It’s that time of year again— the family heads to the beach. For one blessed week, we load up our cars with beach chairs, books and sunblock, and make our way to our safe haven on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Our little cottage has been in my extended family’s possession since the year I was born. I learned to walk in the sand here, the wide-open space perfect for little legs.

This time last year, the house was under construction due to a pipe burst, so this year it has had a bit of a facelift. It was exciting to arrive and see the newly installed floors, new countertops and bright backsplash…almost as if we were seeing it with fresh eyes. But as we sat around the table playing a round of cards, we were reminded just why this place is so special to us in the first place.

For one week a year, we set everything else aside and focus on spending time with each other. Dad can be found scanning the tide line for special shells and rocks. Mom can be found following the sandpipers’ path as they scurry along the shore. My sister and I can be found sunning ourselves on our towels, anticipating our next jump in the brisk surf. Brendan can be found skim-boarding, throwing a frisbee or playing a round of can-jam.

Family and friends come and go throughout the week, quickly acclimating to the time-honored traditions—a cook-out on the deck, a trip to the local seafood joint…and of course, the outdoor shower.

They learn that a long walk on the beach can lead to some of the most special moments and nuggets of wisdom that will never be forgotten.

Those who stay for longer, get to experience the joys of attending Sunday Mass at Star of the Sea. A beach parish true to its name. Parishioners file in in flipflops and shorts, getting to Mass early so they can spend the rest of the day in the sun and sand.

The priest, with a heavy Boston accent, keeps his homilies “short and sweet,” knowing the congregation will be anticipating reveling in God’s beautiful world just outside. A Mass on the beach was attempted…but once everyone got eaten alive by “greenheads,” that was the end of that.

Our lives are interwoven with memories of this place…a story of us. And those who get to experience the joy of it get to feel the magic first-hand.

Taking this time to rest and rejuvenate is so important. Jesus knew the value of rest. After long sermons, he would often take time to himself or with his disciples.

After what we have all been through during the coronavirus pandemic, these moments seem more special than ever. There was a time when we didn’t get to visit with family and friends. So now, we hold those we love a little closer and savor every moment of rest.

Wishing a blessed summer to all—one full of rest and special moments with family and friends.

The general view of physicists is that time started at a specific point about 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. The Big Bang can be considered the “birth“ of the universe and the beginning of time as we know it. Matter, energy, space and time began abruptly with the Big Bang. Hence it can be said that time is a creature of God. Aristotle defined time as the measure of change. St. Augustine defined it as a measure of motion.

There can be no discussion of what was going on before the Big Bang, or, specifically, what was God doing before the Big Bang? There was no previous era. We are dealing with the mysterious idea of eternity.

Augustine reflected on time as a painful affair. Time was the devourer, seeking what it might devour. Time was ever working, never at rest, bringing age upon us all (Confessions, Book One). There is no conquest over time. No one can defeat time. Time will never relent. Time moves and everything comes to an end. There’s all the brightness and beauty that could not last. How innocently time eats the days – all those lost days.

The Scriptures tell us that the sovereignty of God is over the length of our lives. Job 14:5 states that “Man’s days are determined; God has decreed the number of our months and has set limits we cannot exceed.” Psalm 139:16 speaks of the “Book of Life” in which “are written all the days that were ordained for humans when none of those days as yet existed.” God is the giver of time and our term of life is fixed by Him. We are allotted a certain period of time in the world. We have an expiration date. Time belongs to God; it is not our own.

Old age is an end product deposited by time. It is the time of the body’s cruel betrayals that bring with them the indignities of old age. We disintegrate slowly. Those who have reached the evening of their lives have to adjust their lives to the limitations of aging. They reach what is called life’s “last lap,” or the “home stretch.”

There’s a haunting sense of passing time. There’s a fear of time. An old person is now well aware of how November grinds darkly on, how November leans toward December, and December slides into Winter. Children and grandchildren grow and flower, etching mortality even more sharply. The evening is drawing in. There’s a sense of time left. They find the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus very meaningful: “Stay with us, Lord. For it is nearly evening. The day is almost over” (Lk24:29).

When he was near ninety, the art critic, Bernard Berenson, said: “I would willingly stand at street corners, hat in hand, begging passers-by to drop their unused minutes in it.”

However, many old people are ready. They have had their fill of life and seek rest from the irritations and agitations of life. There is a “ripeness” for death. There’s a sense of relief that the struggle was over. It’s coming to an end, and that’s all right.

There is a Jewish Midrash that says: “When a fig is gathered at the proper time, it is good. The owner of the fig tree knows when the fruit is ripe for plucking and plucks it. The Holy One knows when the time of the righteous has come.”

Old age brings with it the awareness that so many people you loved are gone. There’s the sudden silence. The world without those loved ones is incomplete. There is no substitute for them. Many elderly people say: “It’s not hard to die when everyone you loved is dead.” Our faith tells us we will find one another again. Many of the elderly feel like one who is waiting and waited for. There is a prayer to the angel Raphael, guide of Tobias, which says “lead us toward those we are waiting to see again, those who are waiting for us, those we are looking for.

The daily dread of all old people is—when will it all stop? How many more chances will I have to welcome the Spring? When will it be my time to be shaken from the tree?

There is the loneliness of age. As we age, we have to “let go” of more and more; one thing after another falls away. One can have the feeling of having outstayed one’s welcome in the world. Many old people often feel superfluous and unwanted. Doubtless, one of the assets of old age is the ability to enjoy being alone. Solitude is frequently the lot of the elderly. So many men, particularly, are left an old man in an empty house. They grow old and grow sad. The old sigh for lost years; weep for the short tomorrows.

Despite it all, most of the elderly regard everyday as a gift, and have a deep gratitude for life; a gratitude for all of life’s blessings.

