Second Sunday of Lent Cycle C

Our readings for this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent are here. (

These are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily from the 5PM on February 21, 2016.  (That was an early Lent!!)


The poem Fr Dennis references in 2016 are:

The Window by Raymond Carver

In 2016, we reflected on —

  • the practice of Lent is to change ourselves … but how?, to what end?  We welcome and accept the new catechumens with all the Cycle A readings, as they are among the best readings!  (However, the tradition is to read the Cycle A readings when a parish has catechumens, but St Mary’s has had catechumens for so long — thank God! — we hadn’t heard the other readings, so we are more selective of when and how they Cycle A readings are read.)
  • from the first reading … “three-year-old heifer …”  What’s up with all these details?!?  At the time, God made covenants, i.e., civil contracts with us, in their own way. In this case, the animals are cut in half and God, as smoke and fire, walks between them signifying “If I don’t keep my part — namely, that you are God’s people and Abraham gets his own land, then let me end up like these cut in half animals.
    • It is one example of God descending to our level.
    • The imagery of the covenant is serious (as opposed to an imperative “get it right” approach), and God is the faithful, committed one in this covenant, though we try.  It echoes what we try to share with the catechumens, that this is a serious commitment on their part, and even more so on God’s part.
  • In the gospel reading of the Transfiguration, we see the glory of God, so as to mark Jesus as the fulfillment of all that went before.  With Abraham in the first reading, we see the cloud and torch.  In the desert and Exodus, God is a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.  In the Transfiguration, Jesus with priest (Moses) and prophet (Elijah) is shrouded in cloud and fire (Hebrew scripture images of God) and gleaming white (Christian scripture Resurrection).
  • We’re each called to this Transfiguration, too, through our many transfigurations in our life — Lenten and otherwise.
  • Moments of transcendence help us become a better people to receive our catechumens and to show mercy as an expression of God’s Mercy.

In the SALT Lectionary Van Gogh Lenten reflection for this Sunday, we are encouraged to spend time with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

I also remember a summer daily homily reflection by Fr. Dennis on the Feast of the Transfiguration, a sharing of the experience. As a Jesuit, he studied for his PhD in Film History and Criticism at NYU. From meeting Dorothy Day at the nearby Catholic Worker House to the performing arts, God was at work in his life in New York City. On one such outing, he saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform their signature work, Revelations. As he left the theater and moved through the subway, that feeling of the dance inside him — as if he could move in such liberation — went with him as he walked, spirit dancing three feet above the ground in a body that could do no such thing.

Though we won’t stay in our moments of Transfiguration, we can celebrate and be transformed by them, as Raymond Carver writes in The Window.

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Cycle C)

Our readings for this Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are here. (  The readings are again ABC, so I have used the notes from 2017 (Cycle A).

These are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily from the 10AM Mass on December 31, 2017.  And a couple chip-ins on the nature of what a Holy Family is!


The poems Fr Dennis references in 2017 are:

Advent by Mary Jo Salter (2017 homily)

Course of Treatment by Linda Pastan (2017 homily)

Vocational Training by Carrie Shipers (2017 homily)

and Fr Tom McClain, SJ in 2014 offered a homily that has stuck with me,

and Fr Peter Fennessy, SJ contributed a visual image.

