Monthly Archives: May 2023

Holy Spirit bringing Peace

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost! Along with Easter and Christmas, it is one of the three biggest days of the year, but is often neglected. It is the great feast of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Catholic

Church. If Pentecost was in A.D. 33, as many scholars believe it is, then this is the 1990th birthday of the Church (we should be planning for a really big monster of a party in ten years, when it turns 2000. I’ve suggested to some of our school kids that an interesting math problem would be: how much cake do you need to hold all those candles?).

We start with Genesis 11:1-11, the story of the Tower of Babel. It is a story of sin dividing people with confused language as they try to attain heaven on their terms rather than receiving the gifts that God wants to give them. Acts 2:1-11 is the story of Pentecost, which is God undoing the effects of Babel, enabling people of different languages to understand each other.

The Holy Spirit communicates the fruit of the Pascal Mystery that undoes the power of sin. He also formed the disciples into the Church. Without losing our individuality, we become parts of

one another, as parts of a body (1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12) and become more fully alive, as we have no trouble seeing ourselves as a higher form of life than amebae (and see John


In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of living water (John 4:4-16 and 7:37-39), and it is explained that this refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would only be sent after Jesus was glorified.

This image is brought to fullness in Revelation 21:1-2, in which we see the Trinity together: God (the Father) and the Lamb (Jesus) are on the throne, and from the throne flows life-giving water

(the Holy Spirit).

The Holy Spirit saves us from “the works of the flesh.” “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-

23a, but it’s worthwhile reading vv. 16-26). Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them (Matt 7:16).” I don’t know about farming, but I figure the measure of success for a farmer is less

about how much he sweats, and more about what crops are produced. If we want some sense if we are growing as disciples, are we growing in these qualities? What signs are there in our

behavior that we are showing fruit? Many judge a worship service by how the “experience” made them “feel.” Better questions might be, “Did it help me focus on God rather than myself?” and “Afterwards, did I exhibit more fruit of the Holy Spirit in my

behavior?” Obviously, this is not just the work of the worship leaders, but also how the individuals give themselves to participate, both internally and externally. A useful thing to do would be to review the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and ask ourselves, “what behaviors are we growing in that show the Spirit bearing fruit?” Another good thing to do is pray for the Holy Spirit:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

O God, who have taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is Pentecost! Let us Celebrate!


Healthier Brain, More Peaceful World

Dear Folks,

In discussions about making this a less violent world, the subject of mental health comes up. Then it usually vanishes, and people move on. Partly, I think people get uncomfortable dealing with this subject, as if it is somehow shameful. We need to get over this. The brain is an organ and gets sick like any other organ. I would also think it is a big issue without a simple solution, and we like quick and simple solutions. How can we keep the conversation going?

How can we have some fruitful discussion about our mental health system, and how does our system need restructuring? What resources would be needed for some good outcomes? People who know more than I do need to be pushing these questions.

Of course, just as we know that heart health is not just a matter of thoracic surgeons, cardiologists and statins, but also fruits, vegetables, and exercise, so we recognize that mental health is not just about the mental health professionals, but healthy practices. As we think about how people are taught to brush and floss their teeth, and how we are taught nutrition principles, should we not be trying to develop some more common mental hygiene practices?

My training in psychology is pretty rudimentary, but there are some places to start.

One place is in relationships. So many are lonely now. So many describe the pain of toxic relationships. Can we talk about what makes a healthy relationship, and how to form them?

Another place is how we react to events in our lives and how we weave them into a narrative.

What meaning we can find in our good experiences and bad experiences? Viktor Flankl, in his wonderful book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” talks about the human response to suffering. As a Psychiatrist and a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, he has a special authority to talk. He said that people who are more resilient in horrible situations are people who find meaning in them.

Many today do not have a strong enough vision of life to help them find meaning in bad situations. Many would agree with Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5).” Or, as Monty Python said so eloquently, “Is life just a game where we make up the rules as we’re looking for something to say? Or are we just really spiraling coils of self-replicating D.N.A.?” Not a strong vision to give you hope when life gets really hard, and our hearts get broken.

This is a good time to talk about Christianity. A relationship with Jesus and discipleship in the Gospel is the most powerful approach I’ve found, not only to find meaning in suffering, but even power in suffering. We see our lives woven into a larger story of salvation, and that casts a different light on everything, the bad and the good. Many who go to church, and many who have wandered away from church, have not found that to be the case. I would suggest that many have been taught an enfeebled, mush version of Christianity that is has no power to transform lives. It is for those who take Jesus seriously to help others find what Jesus is really about. As Peter Kreeft said in “Jesus Shock”: “If you think Jesus is boring you have the wrong Jesus.” The better we know Jesus, the better we can share Jesus. If you want a better world, the best first step is always to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.