When I think of dying, I remember my mother bending over my bed, singing in her lovely, throaty voice, “Close your eyes and you’ll have a surprise. The Sandman is coming. He’s coming, he’s coming.” To hear that voice one second before death is what I hope for.

Let me end with an anecdote about Winston Churchill that can have a religious meaning. Churchill planned his own funeral. He directed that after the final religious benediction a bugler high up in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral would play “Taps.” Churchill then directed that immediately after the playing of “Taps,” a second bugler, also in the dome would play “Reveille,” the call to get up in the morning.

In a public speaking class I teach, I often use famous speeches to demonstrate the power of the spoken word to students. At the top of my list is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the March on Washington in 1963. Then, there’s John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address and Winston Churchill’s “This Was Their Finest Hour” speech.

I also use a commencement address delivered by actor Denzel Washington at Dillard University in 2016. His message to the graduating class is pretty straightforward: “Put God first. Put God first in everything you do.” It’s one of the most inspiring speeches you’ll ever hear in an era when commencement addresses are notorious for being bland and boring.

The last time we listened to the Denzel Washington address, one student tracked down a transcript to share with the class. (To hear the speech, go to

The problem was that God’s name had been deleted throughout the text and replaced by asterisks. Is the name of God so offensive that it has to be censored by high-tech digital vigilantes, who are working tirelessly to make the world safe and secular for the rest of us?

In modern America, it’s dicey to mention God in public, especially on college campuses or in the workplace. We live in Orwellian times when it’s perfectly acceptable to use foul language and say offensive things, but mentioning God can get you in trouble with the thought police, and before you know it, you’ll be put under surveillance. There’s no free speech if you have to look over your shoulder every time you mention God.

Imagine for a moment that you’re looking down on this sorry planet—somewhat like God, who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of this piece of rock and its inhabitants. Now, imagine you see countless dimwits who are arguing about why it’s offensive to say “God” because…because why? Because it might anger an atheist? Because a politician or lawyer or journalist or professor says it violates the separation of Church and State? Or because it might “trigger” some unbelievers to cover their ears and run through the streets screaming in terror?

Our parents used to say there were three topics that polite people don’t bring up in conversation—religion, sex and politics. Someone didn’t get that memo because all you ever hear about nowadays is politics and sex. Religion is the only topic that’s verboten.

A friend of mine recently discussed career opportunities with a student I knew, and they had a Zoom session because of COVID. As it turned out, the young woman, who is from a devout Catholic family, was sitting beneath a crucifix. My friend spotted it and cautioned the young woman about the importance of having a “neutral background” during teleconference interviews. Why? Because people might be offended by Christ on the cross and employers don’t want to hire someone who’s “too religious,” someone who might create problems for the Human Resources department by evangelizing or—heaven help us—mentioning God.

Recently, I had a telehealth session with a doctor who asked me what I do to reduce stress. “I exercise. I meditate. I do some awkward yoga poses,” I responded. “And I…pray.”

There was an awkward silence. That “pray” idea went over like a lead balloon. The doctor, who had been nodding her head in agreement with everything I said, stopped nodding when I mentioned prayer. It would have been more socially acceptable if I had replied, “I use recreational marijuana.” And I wasn’t sitting under a crucifix.

There’s a war being waged and many of us are trying to ignore it. It’s a war between people who want to remove God from society and those who should stand up for God every chance they get. Each of us has to ask, “Which side am I on?” There’s no sitting on the sidelines anymore.

Never forget what Jesus said: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my Father in heaven.” There’s a lesson in those words for all of us who claim to be Christians.

The time has come, as Denzel Washington said, to “Put God first. Put God first in everything you do.” And don’t be afraid to tell people.

People are reluctant to admit to loneliness, it seems to denote failure. But Loneliness is one of the most universal human experiences. A great amount of research has been done concerning loneliness. These studies have found such interesting facts as: there is greater loneliness among single elderly people living with relatives than among those who live alone; there is no less loneliness in small friendly towns than in the big cities; loneliness is not identical with solitude; many married people feel lonely, as do many college students and high school seniors; etc.

According to Chinese tradition, there are two kinds of people who experience the most tormenting loneliness: the parent who has lost a child and the old widower. The Buddha said, “There is no greater sadness than separation.”

The parents who have lost a child are afflicted with one of the greatest and deepest losses possible to humans. The wound is usually incurable, refusing to be healed. The parents grow old in the missing. Many a father has thought he buried his hopes and dreams when he lost his child. A father said: “Being his father was the thing I was best at, and I find it paralyzingly hard to go on without it.” What he remembered most about the grieving with his wife was the tears. Even much later after the death of their child, every morning he and his wife would awaken and look at each other, and cry for their dead child.

I remember a father trying to tell me about the death of his only child, a college-age daughter. His face took on the kind of desperate and frozen quality men’s faces take on when they don’t want to cry. It’s a tactile fierceness, heart breaking to behold.

I’ve heard mothers speak of how they can’t rest not knowing exactly where their departed child is. One mother told how in her dreams she goes to find the child, often crying out, “Where have you gone beloved? Where are you my little son? Are you afraid, wherever you are? Are you crying? Please God, love him for me, Please God.”

And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief…
So gentle and so beautiful should perish with the flowers.
(William Cullen Bryant, “The Death of the Flowers”)

At some point in a long happy marriage something like fusion takes place, and when a wife dies, not only does the person die but a world dies with her. When my wife died my world collapsed like a circus tent unstrung from its moorings. I lost a sense of self; I lost my confidence; my tolerance for stress was greatly reduced. The flame went out; the shoulders folded dejectedly; My memory irrepressible returns to her passing. I could see death in her face. It was as if she were going away from me, and I couldn’t hold her back. She looked at me as if she was bidding me good-bye, then some force drew her over the sill and closed the door, so to speak. Then I heard the nurse’s voice say, “She’s gone.” After that, a growing loneliness enveloped me. Even after so many years, it is always awful coming back to the empty house and being overwhelmed with the recognition that she was gone forever. There’s the dreadful stillness in the house.