In 2017 with Fr Dennis, we reflected on —

  • Simeon and Anna are the symbolic grandparents in the story of the Nativity.  In the apocrypha, stories are told of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, and over time we celebrate them on July 26th.  But Simeon and Anna represent Jesus’ grandparents in this early story in Jesus’ life.  Both the symbolic and the actual grandparents are our reminders that Emanuel, God-with-us, came to “pitch tent” with us, and his humanity fully encompasses ours, and so eventually through the resurrection, our humanity with his fully shared humanity into the divinity of God.  Humans have grandparents, so did our savior.
  • The readings encompass the themes of looking back, reflectively, as Simeon recalls the prophecy from earlier in his life; of beginning tendings or leanings, as both Simeon and Anna offer about Jesus; and of families, as all of the readings offer — with concessions to the culture and language of their times.
  • In Mary Jo Salter’s poem of Advent, the poem captures the sense that Advent = Coming and how a mother and daughter inhabit Advent, the coming, and the becoming of their space and relationship together.  The poem shares the holiness of the interweaving and recognition of our lives with each other and with the physical world.
  • Linda Pastan’s Course of Treatment has 40 visits of (probably) a spouse, but an unnamed relation, being released from treatment for a new year, with hope.
  • In Carrie Shipers’ Vocational Training she presents the wisdom internalized and practiced by her mother, a doctor.  You get the sense of the Anna type wisdom and the details of advice, the practice we need so we “know what to do” in the moments of need.  
  • So we pray for our families — biological (through birth), adopted (our functional families), social (varied), and global (all of humanity) — that we may create more loving and giving, inwardly and outwardly, families.

In 2014, Tom McClain offered that Holy Families are our communities that offer

  • the gift of intimacy;
  • safety in our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings; and
  • apostolic mission/service for others, as in I love you but I’ll let you go to do what you must for Christ.  In other words, the absence of an authentic sense of service for others eventually leads to interior rot.
Simone Martini - Christ Discovered in the Temple - Google Art Project

Holy Family Imagined

On one of my retreats at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, Fr Peter Fennessy, SJ shared this image of “Christ Discovered in the Temple” by Simone Martini (1342)  The image is from a final scene in scripture before “the hidden years” of Jesus.  Jesus has, in essence, ditched his parents and family caravan to return to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the Holy Family is having a conversation.  The expressions on Mary’s, Joseph’s, and Jesus’ faces are those of human families past, present, and future.  Exasperation, anguish, frustration … all these are part of Holy Families, as are patience, tenderness, and love. 

Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord

Our readings for this Sunday, the Nativity of the Lord are here. (

The gospel readings for Christmas are tied to the Mass, e.g., Vigil, Night, Dawn, or Day, and come from the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John.  The readings are listed for ABC, rather than a single cycle, like we read during Advent, e.g., Luke’s gospel is the dominant gospel account in Cycle C this liturgical year.  It and the Gospel of Matthew are the only two of the four which discuss the birth of Jesus.  Luke has the shepherds and angels, Matthew has the magi and more about Joseph’s interactions with the angels. 

For clarification, both the gospels according to Luke and Matthew have plenty of angels!  However, one would expect the angels to interact with the key people in the story, like Mary and Joseph.  The messengers of God interact with key people. What is unusual about our God and the account in Luke, is the angels proclaimed “glad tidings of great joy” to shepherds, at that time some of the lowliest members and most on the fringes of Jewish society.  This is God’s very different take on who the key players are in God’s eyes and heart! This is one more exclamation point by God that salvation is for everybody!  St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote that we are most made in the image of God when we love humans, preferentially the poor.  This is one more example of God doing so!

Below are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily (Fr Dennis Dillon, SJ) from the 10AM Mass on December 25, 2017.  


The poems Fr Dennis references in 2017 are:

It Happened One Christmas by Wendell Berry,

and the other Christmas homily poems that I have …

Christmas Light by May Sarton (Christmas Day 2016)

December by Gary Johnson (a favorite, used on Christmas Eve 2016)

Some additional poems for Christmas shared via the SALT Lectionary team:

The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

On the Mystery of the Incarnation by Denise Levertov

Christmas Poem by e.e. cummings

Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver

In 2017, we reflected on —

  • The Nativity Pageant and Mass are a celebration of the children of the world.  The pageant and its fresh interpretation of the story by each year’s cast of children renews our faith.  Fr Dennis wore the stole of children to honor all the children — those who are children by age, and those who are children at heart.  Most importantly, he wore it to honor the One who came to be with us … as a babe!
  • Why would the Trinity do this, this mystical incredible idea of the Incarnation?  What was Jesus hoping to say with the Incarnation?  Solidarity. Jesus of the Trinity became incarnate to share the vulnerability of a fertilized cell on to his last breath on the cross to be in total solidarity with us humans, God’s created.  This form of solidarity means:
    • His mercy comes from within, from his full humanity and divinity
    • He felt himself at home with us in a very simple meal of bread and wine, and being divine could leave this expression with us in the Eucharist, so we can always be together in the Sacrament
    • He became helpless, like we are helpless and vulnerable
  • Because of Jesus’ mercy of Incarnation, we aren’t so helpless, and no one of us is ever alone.
  • In today’s Collect Prayer for the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas!), we pray that because of God we “share[e] in the divinity of Christ.”  In other words, through the Incarnation, we are called to be divine, and the call itself as well as its manifestation is Grace, God’s Life within us, now.  (rl: this reflection on grace helps me understand the gentle power of Tony de Mello, SJ’s spiritual exercise: Imagine God looking at you … and smiling.)
  • He read Wendell Berry’s poem, Remembering That It Happened Once.  Wendell Berry was a highly successful academic and teacher.  After 25 years (in the late 1970s), he and his wife purchased a farm (eventually 117 acres) in Kentucky near his parents’ lands, and they have lived there ever since.  He writes and submits all his poems written by hand.
  • His poem captures the mystery of the Incarnation of God — the sweet spot of Holiness in relationship between God and us, and past and present (and future). “… and we are here / As we have never been before, / Sighted as not before, our place / Holy, although we knew it not.”
  • Gary Johnson’s December is a familiar one, but fits so well with the reflection themes of the day (and was familiar to many by this time).

Merry Christmas!!

Fourth Week of Advent Cycle C

Our readings for this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent are here. (

Again, these are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homilies from the December 20, 2015 5PM and December 23, 2018 masses.  And a surprise selection from Fr Eric Sundrup in 2015.  So … many poems to help light our path through scripture this week!


The poems Fr Dennis references in 2018 & 2015 are:

Mrs. God by Connie Wanek (2018 homily)

December by Gary Johnson (2018 and 2015 homily)

On the Mystery of the Incarnation by Denise Levertov (2015 homily)

and Fr Eric Sundrup, SJ in 2015 used The Risk of Birth, An Advent Poem by Madeleine L’Engle.

In 2018, we reflected on —

  • how remarkable children are, particularly as we had the beautiful baptism of Adelaide at the 5PM Mass — remember how much joy the baptisms brought to the Sunday masses?  The children scurrying to the choir loft, so they could look down, God’s Eye view?, on the proceedings?  Gary Johnson captures this integration of faith and action in children in his poem December.
  • The psalm has an interesting refrain — Lord, make us turn to you; / let us see your face and we shall be saved.  It is unusual because the face of God was historically and culturally thought by the Hebrews to be unbearable, e.g., Moses’ shining face after seeing the face of God (because they were friends).  The people wanted Moses to cover his face.  In other times, people were thought to die if they were to behold the face of God.
  • But, as Christians, we see the face of God in an infant, Jesus, like our little Adelaide of the blessing today.  God wanted to give God’s self soooo completely that God became one of us as a babe.  (Rainey’s contribution of a poem!)
  • In the gospel, Mary is blessed because she believes what God told her, i.e., Gabriel’s message, and this is in addition to the great trust in God or nature that we, and women in particular, must have in the process of birth, that all will work out as it should.
  • What gives these moments of revelation that we hear in scripture of Micah and the gospel with Mary and Elizabeth?
    • God coming in utter helplessness to be with us.
    • The newness in each repetition of ritual, like our baptism today, our communion rite and line, like the Gary Johnson poem — one in sonnet form with many external references to Christmas Hymns (“for the faithful to come ye,” “Joyful and triumphant,” “the partridge in a pear tree,” and more).
  • The Connie Wanek poem, Mrs. God, is fun, and a reminder that as we begin and continue on our journey with Cycle C, the gospel of Luke has many more women characters than the other gospels.

