Christmas Card 2020

Click the images above to enlarge your view of my mailed Christmas card.

Advent / Christmas 2020: Reflections on the Year That Cracked Everything

Sin, Grace & Leonard Cohen

From 2016-2018 I was an adjunct professor of theology at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, a Catholic university founded by the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary. I had to stop doing it as my mom’s failing health in 2019 made it too difficult to fit in with my other job responsibilities and activities. However, I enjoyed it immensely. I taught an introductory course on Catholic theology to undergraduate students.

One of the modules of the introductory theology course I taught was dedicated to the realities of sin, grace and salvation. Sin: the Catholic view being that all of us bear the wounds and effects of sin in our lives all the time. We are forced to confront the truth that even when we do good, we are not able to overcome those effects on our own. Thus, we need the presence of God (grace) in our lives to transform us and liberate us (salvation) from the ways we entrap ourselves in evil.

These concepts can be elusive to many Catholics – even more so to undergraduates from a variety of intellectual, cultural and religious backgrounds who may not even want to be there! So I would begin this module – as I would all the modules in the course – with a cultural referent, even if it wasn’t one with which they were immediately familiar. It would invariably prove helpful to return to this cultural “landmark” during the subsequent presentations.

For the module on sin, grace and salvation, I used Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” from his 1992 album The Future – the words to the refrain of which are on the front of my Christmas card for this year (above).

Take a moment to listen and view the beautiful video below with the words transcribed on the screen. Reflect on the words and their meaning. Consider their connection to our common painful experience of 2020. Consider, too, how they might be a source of hope. 


I invite you to reflect with me below on the meanings imbued in these potent lyrics of Cohen’s as we move through Advent toward Christmas – a time of spiritual awakening as Northern Hemisphere nights stop getting longer and light slowly returns to our daytime skies. As we move towards the celebration of God with us – always, everywhere … gracefully with us – it is a time to gain perspective on the pains, the isolations, the angers, the disappointments – the traumas – of 2020. It is also a time to summon the awareness of our blessings, even if they have felt, at times, lost in the undertow of negativity.



“There is a crack in everything.”

At a time oh so long ago yet, incomprehensibly, less than 12 months ago, when 2020 began, it seemed so much of life was already cracked and wounded. Many look back on the times before COVID-19 descended in March and romanticize it as “the before times,” when, at least in people’s fickle memories, the world was whole.

Let’s be honest, though. We know better.

When 2020 dawned, many people across our churches, our cities, our nation and our world were hurting. Social and political divisions were already sharpened to a knife’s edge. Racism, white supremacy and privilege were ascendant and had been for some time, buoyed by what Cohen, in “Anthem” calls “that lawless crowd” with “killers in high places.” These were experiences that we, as a society, had faced many times, especially in these last several years.

While we know of the real progress that civil rights heroes like the late Congressman John Lewis achieved in a generation that is passing over to glory all too quickly, and we can rejoice in it (see for example how he once inspired his fellow Members of Congress in a Congressional Civil Rights pilgrimage in 2004 that I was blesse to be a part of), the crack of systemic racism and white privilege still ran deep in our society when 2020 began. The light that poured in through the cracks over the summer through that open wound in our common life was harsh and unforgiving, and it swept away any illusory shadows in which we could hide. It brought forward more pain from our black and brown and red brothers and sisters, and invited those of us of no color to acknowledge and reckon with it. Further, it placed before all of us a choice – to respond with broken-hearted compassion and a relentless pursuit of justice, or to find yet more excuses to ignore or dismiss the injustices that pile up. As we consider our cracked-open lives gathered around Advent wreaths and candle lights, they shine on us beckoning us forward in encouragement and towards repentance and real justice.

Marc DelMonico and John Lewis

Marc with Congressman John Lewis in 2005 at The Faith & Politics Institute’s Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where, in 1961 civil rights leaders including Dr. King and took refuge against a white mob who threatened to burn the church.


