Fr. Mike’s Favorite Topics

Fr. Mike’s Favorite Topics


I am excited to make available for you a variety of topics that I had taught in Africa to the young men who were entering the Society of Mary (Marianists) and the diocesan seminarians in both Kenya and Zambia.  When I headed our programs to the young men and women religious, the following topics were found to be the most important and influential in their religious lives!  Some of these topics include:  Scripture, History of the Eucharist, History of the Church, Mariology and Spirituality.  As I continued my ministry at Gov Island, Ohio, on Indian Lake at our retreat center, I also found that the lay people who regularly attended the Eucharist during the summer were interested in such topics during the winter months for discussion when there was more time on hand.  This is where I developed the above topics and more, and present here for your convenience.

I have added my Sunday Homily for each week (and current the ones for the last two or three weeks).

I also invite you to recent articles on topics from Prayer, Scripture, Liturgy, etc. found below.





As I looked over Part One of Prayer, you are probably wondering where I am going with this.  I do have a goal in mind.  The first goal is get us all on the same page.  So if this isn’t new to you, good, then it will be a review.  If it is, please let me know if I am going too fast or too deep.  This is the talk that I gave to our new men in Africa who want to join the Marianists.

Just to highlight, Prayer is either public or private.  We need and hopefully do both.  Unfortunately, we as even Christians tend to do only Public Prayer most of the time, that is, we tend to go to Mass on Sunday and that’s it, we did our duty.  For me, it is like saying, I ate my meal on Sunday and that’s enough.  We know that it will not sustain us physically and it will not sustain us spiritually simply because prayer is entering into a relationship with God.  In spiritual reality, prayer should be like breathing.  Any relationship with another PERSON will not last if communication is few and far between!

I also mentioned that Public Prayer is Liturgy, the work of the people, what we as Christian do when we gather usually on Sundays.  In the early church it would be unthinkable to miss the Sunday Liturgy, and many bishops threatened excommunication for missing too many masses in a row.  The reasoning is that the person has cut themselves off from the community by missing the most important public Faith Community event.

Through our Baptism we are given the right to pray for ourselves and for others.  Without Baptism, who are we to think we can pray for ourselves and others?  Public Prayer is a public witness to others of our faith community’s commitment to God, and as a corporate witness, it can be very powerful, especially if we are known as a community of prayer.  Whether we realize it or not, others will notice and even be attracted to God because they knew of their public and personal witness.

Before I begin this section on PERSONAL PRAYER, let me add to the Jewish way of prayer in the time of Jesus.  Their PUBLIC PRAYER was centered on sacrifice, usually an animal, but also of bread!  Interestingly enough, their Passover meal was in the HOME!  The MEN would go to the temple to pray, but women had to go to a separate section of the temple.  Only men could be closer to the HOLY OF HOLIES, but that is another talk.

Generally, PERSONAL or PRIVATE PRAYER falls into three general categories: Meditation, Affectation, and Contemplation.

MEDITATION is the type of prayer that is done in the HEAD.  A person prepares themselves by reading Scripture first, or picking a faith belief, dogma, (etc.) topic to reflect on.  In the seminaries, the person was usually given a topic to reflect on or meditate on by the rector.  In the monasteries, a type of prayer called: Lectio Divina, was the prayerful reading of Scripture.  This type of prayer is done MENTALLY!  St. Thomas Aquinas would be an example of promoting and using this type of prayer.

AFFECTATION is the type of prayer that is done using the HEART, usually with the emotions and being attentive to them.  One can also use the Scriptures or dogmatic statements, etc., as above, but the person is now more interested in the feelings that are generated.  For example, reading the story of the disciples and Jesus in the boat.  One is attentive to every detail of the story and feelings that are stirred up, especially when the storm hits them almost sinks their boat.  This type of prayer was used by St. Ignatius of Loyola, especially in his Thirty Day Retreat.

Under the heading of Affective Prayer would come the type of prayer that might be just a prayerful walk in the woods.  St. Francis would be a good example of this type of prayer.  One would be attentive to God’s creation all around them and how one would react in a prayerful way literally to a walk in the park.

