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….

“S cratch his skin and you come upon bereavement, uncertainty, fear, and pain” (Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone, p. 69).

I’ve become convinced that somewhere in the inner life of almost everyone is a wound that has never healed. We are all wounded in one way or another, and lurking in all of us, as the Catholic novelist, Alice McDermott, put it, “there is the hunger to be comforted: (The Ninth Hour, p. 189).

I’ve also reached the conclusion that everyone is afraid of something. We all have secret fears to face. To be human is to be afraid. We are all scared and lonesome. There is the essential loneliness of everyone.

I’ve come to believe that possibly the greatest struggle for most people is learning to deal with disappointment. There is no end to a disappointment, it crops up again and again. People cannot simply shrug it off. We moan for lost opportunities. All people, at some point, are grieving and look backward with regrets.

There’s more. We are inevitably both victim and victimizer. We all betray other’s love, in some way. No one is totally reliable. There is so much betrayal. The world is overcrowded with unhappy love. Our own individual lives have brought a share of evil into the world. As Jesus put it, “Only God is good” (Mk.10:18).

No doubt, I’ll be regarded as giving a picture of a world that is filled with unhappy people, the wounded, aggrieved, and disappointed, burdened with regrets, memories of past injuries, the weight of all the unfairness of their lives. What I’m trying to say is that from listening with a good ear to people, one can conclude that when you get to know a man or woman carefully you can always begin to feel pity. We need to be kind, for everyone is carrying a heavy burden.

Of course, the world does not only consist of the wounded, aggrieved, and disappointed. In the midst of it, existence is charged with goodness. In the midst of it all there is kindness, indeed heroism, sacrifices. So much charity and decency radiate. One can get a sense of the positive and loving in humankind.

And there are so many luminous things in life: springtime, mimosa trees, blackbirds, Mozart, love, wine, dancing, the smile of a friend. There are many moments of being surprised by joy.

One can be gripped by the joy of being alive, “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).

There is the grandeur of human existence. We are to enjoy life’s goodness. Life contains moments of exhilaration.

Still, a fundamental, unalterable truth of life is that we will certainly encounter a lot of sadness as life goes on. Everyone has a sad tale to tell. There is the incurable sadness of human existence. Therese of Lisieux spoke of “our sad earth.” There is no doubt that life will show us all the face of loss.

The main thing I want to say is that I think that each of us is put here to help dilute to some degree the misery in the world. This is what Jesus did throughout his public ministry: “Jesus went throughout Galilee and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Mt.4:23).

To some extent we all live life under the sign of the cross (Edith Stein). In the end we fade, wear out, disappear. While there is still time, we strive to be willing to be, as our faith calls us to be, stirred with a deep sense of compassion for people who just want a bit of happiness in a grim world. We strive to show some love, affection, give some recognition, appreciation, understanding, make their world somewhat of a less lonely place. Above all, friendship is listening; listening is the exercise of love. “If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself (Saint Peter Chrysologus).

This Lent, I went through the same ordeal I’ve gone through since fourth grade, when the Sisters of St. Joseph asked us what we were “giving up.”

It was a daunting concept for a 9-year-old, and it’s still daunting decades later. I can almost hear Sister’s voice. Correction #1: I can actually hear Sister’s voice as she stood at the front of the class in her black habit and stared ominously at us kids, whacking her 16-inch ruler against her hand. Correction #2: There was no ruler. I just added that for dramatic effect because every person I know who was taught by nuns has a story about the “16-inch ruler.”

After she explained Lent, Sister asked, “So what are you going to give up?”

In a terrifying act of public confession or commitment—or whatever it was supposed to be— we had to proclaim our intentions, right there on the spot. A collective gulp resonated through the classroom.

My classmates did some quick thinking, and many of them resorted to the time-honored tradition of responding, “Candy.” The more ambitious students, who wanted to get into Sister’s good graces, replied, “Candy and ice cream.” I suppose it would have been terribly unsettling if someone said, “smoking” or “swearing.”

So candy it was although, truth be told, I never succeeded in my resolution. Usually around Week Four, I lapsed and snuck some Peanut M&M’s and was consumed by guilt.

That “giving up” concept seemed to fall out of favor a few years ago, when we were told it was outdated and that instead of giving up, we should be giving alms.

This Lent, I decided to try something different. My goal is to get closer to Christ. I want to “up my game,” as athletes say. Golfers do stuff like this all the time, so do bowlers. Very often we’re trying to get better at something, but how much effort do we put into getting better spiritually and improving our relationship with Jesus?

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we’re not getting closer to Jesus, we’re moving further away from him. There’s no standing still. That’s a fundamental law of spiritual physics.

Yes, I want to get closer to Christ. And while I can commit to praying more rosaries, doing some meditation and adding a few other devotions, I’ve decided to take a different approach, one I discovered after I wrote a story about a young woman who entered a monastery in Roswell, New Mexico.

Last year, Brianna Farens of Shelton was invested as Sister Maria Antonia of the Holy Wounds of Jesus in the cloistered religious order at the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

She had been headed for a career in medicine, inspired by her father Dr. John Farens, when the Holy Spirit intervened and she discovered her true calling was to follow Christ in the contemplative life.

