Monthly Archives: September 2020

Psalms Say It All

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” one of the psalms says. No need to make a prayer up on your own or think hard about saying something to God the right way. Let the psalms help you pray. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

“Let the earth rejoice in God, our king.” Why not join the earth praying? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. We think everything depends on us. No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything. No, we don’t.  But God does.

We pray, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The psalms feed our minds and hearts, little by little. Their special grace is their simplicity as they tell us, for example,  “rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.”

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.” Other psalms cry for help. Just a cry is enough, they say. “I cry to the Lord that he may hear me.”

The psalms call us to a simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy of the Mass, Use them in your daily prayer. They’re wonderful basic prayers for everyone.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)

Every day the church meets the morning praying the psalms; every evening we end the day with these great prayers. A good way to pray always, as Jesus asks us to do.

How Do We Learn and Pray Now?

Education is up in the air these days. Our schools are struggling. How will kids be educated?

Our faith formation programs are struggling too. The Mass and sacraments–ordinary ways we pray–are drastically curtailed. What do we do?

Could our homes and families become our churches? Can we find teachers and  temporary sacraments there?

A friend of mine was in prison for awhile and ended up once in solitary confinement after a fight he had with another inmate. He told me he remembered in the dark what a nun had told him about the rosary. Ten Hail Mary’s and an Our Father. He started counting the prayers on his fingers and, after awhile, he found a great peace came over him, so much so that after getting out of confinement he asked the chaplain for a rosary. It led to a profound conversion. He was changed by the experience there in the dark.

We’re living in the dark these days, but do these days have to diminish us? Maybe we can learn to pray more simply these days. Simple prayers we may have abandoned, maybe there’s a bible or a prayerbook lying forgotten in a drawer. Simple prayers are always the best,  because God takes simple form to come to us. Jesus came “in the form of a slave,” remember, he used simple things like bread and wine to bring us his greatest gift. 

This could be a time to pray simple prayers and to teach them to our kids. You never know when they’ll bring them peace.

Remembering My Grandfather


Neil O’Donnell, a small farmer from Donegal, Ireland, where the crops had failed for years, came to the United States in 1882 and landed at Castle Garden at the Battery in New York City along with countless others looking for work and a home.

Castle Garden 1880s

Castle Garden 1880s

Among my boyhood memories, I remember sitting in the summer on the front porch with the old man in the picture above with a pipe in his mouth. “Allo Bye,” he would shout out to passers-by in a thick Irish brogue. His sight was failing, but once the passer-by was known a lively conversation began about families, friends, the weather and everything else going on in close-knit Bayonne.

Neil died in 1942. I remember kneeling with my family, friends and neighbors outside his room next to the kitchen saying the Rosary as he was dying. I was at his big funeral at St. Mary’s church. Irish funerals were always big then, but this one was special I felt. A patriarch had died.

Neil didn’t look far for a job or a home when he got off the boat at Castle Garden. From the Staten Island Ferry, near the docks at St. George, you can still see today oil tanks at Constable Hook on the western shore of the harbor in Bayonne, NJ. In Neil’s day this was The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, but for him then it was “Hughie Sharkey’s oil works” where he got the job he held all his working life. Hughie Sharkey was the guy who got Neil and Irishmen like him a job.img_1923

Neil married Sarah Givens, also from Donegal. They had six kids, four boys and two girls. Sarah died after the last was born and Neil brought his sister Mary out from Ireland to take care of the kids, but unfortunately she died shortly afterwards too.

“We made our way up in the world,” my mother often said. From a small house on 19th Street in Bayonne, they made their way to a two decker house on the Boulevard about a half-mile away. The first three kids had a minimal education, but the last three got more. My mother was the first to graduate from high school; the last two boys were sent to the Jesuit St. Peter’s High School in Jersey City. One became a priest, the other a New Jersey State Trooper.

A close immigrant family in a solidly Catholic neighborhood, the O’Donnells took care of each other and watched out for their neighbors too. Regularly, they brought others out from Ireland and helped them find jobs and homes of their own. They remembered where they came from.

With all our talk about immigrants these days, I think of Neil, the small farmer from Donegal where crops were failing, who found in America a job and a place to raise a family. His hours were long and his work was tough. The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey fiercely resisted workers’ demands for unionization and better working conditions in his day; in fact, it hired strike breakers to squash workers’ protests. My mother remembered when she was a girl a terrible day some workers were shot and killed near their home.  But Neil and his boys working at the Hook never missed a day.

They never missed church either. With simple unquestioning faith they prayed at St. Mary’s church on 14th. St. They reverenced the priests and sisters there; they were especially fond of the Passionists priests who preached and served the parishes of Hudson County from their monastery in nearby Union City. Faith was never a small part of their lives.

Neil could scarcely read when he came to this country, my mother said, and one thing he wanted was to read the Bayonne Times like everyone else. She taught him how to read. I remember the old man, newspaper in hand, bent on getting the news of the day, like everyone else.

Not everyone in America appreciated Neil and immigrants like him, however. Nativist sentiments affected much of the country then as large numbers of foreigners, especially Irish Catholics, came to our shores. To some they brought poverty, disease and crime to America. Laws were proposed advocating literacy requirements and denial of voting rights to them. Catholics were denied jobs and access to political offices. Neil would never have made it here if the Know-Nothings and nativists had their way.

We celebrate our country’s generosity and openness to the world; but we can’t forget the ugly side of our history. You can see it here in some Nativist broadsheets and cartoons from the time, voices Neil must have heard. They’re still with us today in more subtler forms.

Nativist 1

Nativist 1840

Nativist 4

Nativist 2

Among the anti-immigrant material I found, I came upon one that made me stop and wonder some more. In the 1880s the United States was pushing China for access to her markets. We wanted free ports and free trade with that land and demanded she take down her walls.

At the same time, Chinese laborers were entering our country, chiefly the west coast, to work on the railroads. They were cheap labor, competing with the Irish, the Italians and other immigrants for jobs. In 1882 Congress prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country.

A Punch cartoon from that time saw the irony of the situation. We demand walls be pulled down and put up walls ourselves. Look carefully, though, at who brings the bricks for our wall. Immigrants like the Irish and others who came here, often not welcomed themselves.

Nativist wall 1882

I wonder what Neil would say about this? I wonder what his descendants are saying about immigration today? We who come from an immigrant church.

Where are the Leaders?

“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

The Christic Body-Tree

Tree of Christ and the Apostles

23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 6:43-49

“For every tree is known by its own fruit… A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good… for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:44-45).

Jesus Christ, our theandric Body and organism, is the living tree out of which persons flourish and grow. The Heart of the Body-Tree overflows with the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When we lose our ego boundaries and acquire the Heart of Christ, individualism dissolves and gives way to the emergence of unique persons in the Womb of the Father. The Spirit who anoints persons with distinct ”tongues of fire” fashions unique icons of Christ in the Body-Tree.

The source of life in the Sacred Heart and Tree is the Holy Spirit flowing from within:

“…but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:37-38).

Five centuries before the Incarnation, the Buddha was enlightened under a Bodhi tree, a sacred fig tree known as the “tree of awakening.” The young man, Siddhārtha Gautama, sought wisdom and liberation with all of his energy. If he had met the selfless and compassionate Christ, would he have found a kindred spirit? 

Our prayers and meditations under and within the Christic Body-Tree connect us with Life and Light itself, who is tri-personal. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us and make us one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.