As I told my students, in my course section on sin, grace and salvation, we cannot escape the consequences of sin and evil. 2020 was the year where public confession of our social sins could no longer be avoided. The light got in. As someone who was deeply touched personally by Congressman Lewis’ courageously Christian life of justice, I have prayed for his guidance for myself and for our nation many times since his passing, with gratitude that I have known such a soul as his personally, and as I seek, in my own work, to let the light shine in. One way that I had the opportunity to carry that legacy forward in my current work resourcing lay ecclesial ministry at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was to be present and responsive to staff and lay ministers and lay ministry organizations across the country seeking to address these painful realities, not only in our society, but in the church as well. There are many excellent resources to help anyone begin to do this. One such resource, for those just seeking to understand a foundational Catholic perspective is the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter on racism, Open Wide Our Hearts. Pairing this letter with Pope Francis‘ much broader but essential new encyclical “On Solidarity and Social Friendship” (Fratteli Tutti), inspired by the wisdom and example of St. Francis of Assisi, would be a great start. I recommend they be read in parish and ministry book study clubs, too, as a way to broaden Catholics’ exposure and awareness of these wonderful teaching documents.


“Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.”

That is a haunting lyric from Cohen’s “Anthem.” In 2020, how is it possible to follow his advice? Is it possible to start again or anew when many days seem to roll together as we seek to both stay out of the pandemic’s way and keep others safe by staying home, or at least away from social gatherings? When each day has either a seeming sameness, or people must maintain distance and separateness when doing things we felt were routine before, but are no longer, how do we begin again? How do we respond with freshness of spirit, a curiosity and wonder of intellect, a heart full of compassion? 

We are burdened down by the collective loss of over a quarter of a million of our nation’s residents to the pandemic, and we feel the touch of the abyss of grief in our hearts at the personal losses among our families and friends, either from the COVID-19 illness or the disruptions to our relationships that it has caused. Again, how are we, in 2020, supposed to dwell not on what has been, or to approach the future with anything but trepidation?

How can we ignore the less tangible but no less real losses we may feel at the heart of our civil society: the near collapse of civic conversation, even to the point where civility itself can be distorted into a view that one must only ask for the righting of moral wrongs and societal injustices “nicely”? Who among us has not been deeply befuddled and shaken that so many seem unable or unwilling to to take guidance from knowledgeable scientists, medical experts and good people? Even more concerning, what of people’s own consciences, which seem to be asleep or unresponsive to the needs of others? How can they be roused to critically reflect on their choices and the values they express by their actions or inactions? Our governments – federal and state and local – lurch forward seeking a steadying support – something, anything to stop the careening from crisis to crisis – and we move with them – willingly or not. When “what is yet to be” is so profoundly unclear and unsettling to so many, the needs of now, and of what is to come, force themselves into our thoughts. 

Even more, how can those of us who are Catholic find the solace of faith in Christ and in the common life of our Church when we are not only not able to gather fully for sacramental communion with God and one another, but are continuously confronted by the crippling abuses of power from those entrusted with the care of people’s lives and souls? We continue to be subjected to the ongoing disclosures of terrible cover ups of unconscionable abuse of minors by clergy and even of laity, facilitated by church leaders at the highest levels, and others who chose to look the other way. In years past, Catholics, as we have done for centuries, have sought solace and the power of the Holy Spirit to begin to right these terrible wrongs in many ways, including common prayer. Yet even this remains attenuated as few return physically to churches and church communities strive to find new forms of outreach that meet the needs of this time for spiritual connection, even in the midst of social distancing.

Where can we find newness and real hope again?


“The birds they sang, at the break of day. ‘Start again,’ I heard them say.”

As in Cohen’s song, many of us feel visceral pain at the failings of leaders and others around us. The “birth” of opportunities and positive changes we may have anticipated seems to have been “betrayed,” some relationships on which we relied for strength may seem “spent.” “The widowhood of every government,” comes through in a loss of civility with one another, a missing shared sense of purpose, and perhaps our own failures to be more conscious of the common good.

But Cohen’s words also remind us of what the season of Advent and Christmas and its many Scriptural lessons and carols say to us as well. The images from the Scriptures of this season speak a reminder to our hearts to “start again.” They invoke the newness of grace which comes to us from God, recalling the Christian story of a God who enters our broken history to bring us through it and out of it. As he once did in history, Christ still finds his way into the cracks of our world. There, among the poor and the outcast, he comes, he lives, and he dies. But even in death, he rises and “starts again.”