Before then, she went into her own spiritual desert for several years—praying, searching, discerning and waiting for Jesus’ directions. During that time, her prayer was a simple one. It is a prayer that all of us should say every day because it’s a prayer that Jesus will always answer. It is: “Lord, I just want to be closer to you.”

Jesus will never deny that request because the primary goal in our lives should be to grow in holiness. When you say that prayer, you can be sure you’re coming closer to Jesus even if you don’t realize it. You might not immediately detect the changes, which can be imperceptible to us, but not to him because Jesus works at his own pace.

As the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah: “When you search for me, you will find me. If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.” So, I’m taking him at his word.

This Lent, I’d urge you to say, “Lord, help me move closer to you” as often as possible. You won’t regret it. Thank you, Sister Maria Antonia, for a prayer of immeasurable value.

And just so you don’t think I’m sitting down on the job, I also resolved, somewhat reluctantly, to give up candy so hide the M&M’s.

I recently stumbled upon an Instagram post by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Morgan Harper Nichols, that stood out to me in a big way.

It was a simple drawing of a rest stop sign that said “Rest Stop: 5 miles” and in parentheses stated, “And you are not weak for needing rest.”

Morgan wrote, “How wonderful would it be if the ‘rest stop’ signs that lined the interstate also lined the interstate of life.”

I immediately reposted.

In my adult life, I’ve often found that it takes me a longer time than most to recover from busyness. I am very easily overstimulated. After being around large groups of people—or even after simple tasks such as talking on the phone or going to the store—I need to give myself a break, sit in quiet, or lose myself in a simple task like reading a book.

I have often felt weak for needing this. So Morgan’s reminder that you are not weak for needing rest really hit home for me.

We need to pay attention to the things we need in order to be our best selves, and we need to make that clear to others. This is something I’m working on.

I know exactly how much I can take on, and I know exactly when I’m pushing myself too hard and saying yes to too many things. This self-awareness comes with practice, but I have little ways of noticing. I start to forget things and make silly mistakes, and that is when I know I need to pull back.

In our modern society, this isn’t something that is often accepted. People understand when others are physically sick, but that seems to be the only time we allow for rest.

Sometimes saying, “I just have too much on my plate right now and I simply cannot take this task on,” is not accepted. Because everyone’s busy, and everyone’s tired and everyone needs rest.

People will push back on you when you try to assert your needs.

But Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We have a Sabbath day builtin for rest.

Jesus often took solitary time away to rest and he encouraged those following him to rest, as well. “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

As the weather starts to get warmer and spring approaches, let us turn our faces toward the sun.

We have all lived through a pandemic that drastically changed our lives for almost three years. I’d say that, alone, is a good enough reason to allow for rest.

What is life if not lived, and how can we live if we don’t allow ourselves the time?

I can’t imagine that Jesus’ disciples, upon His crucifixion, wished for anything but more quality time with their loved one. And if we are too overwhelmed with tasks and to-do lists, when can we have that time? It is often not until a tragedy such as a loss or an illness occurs that we allow for rest.

But I challenge you (and myself) to not let it go on until then.

This Lenten season, can we listen to ourselves and those around us who are crying out for rest?

The year 2022 is already almost two months old. God created the world and with it time. We are temporal beings. I have difficulty comprehending the enormous time spans geologists and astronomers speak of. When a geologist tells me that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, or an astronomer that a star is ten million light years away, I think of how my life is bounded by hours, days, weeks and months. A million or a billion years have little meaning.

Lately, I frequently recall my boyhood time, those lost days never to be relived. There was all the dreaming and hopes of those days, so many hopes which have lost their wings. There was the boyhood sense of time. Time stood still for a while. A day could seem endless. June and summer seemed an infinity of time.

With aging, days seem so brief and slip away so easily. The realization that the early hours of a morning are already spent saddens me. The afternoon slipping away brings a gloom, and the evening advancing into the moat of lost time brings melancholy. The days are used up so quickly one by one. In his Ode, The Wreck of the Deutschland, Gerard Manley Hopkins compares the transitoriness of life with the sand slipping inevitably through an hourglass (stanza 4). Shakespeare put it this way: “like the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end.”

I grow more and more conscious of our earthly span of time. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). How many more chances will I have to welcome the Spring? We can’t dam the flow of time. I think of all the years passed, with their thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours. Sometimes I wonder about the rains and snows of my years. How many were there? How many drifting clouds have passed above me; how many winter winds have pounded me; how many gardens have flowered and faded around me?

We are given the gift of years, but as we grow older time can become an enemy. Our infirmities make us notice that part of our substance has been spoiled and engulfed—an end product deposited by time.

Life involves the destruction of much that is close to one and most dear. I think of all the people I loved who are gone. Family and friends die, while children flower, etching time and mortality even more sharply. Time steals that which we love. I want to keep everyone I love from leaving. But time keeps slipping them away.

The Second Vatican Council stated that God’s Spirit directs the unfolding of time (Gaudium Et Spes, 26). It also says that we are made for God, made to move to all that God is: the fullness of love, faith, peace and joy.”

There is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins titled That Nature is a Heraclitean fire.

It was one of the last poems Hopkins wrote, shortly before his death at age 44 in 1889.

