Absent baskets.

Today in the Gospel reading we have the account from Matthew (14:13-21) of Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000. It reminded me that it has been awhile (quite awhile) since I offered up any musings on Sparks through Stubble about bread, fish, baskets, or anything in particular. Life has been busy. Thankfully, the good Lord has the ability to cut through my busy-ness on days like today to encourage me to stop and reflect on his sacred scripture and Word. I’ll offer one, new musing that came to me today while in morning meditation on the gospel reading, and encourage you to leave a comment with your own thoughts:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.”

In past homilies and articles, and, in most Christian literature/commentary, much has been said about the feeding of the 5,000, the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish, the role of the disciples in handing out the fish, and the gaze of Jesus heavenward when offering the blessing.

Today, my attention was drawn to this part of the reading, however:

“They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.”

In my imagination, I could visualize the crowds – men who were tired, dusty, hungry – reclining on the grass and consuming miraculous bread that seemed to go on forever, and fish that never ended. I could just see the disciples, first cresting the top of the hill with arms full of bread and fish, gloriously and happily passing them out to those with outstretched arms – and then disappearing over the hill – only to re-emerge a moment later with more food clutched in their arms. I could see the faces in the crowd – men, women and children, young and old, happy and confused and grateful – taking in the scene before them, consuming a hearty meal of bread and fish and delighting in this new prophet who seemed so eager to meet their needs. To speak to them in a way that opened up the teachings of past prophets and shed new light on their meaning and mission. To voice his desire to heal them, counsel them, serve them…teach them.

At the end of that scene, though, there is work to be done. There is a time for gathering up the fragments. Serving was a role typically held for the women in the household, and I imagined that small band of those-not-counted who begin scooping up pieces of bread and fish scattered across the grassy hillside. I imagined toddlers, clinging to their mother’s side, reaching down to scoop up a crusty piece and deposit it into a makeshift “basket” made from her thin wrap, tugged quickly around her waist to catch every piece, every morsel of that bread. Every bit of that fish. Not just because food was precious and priceless and the journey back to the village was a long one – but because the women knew they had witnessed a miracle, and they wanted to carry away a piece of that miracle home with them when this mysterious man named Jesus had once again elusively slipped away from the crowds to pray in a deserted place.

I could picture one of the women murmuring to another woman – someone whom she had perhaps only just met that day, there on that hillside, as they sat listening to Jesus, amazed by his words – asking quietly, “Who has a basket? There is so much left over, that I fear my apron will be too full to carry it all away!”

I imagined young men, emptying out the contents of a basket they had brought with them on the journey – for what? We don’t really know. Perhaps they had been on their way with scant supplies from the market that they were carrying home to families. A bit of oil, a bit of flour. A wineskin full of young wine. Perhaps the women offered up baskets that they had been using to take precious weavings of beautifully colored cloth to sell at the market. Perhaps there was a child, patiently sitting next to his father on that hillside, who was learning a trade – plying grasses into a solid weave to form a small basket while his father listened to this young Jesus – the one who seemed so kind and attentive to children. The one who didn’t push them away, but beckoned to them to come to him, sit with him, speak to him about basket-weaving and bread-making and what it was like to be out on a boat, fishing with your father in the night-time. Maybe one of those children shyly asked Jesus earlier in the day if he had ever gone fishing with his own father on a boat.

Maybe Jesus answered, “Oh yes, many times. When I was just about your size! And he was a fine carpenter, too.”

Maybe, at the end of that day, many hands gathered up many fragments. Men, women, children. Disciples. Strangers who had met that day and shared a meal before they slowly faded away at dusk to return home, after forming new friendships built on a miracle shared there on the side of that grassy, green hill.

Maybe that young woman murmuring to her friend, “Who has a basket? There is so much to carry and I fear I cannot carry it all,” turned to meet the gaze of our Savior as he straightened up and handed her that small child’s clumsily woven basket – offered shyly to him as a thank-you gift just a moment ago – and filled it to the brim with bread and fish from his own, makeshift apron tied around his waist.

Maybe he said to her in reply, “You don’t have to carry it all. That’s why I’m here.”

Maybe. Just maybe.

Have a wonderful week, friends. And if you need help carrying that big basket of yours full of worry, anxiety, chaos and the fear-of-not-being-strong-enough – hand it over to Him. He can carry it all.

Bread crumbs – If only we have a childlike faith

Naaman, the Army commander of the King of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the Lord had brought victory to Aram. But valiant as he was, the man was a leper. Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,” she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:1-3

In today’s first reading, we have the story of Naaman the Syrian, who was cured of leprosy by the prophet Elisha, but not before he had balked at the prescribed instructions for “washing seven times in the river Jordan.” Naaman had to first argue (and stalk angrily away from the house of Elisha, nearly missing his opportunity to be healed) about the “how to” of the proposed healing. Having come from a great distance, he evidently had developed all sorts of grandiose scenarios about his healing – none of which proved to be the case once he arrived on Elisha’s doorstep. In fact, Elisha’s instructions were quite simple – not unlike the little girl at the beginning of this story who approaches her mistress with the words “If only…”

How often those two little words get in the way and hinder our Lord from healing those broken parts of our lives. We think, instead, “if only God would heal this – or fix that – or do something about those people/that situation/these problems…”

If only.

