It’s officially autumn, even though here in the South it doesn’t feel like it. We like to hang on to the heat and humidity just as long as we can. But no matter what we do, the subtle signs of autumn are creeping in each day. The heat fades fast once the sun sets and the mornings are cool. Our gardens, which were lush and flourishing just weeks ago, are dried and barren, their summertime bounty long gone. Acorns and nuts have fallen to the ground and drawn the squirrels out of the trees to collect a winter’s groceries. Apples are ripening in the orchards. It won’t be long until the dogwoods turn red and the air will be spiced with the smoke of burning leaves. Fall isn’t here just yet, but we can feel it coming.

There’s something melancholy about autumn. It’s a season of endings. Vacations are over. Long, lazy days are done. All our summer dreams have faded. Fall means getting back on a schedule, buckling down to business, and getting serious about things. The world around us is preparing for the cold winds of winter, Things are slowing down, conserving energy, taking their time.  

Falls reminds us that everything in life and in time must come to an end. From the moment we were conceived, our life has been unwinding and eventually all our earthly hours will be spent. Autumn brings us this message every year. In the flaming gold of the poplar or the blazing red of the maple, there’s decay and death lurking beneath those glorious colors. In fact, it’s in their dying that the beautiful colors burst forth.

People often complain that “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t in many ways. Good people suffer while bad people prosper. Relationships break down. Families fall apart. But in one profound and universal way, life is indeed quite fair and equitable to every one of us. We’re all going to die. Death is that one inevitable event that each of us has to confront and experience. It’s the most level of all the playing fields. And no matter how hard we try to distract ourselves from thinking about it, it’s coming for us all.  

It’s a good season for reflecting on endings. And it’s a good season for repenting and making things right with the Lord. For Christians, death is the end of our earthly lives and the opening of the door to eternity with Jesus Christ. If you’ve been away from the Sacraments, now is the best time to return, to experience God’s mercy in confession and His nourishment in Holy Communion. In these shortening days, when the sun slips more quickly over the horizon, we’re drawn ever more to the One True Light Who dispels all darkness. And we’ll soon gather for feasts and celebrations with our family and friends, let’s be reminded to prepare for the coming of that Star in the east that will show us all the only way out of death.

“…It’s a long, long while from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach


When the autumn weather turns the leaves to 


One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

          —Maxwell Anderson

“September Song”

The Saint of Everyday Life

Most everyone knows St.Teresa of Calcutta and her work with the poorest of the poor. But unless you’re Catholic, you might not know of another modern day saint named Josemaria Escriva. He was a Spanish priest who died in 1975 and he was recognized as a saint in 2002. He is called “the Saint of ordinary life.” He wrote extensively about living each moment in service and in holiness. He believed that every vocation in life was a path to sainthood and his writings are a challenge to each one of us to live our faith to the fullest. Because he lived in our time, he’s easy to read. One of his most famous quotes challenges me every day.  

“Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Ouch. That really hit homes for me. It makes me look too closely at my own heart and my own sins. And it feels so much like something Jesus would have said. Of course, that’s how saints work. They think so little of themselves that our Lord can speak through them. This quote gets to the core of our relationship with other people and reminds me of something the Alabama nun, Mother Angelica once said: “If it wasn’t for people, we’d all be saints.” That one always makes me laugh, but it also reveals a great truth about our faith and our struggle to live it each day. Christianity exists in relationships. The Holy Trinity itself is a relationship. Our salvation is a relationship. We live out the Kingdom of God in our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Reading the Gospels, we see how much of Jesus’ time and teaching was spent in healing broken relationships.. How we accept and love other people is the fruit of our faith journey.  