The poem begins with a description of clouds; the movement of clouds across the sky is described. The poem pictures cloud shadows on the walls and buildings, sunlight through trees. Hopkins then moves on to a description of the winds. He gives a description of a cloudy, windy day after a rainstorm. The opening lines convey a delight in the world of nature.

Then Hopkins writes of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535- 475 BC). Heraclitus wrote about fire being an essential element in the world. What he meant by that was the idea that everything was in a state of flux, continually changing. More specifically, “fire” was Heraclitus’ way of indicating that everything which had been created would eventually be destroyed. He spoke of “Nature’s bonfire.”

Heraclitus observed that nothing is stable. All things are subject to time and annihilation. It is a world where nothing lasts. Everything, no matter how beautiful, must die. This includes human impermanence. Humans, too, must suffer obliteration like everything else. Humans too are destined to be put out like a candle.

Hopkins’ reflections continue to spiral downward. But then, with the dramatic word “Enough,” he turns to ideas about the Resurrection, which counters the darkness of human extinction. Hopkins declares humans to be “immortal diamonds.” A diamond is something that was previously buried in the earth but is as permanent and immutable as anything we know. It is something solid and everlasting. A diamond is something that can reflect and sparkle with a light that shines on and through it. A diamond suggests something permanent and unchanging. Hopkins is saying that we humans have eternal worth. We shall rise and bloom to fade no more.

There is the resounding affirmation of the last lines of the poem:

“In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and this Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, is immortal diamond.

Is Immortal Diamond.”

(Jack—workday, ordinary human; joke—foolish person; poor potsherd—shard of broken pottery; matchwood—something that spends itself in a short, temporal flame, short lived)

Hopkins also wrote: “All life death does end and each day dies with sleep. Now it is all death life does end, and each day lives forever.”

(In Westminster Abbey, the most notable religious building in England, the traditional place of coronations, there is the “Poet’s Corner.” This is a wide wall where slabs of stone are embedded. The stones contain the names of famous poets and a few words most associated with the poet. In 1976, Hopkins was established in Poet’s Corner. The slab bearing Hopkins’ name also has the words “Immortal Diamond.”)

It began like any other Mass until we got to the penitential rite and started praying: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done…and in what I have failed to do.”

It was as if I heard those words for the first time. You know the words because you’ve said them thousands of times. In my case, I never took them as seriously as the “what I have done” sins, which typically include swearing, lying, gossiping and other unseemly misdeeds I’ll leave for the confessional.

As Catholics, we have countless “do nots” built into our brains, but what about the elusive things that fall between the moral cracks in the “what I failed to do” category? I’m not just talking about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and giving someone a drink of cold water. Or putting more cash in the second collection or missing Mass. I’m talking about the small situations where someone needed compassion, and I was there to help…but didn’t.

I’m talking about the times when people needed something simple, and I could have fulfilled that need, but was “too busy.”

I have the feeling that Christ put me there for a purpose, and instead I walked away because it was inconvenient, or I figured it was someone else’s responsibility. Unfortunately, “someone else” wasn’t around but I was.

For example, the time—or times—I didn’t answer the phone because it was a relative who always needs money, probably because of a gambling problem. The time I didn’t answer the phone because the person who called constantly complains, and I didn’t want to listen to more grumbling about COVID-19 mandates or Donald Trump or whatever was on that day’s agenda. And the time I didn’t respond to an email from a friend who had surgery because I was tired of his attacks on the Church. And the time I didn’t call back when a friend left a message on the answering machine, only to learn later that he was getting a divorce and needed to talk.

Sometimes I have this haunting vision of Jesus giving me my life review, and he pauses at the incident where I said to a person, “I’m too busy to deal with this,” and walked away.

Then, he tells me, “I sent that person to you for help.” Uh oh.

It’s easy to do things for people when you get something in return, such as recognition, praise, a pat on the back, your picture in the paper, or a certificate of appreciation. But the real challenge is the unseen service to people who are annoying and can’t repay you in any way.

When I think of these so-called sins of omission, I recall that scene in “A Christmas Carol” when the ghost of Jacob Marley visited his former partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, rattling his chains. He came to warn Scrooge about the chain which he had been forging for years…because of what he failed to do.

Before leaving, Marley leads Scrooge to the window, and he looks out on that cold Christmas Eve to see the night filled with phantoms, who are terribly distraught because they want “to interfere for good in human matters but had lost the power forever.”

It was too late for them to do the good, which they failed to do in life.

One of the spiritual works of mercy is comforting the afflicted, and sometimes that means nothing more than listening with compassion or having a few kind words for someone who’s lonely or distraught.

Have you ever been sick and wondered, “Why hasn’t my son (or daughter) called to see how I am?”

Have you ever been depressed and thought to yourself, “I don’t have anyone I can confide in?”

Have you ever waited for the results of a medical test, and no one else seemed to care about your anxiety?

Have you ever lost a beloved pet, and people just didn’t seem to appreciate the depth of your grief?

We live in an age afflicted by spiritual viruses called “self-interest” and “narcissism,” and because of them, many of us “fail to do” what we should be doing.

The time is fast approaching when one will either be a mystic or a non-believer (Karl Rahner).