Again, I have had a blessed but difficult view of this work from a national office within the U.S. bishops conference that seeks to resource lay ministers. The USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, which I resource, spent many of the first months of the pandemic finding and sharing resources and regularly engaging national and diocesan organizations who support lay ministers. I worked with colleagues around the country to learn about what good practices of ministry were emerging as lay ministers, in collaboration with supportive clergy, sought to replace forms of ministry uprooted by the pandemic with new and renewed approaches to outreach and pastoral care. I started a page on my website dedicated to building on this information both for this year and going forward, and within the USCCB, so that resources that are helping guide parishes and ministries in successful efforts in the midst of these real challenges can be more freely shared and easily accessible. I am grateful for colleagues Monica Herald and Dr. Harry Dudley for their work in adding to the resources on my website.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought intense suffering and difficulty to the entire world, and to ministries of our churches, especially in the U.S. At the same time, there is much to learn about how creative leaders, parishes, and communities have adapted to these circumstances. Visit my coronavirus resource page for information, articles, reflections and more about these developments.


Cohen’s lyrics remind us that newness comes when we commit ourselves to “start again,” from whatever circumstance or place we are. Starting each day anew is a path to escaping a numbing sameness. Even when routines are repeated, our experience of people – whether in our families, in-person or across a Zoom screen, can be new. Our openness to be led by God’s Spirit into that newness invites us to live in new patterns of care and hopefulness. We are not stuck. Even as we must endure the unique suffering of this time experienced in its millions of unique ways for each person, there can be redemptive moments which transform and shape us, sometimes imperfectly, often haltingly, into who God calls us to be. It seems that some of us have avoided the prayerful reflection that some parts of these months in reduced activity have invited. We continue to be offered a way of gaining perspective when what has been “normal” has been taken away. Even if we ourselves have not embraced this opportunity as much as we hoped, Advent and Christmas provides us with the spiritual impetus to start again.


“Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee.”

Our country’s collective mistreatment of immigrants and especially of refugees over these past several years will be a wound that we have to carry and heal for a long time. When those who literally have no place to go because of violence and hatred at the place they used to call home and who literally have nothing are turned out into the cold like the Holy Family on that first Christmas Eve, we have re-opened the wound frequently experienced by most of our own grandparents or great-grandparents who came to this country from someplace help, hoping for a better life. When we do not pay attention to the cracks in our own lives and personal histories, we will be blind to the light that seeks to guide us through the cracks in our society.

Cohen’s song reminds us that life will inevitably give us the chance to see how our own efforts at love and healing will fall short. We can “add up the parts” and never quite get to the sum, and we will want to “strike up a march” without a drum to keep us on the rhythm. Even when we are securely at home, we can often be like those fleeing from places in our world that are hostile and unwelcoming, and we must reckon with the fact that for some, their experience in our land today – and for much of our history – is also fraught with violence and rejection. We are being given the chance to see in these Advent and Christmas days that we have been refugees on the run for a long time, and that suddenly, undeservedly (as it usually is) love is available to us. Even more, that love is not only available to us; it can become available to others through us.

Two priests I knew who lived and shared the love of God freely passed over to glory this year, both due to COVID-19. One, Fr. Richard Dellos (77, +August 16, 2020), was an inspiration and great support to me as a young altar server and early lay minister in my home parish in Utica, New York. He inspired me to be of service in the church in many ways, and was instrumental in instilling a love not just of the Scriptures, but of the critical study of them, for my whole life. He was a true servant of the People of God (read more about his vocation story in his own words here), especially the poor and the marginalized. He was filled with a deep spirit of evangelization, following in the gentle way of Pope Francis. Here is a video of him from 2017 speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, reflecting on the Spirit’s gifts or “charismata” to the community.



The other priest, Franciscan Fr. Chris Posch, OFM, (58, +July 5, 2020) was the pastor of my parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, St. Camillus Church, known far and wide as a joyful, inclusive, welcoming intercultural parish. Fr. Chris never embraced the title of pastor, preferring to be listed on the bulletin simply as “Servant,” a choice in words that he lived up to in his 30 years as a friar and 25 years as an ordained priest. While all of the many medical tests given were not able to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis, his symptoms all mirrored those who have been severely afflicted with that disease, and so, even in death, he was in solidarity with those among our neighborhoods and communities in our section of Maryland who have borne the brunt of this pandemic in our state. His deeply engaged ministry with our parish and with the poor was nationally known, and his death was covered by The National Catholic Reporter.  A beautiful memorial video with some words from his homilies can be viewed below, and the video from his live streamed funeral liturgy from mid-July is available here.