CONTEMPLATION would include the Prayer of Quiet where the person would still themselves and allow GOD TO TALK to them!  Even though this is probably the simplest it is also the hardest.  The main reasons is that it seem we are wasting our time just sitting there, but that is the most important part because IN FAITH we believe that God is sitting there with us.  The other reason, it is so difficult to quiet our active brain and we can get easily distracted.  This prayer can be done in the privacy of ones’ own room or on a park bench after the walk.

There is no way we can shut off our minds and emotions.  That only comes at death.  So part of the technique is to find a word or phrase that brings us back to our quiet.  That is why this prayer is sometimes called Centering Prayer.  This practice of bringing ourselves back to prayer, to our center, letting go of the thought, is the most powerful part of this prayer.  Practiced over time we find ourselves letting go of many things and thoughts that lead us astray, even feelings.  Eventually it brings peace.  And for those who have practiced this prayer over the years, God eventually takes over and brings us to places we will never know but will have a residual intuition.

All Prayer will eventually lead us to this last part of Contemplation.  Mental Prayer (or mediation), and Affective Prayer, will lead to this final part of Quiet.  Even Good Liturgies will lead us there to that Quiet if properly observed within the service itself.  Since Contemplation is the practice of letting go and letting God, this last part is when God takes over.  And that will be the topic of our next part.




Place of Mary in Theology

Christian theology reflects on God’s salvific revelation and self-communication through Jesus Christ.  God revealed himself to us not through doctrinal formulae but through his works.  The first medium of his communication is the created world.  God also revealed himself in the events of the lives of individuals and nations.

Theology is centered on this final speaking of God in Jesus Christ.  He speaks in the person of Jesus: in the human life and work of Jesus, we encounter the Father who sent him.  N him we also find the authentic meaning of human existence.

However, revelation needs an addressee; self-communication seeks a partner.  God’s revelations is addressed to us.  The addressee of God’s word, the partner in the divine life, is our human world.  Theology is concerned not only with God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, but also with our human world, our condition, our needs.  It includes our openness to Gods’ work, our freedom to respond to it and our involvement in the coming of the new creation.  Hence, though centered in Jesus Christ, theology also includes anthropology, the understanding of our human existence before God.

This presence before God, this openness to his word, this response to his invitation in freedom, this total involvement with body, mind and heart in God’s work of salvation has most beautifully been revealed in Mary.  She was chosen to be the mother of Jesus not merely to give him human life, but through her motherhood she was drawn into the mystery of salvation.  Vatican II states: “The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by assent of the predestined mother.  This is preeminently true in the mother of Jesus.”

In preparation for her response to God’s call and her involvement in the divine plan of salvation, Mary was sanctified form the beginning.

Thus from ancient times she is seen “not merely passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience.”

This then is Mary’s place in theology: as we encounter God’s revealing and saving word in the person of Jesus Christ, so we contemplate in the person of Mary the human response to god’s word.  Already in the Gospels, Mary is seen not merely as an individual who is touched by God’s grace—many have been touched by God’s overwhelming power at all times—but as the one in whom the encounter of God with our human world has taken place for the sake of the whole human family.

Ecclesial Dimension of Mariology

The core of Mariology is obviously the person of Mary, the woman of Nazareth who, according to the Gospel, gave birth to Jesus.  God’s entry into our world is described by the Gospel by Luke, not as an act of divine omnipotence, but as a personal encounter: the divine invitation addressed to Mary and the free response to the handmaid of the Lord.  In faith and surrender she is the first to respond to the message of salvation.

Just as the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb is the Son’s first step in an ever-deepening and widening communion with our human family, likewise Mary’s “fiat”, her response to God’s word and her involvement in the divine work of salvation, is the first voice of an ever growing chorus of responses coming from all believers.  Mary gave birth to Jesus’ earthly body, the Church is to give birth to the body of his faithful.  Mary, the virginal mother, becomes the model of the Church.

Mariology is the attempt at a comprehensive understanding of Mary’s place in God’s plan of salvation.  Mariology becomes Christian anthropology, an epitome of human existence before God.