There are times when I catch myself looking for her—even expecting to see her. Sometimes I expect to hear her footsteps or voice. Sometimes it feels as if she went on a journey without me, and I feel like calling out: “Where are you? Come back! We have things to do.”

I have memories of certain occasions. for example, feeling her shoulder pressed against mine as we listened to music or watched TV; her helping me get my arms into the sleeves of my coat; rainy day trips home where I found supper waiting, found love waiting. I remember the times together writing a list for the store. Now one of my most difficult times is pushing a cart through grocery aisles, trying to look purposeful.

There are all those mornings of rising alone. It was an effort just to get up and get from one place to another. Long nights and lonely dawns.

Barren of her companionship, there was nothing I wanted to do, nowhere to go. I came to hate having to show up everywhere alone. I measure everything into before and after. I count the years we should have had together. There are the walks never taken.

Grief feels so like fear. The bereft widower is often alone and afraid. It’s not something that ever goes away. It constantly keeps you company. It is something you learn to live with. You work around it. You often use TV to shelter against the inexpressible loneliness. I envy men who could watch their wives grow old with them.

But O for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.
(Tennyson, “In Memoriam of M.H.H”)

We say how Jesus understands all our sufferings because of all the suffering he went through. But as someone said, Jesus never lost a child or a wife.

Parents who have lost a child and aging widowers experience the most acute and crippling loneliness. There’s the grief we can’t resolve. It turns even happy times wistful. In certain ways, the wound widens and deepens with the years. Some words from Jeremiah would apply.

Jer.14:19,22: “Why have you struck us a blow that cannot be healed? O Lord our God, we set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.”

Parents of a deceased child and bereft widowers expect a reunion with loved ones in the life to come. A mother who lost her son at Newtown said that when she dies the first voice she expects to hear will be God’s saying, “Well done thou good and faithful servant,” and the second voice will say “Hi Mom.” I expect to hear my wife’s voice say, “What took you so long?” She was mine and shall ever be.

How long it is since she with whom I lay O Lord, has left for thine my widowed bed.
Yet still our spirits mingle, as our clay, and still half living yet, and I half dead.
(Victor Hugo)

While I’m lying in bed in the morning, halfway between sleeping and waking, I say, “Good morning, Jesus,” which is how St. Teresa of Calcutta began her day. I believe it’s best to learn from the best.

From then, it’s all downhill because I start to think about what the day ahead has in store for me, and my response can vary from anxiety to anticipation and outright terror. You never know what a new day will bring. I suppose I have to work on trusting Jesus more and take a page out of St. Faustina Kowalska’s book and pray, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Somewhat compulsively, I start mentally cataloging what I have to do—the dentist needs to replace a worn crown, I have to grade 52 tests, the dog needs to go to the vet for surgery. (My wife says I’m more afraid than the dog, and she’s right.)

During those early moments, when I’m previewing the upcoming events, which have the potential to turn into full-blown crises, I turn to Jesus dozens of times for backup. “Jesus, help me because I have to get those papers corrected. Jesus, help me, may Bella be all right.

Jesus, help me finish this project on time. Jesus, are you listening?!?” Of course, he’s always listening, but I ask just to remind myself, not him.

This pattern continues throughout the day. “Jesus, may that check arrive. Jesus, may this meeting go well. Jesus…” The good thing is that I know he doesn’t get tired of listening to me, the way some other family members do.

However, when I think about this nonstop petitioning and pleading, which I call “prayer,” I’m a bit embarrassed because it seems like I’m turning Jesus into my personal assistant. Do this, do that, don’t forget this, I really need you to do that.

I’m also embarrassed because I seem to be always asking for something. How selfish, how narcissistic. It reminds me of when my daughters were kids and repeatedly came to me with requests…which they still do as adults. “Dad, can you pick up my car at the garage? Dad, run out and get a pizza. Dad…” You get the idea.

But back to Jesus.

First of all, he’s infinitely older and infinitely wiser than we are, so I think he’s pleased when we ask him for help, especially when we pray for someone else’s needs. Plus, he’s not thin-skinned, which means to say he understands human nature and our seemingly insignificant needs.

At the same time, I’m absolutely convinced he appreciates an occasional thank you for everything he does, so lately I’ve been trying to sprinkle gratitude in my daily prayers.

“Thank you, Lord, for another day.” “Thank you for my family, most of the time.” “Thank you for my friends because I realize you gave each of them to me for a specific reason.”

I help them, they help me, and together we grow spiritually as we move toward salvation… even that annoying friend, who is helping me learn to be patient and tolerant.

In addition to my prayers of petition and thanksgiving, there’s another prayer I say, which goes something like this: “Jesus, how’s your day going? Is there anything I can do to help?”

Believe me, you don’t have to ask twice. He’ll answer that prayer almost immediately.

I’m beginning to think that’s the most important prayer of all. Whenever I read news stories about global atrocities, disdain for God, violence in the cause of righteousness, and the pandemic of hatred, I think that Jesus must still weep over this sad and sorry world. He must be as discouraged in his humanity as when he walked the Earth. So, I pray, “Jesus let me help. Show me how.”

To me, this is a way of turning my will and life over to God, which is the greatest gift we can give him. When we do that, he can use us in ways we least expect.

We don’t even have to search for opportunities because he’ll bring them to us…the same way he brought that person to me who had a kind word after I pleaded, “Jesus, help me.”

That person was the answer to my prayer, and you can be the answer to another person’s prayer.

The past few summers, I’ve found myself gearing up for a move. Such is the life of a twenty-something, when many of us are still trying to figure out where we want to be and what we want to do.

At one point in my life, I would have found this daunting, but I’ve learned to embrace the change and get excited for new opportunities. Moving isn’t the most joyful of activities in and of itself, but as I become increasingly able to envisage a future I desire for myself, it’s easier to get excited about change and the opportunity for growth it presents.