As I remember these two men of God who now share fully in God’s glory, I think of others, still living on earth, family and friends, and others who have passed over, who have shared the love of God with me. I invite you to bring to mind in this moment those in your lives, through whom you have experienced that love during these heavy days, and to reflect of what they have meant to you. Consider how they came to be channels of God’s love and peace, especially for you. These Advent and Christmas days heighten the awareness of those whom we have lost over the past years. That can bring sadness, but may it also bring comfort that their love has touched our lives and is still with us within God’s love for all creation, even when it has taken us a long time to realize it.

The Crack Is Where The Light Gets In.

In the midst of the deeply painful early months of the pandemic, when the cracks in everything were keenly felt, for some, the summer offered a moment of respite and a reminder that we should always have our eyes open to be blessed by wonder and beauty, which helps ground a sense of hopefulness when it is most needed. The month of July brought a previously undiscovered comet to our late night and early morning skies. As it rounded our Sun in an enormously elliptical orbit that scientists later discovered meant that it would not be this close to our planet again for another 6,800 years, Comet NEOWISE lit up the night skies with beautiful radiant light, as its frozen ice melted when it neared the Sun. The comet, named for the the WISE space telescope program based in California, dazzled stargazers throughout late July, who produced beautiful time-exposures of it all across the world, like the one in my Christmas card image above. Not only a once-in-a-lifetime view, this was truly a once-in-an-aeon sighting of something which we began the year of 2020 not even knowing was there. While my own photos – like the one below – taken on my phone camera one night over Utica, New York are not nearly as beautiful as so many others, it is a reminder to me that I saw it with my own eyes. I saw the crack that let the light in.   



Comet NEOWISE – Taken over Utica, New York – July 17, 2020. In this holy season, it reminds us of another “star” leading those seeking wisdom.

The Catholic tradition has always held that certain moments bring us mentally and spiritually closer to the sacred – feast days, liturgies, saints days, etc. Certain moments in our lives can renew our capacity to embrace the truly beautiful and sacred if we are ready to receive it. As we move towards the end of this very difficult year, let us all take time to consider what was like Comet NEOWISE for us? What or who stirred hopefulness in us in the midst of suffering? What or who opened us up to newness in the midst of unrelenting bad news? What streaked across the night sky of our souls and enlightened our worlds anew? Consider what touched your heart with the capacity to keep moving forward even if you had been stuck in depression or mired in anxiety. Let’s all take time to examine those things and persons in our lives, to see how those experiences may have been God opening up a pathway of light through the cracks in our lives.

As we enter the season that is marked by a myth (that is, a story that never happened because it is is still happening) of the Magi guided to the Christ by the light of a star, let us seek the star that is shining before us in this moment. Let us look upward to find that which revives our vision of hope and our faith that God remains at work in our cracked history, as persons and as a people. Let us hear again the story of how angels spoke to frightened shepherds on a hillside in a nearly forgotten backwater of an Empire that glorified war and naked power and said, “Good news! You don’t need to be afraid anymore!” As we pray and hope that a vaccine will come in the new year for this terrible pandemic, let us also remain aware of the spiritual pandemics which have ravaged us as well, some for a very long time. The vaccine for our spiritual illnesses is the grace of God, always and everywhere with us, which gives us proper perspective, centers us, rescues us, and transforms us, and all we do, into glory.

 May the blessings streaming through our cracked Christmas, light our night skies!