I have long been fascinated and intrigued by mysticism and mystics. A certain state of prayer is termed “mystical.” It affirms the possibililty of a direct contact with God, that is, without intermediaries. That statement amounts to saying that it is possible for a human being to “touch” the absolute, the ultimate Reality. There is an experiential knowing of God. The Divine Essence makes itself palpable. There is the fascinating terminology mystics use: they speak of a “transforming union,” of a “spiritual fusion” of the soul and the Divine Essence. The mystics speak metaphorically of “spiritual espousals.”

Mysticism is not a peculiarly Catholic phenomenon. There are the mystical systems of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism; and the mystical phenomena have a striking resemblance. As Simone Weil stated “the mystics of all Religious Traditions resemble one another to the point of identity.” (Letter to a Religious, p. 49)

These ideas about mysticism make my interior life seem so superficial and mediocre, mawkish. I feel I’ve been feeding on spiritual baby food. Vatican Council II spoke of the universal call to holiness, and holiness involves the mystical life.

The experience of God which the mystics describe is not reserved for the spiritual elite. Karl Rahner spoke of “low level mysticism”, and Thomas Merton spoke of “street mysticism”, by which he meant “mystical moments,” which many (most) people have. “Mystical moments” can be taken to refer to “epiphanies.” Epiphany in Greek means an unveiling, there is some appearance of divinity among mortals. Someone grasps a deeper, more essential reality. There is a sudden illumination, a moment of transcendence. These mystical moments occur to many (most) of us. I can remember a couple particular such brief instances in my life.

I particularly remember an early Sunday Spring morning. I was visiting my sister, and was alone on her porch. I sensed the fresh dawn, and it is the sounds I particularly remember: the sound of birds calling to each other; the chirrup of grasshoppers in the sunshine; the clicking dishes from the kitchen; the radio purring in my sister’s room above. I was filled with a profound satisfaction with life. There was a feeling of integration with a greater reality, an experience of merging with something eternal—there was a powerful experience of God’s presence, indeed, an experience of God, a transcendental moment. It was like a flash, a holy spark. This moment passed and I returned to my customary way of experiencing things. But it happened, this glimpse of a direct contact with God.

I particularly remember something similar happening during a certain summer morning in a park. There was the smell of summer. Again, it is the sounds I particularly remember: the laughter of children and the voices of their mothers; the yells and laughter coming from a basketball court. Again, there was a sensation of intense happiness and a union with a “Greater Vitality.” Aristotle spoke of these kinds of experiences and regarded them as among the highest happenings to humans. and as the root of true happiness.

I’m convinced that these brief priceless moments happen to most of us. In 2016, the Gallup organization asked Americans if they had had a mystical experience, a moment when they went beyond the ordinary self and felt connected to some infinity. Eighty four percent of the respondents said they had had such an experience at least once.

There is such a thing as “street mysticism,” moments of divine illumination. Most of us are momentary mystics, “street mystics” who have mystical moments that come now and again upon us, moments of sudden divine illumination.

Street mysticism involves only a small portion of what is given to the great mystics, but God does take an opportunity for breaking into human times. Life gives us moments, and there are times when time withdraws and boundaries blur, and there is a personal experience with God. Something is glimpsed. There is a kind of expansion of consciousness to a greater reality, an expansion beyond image or actual thought. There is a kind of intuition, an immediate awareness. Something is revealed beyond ordinary seeing, and there is a feeling of integration with that reality.

T.S. Eliot, in “Little Gidding” spoke of “the timeless moment” and the particular place where it is experienced as “the intersection.”

Unfortunately, in our times mysticism has been neglected or shelved or ignored.

Do you remember those good ole days when your parents told you that respectable people don’t talk about politics, sex or religion in polite society? They were three taboos you never mentioned.

I suspect the old-timers knew something we don’t, and if we heeded their advice, this world would be a happier place. Well, if not a happier place, at least a more harmonious place.

Times have changed. Just a casual observation of society will tell you that sex is the only thing the entertainment industry, the advertising industry, the celebrity class and countless others want to talk about, to the point that it has permeated all aspects of modern life and led to a pandemic of pornography and sexual harassment.

And for the past eight years, politics has been a national obsession that’s tearing us apart and destroying our spiritual and emotional equilibrium. We talk a great deal about politics, but it doesn’t seem to do any good because, as they say, talk is cheap. I’ve always thought that time could be spent more profitably in prayer, which produces decidedly more positive results.

It’s reached a point where we don’t merely talk about politics. We constantly argue about it in heated and sometimes violent confrontations. I have a lawyer friend who’s so obsessed with political causes he spends a large part of his day defending COVID-19 mandates, Build Back Better and abortion rights. I suspect he loses sleep thinking about them. He also believes there’s no place for religious beliefs in politics.

I have another friend in the medical profession, who believes liberals are responsible for the demise of everything good in America and the rise of everything bad, from secular humanism to militant atheism and persecution of the Catholic Church by the media and the entertainment industry.

Both of these people are believers, but they make me wonder, “What Would Jesus Do?” Does Jesus judge us by our political views? Is he willing to write off half of America because they’re conservative? Or will he turn his back on the other half because they’re liberal?