And that’s why that quote from St. Josemaria really speaks to me. “Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” Rather than just getting annoyed by that tedious coworker or the teenager who never listens to you—we can use those moments as opportunities to grow in grace. Ask God to show you what part of yourself needs working on, as if the other person is a spotlight on your faults, pointing them out to us. How can I grow in humility? How can I let go of the times that person has hurt me? How can I use this moment to become more patient? Like we hear in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our relationships with other people are opportunities to grow in grace and to become more like Christ. But like every other aspect of life, we have to invite Jesus in to show us the way and to reveal to us how He wants us to grow.  

Every time someone “gets on your nerves,” it’s the whisper of the Holy Spirit inviting us to grow in our faith. Rather than an emotional knee-jerk reaction to being irritated or angry, recognize the moment as a chance to practice a virtue that you need to grow. You can’t do this without the help of the Holy Spirit. So pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened to see that part of you that’s being “sharpened” by the other person. This prayer by Thomas Merton is one of my favorites:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

The Priest’s Collar

Whenever I see priest wearing a Roman collar it reminds me of Jesus Christ. Not because I think the priest is perfect and sinless but because, in his vocation, the priests always points to Jesus Christ. That collar is a beacon of light for me. And it makes me sad that so many priests choose not to wear one “except when they’re on duty.”  To begin with, the priesthood is a vocation and not a 9-5 job. There is never a moment that the priest is not a priest, both in this life and the next one. It’s like biological fatherhood: it defines you forever. You really DON’T get a day off. Sure, there are those times when wearing your collar might not be appropriate. Like when you’re sleeping. Or scuba-diving. Or getting a hip replacement. But if you’re making a run to Target for cat food and toilet paper then wear your collar. You never know who might see you and think of Jesus. Maybe for the first time in a very long time.

When I see a priest wearing a collar it reminds me to be thankful for all those men over all those centuries who have answered the call of God and dedicated their lives to the service of His people. I’m reminded of all the sacrifices they made: of material wealth, of the comfort and love of a biological family, of independence. I think of the martyrs of our Catholic faith who were killed because they were deacons or priests or bishops. Without priests there would be no sacraments. Without priests, we could not receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I’m grateful to every faithful priest for bringing Jesus to His Church at every mass.

When I see a priest wearing a collar it reminds me to be joyful. Yes, I’ve known my share of crabby old (and not so old) priests. After all, priests are as happy or as crabby as the rest of us. But the joy of our Christian journey comes from sharing in the good news of the Gospel. Christ died to save us. Christ rose again to conquer death. God is love and mercy. And the joy that flows from that good news calls us to give our lives back to the One Who made us. Priests do that in a remarkable way in their vocation of service and love. That circular collar they wear, like the circle of a wedding band, embodies the endless love and commitment of a life’s vocation. Their collar is at once the yoke of Christ and the true freedom that comes from saying “yes” to God’s will for his life. And in that is joy.

I know that in and of itself, the collar is just a symbol. The priest is just as much a priest in his civvies as he is in his clerical clothes. But symbols are important!  Think of the bishop’s ring, the vestments worn at mass, the chair in the cathedral, a holy card, a medal, a lighted candle or any of the other images or reminders of our faith. They MATTER. Some may think that wearing a collar is some kind of barrier that sets the priest apart from the people in the pews. Father is so much “cooler” in jeans, etc. I disagree completely. That collar is, for me, a wonderful connection within the Church, binding us all together in a world that is forever seeking to tear the Church apart. That collar says: “Be at peace. I’m your priest and we’ll get through this together.”  That collar makes the priest somehow bigger than himself. Not in a powerful way, but in a way that invites a hurting world to approach God’s mercy seat. That collar can be a doorway to repentance and reconciliation for someone who may have been away from the Church for many years. What a privilege for the priest who wears it.

