‘Cuz I Didn’t Mean All the Misery I Caused

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus shares a parable featuring an unnamed rich man and Lazarus (not the raised from the dead Lazarus), a man so poor “[d]ogs even used to come and lick his sores” (NASB, USCCB Internet on 4 March 2021). Suffice it to say, the unnamed rich man in the parable couldn’t quit digging a spiritual hole for himself!

Mary Lou Williams, a brilliant American pianist, arranger, and composer included the selection below, “Lazarus,” in what came to be known as “Mary Lou’s Mass,” but formally known as “Music for Peace,” a religious jazz Catholic Mass setting. In addition to her sheer brilliance in the field, she also blazed trails as a woman and African-American.

I first heard the song, you guessed it, in a Dennis Dillon, SJ, homily.

A Jesuit, Peter O’Brien, SJ, served as manager and archivist for Ms. Williams as she reclaimed her musical, spiritual, and inspirational strength after a debilitating period in her life. Her legacy influenced diverse artists such as the late Professor Geri Allen, a jazz pianist with Detroit roots, a UM PhD and professor, and too early death while Director of Jazz Studies at Pitt, and the late Jim Dapogny, another UM Professor of Music Theory, Chicago jazz artist and compositional researcher & re-creator extraordinaire. In a private conversation and in response to my (clueless) prompt, Dapogny once shared that he looked for inspiration to Williams’ hands for balance and lyricism on the keyboard.

Remembering Joy

One of the Midwest Jesuits, Fr Dennis Dillon, SJ, was sent for his “mandatory semi-retirement” at age 70-ish to our parish, St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor. We hardly let him semi-retire amidst his spiritual companioning, weddings, funerals, masses, staff sponsor for Into the Light reflection group, a summer film series, and more.

But even on the street in Ann Arbor, you would hear … “Hmmmm. Which one read poetry during his homily?” He had begun renewing a lifelong interest of poetry and interweaving it with 40 years or so of celebrating Mass. After a time, the expectation in the congregation waited for his right hand to artfully divide the front and back of the chasuble, then through the open gap in the alb to reach his pocket and the folded poem. Hand and sheets of paper were removed in reverse. Each reading invited us to open our own hearts to how the poem and the Word of God was speaking to us that Sunday.

One of my favorites was “Ode to the Joyful Ones” by Thomas Lux. I’ve linked to the Writer’s Almanac website, who have obtained permission to use the full text (unlike me). 🙂 Lux opens it with an exhortation from an Anglican prayer to “Shield your joyful ones.”

“Because they bring laughter’s / brief amnesia. …”

“Because you don’t have to tell them to walk towards the light.”

If ministry had a desk I could clunk my head on, yesterday would have been one of those head clunking days. But in the midst of my comedy of errors and frailties, I laughed harder with a friend than I have laughed in months. That “brief amnesia” from the darkness of our world right now was so wonderful.

Smiles and laughing memories lit up the rest of the day.

Hugs Across the Pond

Random memories of outings and teas with my Irish cousins (our great-grandfathers were brothers) (yes, I know) bloom to consciousness in this long year of reduced social engagement. I’m so grateful for the times we have shared in Ireland and some wonderful times in Ann Arbor.

From Aunt Dorothy’s first stories and shared letters to the first letters to Ireland in 1996, then a first meeting in the states 1998 to the first visit to Ireland in 2002, finding new Irish-American cousins in the States, and three magnificent trips in the summers of 2017 and 2018 — all prompt images and feelings; and, a smile takes over my face.

There are the expected good memories — playing camogie / hurley across three generations of family on the public green and only belatedly seeing the “No Games Allowed” sign, exploring the hospitality and history accompanied by the Irish eye and wit, glorious family table discussions and teas. And the unexpected — 15 miles on a non-touring bicycle in western Co. Clare is very different than riding a hybrid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but Bessie the Bike took me along roads of easy integration of holy springs and ancient tombs with modern activities.

And, of course, for all that we share, an inevitable culture gap will arise.

I hope I never forget the slightly aghast but mostly puzzled teasing look of my cousin as she wondered aloud, “What is that?” I had returned to the front passenger seat with a breakfast for us of fresh bread, too much butter, chocolate, and some waters to fill our stomachs a bit before we set out for tracing in the cemeteries for the morning.