In 2015, we reflected on —

  • In Denise Levertov’s poem, On the Mystery of the Incarnation, she begins with “It’s when we face for a moment / the worst our kind can do / …” that we hold the context of our saints choices and God’s Love in awe:  Mary had to trust the message of Gabriel; Joseph had to trust his dream/vision; Elizabeth had to believe after the cruelty of all those years; Mary & Joseph’s visit to the temple with Jesus and meeting Anna & Simeon — Is this child really that special?  Because Jesus was growing just like any other child.
  • God sent God’s Son not to one of the innocent forms of creation but to us “tainted” humans locked in “our ugly failure to evolve.”
  • Gary Johnson’s December, as we discussed above, is a sonnet with AB, CD, and EF couplets of rhyming scheme) invoking external references to familiar Christmas hymns.  Somehow, the child of the poem, singing, is the hope and faith of all the years, even into the dark.  (Hark!) 
  • The cameo by Fr Eric Sundrup is the message that Love risks, because love is grateful and realizes that what it has received is a gift, and so it’s not afraid to risk it all.  As Madeleine L’Engle writes:  This is no time for a child to be born … And yet our God came and pitched God’s tent among us.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! 

Third Sunday of Advent Cycle C

Our readings for this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent are here. (

These are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily from the 8:30AM on December 13, 2015.


  • Gaudete Sunday is a brief relaxation during Advent.  All of Advent is waiting in hope, but Gaudete Sunday emphasizes the hope.
  • In the gospel, John the Baptist “preached good news to the people.”  It sure didn’t sound like it – fly right or else, and he’s gonna baptize you with fire! Recall that people experienced John the Baptist physically pouring water over them for baptism … and he’s saying Jesus is going to use <gulp> fire?!?  This is good news?!?
  • So what are supposed to do?  Live good lives.  Live our lives well, do so with reflection, and do so for God because we’re God’s.
  • Note that John the Baptist was wrong.  He foresaw that someone “mightier” than him was coming (correct) and would be more fiery than he was (incorrect).  Jesus is generally depicted as mild.  John the Baptist was right in general, but not in the details.
  • The poem ends with “And keep walking.”  This walking (and the rest of their walking) is an effort to make sense of the stuff they do every day. 
  • The change is internal because the journey, the walking toward God, is an interior experience and change.
  • And we come to our “Holy Restaurant” for stories and this wayfarer’s bread. Now, we keep walking in our Mass together to the Liturgy of the Body.  Not that it changes everything, … but it does.

Second Sunday of Advent Cycle C

Welcome to our Into the Light Reflection site for the Second Sunday of Advent! 

We should be about Day 6 into our chocolate Advent calendars.

Our readings for this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent are here. (

Again, these are my notes and interpretations from the 8:30 and 10 (or Noon) Mass homily of Fr Dennis Dillon, SJ, on December 6, 2015.  Anything that doesn’t quite make sense should be attributed to my note-taking frailties, and not his homily!  The answer is always God’s Love. 


The two poems he referenced with this homily are December by Gary Johnson and Patience by Kay Ryan.  Both capture the tension of Advent — waiting and hope.

Ryan writes:

Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.

and Johnson finishes his poem with:

Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark. // And are there angels hovering overhead?  Hark.

Today’s readings capture the sense that in these moments ” … that they are remembered by God.”  Not vice-versa — we are rarely the ones remembering God. We forget God, particularly when we are in the good times.

For the ancient Jewish people their temple was in Jerusalem, and where God manifested.  For us, the “temple” is where we gather, as the Body [of Christ].  The Holy Spirit activates it, in all our myriad experiences and stories.  These are very different concepts of temple.

Yet, the incarnation of Emmanuel, God-with-us, as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, resolves these differences.  People must have been in the presence of Jesus Christ in person and somehow associated that experience with their experience of being in or near the presence of God in the Temple.

When we’re in the desert spiritually, we experience the hole in our heart.  That is the way it is supposed to be.  We have a hole in our heart until we come to rest in God.  The quiet re-members us to God, to the Body of Christ.


May we all receive the graces to have our paths straightened to make way and God’s good work in each of us completed.