I know I’m guilty of approaching God with my own list of wants and demands and my set of personalized just for me “how to instructions,” – instead of bringing my petitions to Him, and letting Him take it from there, in His own way and with His own timing. And accepting even then that it will occur simply if it is His will that they be addressed, whether I understand the “why” behind His actions – or not.

I think, too, that we can sometimes overlook the messenger bringing us the good news and encouragement we need in our faith journey. Those messages can come in an unexpected way from people who cross our paths but are otherwise strangers, or the message might come from an unexpected source. In this case, we have two: first, the little slave girl mentioned in the verse above. What must her faith have been before she was captured, to be so assured and brave (and caring) to take her proposed remedy for Naaman’s leprosy to her mistress? Her parents must have been speaking of Elisha in their home, teaching her about the faith, and encouraging her to stand tall and speak Truth, even in the face of adversity with her captors. We also have the servants of Naaman, who are the ones to counsel him – to convince him to turn back when his anger about Elisha’s instructions provoked him to leave, full of pride and unwilling to do anything that wasn’t taking place in a grand and ceremonial gesture. Did they approach him with fear and trepidation, or did they have so much faith that he would be healed to allow them to be bold in their speech? We have two unlikely sources giving counsel to a well-respected and revered Army commander, when it would have been easy to have simply kept quiet.

It is a good thing that they decided to speak – and that Naaman decided to set aside his pride, to listen, and to obey. We are told in the end of the story in 2 Kings that, upon emerging from the Jordan, “his flesh was again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

We’ve come full circle back to that little girl we met at the beginning of Naaman’s story, haven’t we?

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

I’ll close by relating my own story – this week’s “bread crumb” picked up and humbly placed in my #12wickerbaskets:

I was sitting in a pew yesterday for Sunday Mass, waiting for it to begin, when I noticed a young mom and dad slide into the pew ahead of mine, carrying a little girl who looked to be close in age to my granddaughter (made me smile). She sat with her father very quietly and peacefully during the Mass, and as the priest began to recite the Eucharistic prayers for communion, I heard her father as he very gently leaned over to her and whispered in her ear, “Where is Jesus right now?”

She immediately lifted her head up off of her daddy’s shoulder where she had been snuggling up with her stuffed animal, turned, and pointed to the priest and the altar.

“Yes,” her father replied, “He’s right there.”

Oh, if only we might all have even a fraction of that childlike faith to recognize when He is right there with us. To boldly speak Truth. To obey our Heavenly Father. To do what He tells us to do, without questioning and without qualifying it in our own minds.

Not my way, Lord, but Yours.

Have a wonderful week, friends. We’ve reached the halfway point of Lent, and it’s never too late to turn things around and seek the One who loved us so much that His very thought of us – His desire to be with us – brought us into being.

Bread crumbs – Small Acts, Great Kindness

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1Thessalonians 5:9-10

I mentioned when I began 12 Wicker Baskets in January that, from time to time, I might share those little Holy Spirit moments that so often can pass us by unnoticed. The tiny “bread crumbs” we could fail to stoop and pick up in our daily life basket – a kind word, a generous gesture, a smile or nod of the head (or if in Kansas, a friendly wave as two cars pass each other, as if we actually know the occupants of the other vehicle…) – and I had one (or actually, there were TWO) such moments yesterday evening that I thought I would share:

It had been a long day of contractors working on our house (noisy banging, sawing and hammering, too-loud music, trucks in the driveway, loud voices and movement etc.) interrupted by trying to slog my way through a shopping list after not stepping inside a grocery store for two weeks (and continually being shocked at rising food prices). By dinner time, trying to get through a new crockpot recipe to feed the family ahead of other commitments – my dinner time attempts at meal planning appeared to go awry in the final hour before my husband had to leave the house (bowling league night). As he tried to pitch in and help recover while we both kept looking at the ticking clock on the wall, it was clear I was feeling like “I. Am. Done.” and my attitude was spiraling into anger and bitterness. I knew that it was on my calendar that night to attend the Lenten retreat for Women at St. Michael’s Catholic Church here in Overland Park, KS. They were presenting readings on Witness to the Passion and music, and, I was looking forward to the event all this week – that is, before I felt like chaos was beginning to replace calm at the end of the day.

