1030151542-1i dedicate this to my friend, Laurie Luongo, far away in Las Vegas – yet right by my side…

When you are reading a blog, do you ever wonder what the person behind the pen looks like? Well, here i am –  just relaxing on my front porch waiting for all the people in those silly outfits to arrive.

A good costume sure does go a long way. We have one or two masks that just keep working every Halloween! i sure did get my money’s worth.

But if you want to talk about the most perfect costume in all of creation, it is owned by a little critter known as the mantis. Among the little critters this is actually quite big and quite scary…but harmless to humans. Even rather friendly, once they get to know you. i am “the friend of the mantis,” as my daughter’s photos testify.413588_341501039264532_232534988_oThe way that Merlin spoke to dragons, i speak to the mantis.

My relationship began at the start of my freshman year of high school in 1967. The science teacher told us on day one to begin thinking of some grand project. And right around that very day, right around my very house, i happened upon a very unique site, not one but two mantis, a brown one and a green one, a male and a female. My mother, who was always the fun partner in science and life, right away alerted me to what an opportunity this was. “Why don’t you put them together in a box…and let it all happen…and make that your project!!!???” Brilliant!

So, we put the lovely couple into the Keds’ Honeymoon Suite, but being far more curious than confidential, my mother and i were immediately in for one of the unique wonders of Nature. As sure as shootin’ the two mated, but then the female, first appearing to nibble on her lover’s neck, BIT HIS WHOLE HEAD OFF!!! And from there she went on to bite everything off and to devour her hubby’s entire body, except the wings. The whole encounter blew my mind and made me want to know everything there was to know about this creature….

The outstanding thing about the mantis is that it is an absolute monster,  a killing machine. It is a carnivore and a cannibal who will devour anyone in its path. The ootheca, or egg mass, which came from the quick and deadly rendezvous,  sat around my school lab through Autumn and Winter, until one day in Spring, as i entered the front door of the school i heard a scream down the corridors. It was from the lab where there were about 300 baby mantises crawling about and even eating each other. Even from the moment of birth the monster rises! It was like a 2015-style horror flick!! “The Walking Dead” or something!

But the costume, the perfect costume!!10446707_672979706116662_2968981140978224765_nLook at how well she prays.

The official name of my friend is The Praying Mantis, although somebody in the naming department got one letter wrong. Yes, it looks just like a peaceful holy monk or nun, but it is IN TRUTH p-r-e-y-ing. Or if praying, then you can bet the words are, “Give us this day our daily meat…and lots of it…” As it kneels there so very silently, undetected, always ready to kill.

What an awesome phenomenon of Nature! And yet not such a shocking one to our Human Nature, which seems to hold many of its own similarities, particularly when it comes to “Church People!” By far one of the most wonderful priests i ever knew – and his name, upon remembering, will warm the hearts of anyone who knew him – was Fr. Charles Mott, a Capuchin. He is notorious for so many habits or gestures or sayings, but my very favorite was his custom of whining, “I love the Church, but it is Church People that I cannot stand!” By that i am sure that he meant “the holier than thou’s,” those who were convinced that their practice of religion made them better than, superior to, everyone else. Jesus created the perfect picture for us in his parable of the man in the front of the Temple, thanking God for himself, that he was sooooo great, so unlike any of the lowly scoundrels in the house!

PRAYing can certainly become a dirty and dangerous business, taking such control of a man as to make him instead nothing but a PREYer…for anyone he can destroy in his “holiness.” Kneelers can quickly become munitions dumps, whenever people forget why they went there in the first place, i.e. to acknowledge their imperfections and their needs…to cry for help. Jekyll turns to Hyde, suddenly he feels mighty strong, and off he goes – like a mantis – expert shots at jugulars! Sometimes “holy, humble” people can be the meanest, most vicious, and most impossible-to-live-with monsters!

TRUE PRAYER wraps the person is a blissful gratitude that in turn makes the person want to lift others up and enhance others’ lives rather than prey upon their faults and weaknesses. The PRAYer lives to share the Blessings with everyone around them. Love will always be the only test of our relationship with God. May God help us all to be TRUE and free of masks.

Happy Halloween, everyone, and happy Feast of All the Saints – why Halloween was started anyway!!! May we work on our Saint-side versus our Mantis-side.



1512350_589370657810901_1766484193_nupon the death of our dear friend, Pete Seeger, i posted this picture of his Beloved Hudson River and Humble Pete’s perfect sentence: “to my old brown earth and my old blue sky I’ll now give these last few molecules of i. ”

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s your little friend again writing from the colorful hills and river valley of New York. Some keep asking for my next letter to you. Others ask where i get the noive (how they say it around here) to write, as i’m nowhere near your “league.”  But i can easily justify it, because you came to my league, that of “the little ones,” as you hold every molecule sacred. There are those who will ridicule me, that you will never read a letter – and who am i anyway?

It all reminds me of a story which i heard as a boy about an orchestra which was rehearsing for an upcoming performance of a symphony. Suddenly the piccolo player was overcome by a sense of her own insignificance – and she stopped in the middle of it all. So did the Conductor, waving his wand for all to cease! And he stepped off his stand and wandered over to the piccolist, asking, Why did you stop? She confessed that she had just experienced a feeling that she was just not necessary, not important. Does anyone really hear me anyway?

