with so little.

Whether it’s a get well wish for a sick friend, a light meal to break a fast, or a quick supper when we’re running late, few could deny the healing, comforting qualities of soup, aside from its obvious deliciousness. What’s better than a cup of clam chowder or a pot of beef barley simmering on the stove? And when it’s a pot as large as the one my grandmother handed down to me, it begs to be shared.

With that in mind, we decided to host a soup exchange party with the neighbors last week, gathering everyone to share their favorite recipes and break bread—truly—over steaming bowls, enjoying the meal, the stories, and the laughter that come from easy companionship.

When friends arrived carrying crockpots filled with spicy chili, tomato soup, lentils, and white bean and kale, the aromas enveloped the house. Oh, which to try first? We cupped bowls in our hands, felling the warmth. Ladles were dipped, salads were tossed, and drinks were passed, nourishing us and countering the autumnal chill. “We hunger and thirst, not just for a tasty soup or the pleasure of companionship but for the joy that comes from them.”

In a worldly sense, a good meal unites friends who enrich our lives and bring us together while the food we consume sustains us. We hunger and thirst, not just for a tasty soup or the pleasure of companionship but for the joy that comes from them as well. When partaking in a different meal, though, one that nourishes not our bodies but our souls, we are enriched in a greater, more sacred sense.

At Mass, God provides spiritual sustenance through the Eucharist and reminds us that he is “the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” Whether through bread or wine, soup or salad, we remember that it is God himself who nourishes us.

With the crockpots emptied and take-home containers filled, the neighbors left, promising to share all the recipes, so the warmth and comfort could continue as the weeks turned even cooler. Through the spicy chili and white bean and kale were so much better than the alphabet soup of my childhood, I was reminded that yes, in its many forms, soup is good food.

“There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his worth” (Sirach 6:8)

Author John Cuddeback, in his book True Friendship: Where Virtue Become Happiness, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2021) tells how the ancient Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato, wrote a good deal about friendship. Aristotle taught that there were three kinds of friendship. He called the first “pleasant friendship,” where friendship is basically about having a good time together, socializing together. This friendship is particularly found in young people. The second kind of friendship is “useful friendship,” in which each person receives some benefit from the other. The third kind of friendship Aristotle calls “virtuous friendship” in which the other person is loved because of who he is himself. “Virtuous” friendship can grow out of the first two kinds. But in the “pleasant” and “useful” friendships, persons are not loved because of who they are in themselves.

Aristotle was convinced that human happiness, requires human friendship. Aristotle thought that a happy man must have developed a true friendship. He described virtuous friendship as “the crowning gift of happiness.”

Aristotle held that “virtuous” or “true” (Cuddeback) friendships were rare. The ancient Greeks in general thought that true friends were few. This was so because virtuous persons are rare. Another reason is that true friendships take time and sustained effort to form. To grow in friendship, we need to give time to it. True friendship unfolds gradually. It requires seeing the other person in various circumstances of life and seeing how the person responds to various situations. The friendship does not simply happen. It takes a long time for two people to truly get to know each other We can really go deeper with only a few people. It should be noted that for Aristotle true friendship exists among people who are truly good people.

The following are recognized as characteristics of true friendship: there has to be some equality, some sameness. According to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, any friendship consists in some kind of equality. And the more we are like another, the more we can really understand and enter into the other’s life. Aristotle points out that where there is great difference, it is difficult to be friends; the more difficult it will be to enter into each other’s life and understand each other.

Values match up, friends have the same likes and dislikes. True friends like to do the same kind of things. They share a vision of what life is all about. True friends experience each other as being part of themselves in some profound way. They are what C.S. Lewis calls “kindred souls.” A true friend wants what is best for the other person. True friends rejoice over the blessings for the other. One’s friend is more excited about one’s success than his friend is. As John Cuddeback put it, during the most difficult times a true friend will be Simon of Cyrene for the other. Someday when we come to stand before the judgment throne of God, our true friend will argue on our behalf. Good friends engage in good conversations. They can also enjoy sitting in silence with each other. They pray for and with each other. They may discuss theology. There is loyalty and trustworthiness. One’s true friend is one’s confidant, one’s conscience, one’s cheerleader. A true friend is your compagnons de voyage. True friendship involves a love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing.

Kyler Shumway (The Friendship Formula) offers some what she calls “Friendship fortifiers.” Some of them would be:

Gratitude, words of thanks; even saying thank you as part of your goodbye.

Notice the small things a friend does for you.

Say “I’m proud of you” for something the friend may have accomplished.