That brings me to the third traditional taboo—religion. For the most part, discussions about religion in secular society are derogatory. There’s been such a perversion of traditional values that the media often accuse religious people of being the cause of the country’s problems and of obstructing the democratic process because they put their faith first. They would probably have Christians burn a pinch of incense in honor of Caesar to demonstrate their true loyalties.

More than once, I’ve heard politicians and commentators blame religion for America’s unrest. Unfortunately, they often point their finger at the Catholic Church, contending that religion is a major obstacle to “progress,” as they try to push God out of modern life, with tragic results.

A friend of mine worked for many years in a privately owned home-care company that had as its mission statement “Put God first in all we do.” Over the holiday, he called to tell me a West Coast technology company had acquired them, and on the first day of the new ownership, the “Put God first” rule got tossed out. Profits and progress were probably more important. It’s a common occurrence in a society that’s antithetical to faith.

That attitude presents a challenge for Catholics who aren’t afraid to talk about their faith in an age when saying something as inoffensive as “God bless you” can get you hauled into the Human Resources department and brought up on charges.

The goal of any Christian who wants to spread the Gospel should be to break the taboo and bring Christ into a conversation. Talking about Christ is a lot more productive than talking about sex or politics, and in the process you might help Jesus save some souls, which should be the goal of every Catholic.

Countless people are wandering in darkness, and they don’t even know it. They’re oblivious of the Good News, and talking about your religion might be the only encounter they’ll ever have to open the doors of their hearts to Jesus and introduce them to an entirely new life. All you have to do is plant the seed and Jesus will do the rest. So in the new year, make a resolution to share your faith.

I am writing to you from day five of my quarantine with COVID-19, and I can tell you right now it is not something you want to get. After now having first-hand experience with the virus, I have an even greater appreciation for all who worked to make vaccines and boosters readily available. From the way my body is reacting, I can tell that I would be much worse for wear if I weren’t fully protected.

Our frontline workers are doing important, life-saving work right now and they deserve our love, our prayers and our unwavering support. When I think of them, I think of how Jesus would heal those who would come to Him. The paralytic (Matthew 9:1- 7), the woman with the 12-year affliction (Mark 5:25-34), the man with leprosy (Matthew 8). Would He not provide healing whenever and wherever He could?

As I isolate out of love for others, I am actively working to remain grateful. I started chronicling at least one moment of joy and gratitude each day as I recuperate.

The flowers my mom dropped off, adding beauty to my space.

The soup a friend made, accompanied by a sweet personalized note.

An at-home yoga video to keep my body moving even when it is hard.

A beach I can walk to to see the sunset.

A book a friend sent, reminding me they care.

Friends who journey to the store for late-night medicinal needs.

Although I am physically isolated, I feel an outpouring of love from those around me. They remind me I’m not alone and that my well-being matters to them.

For someone who loves to be active, it is difficult to let my body rest. But the thing about being sick is, it makes you take that time because it’s what your body needs to recover. I am grateful that I can take this time to get better, because many people are finding they have to go to work, even when they are ill, to make ends meet.

In a world that often places our worth in our productivity, Jesus implores us to do the exact opposite. To Him, we are inherently worthy. Worthy of love, worthy of care, worthy of healing.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).

This has often been difficult for me to understand because it is so contrary to what we’ve been taught all our lives. Society weighs us by our achievements, how we perform, what we can give others. But, as Christians, we have to actively fight that notion. Humans are worthy simply because they are. They have dignity simply because it is so.

I can’t physically leave my house right now, but my friends and family remind me that my worth does not disappear because I cannot be available to them.

We are precious in His eyes and honored and loved.

We could let COVID-19 be the great isolator, letting it cut down the “less able” and using tropes like “survival of the fittest,” or we could let it be the great unifier—allowing us to understand that we are all human, we are all susceptible to sickness and pain, but that does not make us less worthy of love.

We could all use a little more love these days. So let us be His hands and feet and bring that love to others.

We all know the story of the Three Kings who journeyed from the East to pay homage to a king born in a stable in Bethlehem. But this wasn’t any king. It was Christ the King.

Their story, which evolved over the centuries, centers on the account in Matthew 2:1-12. The wise men heard of the prophecy and followed a star. They went to King Herod in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

Herod was distraught. This was a threat to his kingship. Matthew wrote: “After their audience with the king, they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, author of “Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men,” said, “The three kings joining the humble shepherds to worship the Christ child symbolize the equality of Christians in the eyes of the God who became poor for our sake. The kings worship the King of Kings, and the shepherds adore the Good Shepherd.”

That brief encounter with a newborn baby changed them forever. They spent their lives spreading the news about the King of Kings and were martyred for their faith. They realized Christ’s kingship was infinitely greater than Herod the (so-called) Great’s…and any other temporal power on Earth.

There’s a lesson here, and the lesson is simple. We should give homage to Christ, not to political leaders, especially when governments increasingly promote agendas that violate our beliefs. For many Catholics, politics has become a fake faith.

At the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which Pope Pius XI established in 1925 in response to the growing and pernicious influence of secularism. In his encyclical “Quas Primas,” he reminded the world that Christ is our real King, and to him alone we owe allegiance—not to a monarchy, not to a prime minister, not to a dictator, not to a president.