I almost decided to hang it up and not go. Almost. To stay home, scrolling on my phone and grumbling about the way things had progressed that day, watching too much T.V. on the Russia/Ukraine crisis…but, the Holy Spirit was giving me that familiar nudge-nudge feeling and I somehow got through feeding the family, saw my hubby out the door, wrapped things up at the house and headed out with just enough time to make it to the start of the retreat.

My heart sank as I rounded the first bend in the road just over the river from my house. The train track alarms and guard arms were ding-dinging with lights flashing and the foreboding “stop stop STOP” just ahead of me. If you live near train tracks in the Midwest, you realize that this could be a five minute stop, or, turn into a 15 minute stop, especially in the evening hours. As I looked to my left as I approached the tracks and came to a full stop, I could see the train parked – not moving at all – on the tracks about 100 feet away. Oh no. This was not a five minute stop. I was going to be here awhile, waiting for the train conductor to do whatever was needed. I nearly turned the car around to go back home, realizing I would be very late to the retreat and not wanting to make a grand appearance in the midst of readings and meditative music.

“Jesus,” I said out loud to no one in particular, “I need you to open these gates for me or I’m going to be late.”

And a few seconds later, with a loud and extra long toot of a train horn, the gates lifted, the lights on the track clicked off, and the alarm stopped alarming. Onward, our good and gracious Lord said.

With a prayer of gratitude, I made my way to the church with five minutes to spare. As I made my way down the aisle, however, I had such a deep sense of feeling frazzled and friend-less that I felt that I was going to be overcome with sadness and tears. Looking around, there wasn’t anyone that I knew.

“If I were back in my old parish in New Mexico, I would know lots of the women here,” I lamented to myself. That thought made me miss my former parish at Immaculate Heart of Mary and brought me more sadness as I looked for an empty pew.

As I sat down, however, I noticed two women conversing quietly in the pew in front of me. Since I don’t yet know “that back of the head” view, I thought perhaps they were from the women’s bible study, which I had just joined this fall and just this week became a small group facilitator. But I couldn’t be sure, so, I simply knelt and offered prayers to our Lord for a moment before the event started.

“Please Lord, I am lonely, ” I found myself praying, “and I wish I had a friend who would come sit with me. Please Holy Spirit, just let someone come and sit with me. That’s all I need right now, in this moment, when my heart is heavy and sad.”

I concluded my prayer and sat down. Within just a minute or two after that prayer, the two women conversing in the pew in front of mine finished their chat, and as one turned to leave, she caught my eye and waved a friendly wave and gave me a big smile. It was one of the other bible study facilitators, as I had first thought. At that movement, the second woman turned around and greeted me by name with a smile – she was the group leader for the bible study.

She gestured to me as her friend scooted away to sit with other friends further down in the pew.

“Come – move up – sit here with me,” she said with a wave of her hand.

And then she said, “Better yet, I will come sit with you.”

And she gathered up her coat and her program for the event – and she did.

We exchanged a bit of small talk about families and so forth as we sat there, side by side. The event was beginning a little later than the set start time, because of unforeseen electronic technical difficulties (another grace, I just realized, as it gave just the right opening for her to move into my pew) and then we departed at the end of the night with a bit more talk and a fond farewell after a beautiful, moving Lenten retreat about the Passion of Christ. Driving home, that grace of a friendly act moved me to tears as I made my way back to my house and I offered God more thanksgiving for the evening.

It was a small thing, but, it meant the world to me in that very moment, and I wanted to leave that little “bread crumb” here on my page as we head into the first weekend in the Lenten season. Sometimes, God clears a path for you to find Him in an unexpected way – moving obstacles just when you think they won’t budge. Sometimes, you find a witness to God’s love in a small, unassuming act of kindness in answer to prayers – and it comes to you just when you need it the most.

I hope you’ll read this shared story, take this to heart and carry it out into the world this Lent. You never know when the person right in front of you might need a hug, a smile and a wave, or when you’ll have that beckoning opportunity to fill that empty seat that’s beside them.

Please – sit down. There are so many empty seats to be filled right now in this crazy world.

Have a wonderful and blessed weekend, friends.

Forgotten bread.

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21, today’s Gospel reading for Feb. 15, 2022)

This morning, I went to the grocery store. I primarily went to the store for eggs, because I was almost out of eggs and needed them today for a dinner recipe. As I approached the check-out line with a basket full of items, I realized at the last minute that I had forgotten to pick up eggs. I had to circle around to the back of the store to retrieve a carton, grumbling to myself that I had managed to buy everything else at the store except that ONE THING I really needed.

Today’s Gospel reading in Mark begins with a similar situation. The disciples, out on the water in a boat with Jesus, have just realized that they forgot to bring bread. This incident then leads to one of the most interesting and fruitful conversations they’ll have with Jesus on that boat, and I every time I read it, I have a different response or notice something different for the first time.

Today, I realized for the first time that the disciples had acknowledged among themselves that they had one loaf with them in the boat, but in response to their puzzlement over the words of Jesus about “guarding against the leaven,” we are suddenly reading that they had no bread. Zero. Nada. No bread.