OH, YOU ARE SO IMPORTANT! He cried. You Complete Us. Without you, we do not go on! Just as every single player is critical. Pope Francis, il mio Maestro, you make me feel that way! that i can make a real difference in a life or two. Already one man thousands of miles away from me has written to say that he has returned to Church after more years than he could count – and even kissed his old kneeler hello again! If only for him, it is all more than worth it! Maybe i can help you bring a little comfort or healing to a few more.

And it’s ok if you don’t really hear a single squeak from me. And i won’t ever need your direct intervention to me on the floor of the orchestra pit. YOU HAVE SAID IT ALL SO LOUDLY AND CLEARLY – and so OFTEN, by word and mostly by action, that EVERY SINGLE PERSON is important, is necessary, is critical to the Great Symphony of God, down to the last molecule or note.

You might say that i see part of my squeaky job as just to ECHO you to the people around me and to the world, piccolo-wise. There is a map on these blogs, which lets us see whenever and wherever they are read. How cool, how pleasing to know that each day, in some far corner of the world, someone is hearing my love for you or your love for us through my “piccolo.” We must not let you out of the spotlight. We need a Good and Gracious Conductor in this desperate world. In every way i can i will repeat your simple yet essential message.

Holy Father, although i am a sinful man, i do not deserve, i believe, a title which many have given me. It wasn’t that long ago that i went for a job interview within the Archdiocese of New York. My interview was at the central headquarters, the Chancery. Within minutes after my arrival, in that building which used to be “my second home,” i was told, definitively, by one very influential in the Church of New York, “tread lightly through these halls, as you are now and forever a persona non grata here.”  Those were the words chosen; i could never possibly forget them! i have often wondered how you would respond to that statement???

But, my friend, i know THAT YOU KNOW that we former priests and religious are not such bad guys. The whole world knows well the story of your never-ending friendship with a fellow shepherd, a bishop, who chose to leave and to be married. We have all heard of your wonderful care, ongoing, even for his widow after he died. Your compassion is matched by our own amazing shepherd here in New York, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, who  actually told me that i had received two vocations, twin callings, from God, and he encouraged me to keep on squeaking for the Church in my own little way. And again…i cannot show enough gratitude for your very own personal preacher, Padre Raniero Cantalamessa, who, after reading my story, has shown such a humility and a graciousness toward me by calling me his “dear brother in Christ and (his) teacher in the true Franciscan Spirit.” What more respect could i ever ask for?! What an open mind and heart he has! Just as yours is, i know! Would that the whole Church be so open to the gifts that we “non gratas” still might have to give! You have such a fortune untapped in that crew, dear Father.

Apparently, many seem to think that we gave up the right to speak. But, try as i may, i cannot control my squeak. i will always be a squeaky kneeler, YOUR squeaky kneeler!  Today, everyone wants to see your credentials. But, truly,  the credentials that count most in life came with our Baptism. i must have said it to thousands myself, as i anointed little babes, that whatever would become of this child or that, the gifts and talents that would matter most could be shown in letters after their names, P.P.P., Priest, Prophet, Prince or Princess. By virtue of my Baptism, i will always have those rights – and responsibilities! Every single one of us, whatever the size of our instrument, is important to God – and so to You!

your little yet confident piccolist



Dear Pope Francis, so far and yet so near,

Traditionally the way that you are addressed is “Your Holiness,” and while your holiness is so plain to see – your shining likeness to God in His Great Mercy – i never cared much for titles or formalities. In 1980 i was ordained by a wonderful Franciscan Bishop, a missionary to El Salvador and friend of St. Oscar Romero. Lawrence Graziano was his name, and you would have loved him! You remind me so much of him, in fact. Many times when people asked where was his ring, so they could kiss it, he’d answer, “Go ahead. It’s in my back pocket!” And when asked what they should call him, he’d say, “How about Larry? Or better yet how about Friend?” Isn’t that, after all is said and done, the very word that Jesus chose?

If i do then boldly call you friend, be assured that it is out of absolute reverence and gratitude for the Gift of Love which you have been to us all, a TRUE FRIEND being the best gift that anyone can receive. And i do so because you have stirred up in me the passion of my youth, when my first HERO in life was another man who wore your robes, although a few sizes wider, Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, now Saint John. As a teenager in the 1960s, the decade of the Hippies, many of us had posters on our bedroom walls which declared our allegiance to the cause of Peace and Love. The poster that i chose, that i stared at each morning as i got dressed and each night as i drifted off to sleep, held the image of a little house with a candle in one window. Below it were the words of Good Pope John: “In my window a little light will always be burning. All may come in. The arms of a friend will always be waiting.” He made this little boy so proud to be a Catholic, and rest assured each night that my Church – which generally had a harsh tone – really had at its center a Gigantic Heart, the Heart of God.1024151028

How i wished that heart to be seen and known again! A wish come true in YOU!

They call it a matter of Style. No one could (or should) question your dogma. For you, however, it is a grave matter of so so many wounded out in the fields, that there is just not time for dogmatism. And so, how well you represent what i really felt in my heart, not just my brain, yes even as a boy, of what Catholicism is all about. i suppose this is why i keep choosing to STAY with my Church despite its disasters.