Living in the aftermath of World War I, Pius XI knew that kings rise and fall, leaders come and go, but Christ is forever.

In his encyclical, he said that “manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics…. And as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace.”

During these troubled times, we should remember that no matter the storms that rage across this land, ignited by political agendas, Jesus is in control. Jesus has always been in control and that everything is unfolding according to his plan.

A novena to Christ the King clearly states what our priority should be:

“Christ, our Savior and our King, renew in me allegiance to Your Kingship.

I pray for the grace to place You above the powers of this world in all things.

I pray for the grace to obey You before any civic authority.

I pray for the grace to fervently bring about Your Kingdom in my family and community. I pray that You will reign in my mind. O Prince of Peace, may Your reign be complete in my life and in the life of the world… Christ the King, may your kingdom come!”

Like the Three Kings, there was another martyr for Christ 2000 years later. A 14-year-old Mexican boy named Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, was shot in the head by government soldiers because he refused to renounce Christ. His crime? He was a Catholic.

The soldiers told him, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we’ll spare your life.”
It was a simple choice— renounce Christ or be executed. He cried in pain from wounds they had inflicted with a machete, but he did not give in, and his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King! (Joe Pisani can be reached at

I recently attended a funeral for a family friend who was my age. I have the fondest memories of us playing together when we were little. One of the things I remember most about her was her strong faith and love for God. She had many health struggles, battling cystic fibrosis her whole life, but she always carried such a light and had an aura of hope about her. She had a fiery spirit to match her fiery red hair.

She called me up last year, in the midst of the pandemic, looking for a local church that she could attend regularly. Even amongst everything that was going on in her life and in the world, she sought out a faith community. I remember having such admiration for that.

After her passing, it feels very strange to be joyful, especially at Christmas time. I am at an exciting time in my life, where doors and opportunities are opening up along with the world, which has seemed so shuttered in the past few years. But I find myself questioning why she didn’t get to continue to experience all these wonderful things as well.

I was struck by something Bishop Caggiano recently said in his homily at the Dedication Mass for the new recreation center at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk. The Mass was celebrated on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy.

The bishop said, “We are not always promised that we will be happy, but we are promised that we will have the gift of joy. For joy comes from the deep trust that we have in our hearts that no matter what happens to us, challenges before us, or suffering we face, our God will be before us.”

I immediately thought of Abby. Even as she struggled with her health, she had joy. She had a deep trust that God had a plan for her and that her suffering was a part of that plan. She lived her life unapologetically.

Similarly, as the parish of St. Matthew celebrated the dedication of their new recreation center, many missed the presence of Msgr. Orlowski, who began the project in 2018 and for whom the center is named.

Even though the parish still mourns his loss, they were able to celebrate this joyful occasion in his memory.

The bishop mentioned that although Monsignor experienced suffering and challenges, he had the gift of joy in his heart.

Abby did too. And I think she would want us to remember that most of all. There will be suffering, but there will also be joy. And perhaps the two can exist simultaneously.

The priest who said the homily at Abby’s funeral explained that God was not just a puzzle piece in her life, but rather He was the table or surface on which she put the puzzle pieces of her life together. God was the foundation on which she built her life—and that will be my Christmas this year—the understanding that Christ is close to us.

Is this why she was able to have joy even in the face of hardship? I’d like to think it was.

As I was saying goodbye to Abby’s family, her dad pulled out a small Rosary from his pocket, mentioning that she had it with her. I’d like to think it was a comfort to her, as it now will be to him.

The night before Abby’s funeral I had a dream about her. We were playing together again in the backyard, our laughter that of immense joy. I think I’ll hold on to that memory, and I think it is how I will always remember her.

Almost everybody in the world gets married—you know what I mean? In our town there aren’t hardly any exceptions. Most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married…. Yes, people are meant to go through life two by two, ‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome.” (Our Town, Act Two)

I called her Aunt Betty and him Uncle Gasper, even though they were not related to me.

These fictive relatives were two never-married people, childhood friends of my mother.

The friendships withstood the test of time, entering a new phase when my mother married and was willing to share her children with her two ever-single friends.

Betty and I shared the same birthday, and often the same birthday parties; this helped create a special bond between us. She once told me I was her nephew, not by blood, but by affection.

I have the warmest memories of “uncle” Gasper. He was a significant part of my youth. He provided me with profound and simple joys. There were fishing trips, firemen’s carnivals, trips to baseball games, walks in the woods. Nothing was too ordinary for Gasper not to notice. I would mimic him and play a game I named “Notice Things.” At times, however, I felt what Gasper wanted me to feel and owe to him a certain capacity to let life in. He left me with a legacy of allowing experiences to touch me, with a certain capacity to keep my heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life, to see the beauty in ordinary things.

About five percent of men and six percent of women over 65 years of age have never been married. The literature on older never married people is scarce, but generally it finds no differences in the mental and physical health of people who live alone and those who live with others. What makes people feel lonely is dissatisfaction with ties that they have. There is research that finds that never-married people indicate fewer symptoms of psychological disturbance and are less likely to be users of psychotropic drugs than married people (cf. Jessie Bernard, “The Paradox of the Happy Marriage,” 1972). However, some literature reveals, for instance, that never-married people tend to have shorter lifespans than married people.