And then, I thought to myself, isn’t it curious that when tempted in the desert by the devil about bread when he is hungry, Jesus responds that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God.” (Matthew 4:4) That would have been a really good response to the disciples when they informed him they only had one loaf; they could have perceived that he was telling them that it was sometimes good to be without bread and instead draw strength from the Lord, or, encouraging to pray and fast without the bread, or, to rely on God to supply all of their needs, big and small. Or, he could have certainly produced bread in abundance from the breaking of just that one, small loaf on board the boat. Instead, things seem to turn from conversing to having one, to then having none.

My narrow thinking and easy-peasy kinds of answers always fall short when I consider the vast teachings of Jesus in so many different settings with his disciples. Like them, I can tend to look into my cart and say, oh, gee, I don’t have any bread (or eggs, in my more recent example today!) and want to be self-sufficient in busying myself with figuring out how I will obtain bread. If I am hungry, that response is likely to be less of an observance and more of an objection (just ask my family and close friends, who have witnessed me being “hangry”…) And, when I am falling short of whatever I think I need to fill my cart, I do not think about where it comes from, or how it got there. I don’t think about the leavening agent needed to make bread any more than I consider the chicken that laid the egg.

The response of Jesus then takes on a new dimension when you think about His initial response to the disciples: “Watch out, guard against the leaven…”. Jesus is calling their attention to think beyond one loaf of bread, one boat, one trip of many they will take back and forth across the sea. He is drawing their focus to be aware of where they’ve been and where they have yet to go, and contemplate what they have seen with the actions of the Pharisees and Herod, who have questioned and rejected Jesus’ teachings over and over again – too wrapped up in their own interpretation of the law, or their power, status and influence in society.

This is a valuable lesson for everyone to remember, whether you have just one thing in your cart for today, or one item on your To Do list that you think really needs to get accomplished. Begin first with Jesus. Recall what he did for you in being crucified and dying for your sins. It goes far beyond the breaking of five loaves, or seven, to provide just one meal for one day. To offer a play on words from a familiar life & death quip: “You can fill your wicker baskets with all those fragments, but you can’t take it with you.”

Life in Christ here on earth leads to spending an eternity with him in heaven. He is that one loaf – there with you in the boat and right under your nose! The ONE THING you will ever need.

I loved today’s complementary reading found within the Letter of St. James 1:12-18:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters; all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with who there is no alteration of shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

Put Christ first. Begin with Him, and let everything else unfold by God’s grace and timing. While we may be like the disciples who struggle to understand or comprehend when our hands are empty and our stomach is rumbling, trust that He will supply our every need – including that forgotten bread.

Have a blessed week, friends.


Slaying Giants.

(an excerpt from the reading in 1 Samuel 17, on David & Goliath)

David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.” Saul answered David, “Go! The Lord will be with you.”

Then, staff in hand, David selected five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag. With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.

This week in the Old Testament readings, we encounter the familiar story of David versus Goliath – small boy meeting giant, beast of a man and slaying him with one stone to the forehead.

I remembered that, as a child, I had a series of “bible story records” that I could play on my record player (youngsters, ask your mom and dad what that was…) and my favorite record was the story of David and Goliath. Battle! Victory! The little guy wins! Without armor!

This time, however, my attention in the readings could not get past the word “wadi” in the preamble to the great slaying on the battlefield. So I let the Holy Spirit speak to me there. It turns out that a wadi is a dry river bed, that fills up with heavy rains, during the rainy season, but otherwise is dry, dry, dry…

Imagine that. David selects five smooth stones from the wadi. No doubt those stones are smooth, because – during the heavy rainstorms – they were tumbled over and over and over again against the rough grains of sand, settling down to sit on the bottom of that stream bed for maybe a year, maybe longer. Not polished nor perfected, but still harsh to the touch. It might take years to make that rough stone smooth enough for a small shepherd boy to find as he sifted and sorted through the sand, looking for “just the right one” to place in a sling to face a giant.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the big headlines – the battle and the victory and the hallelujah of good over evil, and forget that, at the heart of it all, it often begins with just one small, smooth stone. Rumbled and tumbled about by nature, left to bake in the hot sun and then be quenched by the cool rain in a deep, dark valley that seldom sees light – day after day, year after year. Sometimes, it takes time for the weapons of God to be made ready to be plucked up and tucked into the shepherd’s bag. It’s easy to overlook the tools and seek the triumph, without being sure of the path to get to where we want to go.

As a carpenter, no one knew how to ply the tools of his trade better than Jesus. Taught by his earthly father this wonderful wood-working vocation, what it must have been like to be the recipient of one of his hand-crafted tables, or a small stool, or maybe even a tiny altar, meant for a family to bend down in worship by candlelight at the end of a long day of persecution, with little to eat or drink, and feeling rather…dry.