First Sunday of Advent Cycle C

Welcome to our Into the Light Reflection site for Advent! 

As we each prepare ourselves for the season of Lent, let us remember the reflection of David Steindl Rast, OSB: It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.

Our readings for this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent are here.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll share the gospel and poetic reflections of Fr Dennis Dillon, SJ from his homilies during Advent at St. Mary Student Parish.  Anything that doesn’t quite make sense should be attributed to my notetaking frailties, and not his homily!  The answer is always God’s Love.

From Fr Dennis’ Noon Mass homily on November 29, 2015

The gospel is kind of frightening, however its message is meant to encourage us.  Don’t let the anxieties of daily life distract us, instead celebrate what’s coming  – that is, celebrate hope.

In the poem, “Want” by Carrie Fountain, about half way through the poem, she writes:

            learning how to hold hopelessness and hope together

That sense of hopelessness is captured when we feel that maybe these travails are all we get, and the sense of hope when we latch on to that sense of “Go on, break it open, let it go!”  The remainder of the poem captures this complex space into which we are called:

to see on the unharmed
surface of one
the great scar
of the other

Yes, we have to face our realities that generate hopelessness, like the gospel, terrorists, refugee crises.  Yet the poem and readings remind us to have both — hope and hopelessness.  There’s still hope even at the end, even in personal death.

Louse Glück in “The Night Migrations” accounts of the season changing with red berries, bird migrations, and that even in this inarticulate way, there is still hope.  The dead won’t be able to see the downward cycle or Christmas or spring.  But what does a soul do, once a person is dead?  She offers the solace that maybe even “not being” is enough.

The remembering of God’s action in our lives and world is a blessing and hope in itself, creating faith, hope, and trust in God.

From Celeste’s creativity!

Fungi and Fox

A lovely day and evening greeted us all in Ann Arbor. There are fewer but still hungry skeeters.

I enjoyed a quiet dinner overlooking the quiet ravine. The chippies make so much noise for being so tiny!

One meandering gaze takes in the ferociously large fungi on the wi-fi tree. a foot or more in diameter.

After an hour and a full stomach, I give up on the undercurrent of hope of seeing a fox. It’s too early and too light for them to be visible in observable areas.

I turn the corner and burnish copper with black stockings is in motion, from the northwest corner of Jan’s garden to the southwest corner then on to the ravine, confirmed by silent swift fox trot and the white-tipped tail.

Joy burned all the brighter and fuller for hope having just been set aside to residue embers for the evening, a full three seconds of unfettered joy with the fox in motion.

Where Foxes Play

After a six week hiatus, I saw one of “our” foxes Monday night!

The day had been a joy anyway, as the hummingbirds were busy at the feeder. There are at least two, as two had their territory war briefly. Good grief! There are two big bowls of sugar water that they never finish! Sharesies, hummies, sharesies!!

At perhaps 15 minutes away from full dark, I reflexively looked at the birdfeeder. Sometimes a beautiful cardinal is cheep-chomping on the seed. This time, nobody. But at the base, burnished copper catches my eye. One of the foxes is cleaning up the peanuts and seed. Sleek, red, black-stockinged, and just-so white-tipped tail. Gorgeous.

I stare and ooh and ahh to myself. I even manage one picture … but through the window with the screen, and then forget to save the second picture through the clear window because I am so excited.

A street noise startles the fox, and it dance glides across the tips of the grass blades, like a floating pennant. Everyone should get to see a red fox blow away across emerald green grass-sky. 🙂

Quite a gift on August 23, 2021.

You know you’re in Montana when …

… it looks like a straight shot on the map from Gardiner to Great Falls via US 89 … and .. you misread those contours and misread the actual vertical experience of the trip! 

Travel from Gardiner to Livingston was as much a delight on the way out, as the way in — elk, osprey, eagles, and horses.

Take a right for seven miles on I-90 with the luxury of a divided highway.

Exit for the northern route on a full lane, full-shouldered, center & side-rumble stripped road to White Sulphur Springs — simply a delight of a road.