Empathize with the friend’s situation.

Find good opportunities for self-disclosure.

Shumway claims that one of the ways to deepen a friendship is to make a journey together.

There is a depth and beauty to true friendship that you don’t find anywhere else. True friendship recognizes true goodness in the other person. It is rooted in true knowledge of another person. And one needs a true friend to help one see one’s self. “Ubi amor, ibi oculus” – “where there is love, there is the power to see.”

There are limitations on one’s ability to share one’s life with other people. We can really go deeper with only a few people. Hence, as Aristotle thought, true friendships are rare.

There are relationships that go by the name “friendship” but are not truly true friendships.

We form “acquaintances” or “attachments.” We are friendly, we chat and have laughs and enjoy one another’s company. We trade favors. However, we are not truly close, are not invested in each other’s lives.

There are many people who say they have never experienced a significant, enduring friendship. Researchers speak of an epidemic of loneliness in our society.

In the end, it is probably true to say that we do not make a true friendship happen – it is an unmerited gift that we receive. These relationships are not by pure chance. It is not an accident that two people come together. True friends are a gift. They are not manufactured. One true friend in life is an amazingly huge gift. In the end, as John Cuddeback claims, true friendship is a gift from God. There is more going on than meets the eye. A secret Master of Ceremonies is at work.

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he that has found one has found a treasure” (Sirach 6:8)

(Dr. Hicks runs two Bible Studies on the second week of the month: one on Tuesday mornings, the other on Thursday evenings. Anyone interested send your email to or, or

When I was at daily Mass recently, the Gospel recounted the time Peter goes up to Jesus with a trick question. Let me quote from the account so I don’t get accused of making this up or perpetrating fake news, or even worse, fake Bible stories:

Peter: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother (or sister) who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Sometimes I wonder whether St. Matthew recorded everything exactly as it occurred because I suspect he left out a portion of that exchange, which might have gone something like this:

Peter: “How many times should I forgive?”

Jesus: “Seventy-seven times.”

Peter: “Easy for you to say, you’re not married.” To which I would add, “And you don’t have kids.”

We know Peter was married because Jesus cured his motherin-law of a fever. However, there are no accounts of his wife saying, “Aren’t you spending a lot of time with that fellow Jesus and your friends?”

Plus, we have no record of whether there was a Peter Jr., who took over the family fishing business when Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus. (Raising kids is a challenge unlike any other.)

When I asked my wife about forgiving 77 times, she insisted she’s reached at least the 777 mark … and enough is enough.

Who can forgive the same person that many times? In marriage, you’re with the same person so much it comes down to either forgiving and moving on or harboring a grudge that only festers and turns into a resentment that can inhibit the spiritual growth of your relationship, which I’ve been told is what marriage is all about, even though it can be difficult to make progress on some days.

Marriage reminds me of the line alcoholics in AA often use: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” To which my spouse would probably respond: “Then progress a little faster please.”

One of my friends had grandparents who were notorious for bickering, and when they celebrated their 60th anniversary, she asked them, “What’s the secret to staying married so long?” Without looking up from his newspaper, her grandfather grumbled, “Giving in.” Wiser words were never spoken.

My friend Ann, who was married 70 years, when her beloved husband Paul passed away, has often told me there’s a simple dynamic when it comes to marital disputes: Someone has to give in first. Of course, if both people refuse to give in, there will be a worse stalemate than the U.S.Soviet relations during the Cold War.

Remember that tremendously popular tear-jerker “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Allie McGraw back in the 70s, based on the bestseller by Erich Segal? It popularized the smarmy line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It sounds very profound, but I have my doubts.

Pope Francis turned that logic on its head when he told married couples the three most important words in any marriage are “Please, thanks, and sorry.”

(Of course, that’s easy for him to say. He’s never been married. At least St. Peter knew what he was talking about.)

Nevertheless, the pope’s advice is valuable for anyone who wants their marriage to last. He also wisely advised them never to go to bed without reconciling.

Another piece of AA wisdom that’s worth remembering is the slogan “A day at a time.” With marriage and parenthood, it’s the only way. The quarrel that had you angry with each other one day you probably won’t even remember in a month.

The Gospels never tell us whether St. Peter had kids. I like to think he had a son who took over the family fishing business when Dad left to follow Jesus. Imagine this exchange between father and son:

Peter: “The catches are down since you took over. I have a church to run, and I can’t keep my eye on you all the time.”

Peter Jr.: “Dad, I’m working as hard as I can. I never asked for this. Show a little forgiveness, will ya?”