Problems of Mariology

Exaggerations of popular devotions which assign her a disproportionate role in Christian life, and create for her, as it were, an isolated glorious world of her own.  Historians of religion consider Mary the Christian heiress of the great mother goddesses of the ancient Mediterranean world.

Apparitions of Mary, true or alleged, draw millions to the spot where she has been seen and has given her messages.

The tendency to supernaturalize Mary’s earthly life continued through the centuries.  Legends were added to the biblical accounts and filled up the sober silence of the gospels.  These legends tended to remove Mary form the earthly sphere of our human life, totally opposite to the Bible where Mary appears first as the guarantee of Jesus’ true humanity: “born of a woman”. (Gal 4:4)

Mary’s Privileges: Critical questions were asked not only about their biblical basis but also about their theological soundness.  During the decades before the second Vatican Council the Mariologists were divided into two camps, summarily called “Maximalists”, those who claimed many prerogatives for Mary, and Minimalists” those who were critical and tended to underrate Mary’s unique place in the Church.

It is one of the important tasks of modern Mariology not only to strike a sober balance between extreme forms of devotion and neglect of Mary in Christian life, but also, based on the Bible, to free the image of Mary form Gnostic spiritualization and to see to it that her life and mission are integrated into the mystery of salvation, into the life and mission of Jesus and the Church.

Significance of Mariology

-Mariology holds an important place in Theology itself.

Theology is part of the life of the Church.  It articulates the faith that is expressed in the Church’s teaching and worship in relation to the social and cultural conditions of the faithful.  Mariology has to interpret the actual place held by Mary in the life of the Church and of the people.

-Mariology and Ecclesiology.

Vatican II has inserted Mariology into the life stream of the Church, and so freed it form isolation.  At the same time, the presentation of Mary as the “typos” of the Church symbolically expresses the renewed image of the Church itself.  Mariology is a substantial contribution to ecclesiology.

She is first “mystery”, sacrament of salvation, not primarily and institution.  She is community.  Mary is its symbol.

Mary stands for the entire community of believers.  Hers is the strong silent faith of one whose trust is the Lord.  It is the faith of a woman with no trace of a guarantee in her hands, often puzzled and suffering, pondering, growing, never shaken.  It seems very much the symbol of the Church today.

Today the image of the Church is undergoing a crisis: The Church, in so far as she is a worldwide organization of dogmatic orthodoxy and rigid liturgical rituals, has become cold and empty; she has lost credibility; people today do not feel at home in it.

A new vision is emerging, the stirrings of a deep desire are beginning to rouse the Church from her lethargy.  Many keenly feel the need for community rather than institution, faith and contemplation rather than orthodoxy.

A new image of the Church has been born, based on the Bible in communion with all people who are in search of truth, a Church which is truly human without any discrimination based on gender, as God wanted it, in togetherness and complementarity, serving God’s kingdom.  The symbol of this Church is Mary.

(Please avail yourself to the following topics through these connections.)


Feasts of Mary






Part Two

I tried, she thought to herself.  I tried really hard to be a good wife.  After all I gave Hosea three children.  OK, our third child did look a little different; that was the first time.  I couldn’t help myself, since he knew me from before Hosea took me for his wife.  He was young and strong and handsome…and married.  Then he asked my name.

“My name is Gomer,” she told him.  He wanted to worship in the high places, which were sacred to Baal, since the high places were closer to the heavens.  This wouldn’t be the first time he wanted to meet in the high places, and it wasn’t even spring.  And then there were others.

I am sure Hosea knew the truth when our third child was born that I had been unfaithful.  Because he loved me so much, he hoped against hope that I would change.  But there were only others.  I don’t know why I allowed myself to follow them to the high places.  At one point I led the way, almost too eager to worship.  Maybe the ‘act’ gave me power over them, or maybe it reminded of the life I left to be a farmer’s wife.  She said the last phrase, farmer’s wife, with distain.  Maybe I was searching for a love that I had lost so long ago, the love that Hosea had for me.  And I told him so.

“How could you do this to me, Gomer?” Hosea said.  “And even now I still love you.  Am I crazy?”