Even the dry river bed has its time and purpose, when God has a plan.

And He always has a plan.

Never overestimate the power of picking up just one small, smooth stone when your prayer is dry and you’re wondering about your mission in life. You could be called tomorrow to pick up that stone and slay giants, my friend! As we heard in the earlier readings this week, Samuel was prepared to anoint any of the older sons of Jesse – and surprised God had picked instead this one, small smooth stone among many – the young, ruddy and handsome shepherd left standing out in the field, tending his sheep. The one with a heart of a Shepherd. Able to slay giants through faith and belief in God, not man.

“Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Have a wonderful weekend, friends. The Lord will be with you.


Give us a king.

All the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”

Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the Lord, however, who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.” – reading from the first book of Samuel 8:4-7

In today’s reading, we have a curious situation. The people – evidently unclear on their future as Samuel is growing older without ‘acceptable’ family to follow in his footsteps – have decided to take their future into their own hands. Looking around, they can only see the benefits of having a king appointed to rule over them, not the drawbacks and sacrifices that are involved. When Samuel relays to the people all of things that are part of bowing down to an earthly king – surrendered possession of goods, crops, servants and most likely, enslavement and lack of choice or freedom – they refuse to listen, with a defense of their request falling primarily upon their goal of having a king who will be the mighty warrior in battle who they “must” have in order to win.

There are so many fruitful takeaways in this short reading (I encourage you to read it in its entirety to get the entire flow of the conversation between Samuel and the people, sandwiched between his conversation at the beginning and end with God about their request.)

Most noticeably, the people are demanding, not asking. What a contrast this is to the Gospel reading we had yesterday (Mark 1:40-45) when the leper approaches Jesus and asks to be cleansed of his disease. More than just requesting this miracle, we are told in Mark that the leper kneels down and begs, with the simple words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” In today’s reading in Samuel, there seems to be a great lack of faith in God’s provision for their future; they are caught up in anxiety and worried that Samuel will die, and they will be left without a leader. Instead of asking Samuel to advise them, they look around at what others are doing, determine they need to model that leadership behavior, and attempt to solve the issue in their own way.

To complicate things, even after Samuel shows his displeasure (no doubt they noticed that in their exchange with him), they take no regard of his response. It’s as if they’ve now been blinded to see anything except the contrived outcome that they have in mind for a new leadership model. And then, despite his warnings of what will likely happen once there is a king, chock full of examples from real life kingdom facts that they should recognize if they look objectively at their request – they still resist and clamor for a king to be appointed.

And finally, we have the ultimate fail – they reject God as their king, and would rather settle for the earthly type with a crown and an army of soldiers. Intent upon the battle, they have lost sight of everything else.

So many powerful reminders for us today in this reading, as we sit here in this earthly kingdom where we are merely pilgrims passing through for a very short time. This is not our home, and, while we are asked to be obedient to its realm of earthly, human leadership, we answer to only one Heavenly King. And, we are reminded that we need only ASK for our Heavenly King to help us reach our fullest potential – and to trust that He will provide tomorrow, and the days and weeks and years beyond that. Trying to take matters into our own hands and be self-sufficient might seem to work in the short-term, but, it’s not always where the Lord wants to lead us.

Despite all of that, however – our desire to strike out on our own and do what we think is best, or what serves our self-interest at that moment, or, the seemingly endless demands we place before God in prayer when it would be better to simply ask (and wait) – despite all of that, God is always in control, and will bring about His plan. Samuel annoints Saul, and then eventually, of course, Saul’s rulership falls into disarray and disobedience to God – and David is appointed as king, setting up the ancestral line that will bring us to the incarnation and the birth of a small, helpless infant in a manger – Jesus Christ. God has an amazing, surprising way of bringing about His plan, no matter what we might do with all of our human grumblings, misdirected efforts and self-centered attempts to fashion our own kingdoms here on earth.

Kings fail. Kingdoms fall. God remains.

Have a blessed weekend, everyone.


NEW for ’22: “12 Wicker Baskets” launches today

Happy New Year! Today’s Gospel reading in Mark was the answer to several months of prayer about “where” the good Lord wanted me to go with this blog in 2022. I had some initial thoughts last Fall, but with the recent move to Kansas City, family priorities, and then the holidays – it was only in the last couple of days through some dedicated down time in scripture and meditation that I was finally able to discern next steps. My answer was solidified when I read today’s verses on the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44) and I am sharing the portion of that reading that stood out to me in my reflection below (also posted to my Instagram account today):

“Then, taking the five loaves and two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples…And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments…”

Today’s Gospel reading in Mark and the feeding of the five thousand is a familiar one. Like many of you, I’ve been caught up in past readings being focused on the miracle of the multiplication of fishes and loaves.