As I begin to plan what I want my new space to look like, to feel like and to consist of, I realize that my excitement mirrors that of the coming days of summer itself. With its beautiful weather and increased down-time for relaxation, summer always presents a chance to take a deep breath, regroup and renew.

This summer in particular seems to be one of great promise for many. After a year of stagnancy, it is exciting to hear talk of vacation plans, party plans and even, dare I say, travel plans. As the sun shines through, we begin to shake off the year we’ve just had and welcome the gentle breeze of the coming months.

There is an underlying layer of joy to everything we do these days. As we slowly begin to gather together once again, each moment is a prayer of gratitude. This natural movement of life seems that way again… natural. And we realize how resilient we are as humans, how we can adapt and change, how we learn what we need to and move forward. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mark 6:34).

We emerge, faces toward the sun. Things are new and different. It may take some longer than others…but we can walk with them on their way, giving them the time and space they need, while encouraging them also to grow and adapt.

Parishes and schools around the diocese have begun planting gardens and beautifying their outdoor spaces. St. Anthony of Padua in Fairfield started constructing and planting a vegetable garden with plans to donate the produce to the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport. Students at the Catholic Academy of Stamford measured, seeded and watered a garden full of future zinnias and marigolds that should bloom in time for school’s return. Doors are open and parishioners are returning to in-person Mass. All around the diocese, life is springing forth.

We have all experienced a world of change in recent months, but my prayer is that we embrace these coming summer days with renewed vigor and hope—of new opportunities…of new beginnings.

God is giving us a glimpse of our future here at Hennessey House. It’s the future we’ll be facing in two years (*gulp*) when some of the ganglier people around here start folding their laptops and heading to college.

Our Clara, 16, is breaking free of the lockdown and spending a few weeks out west at Wyoming Catholic College. This small, classical liberal arts school is less than two decades old—still in its gangly phase. It offers what it calls an “education of immersion” in the Western tradition, “the beauty and challenges of the wilderness,” and “the treasures of our Catholic spiritual heritage.”

All that stuff is okay by me. WCC happens to be famous for its horsemanship program. Clara and 50 other high schoolers from all around the country are riding the trails, reading Thucydides, and not calling home.

To me, the enforced de-plugging was a big selling point. The program collects all the kids’ phones on the evening they arrive, locking them up and burying the key under a cow pat. I’m sure the first days of withdrawal were difficult. Hopefully the horses weren’t too spooked by their sweaty, fidgety, gangly riders.

Paying someone to confiscate your teenager’s cell is the next big “pre-college experience.” Take my word.

The downside of the undigital fortnight is that Clara won’t come home with a phone full of pictures of the mountains she’s hiking or the stars she’s sleeping under. The upside is she will actually spend some time looking at those mountains and stars and not at the mesmeric, internet-enabled ball-and-chain.

I do hope she’s enjoying herself. My guess is she’s learning a lot. About herself, about the Peloponnesian War, about staying up later than you should, and about the vast scope and exciting diversity of this country. Perhaps she’ll get lucky and see a bison or a grizzly bear. From a distance, I mean.

So how are we, the left behind, getting on in her absence? Depends who you ask.

“I do miss Clara,” says Billy, who turns 4 soon. “Can I have a mango squeezer and some Honey Nut Cheerios in a cup?” He isn’t the sentimental type. I ask Sally, who is 7, if she’s noticed anything different lately.

“Not really. Will you come outside and spray me with the garden hose?”

I’m not surprised the second-division siblings are less than broken up. The fact is, we are all sweltering to death in an early summer heatwave and diligently avoiding exposure to the virus Billy calls “the big bad worm.” We are dealing here with the beauty and challenges of our own little wilderness.

Still, Mrs. H. and I can’t help but frown at the empty bottom bunk in the girls’ room. We’ve set our iPhone weather apps to Lander, Wyoming, and we check the WCC Instagram for updates constantly. It feels like we’re missing a body part.

Lord, make us ready to see our children fly off and become well-functioning, independent adults with good jobs, families, cell phones they can pay for on their own, and even horses if they want them. Just not yet.

When I was a boy, I watched my two older sisters head off to college. Each time one left, my status in the house improved. I got my own room, and more space on the couch. Their departures created holes in the house, but I wasted no time filling them right up.

When it was my turn to go, my mother offered her big, gruff boy an emotional warning: “Moms are allowed to cry when they drop their sons off at college.” She should have saved her tears. I was back living at home three months later.

Not so big, not so gruff, turns out. Pretty gangly though.

Interesting thing about being a kid: You never really think about your parents when they’re not around. Interesting thing about being a parent: You never really stop thinking about your kids no matter where they are. Parenthood is an education of immersion.

“It’s a little like how God’s always waiting around for us to come back,” observes Mrs. H. “Your parents never give up on you even when you forget about them for a little while.” Ain’t that the truth.

During the time of Christ, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was on 40 acres. The Temple building itself was 150 feet by 150 feet. Within the Temple building was a sacred precinct holding a sanctuary divided into two parts, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place was a lampstand made of pure gold, having six flowery branches extending from its sides, three to a side. There was a table that held the Bread of the Presence, and there was a golden altar of incense (Heb.9:2) on which incense was burned daily to symbolize the prayers of the people rising fragrantly to God.

The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant which held the Ten commandments received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. On each corner of the Ark was a cherub with outstretched wings. The Ark was regarded as God’s throne. The Holy of Holies was regarded as the place of God’s presence on earth.

Once each year, the Jewish High Priest sacrificed a ram as a special sin offering for the people and took its blood into the Holy of Holies where he would sprinkle (with his finger) some blood on the Ark cover to make atonement for the people’s sins. Only the Jewish High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, and he did so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

There was a curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Exodus 26:31-33: “Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen… Hang the curtain from clasps. It will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.” The curtain served to separate the people from the Holy of Holies. Believers did not have direct access to the presence of God.