Yes, I know black clothes are hot in the summertime. And that collar only makes things worse. I know that some of you have been called names and been made to feel uncomfortable and perhaps even ashamed when you wear your collar in the world. Since the abuse scandals, being a priest has had added crosses to bear. But the last I checked they aren’t executing priests in America. Surely the burden of wearing a collar is worth it anyway. You see, Father, we need you to be there for us. We’re fighting a battle here in this life and when we look around on the battlefield we need to be able to identify our officers. We can’t ask you for confession if you’re in your golf shirts and khaki pants. But in your collar, you’re an occasion of grace for me. When I see you in your collar I feel a little less alone, a little more joyful, a bit more grateful and a lot more likely to examine my own relationship with Jesus. When you put on your collar in the morning and walk out into the world, you say: “God matters more than I do. I choose to do His will for my life. I’m here to serve the people of God. Won’t you join me?”  Amen, Father. And thank you.

“The world looks to the priest because it looks to Jesus!  No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they will catch a glimpse of the Lord.”

—St. John Paul

A Spiritual Diet

Diet. It’s a four-letter word. Most people hate having to give up the foods that they love in order to lose weight. But we do it—at least for a while. We know that in order to meet our goal we have to take in fewer calories than we expend. When we’re able to do that consistently, we starve those nasty fat cells and we lose weight.

There’s a similar principle at work in our spiritual lives, too. When we identify something that is getting in the way of our journey with Christ, we need to starve it. These obstacles used to be called “sins” and the strategy to overcome them was called “virtues.” We need to use those terms more often. For every sin, there’s a corresponding virtue to be practiced. We know how this works because the Catholic Church has been teaching it since the earliest days of Christianity. We know that the great Saints dutifully practiced some kind of spiritual diet as they progressed in holiness. St. John the Baptist said it best when describing his relationship with Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease”(John 3:30). So how do we do that?

We pray that the Lord will reveal our sins to us and we pray for the humility to accept what He shows to us. I can almost guarantee that your number one stumbling block is pride. We know that this is true because Scripture reveals it to us in so many circumstances. It was pride that brought about the fall of the Lucifer and his fellow disobedient angels. Pride fed the original sin of our first parents in the Garden. Pride says, “I know better than God. I can do this on my own. I don’t need any help.” Pride truly is the root of most, if not all, of our sins.

Starving pride means feeding humility. Talk less. And when you do speak, let it be less of your concerns, your wants, your accomplishments. Don’t seek out praise or sympathy from others. Always put others before yourself. Let yourself be last in all things. Practice mercy. Deny yourself little things that give your pleasure and after a while you can do without more and more. Every denial of self is a step closer to a humble soul. Fast, not only from food, but from gossip, judgement, prejudice, impatience, and envy. Pray constantly the prayer that never fails: “Thy will be done.”

Starving anger means feeding forgiveness. Whether it’s getting cut off in traffic or responding to more serious betrayals, anger is a natural human response. But it doesn’t have to become sinful if we combat it, with God’s help. “…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray these words from the Our Father, but do we put them into action every day? Are we as quick to forgive others as we are to become angry? Do you hope that the other person offending you “gets what they deserve,” or do you offer them the mercy that you hope to receive?

Starving greed means feeding charity. Do you have to have the latest gadget, the fastest car, the biggest house, or the most impressive wardrobe? Does it make you feel bad to see others with these possessions? Greed and envy eat away at the muscle of our charity. These sins hold onto things, instead of people. And we can only give to others with open hands. Overcoming greed, like pride, means thinking less of ourselves and thinking more of others. When we realize that everything we have is a gift from God, it’s much easier to share these gifts with others. We’re called to take care of one another, to help the needy, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and to be Christ to everyone we encounter. Putting yourself on a spiritual diet is only successful if you humbly pray for God’s assistance and strength. Like any diet, it’s harder at the beginning. After time, and daily practice, you’ll develop spiritual practices that help you in walking more closely with Christ. Frequent confession and Holy Communion give you the graces needed to continue growing in your relationship with Jesus. The process of becoming like Him is what St. John meant when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Life is learning to die to self and to live in Christ. As St. Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! (II Corinthians 5:17).

“The more a man dies to himself, the more he begins to live unto God.”

—-Thomas a Kempis