We were all so much like human tape-recorders as kids, taking in tons of data, dogma. However true or magnificent those tenets were, being “one of the ONES who holds the truths” wasn’t really what most of us were after. And for a lot of us boys, after a full day of “recording,” we had to stay after school – if we wished to be altar boys – and listen to phonograph records of all of the Latin in the Mass, memorizing every word perfectly, whether they meant anything or not, from “Ad Deum qui laetificat…” to the end. Oh how we were tested – to be able to repeat those precious words and concepts – to the nuns and the priests. God help you if you didn’t get it! (i won’t get into those things here; that’ll be for other letters…) Suffice it to say that the little boy in me, the one who loved and sought after honesty rather than truth – honesty being the living of the truth – i always knew that something wasn’t right!!!

You, Good Pope, you reflect that Little Round Man who was my guiding light through those trying times, GOOD JOHN. Like him, you clearly hold and cherish all of those tenets of Faith. But more importantly you HONESTLY and very practically realize that the Church is in bad shape right now, just as the world is. The Church is meant to be the Great Beacon to the world, the HOPE of the world, showing as the Lighthouse in the storm another way, a better way, a higher way. How can it hope to do that if it forgets what matters most?!

How proud i am of you every day, but how especially proud i was that day when you attended what is the traditional “Office Christmas Party of the Vatican,” known for its exchanges of little gifts and trifles and fraternal embraces. But YOU, in what we know now to be your TYPICAL STYLE, you arrived with a unique gift for “the Good Ole Boys,” A BOMB!!! (a Love Bomb, they’re all Love Bombs you drop! but nonetheless BOMBS!!!) You used the party, which is meant to be just a pleasantry, to launch a Don Quixotic Cry for Change, suggesting – among many other deadly diseases – the Vatican was suffering from the grave illness of Spiritual Alzheimer’s, known especially as the Disease of Forgetting. When you get accused of brushing aside the Sacred Dogmas and Rules and Traditions, you so simply cut to the heart, in word, but more so in action. Your answer: “All of that is well and good, but there’s no time right now for that, There is just too much hurt, too many wounded or hungry or dying. WE CANNOT FORGET what all of the dogmas are about in the end, Love and Compassion. My work is out there in the field hospital, outside the majestic buildings, how-ever beautiful stone and gold can be. It can NEVER compare to the true stones, “the living stones”- with little broken hearts inside – and they are scattered all about right now. They need to be picked up and reconnected, rebuilt, as St. Francis called his own mission. They, the BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, are the Body of Christ just as much as any Pope or Cardinal or Bishop. I must spend as much of my time with them, to let them know this. Otherwise, what is it all about?”

i think that’s what you are saying, dear Friend. i wish we could meet for a cappuccino, and you could correct me where i’m wrong. At least, this is what i HEAR you saying by your life. And again…and again…and again, i am beaming with pride. Til next time, i am your knucklehead

{i borrowed the beautiful picture from Sandra Jo Mike, Secular Franciscan. Note how the LIGHT blown in the Wind of the Holy Spirit, flows from the darkness of the Cross, Made So Blessed by the Friend of all friends.}


1022151428I’d rather sit on a pumpkin and have it to myself than be crowded on some velvet cushion. -Thoreau

i just tripped up my front steps. Almost clunked my head on the porch post.

Suddenly noticed the once green, now multicolored vine wrapped round.1022151653a

i think Autumn – more than any other season – bids us to STOP…

Take notice…902234_10200884837028811_457115001_o

Or take a Vacation INTO the Ordinary…with all of its WONDERS!!!

Dust off your copy of Walden – or go get one as soon as you can.

And just WATCH the Greatest Show on Earth.

“How beautifully leaves grows old, how full of light and color their last days.” John Burroughs1022151644

p.s. my heart really goes out to those who live in places with no Autumn Show. Just as i have always longed to see the Northern Lights.

(The GREAT sit-able PUMPKIN – compare it to that blue morning glory underneath – belongs to my buddy, Benny Zaken. Go take a seat…while eating some pumpkin yogurt at Benny’s Frozenberry, Broad and Main in Fishkill, N.Y. Another mini Autumn Vacation!)



(this is dedicated to Bob Re and all the Good Police of New Jersey)

My Father-Brother, Pope Francis,

Of all of my blogs so far, the one which attracted the most attention was my letter to you. Some have asked, “When is your next letter?” So, i say to myself, “That’s easy! i could write a letter to him every day!!” There is so much i have to say to you – EVEN IF YOU NEVER READ IT! It sure feels good anyway. Perhaps i should just change this whole site to CARTAS A MI PAPA, LETTERE AL MIO PAPA, LETTERS to MY NEW DAD! Some have said to me, “Boy, you have a lot of nerve!,” then added, “Good for you.” Why shouldn’t i write to you, especially given the man you are. Hey, maybe some day you’ll shock me with an answer?????

In America we have this saying, “Where were you when Johnny died?” It’s probably the same in your country, “What were you doing when Evita died?” You were a teenager at the time. Ours is asked about our dear young President Kennedy, killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963. i was old enough to remember the moment, all of the nuns in my school crying their eyes out.