Past Blasted: A Few Updates from Long Ago … 2019

If you’re still reading, and in contrast to the contentedness of limited travel in 2020, here are highlights from my very active 2019. I wasn’t able to share as much about my activities from 2019 last year, in the midst of grieving and handling the estate affairs of my mom. While it was a painful year of loss, there was much to celebrate too. Remembering these now, it seems like such a “busy” schedule – almost overwhelming:

  • I visited Miami, Florida for a meeting of the Apostleship of the Sea, a Catholic group of priests, deacons and laypersons who offer ministry at ports of call, as cruise ship and cargo ship chaplains, and other ministries to those who work on the seas (Feb), and was able to visit my friend Rani and the Dominican brothers community  connected to Barry University. 
  • I continued my work with St. Mary of Mt. Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica, working with Fr. Jim, the pastor, and my friends and fellow lay ministers Peter, Anne, and many music ministry and other colleagues, as one of the M.C.’s for Holy Week celebrations (April).
  • I met cast members from Star Trek: The Next Generation at Washington, D.C.’s culture convention Awesome Con (April).
  • I was able to travel to Anaheim, California in May / June for work at the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership annual convention, followed by some vacation with my friend Matt as we visited the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers, and I knocked out two more stadiums on my MLB stadium tour (with five to go).
  • I enjoyed Independence Day in Baltimore with friends and time with family at Ocean City, New Jersey.
  • I got to watch Adam Savage of Mythbusters in-person at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum build a replica of the Apollo 11 command module hatch (August).
  • I was able to visit Yankee Stadium (August) including an unexpected meeting with a high school friend Michelle.
  • I had a work-related visit to learn about prison ministries practices at a correctional facility in Chesapeake, Va., and time with the Kramer-Wong family at Virginia Beach (also August).
  • September brought me to Boston College for a work-related symposium on Hispanic ecclesial movements.
  • I took in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 live tour in October and celebrated the Washington Nationals‘ exciting World Series games and win with my friends Heather and Matt and others in the DC region, including a trip to their ticker-tape parade in D.C. (October). I participated in a Bethlehem University Foundation event honoring Bishop Gerald Kicanas (the bishop with whom I work most closely in my work at the U.S. bishops conference) in November and was back at National Park in December to celebrate the Enchant Christmas experience there with the Kramer-Wong family.

Awesome Con 2019 – Pictured with my friend Matt and cast members of Star Trek: The Next Generation


Click to view full gallery.


Personal Updates

Like so many of you, the year of 2020 was a year that brought a lot of cracks in life and activities.

Nevertheless, I end the year in a hopeful place due in large measure to the grace of God which allowed me to see the light getting in. Let me share a few of those moments with you.


Remembering Family Departed


Memorial video from my mom’s vigil service in 2019.

As many of you will recall, on October 4, 2019, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, my mom, Elaine, went home to God. I was only able to convey a few words of what she meant to me and how deeply her passing touched me in 2019’s Christmas card but I was able to set up a web page in her memory, including recordings, music selections and more from her funeral in Utica, NY, and a memorial Mass one month later in Silver Spring, Md. The opportunity to be with her at her passing in the hospital, while deeply painful, proved to be a blessing. I was able to hold her and comfort her and be physically with her. A mere few months later, people all over the world afflicted by COVID-19 passed away with maybe only a nurse or doctor at their side, or perhaps family grieving over a tablet or phone screen. I viscerally felt the pain that their loved ones went through, not being able to be physically close to mothers, fathers, aunt, uncles, even children or friends, knowing what an important and sacred moment it was for me with my mom.

Similarly, I was able to pour my grief into the liturgies and celebrations which followed, giving my mom a blessed and prayerful sendoff. Indeed one of the priests who concelebrated her funeral, Fr. Richard Dellos, is the one I mentioned elsewhere on this page, who passed away from COVID-19 in August. This, too, was essential to my own grieving and healing after my mom’s loss. I feel the magnitude of loss from the thousands upon thousands of families who had very attenuated funeral liturgies or services  due to the necessary gathering restrictions, even when they might have wished for more. I carry the hundreds of thousands who have died, and the uncounted hundreds of thousands more who struggle with their loss in my heart and prayers each day, as well as all those who have had months of their lives lost to this long term disease.

Thinking of these people, this seems a good a time as any to remind everyone to be vigilant and caring in the face of this terrible pandemic and follow the masking, washing, and distancing guidance health officials share with us, and please pray, think of, and support the legions of health care workers and other essential workers who continue to put their lives on the line for our needs during this terrible time.

Family at WTU Graduation

My uncle, Bob Padula (left), aunt Phyllis (left front), and mom (right) with me at my graduation from Washington Theological Union in 2006.