But this morning, resting with our gracious and loving Lord in this passage, my thoughts were drawn repeatedly to the final line of the verse, about the collection of the leftover fragments into twelve wicker baskets. Although the people ate and were satisfied there on that green grassy field, surrounded by farms and villages, there was still care and attention to let no small portion of this miraculous bounty go to waste. The remnants were carefully collected in wicker baskets – and we are never told of the journey of those basket after the teaching ends.

Did some of the baskets find their way back to a nearby village – perhaps as a neighborly offering to a family in need? Did the disciples carry away a basket on one of their boats as they departed, to provide sustenance for their journey? We’ll never know.

But in reflecting upon the fate of those wicker baskets – I realized that every spiritual “food” our Lord provides deserves to be carefully collected and stored. So often, I have read something – or observed the working of the Holy Spirit in my life – yet, I don’t capture it and savor it later. I don’t tuck it away. I don’t share it with others. What a…waste.

And so, inspired by this prompting of the Holy Spirit, I’ve resolved in 2022 to turn that around. To fill those empty baskets. I’ve opened a new page here on my website titled “12 Wicker Baskets” and my goal each month is to offer short posts on the spiritual “food” I am receiving.

If you’re motivated to drop some of your own musings in 2022 into a spiritual basket, please do so! On Instagram, tag me at #12WickerBaskets or just drop a line in the Comments box on each post.

May God bountifully provide for us all in 2022!

Greater Things

“How do you know me?”

I know it’s been a few months, friends. Sorry.

It’s been a few months like no other.

God has twisted me up and turned me inside out and upside down.

He continues to tell me, among the chaos, that He is doing great things.

Trust Him.


He has showered upon me in the last few months more graces than I deserve.

All in preparation for today.

God has been wrestling with me nothing short of the story of Jacob to convince me I need a rock for a pillow and resting on the sole fact that He is sending me where I need to go.

My bags are packed. Ready to go.

I have a lot of emotion around this post. Might take me a bit to post again.

Stay tuned.

Greater things are coming.


One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘” The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered and prepared the Passover. — Matthew 26:14-19

Part 8 in an on-going series, “Made Known.”

In today’s Gospel reading in Matthew, we have two very distinct activities taking place, right up against the final days of our Lord’s life on this earth, and not long after palm branches have been waved and coats thrown down in the streets upon his entry into Jerusalem. In my Didache bible, the two events are even broken apart in Matthew. The first passage above is titled “Judas agrees to betray Jesus” and the second, “The Passover with the disciples.”

I found myself caught up in the juxtaposition between the two as I meditated on today’s Gospel, perhaps because as we approach Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (the Easter Vigil is my favorite Mass of the year) – it’s easy to skip right over Palm Sunday and enter into the final discourse that takes place at the Last Supper. What struck me this morning was that within a few scant scripture verses we are given by Matthew, two questions are posed, and they are very different questions with very different answers and outcomes.

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

In this first passage, Judas is taking the action, ahead of the final supper with a man he has claimed to follow and who calls him “friend” purely on selfish motives, most likely built on disillusionment and in anger that Jesus was not the king that he had hoped he would be. We know from John’s gospel that Judas was often the one “taking from the money bag” which paints a picture of one who is greedy. His own question to the the chief priests aligns with that picture, but the words in Matthew’s text have underlying tones of greed that might be missed; Judas is groping for and self-seeking satisfaction in something that it appears he can’t even define. He doesn’t name a price to turn over information about the whereabouts of Christ – but rather asks, “What are you willing to give me…” He wants the money up front, and from that point on looks to conspire to find a time and place that he can trap Jesus in the Garden of Agony. If we read on in Matthew (and cross reference the other gospel readings) we know that it is only after the dipping of the morsel of bread and offering it to Judas at the Last Supper that Satan enters into Judas and he rushes off into the night to complete the terrible deed he agreed to do for a mere thirty pieces of silver.

In a position to bargain with the chief priests, Judas does not name a price, but is willing to settle for whatever they toss his way. What if they were only willing to offer ten pieces of silver, I wonder? Would Judas have taken the money bag with fewer coins? It brought to mind the scene in Genesis 18 with Abraham before the Lord, stating his case for God to spare Sodom, if there were but “only ten” righteous citizens to be found. And God turned his wrath of destruction from Sodom because of Abraham’s plea. Would Judas have turned away for less money? I don’t think so. I think Judas seemed to be intent on being “somebody” in some great scheme of overturning all that Christ had brought to bear up until this point. Greed manifests itself in many ways. Money might have often been an excuse for motivation for Judas, but I don’t think he would have turned away and taken a different path. Judas was prepared to carry out his task, in spite of the cost. In today’s terms, I would put it along the same lines as pre-meditated murder. He had a plan, he entered into a “contract” for that plan (with compensation, in this case, and probably a lot of hatred in his heart for where things had ended up) and he executed the plan. It’s chilling to think a man such as Judas who walked beside Christ, observed miracle after miracle, heard him preach about repentance and the kingdom of heaven, and was in the end, given every final chance to turn back – didn’t.