Readers of the Bible are often surprised to learn how much of a blood motif there is in Scripture. The letter to the Hebrews repeatedly draws attention to sacrificial blood. Heb.9:22: “Indeed the law requires that almost everything is purified with blood.”

The Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Passion and Death of Christ. It teaches that it was the will of God that Jesus should make the oblation of his body to obtain the removal of the sins that separated humanity from God. Christ’s atoning sacrifice supplanted the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Heb.10:4: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” With the sacrifice of Christ, God doesn’t just forgive, He forgets. Heb.10:17: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more.” Christ’s sacrifice was made for all time; it needed no repetition; the offering was eternal. The work of redemption was finished, completed. The priests of the Old Testament offered sacrifices repeatedly, while Christ offered a single, unique sacrifice valid for all time.

The requirement made by God calling for Christ offering himself as a voluntary self-sacrifice seems to many moderns somewhat primitive, and they wonder if this was the only way the ransom could be paid. The answer seems to be “yes,” it was the necessary way.

Luke 27:44 reports that at the moment of Jesus’ death the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies “was torn in two.” The curtain shielding the Holy of Holies was torn apart signifying that now, by the blood of Christ, we can boldly enter the sanctuary behind the curtain (Heb.6:19). The torn curtain indicates that, thanks to the blood of Jesus, we have open access to God. We can enter with confidence into God’s presence.

In times of trial, I make use of these images from Hebrews. I’m now aware of myself as having free access to God. With a firm trust and bold confidence (Heb.10:19) I imagine myself pushing aside the torn curtain and boldly with confidence and gratitude approaching the throne of God, reassured of God’s acceptance. I now have free speech with God. I can speak to Him as a son to a Father, even though I am a sinner. I can speak to Him with all confidence and without fear, confident this is the way He wants me to come to Him. He wishes me to speak to Him without fear, as His child. There’s a mutual understanding. God has a father’s understanding of me.

This is part of Hebrews’ view of reality. The ransom’s been paid by the death of Christ.

Mark 10:45: “For the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” We now have a right of entry into the Holy of Holies, and what that stands for, namely, we now have access to God. We can, with confidence go beyond the torn curtain into the sanctuary where the living God dwells. The sacrifice of Christ has gained the right of entry; the blood of Christ has opened direct access to God. We can approach God with confidence and tell him our concerns. One result of studying Hebrews is you don’t look at a crucifix the same way again.

The author of Hebrews stresses that certain behaviors are to accompany passing through the torn curtain. There is to be mutual love, with an emphasis on hospitality. Marriage is to be honored, and the marriage bed kept undefiled by fornicators and adulterers. One’s life is to be free from love of money; one is to be content with what one has. One should not forget to do good and to share what one has; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind. Finally, the author asserts “may the God of peace, by the blood of Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will (Hebrews 13).”

Before I start, let me say in the interests of full disclosure, that I never watch the Oscars. Not this year. Not last year. Not ever and I never will, so I guess in some infinitesimally small way I’m responsible for the record low ratings. What does the future hold for Hollywood when some YouTube channels and TikTok accounts get more viewers than the Tinseltown’s biggest night of the year?

Call me a cynic, or maybe I’m just a grouchy old guy, but I don’t watch the Golden Globes, the Silver Globes or the Copper Globes either, or any other celebrity awards ceremony.

I suppose I shouldn’t judge Hollywood because one of my cardinal rules, taught to me by my father, is “Take your own inventory.”

Nevertheless, I’ve always believed the entertainment industry is in large part responsible for what ails America, which was notoriously described as a “spiritual malaise” by Jimmy Carter more than 40 years ago.

It seems to me that all the moral problems that afflict our country are celebrated in our entertainment—violence, casual sex, greed, immodesty, injustice, cheating, atheism, narcissism and hatred. I should also mention the relentless practice of portraying people of faith as evil-doers, especially when it comes to Catholics.

Whenever I watch a movie, I know it’s only a matter of moments before the villain will appear, wearing a cross, quoting the Bible or committing some atrocity in the shadow of a crucifix. In one particularly repulsive film—rated PG-13 by the way—he was praying the rosary.

For decades, Hollywood has been aggressive in its attack on faith. Gone are the days when movies like “Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Going My Way” were produced.

And equally sad, there’s a new trend that I call “pop atheism.” Some of our most popular celebrities with millions of followers are atheists, including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Johnny Depp, Jodie Foster, Joaquin Phoenix, Andy Serkis, Emma Thompson, Daniel Radcliffe, Keira Knightley, Zac Efron, Rob Reiner, Kevin Bacon and John Malkovich. To name a few.

Atheism has alway struck me as sort of simple-minded belief, even though its adherents fancy themselves as intellectuals in the tradition of Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. They seem to embrace the delusion that proclaims, “Hey, I’m smarter than everyone else,” when in reality they’re dumber because they never took the time to see the signs, which everywhere proclaim God’s glory.

Two millennia ago St. Paul said something that’s especially relevant today. In his Letter to the Romans—which should be reissued as a Letter to Hollywood —he said that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse…. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Is Oscar one of those idols?

Countless Americans, many of them young people addicted to social media, practice a sort of 21st century idolatry when it comes to celebrities, who have millions of “followers.” We worship them so much they could start their own religion, and probably would love to.

If you want to understand a society’s values, or lack of them, look at its entertainment.

Even a cursory examination of our entertainment, from movies and TV to pop music and video games, shows that in America we are what we watch. Consider that hundreds of studies have shown a correlation between violence in film and TV and social aggression. Since America is such a violent country, shouldn’t our legislators endorse gun control on the silver screen?

It’s time to recognize our entertainment for what it is and limit the exposure of our children and grandchildren. And it’s time to free ourselves from the obsession with the celebrity culture. Don’t worship them, pray for them.