“In the car?!?”

“You don’t eat meals in your cars?”

“No! I should say not, and certainly not this car.”

“Oh. It’s a bit of how we make cars our own in the States. One book used the example of a McDonald’s to-go meal in an open, moving convertible as the quintessential American meal of popular culture — tasty, an experience, but probably not much nutrition or sensibility.”

We were both quite hungry, and I definitely needed a bio-break before we went on our way. (The shopkeeper would never have insisted or given a look despite the effort of opening up the closed portion of the combination pub / grocery store. Our purchase seemed more like being in community than obligation. There’s a reason the Irish are known world-wide for their congeniality and hospitality.)

“I’ll make sure the car is clean, and you can have an ‘American’ experience without ever leaving Ireland.” I wasn’t sure the latter was a selling point. We managed, and on any day when I need a smile, I think of that moment: a culture gap as wide as the ocean but only a few feet apart, cousins sharing a kindred heart.

With gratitude and good wishes to my cousins and us all, as we make our way through these hopeful final months of the pandemic, an XO and snow angel or two for smiles and warmth to you across the miles. (Thanks to my neighbor, Jan, for taking the photos!!)

First Principle and Foundation

In the summer of 2010, I read The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.

I was in the increasingly humorous loop of yes, it would be nice to be a part of communal prayer and song … but I’m not going back to a Catholic Church (we’ve talked about this, o God) … and no, I’m not going back to a Christian Church if it’s not Catholic (that doesn’t feel right either) … but yes, it would be nice to be a part of communal prayer and song.

But at one point in his book, Martin describes the First Principle and Foundation of Ignatian Spirituality (best thought of as one of the many spiritual currents in the tributary of Catholicism in the great river of Christianity) as: We are created to live in God’s Love and Life for eternity.

All kinds of joyous bells went ringing in me — finally!! After all these years, a system of spirituality that made sense and expressed what I had thought Catholicism was supposed to be about. And, after all these decades of the God volume going to zero on entry into any church, now it was maxed out like starting a car with the radio volume left on high!

And, the joy trips out in to the explorations of Creation — how wonderful life is when we see the beauty of our world, cherish it, know it, and offer gratitude and praise together and in sole devotion. All is part of the symphony of Love.


The hallmark of the Italian neorealism genre is to take the ordinary and evoke feelings to believe in the meaning of our lives as they are, rather than create belief in our fantasized endings to stories.  The film offers a poignant example of the every day sacredness that Fr Dennis so often tried to share with us in film and poetry. 

The film director, Vittorio DeSica, once again went with “real” people, rather than actors — in fact, one potential funder wanted Cary Grant to play the lead character, the father/husband, Antonio Ricci.  Instead, a working man and a newspaper boy from the Rome streets, both amateurs, were cast as the father-son combination to great effect.  The actor who played the wife/mom worked in the arts, though she also acted in three films total. The young boy grew up to be a math teacher!

You may recall in 2014, we watched Fellini’s LA STRADA (1954), which broke from the strict social reality foundation of Italian neorealism.  THE BICYCLE THIEF was filmed and released in 1948, closer to the consequences of WWII and hews more tightly to the characteristics of the genre.  Fellini’s creativity tended to cross, blend, and defy genres.

I’ll offer my thoughts below on some of my favorite or standout moments of Eucharist, reconciliation, and more couched in the everyday affairs of a struggling Italian family.

Joyfully Dipping a Toe into The Surest Sign

The French Jesuit, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, once wrote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

My experience bears out this insight, and I find seriousness of purpose obscures my relationship with God. The self-importance of undertaking a purpose and identity as a “human doing” weighs down the joy and relationship with God as a “human being.”

In Genesis 3:8-9, God is walking in the garden of Eden at “the breezy time of day,” expecting Adam and Eve (3:9, “Where are you?”). Such a tender thought that God most enjoyed walking about Creation with the Created!

So with some theological reflection, humor, poetry, film, and other arts, I hope to renew my presence in God, with the surest sign, joy, in its many forms. My hope is that this site might be the same for your spirit, too.

“Infallible sign” seemed a little high falutin’ for me, even if it was just right for Fr Chardin! So … “the surest sign,” it is!