“What are you willing to give me…”

Sometimes, though, in thinking about that question, I find my prayers to God wandering down a similar path. It’s easy, first of all, to turn to God most often when I need or want something, and begin to barter with Him to provide. Given a set of circumstance I can’t control, or, being in a situation that is new, or uncomfortable, tends to put me in the frame of mind to ask, but expect He will only give, if He is willing and only then, if I return some favor or perform some act. In the frailty of my humanly creature-li-ness, even after so many years of God lavishing love and many blessings upon my life, when I am feeling inadequate and without resources to provide for myself, I fall into this trap most often (and most quickly). It’s something I am continuing to work on, and the words of Judas to the chief priests in today’s scripture were a painful reminder that God gives because He loves us and He wants to give His children good things – when and where and how we need it most.

Judas was prepared to do whatever it took, whatever “opportunity” came his way to hand Christ over, and no doubt he was anxious about it, hoping to cast it off and be done with it as soon as possible so that he could stand back and wash his hands of the entire affair. It’s not that way with God. He waits patiently for us to come to Him, and is delighted when we ask.

“Where do you want for us to prepare to eat the Passover?”

In contrast, the disciples are on a different path, with Jesus, and they are seeking to find a place for the Passover meal. Their question to Christ is one of reverence, deference and preference for His will to be done. If Jesus wants to send them to “a certain man” in the city whom they may not know (is he friendly? should we fear that he might call the authorities and tell them where we are eating Passover?) then they are willing to go. They might scatter later in the night like lost sheep, but at this point, they are living in the moment. It’s Passover, we need to find a place and prepare the meal. We need to eat. We want to be with Christ. To recline at table with him. To wait in expectation for what He might say or do next. Let tomorrow be what it will be.

Imagine now, if you would, Judas rejoining the disciples as they enter into the home of this certain man, knowing where he has been, and what he has done. Maybe the thirty pieces of silver are already weighing heavily in his pocket. Maybe his mind is racing with the “what if” of how and when he will carry out the deed that he is about to do. Is Judas trying to act nonchalant with the others? Laughing a bit too loudly at someone’s offhand comment because he fears they already know he has betrayed their trust by stealing in the past? Is he concerned about Christ looking him in the eye and peering deep into his soul, and knowing that the Son of God can already see exactly what is there?

All around Judas, the disciples are preparing the meal. They anticipate good food, wine, rest, music, prayer.

Judas is preparing to betray Jesus.

A day that begins with two very different questions ends that night with very different responses.

And yet, in the end, Jesus simply hands the dipped morsel to Judas and tells him to go and do what he is about to do, and do it quickly. No other words said at that point to any of the other disciples. It’s between Jesus and Judas.

The next time Judas sees Jesus, it will be to deliver the kiss of betrayal – the final touch of someone that Jesus knew, took to his side as a friend and disciple, prayed beside, walked the sea shores, and broke bread.

Every time I think about that, it breaks my heart. A kiss became the domino that fell, the thread that began to unravel, the events that began to occur.

The only one prepared for that final human brush of lips against his cheek – that kiss – will be Jesus.

As we enter into Triduum tomorrow, may we recall as we meditate on the Passion of Christ all of those times when we have felt so ill-prepared to face what lies ahead of us, especially in this past year of pandemic, calamity, riots and uncertainty. Christ knows exactly what path He is being called to take in the next three days. He is prepared to walk that road to Calvary for us, to suffer, be ridiculed, spat upon, scourged. To carry that cross to the end, be crucified amid the cries of an angry mob…and die out of love for us.

May I be blessed – and prepared – to do the same for Him one day.


In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at what was said, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:26-29

Looking upon grace as an expression of divine charity, we can redefine the providence of God as the constant, solicitous care he has in directing every moment and every detail of our lives to that final goal of union with himself in beatitude. Instead of considering grace as a sporadic assistance or even a static possession, we thus see it as a perpetual outpouring of divine benevolence, channeled through creatures and a dynamic power that God intends to have grow and mature under his providential hand.

Above all, if we identify grace with divine love, we place it in the stream of daily life, where it really belongs. In the last analysis, grace is an invitation; it is not coercive. Actual grace can be resisted, and habitual grace can be lost. They require a loving response on our part to become effective in one case and remain alive in the other. Cooperation with grace, therefore, is our answer to the prior love of God – “The Catholic Catechism” by John A. Hardon, S.J.

(Part 7 in an on-going series “Made Known”)

I’m the kind of person that likes to get right to the point in a conversation. A meeting without an agenda, stated purpose, desired outcome and (my favorite) action items, with assignments, can easily leave me frustrated within a matter of minutes. Friends and co-workers would tell you that I am highly organized and efficient. I get things done.