Think about this: You may not have your own TV show or a $53 million mansion in Beverly Hills or 200 million Instagram followers or an international fan club, but you have something infinitely more precious…your faith in God.

I’ve always had a great appreciation for the beauty that is found in nature. My dad would never kill any bugs we found in the house (much to the rest of our dismay), but would instead usher them outside in a cup. He knows the name of every bird, can identify a dog breed from miles away, and he even proposed to my mom at the zoo.

I had many a birthday at the Audubon Society, and our summers at the beach are something we hold most dear.

I’ve realized that one of my stipulations when it comes to putting down roots, is that the water must be a walkable distance away (I realize that isn’t always possible, so I will settle for green space, if need be).

This inclination to appreciate God’s creation comes from something deep inside me, and so too does the inclination to preserve and protect this earth we have been gifted stewardship.

“When it comes to safeguarding creation, there is no time to waste—humanity either must live up to its responsibility or continue on a path of self-destruction,” Pope Francis said, commemorating Earth Day this year with a video message.

“Global disasters, COVID-19 and the climate all show that we do not have time to wait,” that time is ticking and yet, “we have the means to face the challenge,” he said.

“Our concern is to see that the environment is cleaner, purer and preserved, and to take care of nature so that it takes care of us,” he said, wishing the leaders success and thanking them for deciding to move forward together.

As followers of Christ, we must realize that this earth is a gift from God. It is all His creation.

In Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato si’ he writes:

“Jesus took up the biblical faith in God the Creator, emphasizing a fundamental truth: God is Father (cf. Mt 11:25). In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes: ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God’ (Lk 12:6). ‘Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them’ (Mt 6:26).

“The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder. As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things.”

He has entrusted this home to us. When we look out upon the vast ocean, witness a glowing sunset, or cuddle up with our family pet, we get to directly experience His love for us. When we even contemplate our own creation, it should leave us with feelings of reverence for the Creator.

At the conclusion of Laudato si’, Pope Francis leaves us with the following prayer:

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.

For many Catholics, the Letter to the Hebrews is an unknown text. Yet it is one of the most meaningful Scriptural writings. It has much to offer to the modern church. As one commentator put it: “Prepare to be changed when you drink deeply from Hebrews. It will leave you better than when you started.”

Hebrews is not a letter, it is a sermon that has been written down, and it is not a writing of St. Paul but by an unknown author. The reason for the “letter” was that a sizeable number of Christians were falling away from the faith, and many were beginning to stay away from Christian worship. Sound familiar?

The preacher wanted to encourage them to persevere. He begins by reminding them of some benefits that come with Christianity, gives some cautions and warnings, and tells them to encourage one another. Then, in chapter 5, verse 11, he suddenly and unexpectedly breaks off from what he’s been saying and takes a new direction. He makes an attempt to shake up his listeners. He confronts his audience with the problem of their spiritual immaturity, the problem of their immaturity in the faith, and tells them that the main reason for Christians leaving the faith is their “lethargic” Christianity. They do not try to understand the faith at a deeper level. There is culpable negligence and “sluggishness.” Even though they have been engaged with the Christian faith long enough to now be teachers of others, they are still like infants at a mother’s breast. They are negligent of their responsibilities to study, to learn and to teach the faith. They still need someone to teach them the first principles of the faith. The preacher accuses his listeners of being recipients who can still take only milk, not solid food. By “solid food” he means deeper truths, more advanced, substantive doctrines. This situation is insufficient for perseverance in the faith. This ignorance leads to ineffectiveness in communicating the faith. They are not able to speak intelligibly. Hebrews 5:13: “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the way of righteousness, for he is a child.” Such a situation makes believers vulnerable to leaving the faith. The preacher challenges his audience to move beyond a few basics of Catholic doctrine. Their Catholic development has been arrested.

With solid food one experiences new kinds of life and love.”

A famous Catholic Scriptural commentator, Raymond Brown, commented: “I have a fellow-feeling for what the writer of Hebrews says in this sudden and surprising passage. The author gives his analysis of where his audience was spiritually and intellectually and has the courage to say it straight to them. He clearly wants to wake up his audience.

In our churches today we need to recognize the same tendencies Hebrews comments about. So many Catholics are not only eager to stay with a diet of milk, but actually get angry at the suggestion that they should be eating something more substantive. This has puzzled and bothered me for years. I meet settled prejudice against making any effort at all to learn what the Catholic faith is about. As a result, we find an extraordinary ignorance about lives being transformed by the power of the scriptures and scholarly theology. Here and there I meet an eagerness to take in as much teaching as one can. Some Catholics are indeed eager for solid food. But I deeply regret that in most churches it seems that most people can only be persuaded to take another small helping of warm milk.”

(Research indicates that in places where substantive Bible classes and Catholic scholarship presentations are offered, they are attended by one-half of one percent of Catholics they are intended to reach. There seems to be a certain indifference to learning deeper aspects of the faith.)

Raymond Brown goes on: “Most Catholics today don’t even know much about the milk— the ABCs of the faith. Many (most) couldn’t tell you why we baptize people, or what precisely the resurrection is. It’s not that they learned their ABCs long ago and forgotten it. No: they haven’t ever learned it in the first place.”

Here are some disturbing statistics. One in five children who are baptized will not receive their first holy Communion, two in five will not make their confirmation, and by all accounts, we can expect about 85 percent of our youth and young adults to stop the practice of the faith by age 21.

Here’s another statistic: the majority (71 percent) of people who have drifted away from the faith have left not in anger, but in disappointment. They say, “I never felt that my spiritual needs were met by the church.”

The famous Catholic theologian Karl Rahner was once asked if those who leave the Catholic faith commit the sin of apostasy? He replied: “No, you can’t apostatize from what you don’t know.” Says a lot about what he thought was the depth of “regular” Catholics knowledge of the faith.