We also ask the question in reference to John Lennon, who was killed December 8, 1980, at 10:50 EST. It happened on the corner right across the street from where we greeted you in Central Park. Many more of us, and millions more around the world, recall just where they were when the shocking news came down. i myself have the most vivid of memories, as i was “doing a bit of dying of my own.”

It had been one of those crazy days, when one wonders just what his God is up to?!?! Only six months ordained at the time – but a full-fledged priest after 12 years of preparation – i had given a day of prayer and reflection in a high school in South Jersey. It was a yucky day, so cold and rainy, as i headed home to New York. Dec. 8, it was a Day of Our Lady, our Mother Mary (but even she went into hiding from me.) On the way north my car kept breaking down, and for hours i was abandoned to the elements. Events got worse and worse, and finally they culminated in this nearly frozen young friar-priest that night knocking on the door of not one but two convents, seeking help. Eyeballs appeared behind curtains, but not a door or window would open. The same sad result was found at not one but two holy rectories. Only Eyes…looking fearfully, refusing to believe that the shivering young man with the beautiful Roman collar could indeed be a priest.

i remember so clearly what i was did next – just when Johnny was heading home from his studio – i fell to my knees in the freezing rain in front of a moving police car on Main Street in Burlington. i think there may have been a tear or two by then? The arresting officer (lol, for this vagrancy) tried first to comfort my mind, reminding me that my fellow priests and religious were “ODD, but ONLY HUMAN…” i remember what he said, as i wrote it all down when i got feeling back into my hands.”It seems to me the Church is full of crazy people; maybe we should laugh a lot more!” He also said something which St. Francis used to say, “If those nuns and priests are always so worried about robbers, why don’t they get rid of so much valuable stuff, and then they wouldn’t have to live in fear.” The cops at the precinct then all pitched in, got me dinner, then drove me to a nice motel and paid for a room for the night. Oh, what a night, the night that Johnny died!

One reason why it’s all as if just yesterday is that i wrote down every bit of it in a letter of complaint to the local bishop. A letter which i never sent. Instead i kept thinking of the holy wisdom of that policeman, got a great laugh and also a Great Sermon for that Christmas, having my own taste of “No Room at the Inn.”

Holy Father, soon after you became the Pope, you announced that your Church “will be a field hospital to treat the wounded” of the Church and of the world, wounds of every kind. At the same time you put out a cry for help, an “all hands on deck,” so to speak, telling us that this is the work of everyone in the Family of God. i can assure you that this little ex-friar, ex-priest, had been already busy at such work for many many years. Even now, though you are so far away – and we Americans must never let you be “out of sight, out of mind” – i, for one, feel SO CLOSE TO YOU, almost as if we are side-by-side in this mission to heal.

If one were to ask whether there is a pre-requisite for this job, i can hear you saying, “Only a caring heart.” But, then you might very well add that it would certainly help if the healer was also one of the wounded. How beloved the modern spiritual classic, “The Wounded Healer,” by Fr. Henri Nouwen, another man like your Thomas Merton who wrote of how wonderful it is to be human, even with all of the cracks! Only we who were so wounded can truly sympathize. For 35 years i have laughed about that night, but it was no laughing matter, was it? To learn firsthand just how heartless my Church can be!!! But listen to the wise officer who knew what hurting knuckleheads we all are. If only we can ask forgiveness and freely give it over and over and over and over, then we can LAUGH from our very depths, the way you do, dear Father!1020151018 (1)

i know that you like to TOP IT ALL OFF with the words of St. Paul to the Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of Grace to receive Mercy…” i know that this is the Bottomless Well of your Joy.

Until next time, Pope Francis, i’ll be out in the field…with you…

your loving knucklehead



1017151011 (1)

Despite its  notorious taxes, i do live in a most beautiful state, New York – especially so in October.

Not just in October, when “the Game” is on our minds (though there’s no nicer time to go), but all year round i encourage people to visit “the blessed shrine of baseball,” Cooperstown. But, whenever i recommend the trip, i always add a loving nudge to another shrine in nearby Auriesville. If you were a Red Sox fan for 86 years – or even more so a faithful Cub fan like me, then the Hall of Fame might well be considered a “shrine of faith,” where men feel like they are in heaven. But Auriesville, it is truly a piece of heaven on earth, made so by the lives of the Jesuit missionaries who were sacrificed there.

October 19 is the day on which their lives-unto-death are celebrated. This day many thousands will stream there from north and south, east and west. On every other day of the year it is the quietest place and the humblest place you can find. Really, you will never see anything like it, humblest and simplest of all the basilicas of the world, hiding in the woods of New York, the inside made completely from the wood of that forest.1017151309 (1)

Whenever i list my favorite saints, way up there with Francis and Horatio and Paul is one whom most people have never heard of. He wasn’t the famous leader of those daring Jesuits, St. Isaac Jogues. My guy was just a little fella who went along for the ride, Noel Chabanel.  i love him because, though he did give his life in the end, his story is more about little everyday suffering we can all relate to. The blow that finished him was only the tiny, last footnote of his real martyrdom.