“You are not crazy,” Gomer said, feeling guilty, “I’m just not cut out to be a farmer’s wife.”

“What have I done to you for you to treat me this way?” he asked her.

“You haven’t done anything,” she replied.  “It is me, I just can’t love you the way you love me.”

“But you told me yourself how your dream had finally come true when I asked you to marry you,” Hosea said in frustration.

“It did come true,” she said in growing pain and frustration.  “The dream did come true, but over time I realized that the love was never there, that the love had died in me years ago.”

“Then why are you still going to the high places,” Hosea said confronting her.  “Why are you eagerly running to the high places with these young men?”

“They asked me to worship with them so that their fields and women would be fruitful!” she said in defense.

“Some of them are Israelites!” Hosea challenged.  “Trust me, they haven’t gone to worship, and besides, their wives are angry…at you!”

“They have never accepted me, Hosea, as one of them!” she threw back at him.

“Yes,” Hosea said, “That is true.  They were shocked when I first returned with you, but their attitudes towards you were changing…and now this!”

“I have tried, Hosea, but my love for you is not as overwhelming as yours,” she confessed.

“Your love will not deepen chasing the men of Baal in the high places,” Hosea countered.  “You will only find your love for me and for God within yourself.”  Then Hosea gently held her arm and looked into her eyes, “I will always love you, I know that now, maybe too much.  At least for our children’s sake, Gomer, you must try!”

She couldn’t help herself…she visited the high places.


At the very beginning of Hosea’s mission, he was prompted to ‘go, marry a whore, and get children with a whore, for the country itself has become nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh’.

 It is not clear, however, that Gomer was a whore in the usual sense of that word, for the term in Hebrew, literally translated, is not ‘whore’ but ‘woman of whoredoms,’ and this is similar to the phrase, ‘spirit of whoredoms’, which Hosea uses elsewhere to characterize what is happening generally in the society of his time.  Many Israelite women of that day, it seems, were prostituting themselves, not as professional prostitutes, but in sexual activities that were a gesture of the worship at the Canaanite shrines of that era.

 That Hosea married a sacred prostitute of Baal must have been shocking to the families of the conservative Levitical community to which we think he belonged.  Because of the encroaching breakdown in sexual morality, Israel had now, for all intents and purposes become ‘nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh’.

 It would appear that at this moment, at the birth of his first child, Hosea became conscious of that awful truth that a catastrophic invasion of Israel was imminent, because of Israel’s deplorable moral condition.

 The births of two additional children, and the revelations that accompanied them, only served to intensify this awareness.  One of these was to be called ‘Lo Ruhamah,’ not pitied, and the other ’Lo Ammi,’ not my people.  The covenantal relation with this people established at Sinai was now terminated.  “You are not my people and I do not exist for you”.  This was the core of what Yahweh said when he first began speaking ‘through Hosea’.

 The first child was to be called ‘Jezreel’, he was told—not a personal name, but the name of a city that had become famous because of a bloody massacre that had occurred there a century earlier—hence, similar in sound to the words Rwandan Massacre.

 It seems likely, therefore, that sometime after the birth of his three children Gomer left Hosea and became involved with other men.

(Continue below or look forward to Part  Two.)




My Recent Homilies


John 15:9-17


 One way of approaching the words of Jesus from the Last Supper Discourse in John read today is to consider their relationship to the activities and teaching of Jesus during his ministry.  When Jesus spoke of a man showing no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends, we recall Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.

When he claimed to make known what he had heard from the Father, we remember Jesus’ role as revealer.  He made his fullest statement of this claim before Annas, “I have spoken publicly to the world…and in secret I have said nothing.”  When he told his disciples that he had chosen them, not they him, we recall how he called them at the beginning of the Gospel.

We can also explore parallels elsewhere in the Discourse.  The mention of the fruit the disciples were to bear returns us to the figure of the Vine.  The promise that the Father would give them anything they asked for calls to mind Jesus’ insistence that they must let his words find a home in them.  His mention of the joy they would one day experience anticipates his description of joy to come, as well as his meeting with them on Easter Day.