During my time at Sacred Heart University, by contacting a number of agencies for the elderly, some senior citizen centers and organizations for retired people in Fairfield County, Conn.

I found 20 women and 18 men, never-married and over the age of 65, who were willing to be interviewed by me. My interviewees did not seem to feel especially lonely. Two of them pointed out that some surveys indicate that approximately 80 percent of married couples have seriously considered divorce. A few of the men who lived alone told how cooking for themselves, and eating in solitude were very difficult. A couple of the women also stated that eating one’s solitary dinner was difficult.

If my interviews are any indication, as a group never-married people seem to have come to terms with their lives, the choices they made, and learned how to adjust. Many of them spoke of having a propensity for solitude; they were comfortable with it. As one woman put it: “I’ve come to the point, maybe because I’ve had it for so long, where being alone is often a necessity for me.

For instance, I’ll go traveling with my married friends and at the end of a week I’m glad to see them go to their homes, and I’ll come to my own for the peace and solitude I have… I love my friends dearly, but to live with them, no.” A few of the women said that while they missed having children, they never missed not having a husband.

My interviews would indicate that while unmarried men, compared to unmarried women are not very socially involved with either organizations or friends, they are not a group of isolates who lead emotionally impoverished lives. The picture that emerges is that of “natural loners,” for whom such things as “keeping in touch with nephews and nieces are nonetheless very important.

They liked it when relatives came to them for help of some kind. The men would say things like, “They’re my family. If they need help, I’m there, and I’ve been paid back in all kinds of ways.”

A few of the interviewees pointed out that being single eliminated the burden of more relatives and their problems.

Almost to a person, the interviewees identified freedom as the most important asset of their life-style and establishing one’s niche in a married world as the major problem. For instance, one woman said “most of the women I know are grandmothers, and that’s what they talk about.” Under disadvantages, some men mentioned “not having had someone to share victories with. After some achievement I’d have to go home alone.”

No companionship in the evening was a problem. However, a number of women made touching observations like “so many of my friends who are my age don’t have anyone either; So many of their husbands died in their 50s. In fact, all of my girlfriends are widows, every one of them. So, they’re alone, too, That’s sad.”

A stereotype of unmarried people is that they are highly involved in church activities. That was far from true for my interviewees. The majority were negative about organized religion, but tended to believe in God and in Chesterton’s dictum about all on earth should believe they have something to give the world that cannot otherwise be given. This was eloquently expressed by a woman who said: “I firmly believe that the good Lord has a general pattern, and we all fit into it like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The whys and wherefores we’ll all know someday, but we fit into the puzzle. We get nudges, and I think I have answered the nudges that God has sent me. I fit into the pattern.”

The truth of it seems to be that the unmarried state is a many-faceted creature that has its associated losses and gains. Life is a trade-off. As my Aunt Betty once put it: “For me, being unwed is just having one set of troubles instead of another.”

The American author, John Updike, wrote the following: “Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we’re dead we’re dead? Truth has to have more nooks and crannies, more ins and outs than that.”

The current secular irreligious worldview contains an astonishing number of self-described atheists. Web sites, blogs, journals, conferences provide a growing network of support for atheists. There is The American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, and as many as 90 percent of the members of the elite National Academy of Sciences state they are “nontheists.”

A vast amount of modern fiction presents life as though there were no God, and men and women had no religious side to their personalities.

Atheists deserve to be taken seriously, not treated as children. Many atheists lead meaningful lives. They often exert themselves for a better world. Humanist atheists often strive to bring peace, kindness, social responsibility, honesty into society. They are concerned with ending war, racism, poverty, injustice, philanthropic endeavors. Many atheists seem able to make themselves at home in a world without a supernatural.

However, there’s a couple of dispositions I’ve noticed about atheists. Many seem to have decided not to deal with the “big questions,” such as: What is it all about? Why are we here? Who are we? Why is there a world? Does life have a plot? Where are we going? As someone put it: Who are we under these stars, with the wind on our faces? What should we do? What may we hope? As I hear it, atheists think you must find meaning in yourself. You develop your own goals. The main thing is to strive to realize one’s full potential. The world is sufficient unto itself. Let us enjoy while we can, salvage the best that life has to offer.

The Jewish writer, Isaac Singer, points out that if people do not praise God, they will end up praising themselves. With the denial of God, the human community mainly has itself to fall back on. A friend in an email to me sung the praises of secular humanists saying, “they’re all wonderful people, interested in family, career, social justice. You’d love to have dinner with them…” I have had dinner with them. They were everything my friend said. I found them witty and pleasant—for about an hour; then I grew tired of them. When people give God His walking papers, then all we have is us, other people. That’s not enough, at least for me. We’re all flawed. I like people, even get along with people. But without the eternal consciousness, or whatever one wants to call it, they get boring.