Peter: “Forgiveness? I’ve been counting. You’re way past 77 times.”

Peter Jr.: “I am? Well, all I can say to you is ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Gratitude and pride. Anticipation and worry. Excitement and hope. These were just some of the feelings I experienced in the days leading up to moving our older daughter to college last month. Throughout the summer, we shopped for the essentials and packed all the boxes. She chose her classes and FaceTimed her roommate. As move-in day drew closer, the preparation seemed complete—at least the physical preparation. We didn’t know how to prepare emotionally for the day when we’d arrive on campus with four of us in a packed car and then leave with only three in an empty one.

But arrive we did, and Abigail settled in quickly. The rest of us were busy too, helping to arrange the room, plug in the fans, unroll the rug, and hang up the clothes. The whirlwind of activity kept ourselves—and our minds—occupied, until we finally paused late in the afternoon and took a seat for Mass, just outside the college chapel, and reality hit. We’d be saying good-bye in less than an hour.

Fighting a range of emotions, I made myself focus on the entrance hymn, but it was the words of the chaplain’s prayer that caught my attention: “God of new beginnings, as we open this academic year, we ask that You bestow on these students . . .” This truly was a new beginning for all the young people, a beginning to be celebrated, even for the parents about to leave and return to their routines, minus one. And who better to leave them with than God?

As Mass continued, my mind wandered back to the chaplain’s words, and I remembered how God had been with Abigail during all her other “new beginnings.” He walked beside her on the first day of school. He swam and played with her during the weeks at sleepaway camp. He was in the backseat of the car during her first excursion on the highway. He sat next to her on the airplane when she first flew alone. Even when we couldn’t be there to protect her, God was, and I knew He would continue to be.

That is what I held onto as Mass continued. Still, I wondered where she would go and what she would do once we were back home. We couldn’t imagine all the excitement and challenges she would experience in the next days, weeks, or months, only God could, for He said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Following Communion, families stood, and the chaplain conferred a blessing on members of this incoming class. As the three of us placed our hands on Abigail’s shoulders, I knew that we would miss her, but I also knew that we were leaving her in the right place and in the presence of her God of new beginnings.

“All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room” (Blaise Pascal).

Today, in both secular and religious society, the presumption seems to be that shared experiences are the only ones that count. However, a more mature spiritual life involves the neglected disciplines of solitude and silence.

Jesus had a manifest need for solitude. He often sought solitude. He needed to be alone quite a bit. After an outpouring of healing he sought quiet withdrawal—Mk. 1:35: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” There’s Lk. 5:1516: “Crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus habitually withdrew to deserted places where he could be alone and pray.” He even spent whole nights in prayer—Lk. 6:12: “He departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer.”

The renown spirituality scholar, Henri Nouwen, stated that “without solitude it is virtually impossible to have a spiritual life. We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to Him.” St. Athanasius said that solitude is as essential to the spiritual life as water is to the survival of fish.” And the Muslim Sufi, Sarnad, taught that if you wish to meet the Lord, then practice solitude. We need to spend time without other humans, to be alone with God.

There’s the astounding and galvanizing story of John Fairfax, who alone in 1969 rowed across the Atlantic. He was at sea for months on end with only himself for company. He kept a diary of his journey. He wrote that for a while he experienced loneliness but reached a point of liking it. There was “the vibrancy of the stillness.” He came to realize what mattered to him in life and what did not. He switched his transistor radio on for shorter and shorter periods each day and sometimes not at all. “I loathed having my solitude shattered by the sound of human voices chattering.” Even the diary in which he recorded his progress came to feel like a hinderance. “Writing spoiled things; it was like having company.” After months without human contact, Fairfax was invited aboard a passing German ship. The German crew was kind and gave him delicious treats and supplied him with some needed goods. Fairfax wrote: “but once these had been supplied, I craved for the solitude that had been mine for so long.” Back in his boat, he felt relief. “Solitude was like a cherished companion without whom I was at a loss.” So much so that, spotting another ship a few nights afterward, “I switched off my torch, lest they see it and I watched the ship disappear.”