1017151303a (1)Young Father Noel had volunteered for the mission, thinking that God might need his special talents. He was a master linguist, and right words were so important to reach the Mohawk. So, he went enthusiastically, but from the moment he arrived, he was the only one who could not get the words right! This led to so much misunderstanding and mockery, daily humiliation.  On top of that, he did not have the stomach of his brothers. He was repulsed to the point of nausea by the lifestyle of the Natives, and he endured extreme homesickness and loneliness. Just imagine what it was like when all of the others had been taken and killed, and he was totally alone.

Hardly any of us will ever have to endure physical torture or death for our faith (this blog does go, i know, to some who might…) But, every one of us has to endure countless heartaches and humiliations along our martyr way. Very few will lose their heads, but it is all of those “paper-cut” type wounds that will make or break us, turn us to saints.

Whenever we offer in our humblest of prayers to take on a share of the Lord’s Cross, it is so often the case that the pieces we’ll receive are far from any we expected. Very rarely is it a great chunk. More likely a whole lot of little splinters come, annoying as they are. Just like that beautiful-yet-simple basilica in the woods, so what will build us into wonderful temples of God will be “the wood of our own yard,” so to speak, the simplest STUFF of our most ordinary, mundane existence. None of us needs to travel across the globe to be a missionary.

One of our dear practical Pope Francis’ insights is that it is usually that person we live with, that one who just drives us crazy every day, who Exercises our Real Muscles of Forgiveness and Love (proving our prayerful promise to carry the Cross.) One of the most useful, helpful book in my experience of family living has been Mark Rosen’s “Thank You For Being a Pain” on just that subject of those closest of persons, who are truly sent to be the crosses we asked for – to help us toward perfect love.

Those who have taken my advice and made the trip to Noel’s Shrine are forever thanking me, just as are those who have checked out Rosen’s wisdom. ENJOY – find what Joy there is hiding in suffering.



The “Catholic Way” of doing things includes our sacred tradition of honoring the men and women, extraordinary-ordinary people, who went before us in the struggle and who succeeded despite all obstacles, including their own faults, to remain one with God. We call them “the Saints,” and we honor and cling to our holy communion with them in hopes that they can help us to make it, too. Many there are who call the practice ridiculous, holding that Jesus Alone is the One to pray to, or to His Father. No one else can or is needed to help us. i, however, hold fast to my connection to this great host of characters, especially those who apparently suffered the many character defects which i suffer – but never gave up. They help me more than words can say. It’s so comforting to know, e.g., what knuckleheads the Apostles were!

Each day, or almost each day, there is another Saint for us to reflect upon and to cry out to, as we would to a brother or a sister or FRIEND, when we are in need. The day of each one’s “Feast” or celebration is generally that day on which the person died, as each one’s ULTIMATE GIFT to us is the faith that “not even death can really harm us,” as the great St. Francis put into his Song of Creation; “Sister Death shall simply bring us to our true Home.”

It is for this reason that October 16 has always been so special to me. It is the day of one of my very favorite saints. EVEN THOUGH he is not CALLED A SAINT. Of course he is not, as he was not a Catholic. SO WHAT!!! i still, and will always, rank him up there among the tippity-tops, and whenever i am down, really down, and sinking lower in life’s quicksand, i’ll always call, HORATIO! If i had my way, every man, woman or child who feels an urge to rage would replace every curse against God with to a loud cry to the man who surely had reason to. Horatio’s story can never be told enough. Had he been a Catholic, it would have been retold at least once a year on October 16, the day he died. In fact, if ever there were two saints on earth, it was Horatio and Anna Spafford.

Here was a man just like me, in many ways. If ever a man got the wind kicked out of him, that was Horatio. Let me review his amazing life briefly.Born in Troy, New York, in 1828, he grew up as a great exerciser of both intellect and faith, more so of Faith, as Life he found went WAY BEYOND HUMAN SENSE!!!  By the age of forty he was one of the nation’s most prominent, and wealthy, attorneys, living in Chicago. By 1870 he and Anna were praising God for more blessings than they could count, especially four children, and a fifth on the way. Then, tragedy began to strike. That was the year their first son died at the age of four. The next year was not much brighter. 1871 will always be known in American history as the year of the Great Fire, the Chicago Fire, or “the Spafford Fire”, as it swallowed up most of the family’s material fortune. But it did not take them, nor their spirit.

Celebrating at least that they had each other, Horatio and Anna and their four girls, Annie, 11, Meggie, 9, Bessie, 5, and Tanatia, 2, began to plan a getaway to Europe to join a good friend, who was a famous evangelist. At the last minute Horatio got held back for business, but the five ladies went ahead of him. It was not long before dad received a telegram from his wife, that only she survived a crash at sea. Horatio jumped onto the first ship out and sailed right through that dark abyss to his darling, and their love lived on and on, more alive and passionate than ever. Soon they would give birth to another Horatio, who would also leave them at age of four. And finally, their Bertha and Grace, who would join them in Jerusalem, where the Spaffords decided to live out their lives dedicated to the Gospel life, caring for the sick and poor of any race or creed, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, atheist, anyone in any need. They were not “Catholics,” but they were more “CATHOLIC”
than most who bear the title, as they were TRULY UNIVERSAL. After the Roller-Coaster of their raising (and losing) so many children, they devoted themselves to living Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, WHAT MATTERS MOST IN THE END: Did we show compassion to everyone?