I remember a time being with a group of people I would call secular humanists who were defining heaven has having good friends, and being with intelligent, insightful people, complimentary of each other. I thought that according to their definition I was in heaven. The people with me were all kindly, thoughtful, intelligent, complimentary. I kept thinking then why am I getting antsy to leave heaven. We are all surrounded by finite beings, all limited in some way. It can leave us with a sense of incompleteness that never fades. I’ve concluded that people are hungering for more than this world offers. What the earth gives us is often beautiful, but it is too poor to satisfy us fully. People try to tear away from the earth more than she can rightly give. We keep sensing something basic is missing. For me, the maxim of Dostoyevsky becomes more real: “I no longer am able to picture man without Him.” Human beings are ultimately understood in relation to God.

One learns to avoid mentioning anything about death to atheists. Walter Ciszek, in his book He Leadeth me, p. 147), tells how in a communist milieu, no pomp accompanies a funeral procession, Side streets are assigned to be used for funerals, which must skirt busy intercsections or main thoroughfares, so that citizens would not be affected by the scene of a funeral procession.

One of the blessings of atheism is that it takes away any sense of Judgment, any awareness of sin. There is no God who saw, no God who knew.

Atheists commonly argue from the existence of evil that there is no loving God. There have been and are toxic elements in religion, but there is still the problem of good and a long list of positives to add to the ledger: hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities, so much of the beautiful in works of art, in music, architecture, poetry.

Most atheistic writers make use of faulty notions of God. The focus is on religious fanatics, terrorists, superstitions, fundamentalists. They do not grapple with major theologians such as Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, etc.

A couple of final thoughts. Jesus never set out to prove God’s existence; it was so obvious St. Francis was astonished that a philosophy course given to his Religious was taking time to prove the existence of God. St. Paul wrote that what natural men can know about God “lies plain before their eyes” (Rom.1:19). The Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, wrote: “By the miracle of foolishness it is possible to think of God as not existing. There is the miracle of disbelief” (Prayer, p. 29).

Augustine once said that losing the remembrance of God means forgetting life. Only when this remembrance returns do we begin again to live. Atheism is not a natural state.

God pursues the soul. It is a story happening in every human life. Most atheists feel it at a point in their lives. The sense that there is Something or Someone presses in. They hear feet overtaking them, brisk and resolute. I’m certain that great numbers feel it. They are far from settling into a comfortable unbelief. The unrest continues to surface. There is St. Paul’s saying: “God made the whole prisoner of unbelief that he may have mercy on all” (Rom.11:32).

Have you ever had one of those days when you didn’t want to get out of bed? When you felt like you couldn’t face another day? When the challenges seemed so insurmountable you were discouraged about life?

Someone recently gave me a prayer written by a teenager who suffered from a debilitating illness and probably felt just like that. I keep her prayer on my nightstand so I can read it first thing in the morning and remember all that is good in this world and why I’m here…despite whatever pain and suffering comes my way. (Easier said than done.)

The prayer, along with a little emergency grace from God, certainly helps me. It says:

“Lord, let me wake up every morning and be thankful for the wonderful life that you have given me.

Help me to see the good in things.

Help me to be happy with who I am and the life I am living. Lead me down the path you have set for me.

Guide me in the way that I get to show the world my gifts.

I put all in your hands, Jesus. Use me as your vessel.

I thank you for my health, love, abilities, family, friends, and most of all this life.

I will do great things in your name.”

Nikole Drummond wrote that prayer in 2009, when she was 17 and in intense pain because of a disease she was suffering. It was a personal prayer she said to remind herself that even in her affliction, her life was a gift, and that Jesus was beside her every step of the way…and that Jesus had a plan for her life and that with his guidance, she could accomplish “great things.”

Sometimes I say her prayer more than once a day because it reminds me of fundamental spiritual truth that our secular society scoffs at: Life is a gift. All life is a gift. All life is created by God, which is why abortion is such a terrible thing.

I, too, need help looking for the good in things because it’s so easy to be predisposed to see the bad. It’s so easy to be cynical in a society that cultivates cynicism. Look around you. We have come to be defined by our anger and sarcasm—a spiritual disability made worse by the media.

We certainly need help seeing the good in things. There’s considerable goodness, and if we’re open to it, the Holy Spirit will direct us.

We all need divine help to be happy because in the end, following the plan that God has for us is the only real path to happiness. We’ll never find it in the enticements the world dangles before us—possessions, pleasure, power and prestige. They’re fake sources of happiness, and the tragedy is that so many people spend their entire lives pursuing them and never find the happiness they crave because, as St. Augustine said centuries ago, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Young people are programmed to achieve, succeed and acquire, but all they really need to do is follow the path God has for them. Have no doubt, God has a plan for you, and it’s a lot better than your plan.

As they say in 12 Step programs, we have to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. Then, we will be, as Nikole said, “a vessel” and do great things in God’s name.

Despite her physical suffering, she also understood the importance of the attitude of gratitude amid suffering.

“I thank you for my health, love, abilities, family, friends, and most of all this life” she said.

I still remember what a Sister of St. Joseph taught me in catechism class many years ago when she said three simple words, “Offer it up.” Our suffering united to Christ’s “will bear fruit in this life and the next,” to quote the Litany of Trust, which is a prayer composed by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV of the Sisters of Life.

We’ll never realize the full impact our small sacrifices have until we meet Jesus face to face, and he says, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

(Joe Pisani can be reached at