In 1934, Richard Byrd volunteered with a group of others to establish a weather station deep in the Antarctic, near the South Pole. The last minutes found his would-be companions turning back. Byrd settled in alone, and stayed for four and a half months, as the temperature outside the hut dipped to 83 degrees below zero. Byrd became meditative. He wrote that out of the silence came a “gentle rhythm.” Just as John Fairfax aboard his tiny boat on the Atlantic, Byrd wished he didn’t have to have the radio on. Speaking of his experience in Antarctica he said “I felt more alive than at any other time in my life. I became better able to tell what in the world is wheat for me and what is straw. I was never bored.” In his diary for April 14, Byrd recorded: “took my daily walk at 4 PM today. I paused to listen to the silence. There was great peace. I could feel a oneness with the universe.” On another occasion, writing in his diary, he refers to feeling more alive than at any time in his life. He wrote of gaining something he had not fully possessed before—an appreciation of the sheer beauty and miracle of being alive. After his time in Antarctica Byrd noted: “I live more simply now, and with more peace.”

These solo adventurers tell of being not just unafraid of solitude but loving it. They became totally at home in it. Our Catholic spiritual writers call us to build times of solitude into our lives, times that should be treasured and guarded. We should carve out a sacred place for ourselves, a place designated for times alone with God.

Preferably, one should identify a place in one’s home, and build a time of solitude into the day. One unplugs from the demands of family life and trusts that God will care for one’s family while one is in solitude for a little while. Occasionally, one may bring young children to share in this special time. One may be surprised at how well children respond.

In classic Catholic tradition, processes like illumination, purgation, letting go, transformation can result from this practice. We can learn how lovely apartness can be, and when alone we can be more alive. The time set apart for being and listening may grow from 10 minutes to 20 minutes and perhaps a half hour. We strive to be faithful to the practice. Ideally, one may have some access to woods or the sea. Hosea 2:14: “I will allure her, and I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart.” But for most of us there are the words of Mt. 6:6: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret.”

Praying involves more than vocal prayers. Indeed, Jesus warned against wordy prayers (cf. Mt.6:7).

Do you remember that scene in “The Ten Commandments” when actor Charlton Heston, as a Hollywoodesque Moses, was coming down Mount Sinai with the stone tablets and saw the Israelites engaged in all kinds of debauchery, violence, insurrection, rioting, idolatry, thievery, swindling, licentiousness, adultery and anger…pretty much like modern America?

While he was busy on Mt. Sinai, negotiating with God, the people were left to their own devices, and things went downhill fast. God wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted something new to worship, so they had Moses’ brother Aaron craft a golden calf. It was an open invitation for them to pursue their baser instincts, which they quickly did.

Now, forgive me if I get my details from Cecile B. DeMille instead of the Book of Exodus. It may not have happened exactly this way, but it was pretty close. Charlton Heston did such a good job that if you haven’t seen the movie, rent it.

Moses hadn’t even given the Israelites the Ten Commandments, and they were already breaking them. Just as the mob was about to offer human sacrifice to the idol, Joshua blew the shofar, and Moses appeared on the hilltop and saw the people he led out of Egypt engaging in what the modern media would probably characterize as “largely peaceful rioting.” He was enraged and uttered the imprecation: “Woe unto thee, O Israel! You have sinned a great sin in the sight of God!”

At that point, Edward G. Robinson, who played the insidious obstructionist Dathan, yelled back, “We will not live by your commandments, WE ARE FREE!”

And Moses bellowed: “THERE IS NO FREEDOM WITHOUT THE LAW!” Wow. Hollywood got it right that time.

Then, Moses broke the tablets on the golden calf, and all the idolaters fell into an abyss, which probably makes you wonder where Moses is today when we need him. Of course, today Moses wouldn’t have to break the Ten Commandments because everyone else already is.

So what’s my point? That scene from the movie reminds me of the evening news with the rampant crime, chicanery, and civil unrest. You may be thinking, “Don’t be such a Debbie Downer. Things are looking up. Our leaders have everything under control.”

Here’s the way I see it: When you take God out of the equation, as the Israelites did, the numbers will never add up. All the laws, causes and campaigns won’t make sense without God. You may be committed to political solutions, but you need a purpose. And that purpose is God, who should be the starting point, not an incidental factor in our lives. We’re like those Israelites.

A recent survey by the Marist College Poll explored trends in faith and religion in the United Sates and concluded that Americans are less attached to practices such as prayer, worship and traditional institutions than ever before. An overwhelming number of the respondents, 72 percent, realize something is wrong and say our country’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction. That means instead of pointing toward doing what’s right, America’s moral compass is pointed toward doing what’s wrong. That conclusion is shared by 90 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents and oddly only 51 percent of Democrats.

Why is our country in such a deplorable state? I think Nobel Prize author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn discovered the answer when he was trying to figure out why Russia had gone so far astray. He wrote: “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution. In the process, I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God. That’s why all this has happened.’”

