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By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

You may recall that earlier this year I reported that the friars here at Capuchin Retreat saw two turtles laying eggs in our flower bed.

Today, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, the little progeny of one mother burst forth from their muddy nest into the bright world. One of the friars happened to notice one and alerted the rest of us.

We watched in awe as turtle after turtle climbed out of the muddy hole and onto the earth’s surface, ready to begin a new life. No one thought to count, but 40 might not be an exaggeration. We think they are baby snapping turtles from a large mother. According to the ways of nature, probably many will not survive.

After they came out, they seemed to know enough to head toward our pond, several hundred feet away. How do they know that?! We watched, amazed, thinking that, if anything is a miracle, this is, accompanied by all sorts of miracles around us.

I’m not pointing to any special “spiritual” message here, other than the message of awe and wonder and appreciation. Though we might be reminded again of Pope Franics’ plea in his encyclical, Laudato Si, that we need to take care of this one home we all share, including baby turtles.

It was wonderful for a few moments to forget about Covid-19, and social unrest, and violence, and the general sadness of this year. As a line in a song says, “for all the wonders that astound us, thanks be to God!”


By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

The former CBS commentator, Andy Rooney, would often begin his comments with: “Did you ever wonder . . . ?” I wonder about a lot of things. Maybe you do, too.

During this year I wonder at the behavior of some people. I wonder at the goodness of some and the not so goodness of others. For all the kindness and compassion we have seen, there has also been far too much anger, violence, division and a kind of craziness. For example there have been the fights and even killing over the wearing of masks. Some people have seemed to stand on their rights not to be told what to do while not considering the rights of others or not respecting the common good. People have clung to divisions and differences: too much “us against them.”

The Franciscan Richard Rohr has reminded us that there is no European air, or American air, or African air, or Chinese air. There is simply air, made up of oxygen and nitrogen, which we all breathe. We are all made of the same chemical and biological building blocks. Why all the difference and rancor and division? We are all free to pray “Our Father.” Which would make us all brothers and sisters. I wonder. Do you wonder, too?

Vale of Tears

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the traditional prayer to the Blessed Mother, the Salve Regina or “Hail, Holy Queen,” we refer to ourselves as “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” When I was much younger and more naive, I used to think of this as too negative an attitude about our lives and religion. Too heavy. Too sad.

As St. Augustine said, “we are Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” I wanted that to be more my attitude. But as life has gone on, I have come to realize that there is indeed a lot about life that is a “vale of tears,” and we don’t need to deny that. For many people, this year has been a “vale of tears,” and difficult things keep happening.

As challenging as it has been, it may be good for us to recognize that history is full of difficult things: there have always been famines and plagues and wars and all sorts of personal suffering. But, also, down through the centuries, there have been millions of good, kind, and compassionate people. And we have the same today. Life remains a mixture of the good and the not so good.

Besides the “vale of tears, ” the Bible reminds us to rejoice, as part of our Christian faith. St. Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Always. We feel the “vale of tears.” We still find reason to rejoice because we are living in union with God who is love.

Tiny Whispering Sound

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the first reading for the 19th Sunday, Series A, we hear of that famous image of the presence of God in the tiny whispering sound. God was not in the fire, the wind, or the earthquake. Of course sometimes in the Bible, the presence of God is described as being present in mighty, powerful events (1 Kings 19:9-13).

The tiny whispering sound may be closer to our experience. This is a favorite passage for people making retreats. We are invited to quiet down, on retreat or on ordinary days, to pay attention to our reality as reflected in small things.

To help with this, I like to suggest that people pause to appreciate small things around them, in their environment, in nature. One of my favorite small things this summer has been hummingbirds. We also had a pair of house finches lay two sets of eggs in a nest on our window ledge. We know of turtles laying eggs in a flower bed. Recently there have been fawns appearing with their mothers. Yes, these things happen every year, but we are invited to appreciate them every year and see them as reflecting the life of God which we all share.

We are the human and conscious part of creation, and we can appreciate and praise God for these “ordinary miracles.” Then we can take that deeper into appreciation of the life of God within ourselves and the people around us.

The tiny whispering presence of God is all around us, and it is good for us to turn down our noise and pay attention.

Faith and Fear

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Some time ago I heard a homily in which the preacher seemed to indicate that, with true faith, there is no place for fear. The context was the scene of the disciples in the boat in a storm and Peter’s attempt to walk on water.

Though it is true that a really strong faith might displace fear in us, I doubt if anyone achieves that perfectly. Most of us are mixtures of virtue and weakness. It would be extreme to think that we should have absolutely no fear in our lives.

I am reminded of the statement about courage, that courage is not a lack of fear, but being able to move on in spite of fear. I would relate that to faith. In our faith and trust in God, we move on to do what needs to be done. Parents, police officers, fire fighters, medical personnel do these things all the time. There are true heroes among us.

I would presume there has been a lot of fear among us in the time of pandemic. There is fear and worry in view of the uncertainty of these times. Someone recently said it is like having Lent with no Easter in sight.

And so we trust that, in spite of the storms, in spite of our fear, in spite of our anxiety, there is Christ calling out to us, not to walk on water, but to keep living and reaching out in kindness and compassion.

Feed Them Yourselves

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the Gospel for the 18th Sunday, Series A, Jesus feeds thousands of people. But before doing that he also says “Give them some food yourselves.” (See Matthew 14:13-21) We could focus on the miraculous multiplication of food and be amazed at the story. But, as always, we are invited to look and look again at the words and their further meaning.

I have always found these words very challenging. “You give them some food.” Jesus is talking to you and me. How to respond? We cannot work miracles of multiplication. The challenge could be indeed to actually feed people through food banks, soup kitchens, supporting local charities or supporting organizations like Bread for the World.

But giving people “some food” may be taken symbolically. We can help and nourish people through our acts of kindness. We can offer a compassionate listening ear. We can spend time with the sick and the shut-ins — at least when we are allowed to.

We can “give food” to various organizations by volunteering our time. There can be all sorts of random acts of kindness along the way, including a simple smile or word of thanks.

Jesus invites us: “Give them some food yourselves.” What shall we do?

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