Thus, the preacher of Hebrews rebukes the immaturity of those who can still have only milk, not solid food. St. Paul did the same thing. First Corinthians 3:12: “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready.”

Hebrews 6:1: “Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity.”

Advanced teaching is the means of producing maturity. Education is nurture. How does one get believers to develop an appetite for more solid food? Most preaching today seems to consist of trite rehashes of some ABCs clothed in predictable words.

Pope Francis often speaks of wanting an Adult Church.

Finally, I think the most important characteristic of evangelizing is that the evangelizers know their way around the Bible. One of the enduring legacies of the Second Vatican Council is its call to return to Biblical Theology as the primary source of Catholic spirituality.

Several years ago, I discovered my birthday is the feast day of a little-known woman who lived 700 years ago and is about to be canonized—a woman who, more than Thomas Jefferson, has a message for our age. Her name is Blessed Margaret of Castello, and she can best be described as “the patron saint of the unwanted.”

On my desk, I have a photo of her incorrupt body, which lies at the base of the altar at the Church of St. Dominic in Castello, Italy. It’s the face of a woman born blind, hunchbacked and lame, a woman of nobility whose family abandoned her as a child and forced her to beg on the streets to survive.

She is also a woman whose sanctity inspired thousands of people to attend her funeral when she died at 33 and whose intercession has led to many miracles over the centuries.

“Little Margaret,” as she was called, was born into a family of wealth and prestige in a castle near Perugia, Italy in 1287. Her parents wanted a son to carry on their noble ancestry, but instead God gave them a daughter who was blind and deformed. In our era of pre-natal testing and eugenic abortion, Little Margaret would never have been born.

At 6-years-old, her parents made her leave the castle and imprisoned her for 13 years to keep her out of sight. Despite her poor health and deformity, she was intelligent and full of goodness, and she loved God with a contagious fervor.

When she was 19, her parents took her to Castello to seek a miracle, but ended up abandoning her in the church. All alone, she lived as a beggar on the streets, until the poor townspeople adopted her as their own.

Little Margaret eventually became a lay Dominican and spent her final years doing acts of charity and mercy, visiting prisoners, assisting the sick and comforting the dying, until she died.

Did her life have purpose? To God it did. Despite her personal suffering, she brought joy and love to many others afflicted by a spiritual sickness common in the 21st century—they are “unwanted.”

In modern America, the unwanted have many different faces. They’re the unborn, the incurably ill, the handicapped, the elderly, the poor and the dispossessed. And they share one thing in common: Their dignity as human beings is denied, and their right to life is threatened by a society that doesn’t value the weak and the infirm.

Every year, 1.2 million babies are aborted in America—more than 20 percent of all pregnancies. In his encyclical “The Gospel of Life,” Pope John Paul II wrote, “Eugenic abortion is justified in public opinion on the basis of a mentality that accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it when it is affected by any limitation, handicap or illness. It is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: A life that would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated.”

In 1609, Margaret was declared blessed, and she will be canonized later this year. Over the centuries, her story has inspired countless people. Her life offers a telling lesson for our age: A child who had no value to her parents had inestimable value to God. And through her, God did great things.

Yes, even Blessed Margaret was endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Blessed Margaret, patron of the unwanted, pray for America.

As vaccines continue to roll out, I’m starting to notice a sense of urgency in people to return to life as it was before the pandemic. While I understand the excitement to see friends and family again, and to once again enjoy certain activities we’ve missed out on, I find myself wondering what the rush is to get back to “the way things were before.”

If there is anything this time has taught me, it is that there are certain things in life that hold less weight in the grand scheme of things. I suspect all of us in one way or another have asked ourselves similar questions: When it comes down to it, are those extra hours in the office really going to make you happier? Do we trade too much of our time for “success” or things we want to buy or think we need to be happy? Have we learned anything about ourselves and our lives from the suffering and loss of the pandemic?

Many national surveys suggest that the “new normal” will be more difficult and challenging— maybe not a world we readily want to deal with. At the same time, we hear that people are reluctant to return to the “old” normal. They don’t want the rush hour commutes and sitting in traffic just a mile away from home or work. They’d like to be able to work from home more often where possible and have time in their life for other things.

And we also know what people miss—the unmasked freedom of being with others, enjoying life without the anxiety of exposure; being able to gather with family and friends; to go back to church and other parish activities and live a purposeful life.

I was hopeful that experiencing a global pandemic would help people slow down and take stock of the things that are really important, and that it would spark an overall shift in what we value. I, for one, have learned so much about what those things are, and I hope it has changed the way I approach many things in my life.

I don’t think we should forget the more than 500,000 lives lost in our country alone, and many are still grieving even as those of us who went relatively unscathed are trying to recover what we lost and to move on.

While we’ve been inspired by the heroism of so many people during the pandemic, we’ve also been reminded that some lives have been worth more than others—that many of the poor and most vulnerable were far less healthy and did not have easy access to care. So we learn that a person’s value should not be based in her or his job, but as Christians we know that God tells us we are valuable in and of ourselves. Matthew 10:31 says, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” God sees our inherent value, outside of what we do to make a living, can we do the same for ourselves and others?

In our rush to get back to life as we knew it, I don’t want us to forget what happened here. I don’t want us to forget these 500,000+ people who no longer get to live their lives. How can we honor them in the way we live our lives moving forward?

I hope the pandemic has helped people realize that the things that set our souls on fire are the pursuits that make life worth living. As Matthew 6:34 says, “Tomorrow will take care of itself.” God assures us of this. Can we trust Him and begin to live our lives the way He intended them for us?

Having the knowledge we do now of how the things of true importance can be taken from us so quickly, can we really go back to the way things were before? In his Pastoral Exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano offers us an answer. He urges us to find courage and strength in God’s love for us and to joyfully share it with others.