And the same is true of America.

When I was little and it came time to bid visitors farewell, I would hide upstairs. There’s something about goodbyes that has never sat well with me. I would rather freeze everyone in time the way they were when we were enjoying ourselves together.

They say that change is the only constant in life, but I’ve never done well with transitions.

It is at these times that I remember Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8:

  1. There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.
  2. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
  3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.
  4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
  5. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
  6. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
  7. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
  8. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Change is uncomfortable and can be scary, but it is inevitable. The more we can lean into its natural rhythm in our lives, the better equipped we will be the next time we are faced with something unexpected.

Over the years, the beach where my family vacations in Massachusetts has experienced physical changes. Every year, there are noticeable differences to the formation of the dunes due to erosion. Tide pools and sandbars pop up in different places along the beach, as its new landscape is revealed after a long winter.

These changes are natural. As natural as the tides. When we step onto the beach at the beginning of the season, there is always something new and exciting to discover. As I seek to grow and make changes in my own life, I am trying not to let worry and fear of the unknown take hold. I am trying to treat each new venture as I do the discovery of the changing seaside landscape, and approach it with excitement rather than fear.

As much as we’d like to freeze time, growing and changing is healthy and natural. We should celebrate where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and the people we’ve met along the way. There are valuable lessons that we learn during each stage of life and that will only continue as we move forward and gain more life experience.

Things take time. Change takes time. Healing takes time. As does the gradual transition between each season. We should give ourselves the same respect as we do nature, saying, “for everything there is a season.” We should look at change with the same anticipation as we do the excitement of the start of a new season, full of hope for the fullness of days to come.

Let me tell you an Easter story. I know it’s a little late and that I should be setting my watch for Ordinary Time…but something happened on Easter that I’ve been thinking about for weeks.

Let me start by saying strange things happen when you ask for the grace to see people the way Jesus does. It can change your view of the world. It can change your view of the way you’ve been living your faith. And it can lead you to the unsettling conclusion that you have a lot of work to do, no matter how old you are or how set in your ways you are.

A preliminary explanation might be helpful: Since I’ve never done very well in crowds, I usually try to avoid events— and Masses—where everyone is crammed together, especially at Christmas and Easter. I can still remember when my friends tried to drag me out of my dormitory room and drive to Woodstock with them. I resisted, and it was the right decision for a lot of reasons, one of which was the mob of 500,000 young people. As soon as I saw that crowd, I would have started walking back to New York City alone.

Because of this inability to deal with crowds, I went to the 7:30 Mass on Easter, which I quickly learned wasn’t early enough to avoid the packed pews. But it’s a good thing that people are returning to church.

Predictably, there were a lot of people I’d never seen before, and I started grumbling, “I don’t want to be squished between strangers and singing, “Jesus Christ is risen today!” Even worse, many of them weren’t wearing masks, and I still had residual anxiety about COVID-19. (I forgot my mask so that compounded the problem.)

During the Liturgy of the Word, I began falling into my usual hypocritical state of mind because the Church was filled with many people who didn’t know when to sit or stand or kneel. With these self-righteous thoughts festering in my brain—I think Satan had a lot to do with it—I got up to receive Communion and found myself standing in line behind a teenager in sweatpants, a T-shirt and stylish psychedelic sneakers.

Just as I was about to take his inventory, I did a dangerous thing, which I don’t advise you to do unless you’re prepared for the consequences. I said a prayer to Jesus that always makes me feel ashamed. The prayer consists of eight highly volatile spiritual words: “Jesus, let me see them as you do.”

I only had to say it once. In no time at all, he answered me. (The answer came a lot faster than when I ask him, “Jesus, do you think I could win Power Ball?”)

My annoyance, my negativity, my criticism vanished. I realized Jesus wasn’t sad, and he wasn’t critical, angry or resentful that this young man was there. He was absolutely ecstatic. I felt sudden joy, walking behind this teenager in his athletic pants and colorful Nikes with his weird haircut.

I’m convinced Jesus was glad to see him at Mass, and even gladder that he received his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.

When I get self-righteous, I often forget that He wants to draw all people to Himself, even the ones who annoy us, who despise us and who anger us. It’s not my place to decide who is worthy because Jesus died for them all, and that makes them worthy.

For many years I complained about people who only come to Mass on Easter and Christmas, forgetting conveniently the years I went to Mass only on Easter and Christmas. Plus, there was that time at midnight Mass on Christmas that I should never have gone to because I had been partying too much that night and well…you get the idea.

