Leaf Peeping

Brown County State Park, Indiana

This is our second autumn in Indiana, and it’s really beautiful.

I always thought Wyoming autumns were glorious, and I still do. There is something very special about an Indian summer day catching the gold of the aspen leaves quaking in the breeze. The cool nights and warm days create a most enjoyable contrast.

Indiana autumn is quite different. The vast hardwood forests and the seas of corn and bean covered farmland create a cacophony of colors and textures that leave one’s senses reeling in their beauty.

God’s hand is evident in the environment. To declare it simply an accident of nature, as some do, is to simply ignore the obvious. Fall offers hope, a drawing on our emotional savings account taken from the surplus of the summer. The magnificent colors that surround us steel and fill our souls for the winter, when the cold and dark want to rob us of our joy.

We had intended to travel back to Wyoming to visit our family but had our plans waylaid by the continuing pandemic. Instead, we spent six days in Brown County, Indiana, giving glory to God for the palette placed before us.

While the weather was cool and rainy, it did not diminish the the fact that we do, indeed, live amidst stunning proof that God loves us.

St. Kateri Tekawitha

St. Kateri Tekawitha at St. Stephens Mission, St. Stephens, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming.

July 14 is the memorial of St. Kateri Tekawitha, the first Native American saint. The “Lily of the Mohawks”

Converting to Christianity through the work of Jesuit missionaries who had come to her village in New York, she was devout in her faith and consecrated herself to virginity in spite of the repercussions of such an act, and without knowledge that was a desirable action.

She left her village to remove herself from the pagan practices of her people, walking to Sault St. Louis near Montreal, a 200 mile journey. There she deepened her faith, practicing an austere life that included severe fasting.

There is much to be told about her life, and a wonderful resource is at the website Kateri.org where her story is laid out beautifully.

Her day of canonization by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012 was a great day of celebration for the Catholic community on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

St. Kateri Tekawitha, pray for us.

Uninformed Advice is Bad Advice

(Just a note about my qualifications for writing what follows.  I am a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and have been since 1993.  I was involved in the investment consulting business for almost  a quarter-century.  I earned several sets of credentials along the way – Certified Investment Management Analyst; Certified Investment Management Consultant; Accredited Investment Fiduciary – in addition to CFP®.  I also spent twelve years as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Wyoming Retirement System, a public pension fund that operated to benefit 50,000 public employees while managing a $5 billion dollar investment fund.  I spent two years as chairman of the board, and 4 years as chairman of the investment committee.)


Sometimes on my drive to the Catholic Center, I will listen to a well-known financial advice-giver, doling out answers to questions about debt, budgets, investments, and money in general. But I am cautious and skeptical regarding his advice and his motives because I have heard him say things to callers that are misleading and inaccurate. 

Allow me to get a little nerdy here.  In my years as an investment consultant, I was constantly measuring the risk involved in the portfolios of my clients.  We were able quantify investment risk using metrics derived from the market movement of various asset classes in relation to the market in general.  One of the primary measurements is beta, which provides a value to how an investment moves relative to its index. 

Beta is not a measure of risk in itself. Rather, it tells us that if investment A has a beta of 1.0, its movements exactly replicate that of the overall market itself.  A beta lower than 1 means it moves less than the market, and greater than one more than the market.  It is a way to calculate how much investment return comes from the market, and how much comes from the skill of the manager.

I bring this up because I heard the aforementioned radio host tell a caller that beta tells if an investment is risky or not, which is just not true.  This isn’t something that most people would catch or bring up in casual conversation.  Neither would most people have that information to challenge the radio host.  For me, it makes me wonder what else he is telling his listeners that may be incomplete or misleading.

Beta can be used in conjunction with alpha, which is defined as excess return adjusted for risk.  We should realize that even a term like “excess return” can cause controversy in the investment world, but it helps us move our story along.  If we have an investment with alpha greater than 0 and a beta of 1.0, it means we have found an investment that has the volatility of its index but returns greater than the index.  It is evidence of manager skill, or, perhaps, manager luck. 