Sometimes in the Discourse, which is a long section in John’s gospel, a key word is repeated again and again.  Such a word in today’s passage is LOVE.  During his ministry, Jesus taught mostly about LIFE, but once the supper began, it was love that he emphasized.  We learn how this love is shown by the Father to the Son, how the disciple must not only abide in Jesus, as a branch in the vine, but must also abide in the love of Jesus.

Surprisingly, the disciples are not told to love Jesus but to keep his commandments.  But the only commandment found in John is that of mutual love to be limited only by death.  Hence, the disciples of Jesus become no longer servants but friends, as Moses had been a friend of God.  This is what Jesus meant when, at the beginning of the Supper, he had washed the feet of the disciples and told them to wash one another’s feet; they were to love each other as he had loved them.

And yet it is easier to keep the commandments, the laws, and regulations of the Church, than to practice Love as Jesus lived it.  I will always remember the scene when the elders brought before Jesus a woman caught in adultery.  Where was the man, since they admitted that she was caught in the act?  Jesus gave us two commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor.  Notice, a theology of the head asks, who is my neighbor, whereas a theology of the heart caused the elders to drop their stones.

In my homily last Sunday, I presented a dialogue between Jesus and Joseph, a dialogue about love of a parent for his son and a child’s love for his parents, and I even quoted scripture.  I was chastised, or to use Scripture’s word, I was rebuked for putting words into God’s mouth, and that his Word, that is Scripture was enough.  I found this a strange reasoning since we are asked to put on Christ Jesus in all that we do and say.

There seems to be a dangerous dichotomy today when we express our theology of love and it is read as putting words into God’s mouth.  Our theology of the Head should lead us to a theology of love since, as John reminds us, God is love.  When our theology stays in the head, then we become fundamentalists, yes, even fundamentalist Catholics.  If God is love, then even our theology of the head should eventually lead to and support a theology of the heart, especially the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After the resurrection, there is a scene in John’s gospel where Jesus meets Peter on the beach by a fire with fish cooking and asks him the first two times, “Do you love me, Peter?”  Jesus uses the word agape, which means a love that one would die for.  Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I love you.”  But Peter uses the word philia, which means a love that one would not necessarily die for, as in the name of the city, Philadelphia, city of brotherly love.  Notice that Jesus did not use the time to teach doctrine or more commandments and rules and regulations.  There are Christians who would die for doctrine and rules, but Jesus asked Peter to die for love.  Jesus asked Peter a third time.  “Do you love me, Peter?” but uses the word philia this time, only because Jesus meets us where we are at, not where he wants us to be.

Today is Mother’s Day.  Sometime today tell God that you love her too.



THE HIDDEN LIFE Joseph the Worker

Fourth Sunday Easter 2021

Michael F. Nartker, SM


Michael F. Nartker, SM



Michael F. Nartker, SM


Birdwatching has been around a long time, and the science of this practice is well known and has even been improving with recent DNA comparisons between the species of birds.  The best thing about birdwatching is that the particulars are few.  However, they are important.  The overall physical features play an important role in identification of one species and subspecies from another.   Besides body parts, there are the birds’ behavior, voice, plumage, and range.  While most of the above is obvious, pointing out the obvious can be very helpful.  For example, the range of penguins are usually confined to the artic and generally will not be found as far south as Ohio, unless one is at a zoo.  So, no use looking for penguins in Ohio.

I will try to keep it simple, but one should know that there are significant differences between birds, for example, as in a hummingbird, a shorebird, a gull, a passerine (songbird), or an eagle.  Generally, all birds have a bill, two eyes, two wings, tail, two legs with feet, and a main body part of various shapes.  I told you it would be simple.  However, each body part can vary immensely.  The bill, for example, can be long and pointed like the hummingbird in order to reach the nectar inside a flower.  It can also be short and stubby for eating seeds and nuts like a Cardinal bird (passerine).  It can be wide and thick as in a duck or goose which is used mainly for grazing.  Or it can be hooked and strong for ripping open prey, as in an eagle or hawk.