To my thinking, Jesus was telling me, “Quit your belly-aching. Do you hear me complaining because this kid is at Easter Mass? I’m really happy!”

The prayer “Jesus, let me see them as you do” always works, usually to my embarrassment. Try it. But be prepared for the results.

For many of us, youth is gone, and the days are upon us that please us not. Life’s drama can grow wearisome and leave one with a sense that one has had one’s fill. Death comes on the scene; it is less abstract, more real. With aging one is more open to the realization that we have an appointment with death. Death is there, somewhere ahead of us. It is an appointment we cannot break. Therefore, it is not unexpected that, as one ages, there is an inquisitiveness about God, and one is disposed to a growing interest in spirituality.

For many believers, there is a kind of spiritual maturing. One can feel that one has lived a life of faith stuck in the shallow end of the pool. Many of the old things begin to lose their luster. There’s a realization that that which was good for yesterday, may not be right for today. There’s Paul’s metaphor in First Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Earlier in the letter (1Cor.3:2), Paul made the same point: “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual people… but only as mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food; for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”

Many people’s conception of God changes with time. Many were raised to connect God with rules, regulations and customs; and God was looking on approvingly or disapprovingly. For many, this might not be cutting it anymore. People want more from religion than rules. Strikingly, many are more open to more silence and contemplative practices.

John 6:44 states that “no one can come to me (Christ) unless the Father draw him.” John 4:19 states that “He first loved us.” These words imply that we do not get to God by our own efforts we are found by God. Holiness is not something achieved by one’s own actions, but is a gift from God. Sanctification is primarily the work of God. St. Basil the Great made the puzzling statement that “love of God is not something that can be taught or achieved.” Another quote: “Bernard of Clairvaux declared: “You would not seek God at all, nor love God at all, if you had not been sought and first loved.”

These verses also imply the idea of God’s persistent pursuit, and that God leads each person as He sees that person has needs. In her book, Ways to the Knowledge of God, Edith Stein asserts that the way to God is different for each individual. John of the Cross stressed that no two people travel the same route to God. The spiritual world is God’s territory, and God adapts Himself to His creatures. Different humans are led by different paths. Each person’s spirituality is custom designed.

These citations imply that there are as many ways to draw near to the Divine as there are people in the world. God has endless ways to draw people to Himself.

Something Therese of Lisieux wrote is a component to the idea that each person’s life with God is unique. Therese wrote: “I wondered why God has preferences, why all souls don’t receive an equal amount of grace. He caresses certain privileged souls from cradle to grave (Story of a Soul, p. 13).

This statement is echoed in Isaiah 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” There is also God’s enigmatic statement in Isaiah 65:1: I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask.” Thus, God does give more to some, to some less. It’s His unfathomable choice. It is perplexing, puzzling, mysterious. God is master of His own gifts.

Sometimes, when I’m on a train platform, or in a train seat, I wonder how God presents Himself to, or is apprehended by the person standing or sitting near me.

There is the scene in the third chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus tells a Pharisee named Nicodemus about being “born again”—referring to a spiritual rebirth. Jesus goes further and says: “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know from where it comes, or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn.3:1-8). The implication seems to be that the kind of rebirth Jesus has in mind is elusive and mysterious and entirely God’s doing.

Allied to these citations is that of Philippians 1:6 where Paul says: “I am sure that God, who has begun this work in you, will bring it to completion.” We should learn to think of ourselves as God’s work, God’s handiwork. From my own experiences, I’ve found that any notable experience of God feels much more like Someone has found me.

It is God who sanctifies us. God does not love us because we are good. God loves us because He is good.

A few more observations:

As the number of persons participating in our churches is dramatically decreasing, the number of persons in the country interested in spirituality is proportionally increasing. Contact with the worldly may arouse a longing for the spiritual. Spirituality is the hook back into the faith.

Many moderns stress that they are spiritual, but not religious. I don’t think one can be spiritual and not religious. However, people can be religious and not spiritual.

Finally, there is Julian of Norwich’s (d. 1413) statement that “most people are spiritual babies.”

It was a world much like our own…150 years ago in France. There was war and rumors of war. Catholics were under attack by the press, parishes were in disrepair, religion was ridiculed by atheistic intellectuals, and the government harassed the Church because of its teachings.

A Catholic woman from Tours believed there was only one hope to combat this spiritual and political assault: a return to the Eucharist.