What Horatio is best known for, however, is one simple song which, along with “Amazing Grace,” is among the world’s most popular hymns. The real beauty of it all is that Horatio wrote it in his own ship cabin, just as the captain informed him that they were sailing over the very spot where his four girls were lost:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows, like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back like a scroll,
the trumpet resound, and the Lord shall descend.
Even so, it is well with my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
it is well, with my soul.
It is well, it is well
with my soul.1014807_616147585071383_2071714012_o

Of course, you, as i, might say, “I could never, not in a million years, have a faith like this.” i would settle for even a drop of it – and of the PEACE which only it can bring. Horatio is a like a star in the firmament, a great ideal that i look up to for guidance and strength. These Horatios and Annas make me want to do better, to keep trying, to be better and freer, free from the burdens of failures or fears, and from the weights of too many possessions or worries. Whenever some thing is snatched from me, or something i want won’t seem to come my way, i will always say, HORATIO! It’s ok!


1013151535i dedicate this blog to a true lover of the Game, John Luongo, Red Sox Fan!

Who says ghosts aren’t real? Not only are they real, but they are REALLY necessary!

Ok, call them spirits. Sounds better. We’re not talking about Casper here. i’ve been praying these last few days that two of them in particular (one very new, the other out and about for five years) will step up to the plate and help resolve an Ugly situation, the Utley situation. It is ruining these soooo anticipated playoff games between some of the greatest squads in Baseball’s Illustrious History.

In a way i can’t believe that i am using my blog to weigh in on the matter, what with the enormous problems in the world, billions hungry or dying, terrorists everywhere… But, BASEBALL! As the commercial says, “We lived for this.” That little boy i once was with his shoebox full of cards, images of all of my heroes, Bill Maz, Stan the Man, Roberto!! i was a Philly boy, so in time a guy named Utley would also steal the base of my heart! He has been a symbol of the game itself, the game we love. Maybe this is why i cannot rest without saying something. And the thing i would keep saying is, “Chase, look at the video. Just look at the video. Send your agent home. Step up to the mic and settle this.”

Just recently someone was telling a cool story of Cal Ripken, Mr. Baseball himself, how a couple of games into his second season – after being Rookie of the Year – he was throwing some tantrum during a game.  A loving teammate took him into the clubhouse after and left him by a TV, saying simply, “Cal, look at the video.” It was the only lesson he needed. He remembered what the Game was for…for the children, who always need heroes.

One of the greatest movies ever made tried to tell story of John Merrick, “The Elephant Man.” There is a scene in the film, one of its most powerful, which might never have happened, but David Lynch used his poetic license to make us all think a most critical thought. At one point the doctor who saved the man from his most miserable existence, Dr. Frederick Treaves, cannot sleep. His wife wakes up to find him staring into space, tears in his eyes, wondering….asking himself why he did what he did, saving John. Was it for John’s sake, or for his own fame and glory? Freddy pondered the question, “Am I a good man, or am I a bad man?” Each of us must never stop questioning our motives and our behaviors, always striving to be our best inside and out.

i have not for a single moment questioned – as many Met fans have done to the point of calling for a head on a  platter – the motives of my ONCE-HERO, Mr. Utley. i KNOW that he had no intention to do harm to Ruben Tejada. His intention was, just as he says, to break up a double play. However, if he cannot “watch the video” and simply admit that he made perhaps the WORST ATTEMPT AT A SLIDE in the history of the game, then i for one can never even think of calling him what we all called Mr. Musial.

When i took my children to Cooperstown, N.Y., not far from our home, thank God, it was almost a spiritual experience. When i looked upon the name Mazeroski and thought of Bill in 2001, when he went there for his induction, how he got up to speak, ready for the usual 45 minute thank you, and i remember how Bill could not speak….Instead, overwhelmed by the fact that he was being honored for HAVING THE HONOR to play the game, he just sat down and cried. His emotion said everything! When i saw the name of my greatest hero, Mr. Sparky Anderson, a man who only played one year, when i was 5, with my Phillies, but went on to become one of the greatest managers of all time – AND WAY MORE THAN ALL OF THAT became the spokesman for the game and what it meant for life, MAN! i was overcome! Back in my teens and twenties i used to carry around a little notebook called Sparky’s Sparks, all little words of wisdom from THE MAN about gratefulness and humility and not taking ourselves too seriously and of taking each game, each day, as if it were the first and the last. Whew! What a man!

i’ve been praying that Sparky’s sparky spirit will light a fire under Utley’s butt. i’ve been praying that the newest, and one of the greatest ghosts of all, Yogi Berra, will come and talk some of his unique, no nonsense sense into the kid. Funny, but i can see Sparky and Yogi at that appeal process, each one taking an arm of Utley and leading him to the john. Sparky’ll say, “Come into our office, kid.” Yogi’ll say, “Have you really checked the video, I mean, honestly?” Then both will blast him in harmony, “That was just about the worst friggin move a guy has ever made on a diamond! Look how stupid you look. You even clunked your head. Did you clunk any sense to it? Why can’t you just step up to the mic and say it? Yes, we know you have made thousands of fantastic slides in your fantasic career, but that one was the worst. And so what! We were all learning right up to the very last play of out very last game. Ain’t that the most important thing we had to teach the kids?!” And Yogi adds, “Ain’t nobody’s poifect, pal! So, go ahead, save your career. A simple sorry’ll do. I know the Mets, they’ll never forgive ya, but the Game will, and that’s what matters. It’s about the Game, and the Game is more than the Game. It’s all about Life! If it doesn’t teach us how to live, what good is it?!”