With that said, therefore, I must admit that, until recently the above (well-known) reading in Luke always left me feeling a bit like, “why does it take three entire verses to get to beginning of the Incarnation? We all know this story read so many, many times at Christmas. Let’s get straight to the end game, okay?”

And so, when I started my morning Tuesday with my scripture readings for the day (Luke’s verse was the focus of the Immaculate Conception feast day, celebrated in Catholic churches at Masses held world-wide despite a locked-down COVID world on Dec. 8), it was easy at first to gloss over those opening lines, as I have done in years past. I was eager to get to Mass where I was the 6:30 a.m. cantor, get home, and get on with the dozens of things demanding my attention at this busy, hectic time of year. Things that seemed important but yet were certainly lacking a certain amount of (ahem) grace in their execution, value or time spent.

Fortuitously, or perhaps I should better say, thanks to the Holy Spirit, on this past Tuesday, when I arrived at my computer screen after Mass ended, to start checking work emails and returning phone calls, my PC was giving me a persistent pop-up message:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

I could launch into an entire side blog post about Dropbox, cloud-based storage, tech demons that have plagued my computer lately, and my general on-going love/hate affair with all-things-Internet, but that’s not really where I want to go with this particular post. The point is, on a particular day when I was feeling like Luke could have revealed the foretelling of the birth of the Christ-child in a more straight-forward manner, without all the setting up the scene, time and place, the Holy Spirit brought me up short with a very simple warning, courtesy of the PC that has become a permanent glowing fixture in my once-sacred space in my little home office pre-teleworking-from-home-during-COVID-since-March:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

It was not lost upon me (because I pay attention to these signs and words now, like a tuning fork ready to be struck upon a rock, thank you Jesus) that the word “full” was coming at me in a brightly-banded blue box on the same day that I had just found myself more distracted with earthly things than giving honor to the one who was “full” of grace and destined to give birth to the Word, made flesh. The young girl visited by an angel, who would become the Mother of God (and who, by the way, looks spectacular in blue…)

Holy Spirit, you are the clever one, aren’t you? You find ways to talk to me that span time and space and eternity, because, well, that’s what you do, and you’re very, very good at it.

Yes indeed, my dropbox was a bit too full heading into the second week of Advent, and lacking a whole lotta grace. Instead of a Dropbox, I had a dropped box, and I was too busy peering about my feet with concern for what I was dropping on the floor when I should have been more like Mary, looking up into the face of an angelic vision, pondering this wonderfully mysterious message that had just been made known to her, and only her.

What must she have been thinking, when Gabriel left her alone in that tiny little stone cave. When the light that had filled the room and lifted her heart to God ebbed and faded away, and she realized it was true. And that any plan she had formed up until that very moment, was now re-formed into a new, and very different plan. Or, did she instead always “know” from the moment of her conception, that God had something very special in mind for her, and even if she didn’t know what it was, she knew He would reveal it when it was time for it to be made manifest. To be made known.

I thought about all of that, looking at that pop up box on my computer, and I was overwhelmed with the magnitude – the Magnificat – of that moment.

Instead of turning to my PC to clear that message, I took some time that morning to turn my heart instead back to God, and asked Him to help me see the error of my ways, and how to carve out the proper disposition and path forward to take me through a rich and meaningful Advent. How to drop that box and instead kneel beside a manger, gazing in wonder at the Christ child instead of worrying about what is, or isn’t, getting crossed off my To Do list.

It’s not easy. I’m not perfect. But I’m trying, and giving God my best. Trusting Him to say, go here, turn there, walk this way, go straight when you would turn to the right, or to the left.

In these high-tech days of GPS and Google Maps and cars that (practically) drive themselves, I think we’ve come to rely far too much on being on auto-cruise-control without having to think too long and hard about where we’re going. With my iPhone hooked into my car stereo and the “thump thump” haptic of my iWatch on my wrist reminding me to turn here, take this exit, don’t get in the left lane when you need to stay in the right lane or you’re going to be in big trouble in a minute…

Well, it’s easy to forget that, even if you get lost, Siri is going to calmly come back on the speaker and, without condemnation, tell you that she is “Recalculating” to find you a new, alternative route to get you to your desired destination. Sometimes, you can take a side street, or turn left at the next stop sign, or get off at the next exit. Sometimes, you simply have to turn around and retrace your steps.

Grace does that for us, too, if we will choose to cooperate with God’s plan for our life, and let Him provide the navigation.

If your Advent seems a bit off course, if your life seems to be journeying further away from God instead of drawing closer, if you’re anxious to just drop that box you’ve been clutching to your chest for far too long because you thought it might contain something you really “needed” along the way…I hope this post gives you the courage and inspiration to retrace your steps and begin again. His mercies are new every morning, and He is waiting for you in the stillness and awe that precedes every dawn.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.