As a result, Mlle Marie Marthe Emelie Tamisier spent ten years petitioning the clergy to hold a Eucharistic Congress. During that time, she led pilgrimages to holy sites where Eucharistic miracles had occurred and inspired by her friendship with Father Peter Julian Eymard, who was later canonized, she promoted Eucharistic adoration as a response to the militant atheism of the era.

Although she received little recognition in her lifetime, she was eventually successful in her campaign to have a congress in Lille, France in 1881. The theme of the First International Eucharistic Congress was “The Eucharist Saves the World,” which would be a provocative concept today when two-thirds of professed Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Blessed Sacrament.

Pope Leo XIII, who approved the first congress, which was followed by 51 more, proclaimed: “Our belief is that the renovation of the world will be brought about only by the Holy Eucharist.”

Think about those words. Do we believe that? We live in a world in much need of renovation, and Christ in the Eucharist is our only hope in a world gone seriously wrong. As they said in 1881: The Eucharist saves the world—not political movements, not governments, not social causes, not corporations, not academia. How strange that must sound to people who think the Eucharist is nothing more than a 2,000-year-old symbol.

We should never forget the unequivocal words of Jesus, which have inspired countless non-Catholics to come into our faith: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)

Eucharistic Congresses bring together clergy, religious and laity to give witness to the fundamental doctrine of the Real Presence with open-air Masses, adoration, prayerful devotions, and talks.

Beginning this June 19 on the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ), the Bishops of the United States are launching a three-year revival of devotion and belief in the Real Presence. It will lead up to the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in nearly fifty years, which is expected to bring 100,000 Catholics to Indianapolis.

“God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission ‘for the life of the world,’” the bishops said in a statement.

St. Teresa of Calcutta did not use complex theological terms when she talked about the power and mystery of the Real Presence.

“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on Earth,” she said. “The good news is Jesus is here with us TODAY—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. Although Jesus comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine, his presence is as real to us now as he was flesh-and-blood-real to his disciples when he walked this Earth. He can perform miracles, heal us, teach us, and love us. We can talk to him, and he can speak to us.”

Always remember that the Eucharist—and only the Eucharist—saves the world. If that sounds preposterous, you need to strengthen your faith in the power and glory of the Blessed Sacrament. Sit before Christ in adoration and ask him to give you the graces you need because until we truly believe the Eucharist saves the world, it won’t be saved.

As Servant of God John Hardon S.J. once said: “Without faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, there is no Catholic Church.”

I have always been fascinated by the idea of time travel. My favorite books and movies all center on the manipulation of time and space and what we, as humans, would do if we had autonomy over it.

As I grow older, time is something I never seem to have enough of, and I constantly wish for more. There never seems to be enough time to get laundry done, go grocery shopping, finish multiple projects and read all the books you want to read (because that, of course, is the highest on my priority list).

In actuality, as I get older, the highest thing on my priority list is quality time with my friends and loved ones. It is my “love language,” as they say. Time with my closest people is what fills me up and gives me the strength to do all those other things on the weekly task list.

My current goal, now that life is returning to an almost “pre-pandemic” state of busyness, is to try and retain some of that time that I so greatly miss. I am taking all the necessary steps in my life to get there. Of course, this requires some changes and shifts in priorities, but I feel that it is essential to make these changes for my health and well-being.

My sister’s wedding is just a few days away as I write this. She is getting married at our home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull where we went to school and received all our sacraments. I am looking forward to it with great anticipation. I know it will be a hectic day, but I am making it my goal to remain present and not get caught up in the schedule but rather enjoy every moment.

My most considerable excitement for the day, besides celebrating my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law, is being able to see friends and family that we haven’t seen in a while and have everyone gathered together at once.

We tend to glorify busyness in our modern world, but I relish challenging that. Our worth isn’t defined by how busy we are; our value is defined in Christ. He created us all in His image, and in that, we can find peace.

I read something recently to the effect of “we shouldn’t save saying all the wonderful things about our loved ones for funerals; we should say them at birthdays and weddings and happy celebrations so that things never get left unsaid.” I loved this sentiment.

In light of the recent acts of violence in our country, this is even more pertinent. The time we have with our friends and loved ones is even more sacred. I don’t want to have to look back and wish I could time travel in order to say and do the things I wanted to, in order to tell the people I love how much they mean to me.

Jesus’ message was love, and I feel like we are losing sight of that. We need more love; we need more understanding, and we need more time. All we need to do is look to His example of how He treated and loved others and we have all the answers we need.

Back in the tumultuous ’60s when I was a teenager, I was a self-proclaimed authority on hypocrites…and mostly everyone I encountered was a hypocrite, especially the people in church.