So, even before 2020 with all of its unique cracks in our lives, my family dealt with a lot of loss in 2018 and 2019 – my mom (+October 2019), my uncle Bob Padula (+March 2019) and his last surviving sibling, Toni Padula Cinque (+July 2018), and my uncle Bob DelMonico (+August 2019 – memorial service program here). This year, my great uncle and godfather, Remo Zegarelli (+May 17) died after a long time of enduring cancer, and I ask prayers especially for his widow, my great aunt Theresa. Prayers too, for my father Louis who was a good friend of Remo’s, and who has had back surgery this year, but is recovering. I also ask prayers for great uncle Mike who has health issues and his wife aunt Judy who tends to his needs. Also, my cousin Debbe and her husband  Tom and son Dominic had to put down their 14 year old beautiful husky Sabrina. So it has been three years of loss in my family. Thankfully, as of now, all of my other family – aunt, cousins, spouses, and their families – are healthy and well.

My uncle Bob DelMonico, doing something he always enjoyed – cooking for family and others.

Throughout this year, I have frequently felt the gentile guidance and supportive presence, especially of my mom, but also of these departed loved ones and others who have gone before from my family and friends. I sometimes experience an image of mom gathered in a home just like the one she had, welcoming other family members to a meal, accompanied by Elvis Presley and other musicians she loved during life. While sadness comes and goes with these losses, felt in the space between moments, I feel truly blessed to know the consolation of faith. The blessings of my faith and the community of faith which is the church, sustains me, even as it sustained them. They are now part of the beautiful communion of saints. I trust that all those who have died this year, especially those who passed due to COVID-19, are part of that union with God in that most mysterious union that is beyond our understanding.


Celebrating Family, Sustaining Relationships

Over these many months of necessary physical separation, it has been a joy to re-connect spiritually with loved ones who have passed over through old photos an old home videos. At the same time, sustaining relationships with family here and now has also been a blessing this year, even though made more difficult due to the pandemic. Due to the slackening of COVID-19 over the summer, especially in upstate New York, I was able to make trips by car up there and take advantage of outdoor activities. These included visits to my cousin’s pool and visiting (outdoors) with friends in the region, but also travels to more interesting spots, including Ticonderoga, New York. A late summer visit on a glorious September day included sightseeing at two venues. One is expected – the historic Revolutionary War-era Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain at the border of New York and Vermont and its nearby strategic hill Mount Defiance.

The other is more unusual, but a great one for the sci-fi fan in me. In the town of Ticonderoga, a dedicated group of Star Trek fans created a wonderful experience for other fans – a full-scale replica of the original Hollywood (Desilu) studios layout of the sets for the Starship Enterprise from the Original Series, the very first Star Trek from the 1960s. Having gone on a day when museums had recently re-opened I was able to get a truly personal tour of these great sets, built as a labor of love. This Star Trek Original Series Set Tour is a great gift to fans, and they frequently host events with Star Trek stars, but the pandemic has really hurt their business – as is the case with so many artistic and creative venues like museums. I was grateful for the opportunity to support them during this difficult year. If they can weather this storm, they have purchased additional adjacent building space to build a scale model of the sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation too! Hopefully the next time I go they will have more business.

Click to view full galleries of both visits.

In addition to these special trips, I was able to gather in-person for other special events. In September, I was able to celebrate my cousin Bob’s eldest daughter, Ana’s, first communion. While I could not participate in the Mass due to pandemic restrictions, I was able to gather with them, and Bob’s other daughter, one of my goddaughters, Victoria, and other family at an outdoor venue to break bread in-person, which was a blessing. Also that month, in Vienna, Virginia, I joined my dear friends Andrea & Kenneth and their family to celebrate their eldest son, Simon’s, participation in the sacrament of Confirmation, for which I was able to participate in the Mass. (Due to my attention to pandemic precautions, I was not able to be with them in the photo below.) Both of these celebrations had been postponed in the spring due to pandemic restrictions, but I was grateful they could both be held safely in the early fall and I give thanks I could be present for both. I was also grateful to spend quality time over the summer with my aunt Phyllis, my cousin Debbe and husband Tom and their son Dominic, who is now a senior in high school preparing for graduation and fully immersed in the college search, and to visit with Bob and his son Alex, who is in his second year of college, and his beautiful two girls already mentioned – Ana and Victoria. These summer gatherings, especially now in the midst of winter’s pandemic surge, were sustaining and a great blessing.