“Am I a good man, or am I a bad man??” Sometimes the answer is in a simple acknowledgement of fault.



My Dear Holy Father,

The words of the Psalm come so easily to my mind, “Like the deer that yearns for the running stream, so my soul yearns for you.” So cool, so clear, so refreshing!!! It has been two weeks or so since you zoomed by me in Central Park, but my soul being a camera and my eye being a lens, the image of your smiling face will forever live in me. Oh, how i miss you! Oh, how WE all miss you in America! Please do come again soon.

Certain people have the ability to make impressions on us that can never be wiped away. For me, one of the surest of these – a person who reminds me so so much of you – is Deborah Cohan, M.D. Lest any of us should ever forget her, let me recall how, OF ALL PLACES, in the City of Saint Francis by the Bay, California, one of the most beautiful miracles ever occurred. Granted, it was a “natural” miracle, but to me it was Super-Natural. It was humanity at its very peak. There, this amazing OB-GYN doctor was heading to her own operating room at Mt. Zion Hospital. She was to have both breasts removed due to cancer. Before the surgery, however, she did something most unusual. She invited all available staff to join her there for a dance party. She said, “Nothing brings me greater joy than catalyzing others to dance,” to dance no matter what!

One of the first things we learned about you, Holy Father, in the first hours after your election, when all were asking, “WHAT?! WHO?! Who is this man?,” was that you love to dance, particularly the tango. All of us who saw you up close saw many a grimace as you moved or sat or stood. We all wondered HOW IN THIS WORLD IS HE DOING ALL OF THIS without collapsing??? We know just how difficult it would really be for you, but we ALL WOULD LOVE TO SEE EVEN ONE OF THOSE TANGOS!!!!

But when the Holy Spirit lifted you up off your Argentinian stage to carry you and to drop you on the wider World Stage, it was to do a different kind of dance, the “Dance of the New Evangelization,” the bringing of a RENEWAL to the whole world, not just for Catholics but for all People Everywhere. And so far you have been “knockin ’em dead,” as they say! To you it is the Dance of the Christ and His Gospel, the Neverending GOOD NEWS that God’s Love is always there, for the asking, for the taking. “God never repents of creating us,” were among your very first words in America! There is always Reason to Rejoice, Reason to Hope, Reason to Dance! St. Francis of Assisi is, as you know so well, the one who better than most showed us how to move gracefully, to dance, in the footsteps of the Great Teacher, Jesus. When i heard the awesome story of Dr. Cohan, i realized that you two have a very similar goal, i.e. to catalyze everyone to fall in love with the dance, the dance of love.

My Father, i myself am the world’s worst dancer, two left feet for sure, though i know that the dance is in me somewhere, in the little boy in me. When we were little, we all longed to dance day and night. You have been able to keep your boy alive. That is what we love in you…and what we long for you to teach us, teach us how to dance with you. Let us move in the spirit of this most amazing woman and try to take the whole world dancing, both physically and spiritually, body and soul, in one, universal dance. And if we see it through the eyes of that amazing little man, history’s most famous “stripper,” St. Francis, who cast aside all that was non-essential, then we can really call it “the Dance of Perfect Joy.” He traded a mere human perspective for a greater one, when he took off his fancy clothes and replaced them with rags. He turned the world “upside-down,” and when everything seemed to be going wrong, and hope seemed lost, he would say, “This is the time of REAL JOY!” Or as another wise person put it, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Thus, the ever-dancing spirits of Deborah and Francis, Francis One and Francis New,  Perfect Partners on the stage of history! Your personal Preacher, my personal Friend, Fr. Cantalamessa, says, “There is no time in history more exciting than this to be alive!”

How interesting that i met you in Central Park, and not just anywhere in Central Park, but in the place which many call its Heart, the section called “Strawberry Fields” after a song by the Beatles. John Lennon, who lived just across the street from there – and died right on that corner – used his powers of persuasion and of peace to unite so many countries of the world to participate in creating that sacred little corner of New York and of the world. When i was there waiting for you – with 80,000+ others – i was thinking of a different Beatle song, one which John wrote with George Harrison (who by the way had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus). i was humming the song to myself all throughout that afternoon, and i still do, when i think of you. Though you are gone from our sight now, you are with us in heart and soul, and i know that whenever we work towards your same goal of making this world a better place, a fairer place, a more just and loving place, then we are TRULY WITH YOU doing the dance. The simple song says it best…for me just what HAPPINESS is all about. “I’d Be Happy Just to Dance With You!”

i sure do miss you, though. And i think i’ll be writing alot of these letters…

As St. Francis used to say, PACE E BENE, Peace and Every Blessing. Your son and brother, “knucklehead”


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One of the worst times in my life was also one of the best – and one of the funniest, with retrospect. Giving us one of the most endearing memories of my father, it is an event that would provide direction to our whole lives.