And then Lewis & Clark National Forest.  This is where my “plan” met God’s Creation and the humility of budgets, engineering, and elevations. Oofah.  My first miscalculation was thinking the trip would be similar to my childhood ones to Red Lodge Ski Resort and Bridger Bowl. Note to self: jettison the childhood passenger experience and misty-eyed lens memory view. I have to be the driver now!

The road at base level through the National Forest was well-used but peaceful; the slow-down of weaves and curves on a broken road a brilliant idea. Like many, I consider a less smooth road a good thing in a set-aside area keeping everyone a bit slower on the road than they might be otherwise.

Then the road, without any improvements, ascends up and up and up to an eventual pass of 7400 feet, the highest elevation maintained and kept open year round in Montana. Showdown Ski Resort and its 8,000 foot peak to the west and then a 9,000 foot peak to the east of the road. 

The change is gradual at first with more and deeper turns. You barely notice the rise until on turns, Sheep Creek then Belt Creek now seem mighty far below. Looking at the map again, it felt much curvier than it looks on paper!

Glad no one was behind me with my top speed of 45mph. This was not my favorite drive with the curves at these elevations, tilting road at times, okay asphalt, barely-a-shoulder shoulder, and what felt like nothing on the edges (the guardrails seemed sparse and somewhat akin to Wyle E Coyote’s ineffectual umbrellas). To be clear, this isn’t a declaration of engineering shoddiness. It is about the magnificence and untameability of God’s Creation in these parts! The engineers and construction crews that design and build these roads allow goods and people to move in a manner unheard of even 100 years ago. No budget or engineer could build a lowland road of pastoral driving through a Rocky Mountain pass. (Even Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, a work of art and gorgeous views, is for the passengers, not the drivers!) Grateful to be in Dad & Jo’s Honda Element — not the best for wind, but a really good vehicle.

The spring mountain snow blizzard (rain or nothing at the valley floor) capped the experience for me. The Montana experience of my youth caught me — how this was just one too many obstacles, and I wanted to quit. There was nobody else on the road, this was all too much, etc. but at that moment, God’s Montana lifts you up, too.

Mom was at the other end of this road, waiting in her apartment, and for my sake had encouraged me to take the days off time with her to go to Yellowstone. As the world was overwhelmed with the big fluffy snowflakes, the boy soprano in Handel’s Messiah sings “And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and as the coro bursts forth “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men.” In that moment, the beauty of God’s Creation on earth, in weather, and in voice, transformed what might have been spring snow that broke this little camel’s back to the encouragement of a multitude of the heavenly host proclaiming the good news that we, including me!, are loved beyond what we will ever know in the moments or sum of our lifetimes. And God’s beauty carried me out of my fears.

But this segment of the trip in particular reminded me how acclimated I’ve become to my beloved Great Lakes region and how different being a passenger is to driving these roads. My childhood was filled with trips through the mountain passes of Montana, but Dad and his lifetime in these parts were at the wheel or my Mom and her fierce devotion to her children. Clearing King’s Hill pass and realizing I was heading back down to the valley floor was a heady celebratory moment. The road crews had ensured there was plenty of sand on the road to prevent slipping.

On reflection after a couple months, I realized the stress of the situation actuated all my trauma specific points — without any of the usual triggers. It was somehow wildly liberating to meet these experiences and pass through with the acknowledgement that this is where and how my body expresses stress … and I do not have to respond to it.

One friend consoled me that the view must have been magnificent. Even at a too slow for normal traffic 45 mph, I daren’t take my eyes off the double yellow in the center or lift a single finger from the double-clenched grasp of the steering wheel. Snow, yellow double stripe, and shrimpy guardrail filled my vision for an hour. 🙂

My descent was downshifted and glad the Forest Service had laid down a hearty layer of sand on the road.  Sooooo happy to be on the base of the valley by the creek with little to no precipitation!  Then one more elevated pass until finally level ground and easy-peasy into Great Falls.  One river has jumped its bed in its meander.  There is a huge riverbed bone dry near Belt Creek.