In contrast to 2019, the year 2020 was obviously much more limited in terms of travel, but I was still able to make some pre-pandemic travel and take in modest fun activities outside the home:

  • February saw me travel for work to Tucson, Arizona, for the annual meeting of the Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry where the gathering discussed the important contribution to preparing lay ministers for professional service in the Catholic Church based on the U.S. bishops’ 2005 statement Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord. These colleagues of mine are always a joy to connect with, and we were joined by their archbishop moderator as well by Bishop Kicanas, who is the retired former bishop of that diocese.
  • In late February, on a visit to New York, I was also able to stop by one of my favorite spots – the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown – and visit the 2019 Washington Nationals World Series exhibit.
  • Aside from the summer visits noted above, the only other travels were to an outdoor gathering at a Maryland vineyard with friends, Meg, Fran, Teresa, Heather, and Matt for a socially distanced evening of conversation and wine-tasting, a view of a fan-less Nationals baseball game from the roof top deck of the hotel across the street from Nationals Park, and a visit to Arlington National Cemetery during Veteran’s Week in November.
  • However, even with limited travel, I have been able to join many friends from across the country virtually in weekly “Quaranteam” Happy Hours on Fridays (every Friday since mid-March!) and I have enjoyed spending screen time with Andrea, Kenneth, Simon, and another of my goddaughters, Monica, joining their family via Zoom on many Saturdays to reflect on the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday. I have been grateful that Zoom has also allowed me to see my family at other important times during the year as well.

Click to view full gallery of images.


The Work of Ministry

With the closing of the USCCB office building in March due to the pandemic, I have spent 99% of the last 9 months working from home and anticipate that will continue well into 2021. However, the work has nevertheless continued with zoom calls and important virtual events.

As I continued to work with the bishops’ subcommittee resourcing lay ministry and our committee resourcing Catholic education, my colleagues and I were confronted with the major challenges brought about by the pandemic – and by the issues of racial and social justice raised during the summer. Parishes closed down. Both parishes and dioceses laid off many church workers, including lay ministers. While all parishes and dioceses confronted major pastoral and budgetary issues, several rose to the challenge and employed creative solutions and approaches, to address pastoral care for those who were in lockdown, and worked to provide enhanced virtual / online ministries beyond simply streaming the Mass. My office took time to provide resources developed by the professional ministry organizations we work with and to learn from the work of dedicated chaplains, parish lay ecclesial ministers and leaders, and more. While the painful difficulties were evident always,

it was also clear that the Holy Spirit was calling people to respond in new and creative ways in this new moment. These inspired, even if imperfect, responses have been encouraging. Most interestingly, my work with Catholic organizations working in the area of Catholic prison ministries has been one of the most invigorating.


I am also able to close out the year with some very good personal news. On November 30, I closed on my first home! It is located in the historic Pigtown / Washington Village neighborhood of downtown Baltimore, a five-minute walk to Oriole Park at Camden Yards & the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. This 19th century home, which may date back to the Civil War, likely housed German immigrant butchers and others who worked to provide meat to the city. It was completely renovated in 2020, including the addition of a brand new third floor and small backyard patio. The roof deck will be added over the winter and provide a panoramic view of the city skyline and stadiums. The sale of my mom’s home in Utica in July of this year (included in the photos below) made it possible for me to purchase this wonderful home. I have been very conscious of her guiding presence with me through the process. Following her welcoming spirit, I look forward to when I can welcome family and friends here when it is safe to do so. I also hope to hold a “virtual housewarming” in January. 

I recognize, especially this year, that a gift may not be possible nor do I expect it. For those of you who may consider gifts: as you may imagine, the costs of setting up a new place and doing some initial investments to the home are significant. When I send out information about the virtual housewarming, I’ll include information about a registry of particular items that you may wish to look at. If you would rather wish to make a gift of money to support me in these initial investment costs, you can send me a gift via PayPal.  I welcome the good wishes and prayers of everyone as I begin this exciting time in my new home.