What puts it into the category of catastrophe was my age at the time. A brand new teenager, 90% emotion, think of all the build-up, as dad told me to pick three buddies for a week-long graduation vacation to Wildwood-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, as close as you could come to Heaven at the time!! Better than 8th Grade Graduation itself would be this trip of a lifetime with my buds. And so the day came, the long drive to the ocean on a cloudy drizzly day. My father assured us, “Oh, this is nothing. It’ll all break up, boys, I promise.” We all unloaded, then took a seat at the table for some Rummy. My dad, the infamous Howie Robinson – in white tee and boxer shorts, Phillie Cheroot dangling from his mouth, a cloud of hideous cigar smoke matching the ones outside – began his seven day (count them) stroll from the kitchen to the door, declaring more times than we could have counted, “It’s Breakin Up Out There, Boys!” As it rained and rained and rained and rained!! Total Tragedy! Brother Sun began to shine 165 hours later, three hours before we drove home. Here is a photo of Johnny Williams and John Iorii, released from captivity on the best beach resort of the Northeast.200722_104578876290084_5982298_n

Thus one of the legendary phrases of my Father was born, not just a phrase but an attitude, a way of looking and a way of living. Who knows how many times it enabled my family and my pals to carry on in life? i am certain that my daddy’s HOPE helped Jimmy Peltz in his nearly forty marathons, to find that extra srength. 10013442_243430965843748_7679647031532847899_o i’m sure that my dad was in John Iorii’s heart and soul, when his young wife, Deb, was dying, and that lifelong “pal o’ mine” wanted to die with her. He would make it, it would break, and the sun would shine again. Good ole Mr. Robinson would help Johnny Williams to battle cancer…and now help me to do the same. Come on, boys, it’s breakin up out there. It’s a great life, a great adventure. We must forge ahead.

These days, when i think of my father at that door, i think of my dear dear friends, Gerry Straub and his sweet wife, Ecarlatte, in Haiti. i have blogged on Gerry before. As the Pope stood on Rocky’s “Stage” as the World’s Prophet of Hope, i wrote of Gerry as one of the reasons WHY the POPE has HOPE, one of Hollywood’s “stars” who chose instead to give up the limelight to take on the darkness and to trade the comforts of Tinseltown for the slums of Haiti. Gerry had already delivered hope to the homeless of Philly. But, then he got the message – EVEN LOUDER  AND MORE CLEARLY – from St. Francis and St. Clare, that the BEST solution to world poverty is the Christ Solution, which is no less than BECOMING ONE WITH, ONE OF the poor. Gerry’s true home now is in the midst of “the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere” at the service, especially, of the children. The problems there, the sufferings, are of such intensity, that one could easily lose all hope. But my buddy and his wife choose to GO and BREAK IT UP THERE, boys!!!P1020770Even if it means bringing food one morsel at a time and Joy one smile at a time. They see the ecstasy of children wearing two of the same shoes in the same size! Can you imagine?! So many are used to wearing two different shoes, whatever the closest fit, whatever they could find in the city dump. Bit by bit by baby bit, it IS breakin up down there!

When my kids were little, we all fell in love with Atreyu of the modern classic, “The Neverending Story.” The boy, whose name means selflessness, sets out to battle a force which seems infinitely larger than him. It is called the “Nothing” and its powers and effects everywhere. There are times when the lad appears just too small, way too weak, and there is almost no reason, no sense to carry on. That notion definitely appeared to my friend, Gerry, during the earthquake there. He was just like Atreyu in the Great Swamp of Sadness, about to sink. The scope of the suffering was beyond imagination. Hey, all that he had to do was to go to the airport, hop on the next plane, and return to Burbank, to the sweet California scene with its cool breezes and cool chicks, have a good stiff drink, maybe a bottle or two, and get back to business.

But, this is Gerry’s business now. An atheist’s trip to Italy years ago put him on a brand new road, and there was no turning back. There was only ONE ANSWER – like i said before. Jesus said, It’s not enough to feed the poor, Gerry. You must BE the poor, and then you will BE the Hope for the Poor. THERE lies all of the difference. Gerry did not give up. Furthermore, Gerry knew that he could only fight the Gloom from within. So, he dove right into it. It did not swallow him, the way that the Sadness almost swallowed the boy. What is known as the Great Paradox of the Cross, embraced to perfection by St. Francis, is being tested and proven once more in the Straubs. Gerry “beats the Nothing” by becoming nothing. The more he is emptied, the more he is fulfilled. “If you want to be rich,” promised Jesus, “embrace poverty.” Gerry and Ecarlatte dove right in, KNOWING that they hold SOMETHING STRONGER and GREATER than the Darkness. They have Faith, and they have Hope, and most importantly, they have LOVE.

So, it’s breakin’ up out there, alright! Because the Straubs are not giving up. Howie never gave up. Jimmy never gave up. John n Johnny never gave up. i sure ain’t giving up. Heck, if i ever dared to try, these guys would kick my butt!!!