Sad to say, my distorted beliefs led to countless arguments with my mother, who in her simple piety was always in church and praying the Rosary. I suppose by default I counted her among the hypocritical masses I used to denounce.

“They’re hypocrites, I tell you! All of them!” I would sneer. At 16 years old, I was an authority on the human condition. “Church is filled with hypocrites!” I told her.

If they had a training program for 20th century Pharisees, I could have gotten a scholarship.

I was not alone. It seemed that every teenager in America had the solution to the world’s problems, but no one would listen to us. We were angry young men and women.

For her part, my long-suffering mother would respond calmly: “They go to church because they realize they’re not perfect… like you.” Ouch. That last part hurt, and it still hurts 50 years later.

Looking back, I have to say, “Mom, wherever you are—and I hope it’s the good place—you were right, and I was wrong.” Most of the people I criticized were good people trying to become better people.

There’s a saying that could have come right out of St. Augustine’s writings, but it appears in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, which says: “We are not saints. The point is that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines….We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”

That should be the attitude of Christians everywhere. None of us in perfect. And there’s no standing still in the spiritual life. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.

Throughout history, critics of the Church have used religious hypocrisy as an excuse to justify everything from atheism to outright assaults. That’s one reason the so-called “Nones” have abandoned organized religion.

It also has been an excuse for critics of religion like Christopher Hitchens, who wrote “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of “The Scarlet Letter,” and Sinclair Lewis, who wrote “Elmer Gantry.”

Of course, the fact that believers are flawed is hardly proof God doesn’t exist. It just means we humans are imperfect by nature and in serious need of redemption. Our failings are not God’s.

Jesus recognized the effect that religious hypocrisy could have on believers when he said of the Scribes and Pharisees: “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men.”

When it comes to hypocrisy, it’s always good to leave the judging to Jesus and concentrate on our own imperfections…or as they say in AA: “Take your own inventory.”

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged,” Jesus said. “For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

One of my favorite prayers was written by St. Ephrem, a 4th century deacon who lived in a cave above the city of Edessa. He clearly understood our fallen state and recognized the need for redemption.

“O, Lord and Master of Life, take from me the spirit of laziness, meddling, ambition and vain talk,” he wrote. “But give me a spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and faults and not judge my brother. For You are blessed forever and ever.”

I like to think my mother was praying for my change of heart because decades later, when I look out at the congregation, I don’t see a gathering of hypocrites. I see a lot of sinners like me. And I try to leave the judging to Jesus even though it’s not always easy.

One of the things I am most grateful for in my life are my strong female friendships. Some of these women I have known for my entire life. We see each other through the most difficult times, and we celebrate with each other in our achievements, accomplishments and good fortunes.

I know how rare it is to have such strong connections last into adulthood. I appreciate them beyond measure. I know that they will be there for me whenever I call, and I hope they know they can count on me to return the favor.

It has always stood out to me that three women were the ones huddled under the Cross during His crucifixion. In His most desperate time of need, I can imagine that their presence made all the difference.

Just as the women in my life are always there, through good times and bad, the women were there, walking with Jesus on His way to Calgary, holding Him up, wiping His face, supporting Him in whatever way they could.

I can imagine that he looked into their faces and saw His pain reflected back to Him.

I can imagine that Judas’ betrayal must have been all the more difficult to bear, given the amount of time they spent traveling, living and sharing together.

I can imagine that it would have been exasperating when His apostles could not keep watch with Him while He prayed.

In my moments of need, a quick call or FaceTime with a friend can lift my spirits and bring solace to my soul. I know that I can come to them without judgment and they will know exactly what to say or do.

As we grow older, it brings me immense happiness to see all my friends grow into the wonderful women they have become and are continuing to become. I am sure that Jesus’ apostles were absolutely devastated to lose Jesus before His time? I am sure they anticipated being able to see Him become the man He was destined to be.

That is why, I can imagine the apostles were all the more shocked and awed upon Jesus’ resurrection. Especially after three days of hiding in fear and sadness, getting to spend time with their friend once more, all together, was a comfort to their broken spirits.

Mary Magdalene was the one to discover the tomb was empty. The women went to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body. I find this so like the women in my life. We check in with each other to make sure we return home safely, we are in each other’s bridal parties—throwing engagement parties and showers to celebrate. We bring each other soup and medicine when we are sick. The second time Jesus left the apostles, He left them with His Spirit, and a promise that He would remain with them. He knew exactly what they would need to continue on and bring forward His message to the world. And that they did….