In his wise words, we realize that the way of the Gospel and the ways of the world are not one and the same. And faith gives us a fullness that is not found anywhere else. I guess the challenge is to remember what happened here and what we learned during this time. Let us be intentional about how we move forward, as a testament to the lives that were lost.

All my life I’ve been surrounded by Josephs. Maybe it’s an Italian thing because some of them were Giuseppes.

My father was Joseph, the carpenter. My mother was Josephine, but not the plumber. And I was Joe. Well, not quite. So that we didn’t all answer at once when someone called, “Joe!” I was dubbed JoJo.

That’s not bad when you’re a toddler, but when you’re a teenager, it can be a bit embarrassing. At your college commencement, do you really want the Dean to announce, “JoJo!” when you get your diploma?

As it was, I received my sacraments at St. Joseph Church in Shelton and religious instructions from the Sisters of St. Joseph and, predictably, I went to St. Joseph High School.

I confess that I resented being an “ordinary Joe” and wished my parents had named me something more flamboyant like Kent or Reginald, but I guess they figured “Kent Pisani” didn’t quite fit our ethnic profile.

So I thought of myself as an Average Joe, Joe Schmo and Joe Sixpack…until I developed a devotion to my patron, St. Joseph, and realized it’s an honor to be named after the husband of the Mother of God and foster father of the Son of God, whose feast we celebrate on March 19.

It’s a great year for us Joes and Josephines because Pope Francis has proclaimed “A Year of St. Joseph” in observance of the 150th anniversary of his being named Patron of the Universal Church by Blessed Pius IX.

The pope also issued an Apostolic Letter titled “Patris Corde,” (“With a Father’s Heart”) to “increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”

St. Joseph was an ordinary person who did extraordinary things because he accepted God’s will. And he continues to do extraordinary things from heaven. He is a model for all Catholics, especially fathers, in a time when families are fractured and homes are broken.

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Some saints are privileged to extend to us their patronage with particular efficacy in certain needs, but not in others; but our holy patron St. Joseph has the power to assist us in all cases, in every necessity, in every undertaking.”

Our family always prays to him in times of crisis, and over the years, many prayers have been answered through his intercession. We have a shrine in his honor with statues that we have acquired from all over the world.

One of my favorites I found in an antique shop in Montreal. It’s a hand-carved wooden statue I got when we made a pilgrimage to St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal during the Jubilee Year in 2000.

The Oratory, which before COVID-19 attracted 2 million visitors annually, is the world’s largest shrine to St. Joseph and was built through the efforts of St. Andre Bessette, who was the doorman at Notre Dame College, where thousands of people visited him because of his gift of healing through the intercession of St. Joseph.

Early in his life, he worked in eastern Connecticut in factories and farms before returning to Canada to enter the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1870.

I also have a library of what is known as Josephology—the study of St. Joseph—with several dozen books about this great saint. One of them, published in 1887, is titled, “St. Joseph: The Advocate of Hopeless Cases” and contains dozens of stories about the saint’s miraculous intercession.

As Pope Francis says, “Each of us can discover in Joseph— the man who goes unnoticed—a daily, discreet and hidden presence, an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

A humble carpenter, St. Joseph is known by many titles: “Protector of Holy Church,” “Hope of the Sick,” “Patron of the Dying,” “Solace of the Afflicted,” “Guardian of Virgins,” “Pillar of Families,” “Glory of Home Life” and “Terror of Demons.”

He has always been known to respond when people pray to him. As St. Augustine said: “What could Jesus Christ refuse St. Joseph, who never refused him anything during his mortal life on Earth?”

St. Joseph, pray for us!

During this Lenten season, I often think of the disciples and the difficult decisions they had to make in their lives.

They knew that leaving their homes to follow Jesus was the right thing to do. This was not the safe or expected decision. Presumably, they had jobs and families and other responsibilities. But they knew that they simply could not remain where they were after encountering Christ and experiencing what they had.

I am sure that people advised them against this decision, and I am sure they had to repeatedly explain themselves to others. But they had a conviction that even though their decision was risky, the payback would be worth it. And, in fact, the payback was more than they ever could have imagined.

When we make a decision in our lives that others may not understand, we tend to be met with a barrage of unsolicited advice. Though often well-meaning, if we’re not specifically seeking out advice, this can cause unnecessary pressure to explain ourselves and our decisions—particularly if someone is young and trying to find her or his way in life.

People will always have their thoughts about what others do or don’t do. The thing is, the big decisions you make in your life, especially if they are directly related to your own happiness or well-being, are ultimately between you and God.

If you have taken this decision to prayer and thought out all aspects in a meaningful and intentional way, there is no need to defend your decisions to others.

I am a people-pleaser by nature. A typical middle-child and mediator, I am always tunedin to how what I do and say makes other people feel. This can be a great asset, but also a great drawback. I have had to unlearn these tendencies over the years, because I have learned that I cannot always be responsible for the happiness and comfort of others.

Like the disciples, we can’t live our lives based on what others are going to think. God knows the deepest desires of our hearts, and he desires for us to know happiness. He leads us to the things that he has meant for us, even if the path may seem long and winding.

If we hold onto this trust that God will guide us in our lives and in our decision-making, we simply cannot be lead astray. Because even if things go wrong, this is a lesson that we were meant to learn.

It is a tough lesson to learn in life, but we are not helping anyone by remaining in situations that no longer serve us or others. If we are unhappy in a situation, or that situation is no longer allowing us to grow in our faith, then it is time to move on. Because you simply cannot serve others if you are not being served in any way.

It takes a deep self-awareness and a strong relationship with God to realize when a situation calls for change. And only you and God can know this.

As the faithfulness of the disciples teaches us, the way of the Cross leads to Easter and new life. When you have a strong conviction and you are certain God is leading you in the right direction, listen to that conviction, and be ready to take a leap of faith.

He will not lead you astray. You don’t owe anyone else an explanation. And once they see how happy you are when you live out loud, that will be all the explanation needed.