Fr. Jim

Build a Better World

Dear Folks,

Talking about developing a less violent world, I think we need to look at the power of personal agency. So often, it can feel like what we do doesn’t make much difference in the larger world. It is a terrible feeling to think that the world and other people can make marks on us quite easily, but there is nothing we can do to make our mark on the world. This is a feeling I lived with for a lot of years, and it can lead to desperation. If we can help people learn better to channel that energy, that can lead to lead to more productive activity and less desperation.

This can involve developing a vision. If things are not good as they are now, what improvement do we want? It is good to be specific. Then we need a path between here and there.

We need to learn skills: learn to make a case for what we think should happen and making it effectively, both for the goal and the way to get there. Just because it seems painfully obvious to us doesn’t mean it will be obvious to others, in fact, we can count on someone thinking it is completely wrong, and that can be frustrating. Seeing things from others’ point of view is a good first step. We need to recognize that if people do change the way they think, it can be a slow process, and we need patience. I find however much patience I think I’ve learned God seems to think I need more. If we get attention, it needs to be in a way that helps people see things from our point of view.

We can cultivate more realistic expectations. This can keep people from giving up when things take a long time and get difficult. I don’t know much about farming, but I think people take for granted that when they plant seeds, it will take months for the crop to be ready. On the other hand, if I put coffee in the microwave and it takes months for the coffee to get hot, I’m throwing that microwave away. Making profound, meaningful changes in society is long, slow work, often spanning generations. Getting people to change the way they think takes time, especially when ideas are deeply rooted and intertwined with their basic world view. I suggest lower expectations short term, higher expectations long term. Before we try to justify quick and dirty tactics, remember the other side might use them too, and they tend not to win people over.

Boundaries are essential! Just because we have good intentions does not mean our behavior is justified. We as a society need to reject excusing people’s bad behavior because we think it is for a good cause (remember, everyone thinks they have a good cause). If protesters behave badly, it hurts the credibility of their cause. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be as clever as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt 10:16).”

We must support those who help make it a less violent world. This starts with law enforcement. We need to recognize the great risks and sacrifices that they make, and how much we depend on them. We need to remember many of the decisions, especially shoot/don’t shoot situations, must be made in a fraction of a second, and if they get it wrong, they often die. They want to go home at the end of their shift like everyone else. Yes, we need to get rid of bad actors, but when there is an incident, we need to give the officer the same benefit of the doubt that we would want for ourselves. When people commit a crime, there should be quick and consistent consequences as much as possible. Lax or selective enforcement encourages more crime.

Let’s not disparage thoughts and prayers. Yes, they are not a substitute for action, but action can follow from focusing our hearts. We can always invite people to action, and this is an opportunity to make our case.

Blessings, Fr. Jim

Families Building Civilization

Dear Folks,

If we are serious about building a less violent world, we need to take a look at fatherless families. According to everything I’ve read (see for some data), children who grow up without their fathers are significantly more likely to live in poverty, have

behavioral problems, become drug addicts, commit crimes, and many other things. I’ve been told that boys learn from their fathers how to be men and how to treat women, while daughters learn from their fathers what to expect from men.

There are many single parent families that are doing great things, and there are some fathers that are not doing a good job, but it can still be true that encouraging families with both the father and mother present and engaged can build a better world.

Someone told me that her observation was that some parents see their children more as accessories than as their central life vocation. Such parents drop off their kids at school, and maybe at church, and act as the primary teachers of their children. However, many parents are taking their responsibility very seriously and see themselves as the first mentors, protectors, and advocates for their children. How can we help and encourage them?

I’ve heard some voices that suggested that parents shouldn’t have a say in (or even know) what their children are getting taught because they weren’t trained like teachers are. However, I’ve heard some teachers saying please, please, please would parents be

more involved in their children’s education. How can we help and encourage them?

For many years it was clique that in movies and TV shows the father of the family was either a doofus or a jerk, and everyone knew better than him. How might that have helped form the notion that fathers were not that important to have around. I’ve been told by a

number of sources that the way the welfare system is structured, it is actually encouraging the mother to raise children without the presence of the father. If that is true, how can that be changed? How can it be structured to encourage active presence and participation of both parents? I have been told it will never be changed because keeping people poor and dependent is big business. I figure systematic change can only happen when enough people rise up and decide not to stand for it. I don’t know where to start, but I refuse to believe it is impossible.

It has been said that “Love is love.” It is a true statement, but not all love relationships are the same. The relationship between husband and wife is different from father and son, from mother and daughter, between cousins, between brothers, between brother and sister, between two good friends, and so on. Each has a different nature, makes a different contribution to society, and is expressed differently. I would suggest that the relationship

between a man and a woman, committed to a permanent exclusive relationship of love that is ordered toward the generation and nurturing of children makes a unique contribution. If

that is true, how can society privilege this relationship, encourage it, strengthen it, and value it? Our future, and our hope for a better world, may depend on it.


Fr. Jim