What attracts humans to birds, though, is the color of their plumage!  And there is such a variety even in the plain grays and browns.  When we add patterns and markings, we can tell quite a variety of species apart just by their specific markings which can be on their wings, or necks, or tails, and bellies.  There is such a variety of colors also: reds, yellows, blues, greens, oranges, pink, purple, and of course white!  Imagine mixing them all up in different patterns and you will have a very specific specie of bird with its color and markings.  It is almost too easy!

It is the same with our spirituality, so many different approaches, but yet so simple an approach.  As mentioned in the Introduction, God is like a bird waiting to be caught.  There is a subtle attraction to the Creator that at first catches our interest deep down inside that we just can’t put our finger on what it is that attracts us.  The more we explore the more we are caught in the web of the great unknown, or as Brother Lawrence writes in his book, “Cloud of the Unknowing”, the mystery of God surrounds us like a cloud where we can almost touch but never fully know or comprehend.  We can only sit quietly and allow the cloud to embrace us.

What is it about birds that attracts us so much?  Is it just the fascinating colors and patterns, that make up the beauty behind such a simple creature?  Or is it their freedom in flight that gives them the sky as their home and the gentle breezes and updrafts as their playground?  Freedom and beauty are both attributes of God!  And yet we want to capture such creatures to make them our own.  Yet in the capturing they lose their freedom which is also a subtle part of their beauty.  We want to capture God and put him in a cage, a tabernacle, or a metal box.  And then, what will we do with him?

Hopefully, a true birdwatcher will never cage a bird, but will enter into the world of the bird itself.  A true spiritual person will also enter the world of God.  But how can one do that?  One way to enter the world of God is to participate in God’s Attributes.  One way to enter into the world of birds is to give them feed, or water, and provide them with birdbaths, or to build them houses and shelters, and to even grow certain plants that attract them.  Make your world like theirs.  I don’t imagine that we can do this with God, but we can enter into God’s world by participating in the attributes that define who God is.  “God is love,” as Saint John the Evangelist writes, “and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him,” Chapter 3:16b.  It is almost too easy!

There are other attributes of God that even the Greek Philosophers knew about: Beauty, Goodness, Truth, Freedom, and more.  Participating in these Attributes of God allow us to enter into the World of God, it is almost like dancing.  Maybe that is why birds are so attractive to us because of their beauty and freedom, but also their elusiveness.  Only God cannot really be captured and caged, we only think we can!  However, Saint Teresa of Avila does write that the most important virtue is humility and with love we can capture God and hold him!

Music and Art are two of the main disciplines that allow us to participate fully in these Attributes of God through our compositions in music and art.  As we compose our music or paint our masterpiece we also participate in another Attribute of God, Creation.  Imagine creating a piece of music and then playing that composition for others.  The most wonderful thing is that those who listen to beautiful music also participate in this Attribute of God simply by hearing the language of the composer speak to us as he or she sings their song!

When we visit an Art Museum, we participate in the attributes of God by simply enjoying the beautiful works of art.  We do not even have to paint; we just simply enter into the artist’s world through his or her creation and allow that piece of art speak to us using the artist’s language of visual symbols.  So, when you are birdwatching, you are entering into the world of birds and allowing God’s creation to speak to you using their language through their songs and calls, their colors and patterns, their behavior and even their mating dance!

Have you ever though what God is saying to you through our beautiful feathered friends?  When you start having dreams of flying, then maybe you have begun to taste the attribute of freedom – in your dreams – that birds enjoy as part of their nature!  The attribute of freedom is letting go of whatever binds us to this earth, whether money, power, possessions, our anger or impatience, but eventually life!

As we participate in birdwatching we become like birds, free, spiritually free through our practice of patience as we enter into the spiritual world of God.  When we love, we become like God who is love by our participation in God’s attribute of love.  But love is just one attribute of God that invites us to participate in all the other attributes of God.  At one point we will begin to go deeper in this spiritual dance with the Divine.  And again, birdwatching gives us this insight to how to go deeper in this practice of the Spirituality of Birdwatching.  That is the topic of the next part in this series.

(The below link has all the sections/Parts to be presented.)

Spirituality of Birdwatching