Our radio host never mentioned alpha.  He never talked about indexes, either.

Indexes are unmanaged bunches of stocks or bonds that represent a particular market.  The S&P 500 is an index, as is the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  There are many, many more indexes which are widely used in the investment world.  We can invest in indexes directly through mutual funds or exchange traded funds. This method is employed successfully by many institutions and individuals. We invest in indexes because it is efficient, inexpensive, and beats 80% of active managers in any given year.

He talks about mutual funds, too.  He is an advocate for investing in four different kinds of funds – growth, growth and income, aggressive growth, and international growth.  He does this, he says, because when one fund is down another one is likely to be up.  It is his way of diversifying his investments.  This sounds impressive, but in reality it doesn’t solve any problems of diversification. 

We can tell how different one fund is from another by calculating the correlation between mutual funds and their respective indexes.  A “1” means they are perfectly correlated, in which they move in tandem.  A “-1” means they are exact opposites, and move as such.  A “0” means there is no relationship at all, and assets move independently from each other.  In reality, these four categories of mutual funds tend to have very high correlations, as in .90 +, indicating they are not very different from each other and offer very little in terms of diversification.  We diversify investments to manage the overall risk to our portfolio, and buying funds in these four different classes do not help us manage our risk by providing diversification.  He essentially has made the same investment four times, like buying CDs at four different banks. 

He won’t buy indexes, either.  He doesn’t buy them because he says they get “average” returns and he wants better than average.  So does everyone else.  The problem is it is nearly impossible to pick out managers who get better investment returns than indexes year-in and year-out.

Indexes get market returns, not “average” returns. 

Finally, I heard him tell his listeners his funds have produced double digit returns for many years, and that the funds should be able to “stand the test of time,” and that one should look at the returns based on five, ten and twenty-year histories.  There is just so much wrong with that statement that it is hard to fit it into the space people might actually read. Let’s look at three of these items.

  • Returns:  His returns are HIS returns, not yours.  Your investment schedule and his are completely different.  Your returns WILL be different. 
  • Test of Time:  Mutual fund managers and styles change constantly.  The returns generated by one manager will be far different than those generated by another manager at the same fund.  Manager A may be an all-star, while manager B – at the same fund at a different time –a bench warmer.  A fund with an impressive record may have generated great returns under manager A, then mediocre returns under manager B who succeeded A when A cashed in on his performance and went to a different fund. 
  • Track record:  This is one consideration when choosing a fund, but not the most important by a long shot.  Yet it is our host’s primary means of selection. In reality it means very little, because track records are what has happened in the past based on the people involved and their luck or skill in stock selection.  Today, those people could well be gone, different methods of securities selection employed, and different reactions to economic factors.

There is so much more to the analysis of mutual funds than I can possibly share in this post, or a hundred more of them.   

I write about these things not because this is an investment advice column, but because we are tasked by God to care for the gifts he gave us, returning them with increase. 

If we are to steward the gifts entrusted to us, it is incumbent upon us to learn about the care of those things. Abdicating that responsibility to a radio talk show host who knows nothing about you is not the way to do it. 

Notes from Exile – Day …. Lost Count

The day after Easter was a day off for Catholic Center employees.  It was also a day to get out of the house.  We took a little drive to the Ferdinand State Forest to get some fresh air and see something besides the other houses in our neighborhood. 

We discovered a really beautiful place that was less than crowded.  After parking the car, we found a nice trail through the woods, and headed off on a short adventure.

While much of the forest is greening up, the dogwoods are in full bloom.  That means pinks and whites standing in contrast to the enveloping green of the hardwood forest.

It was a lovely day, and it was good to get out.  It’s pretty easy to maintain social distancing when no one else is around.

Today, a week later, the first reading from Mass ends on a powerful note.  “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”  (Acts 4:31)

We all have the opportunity that the Apostles had.  When we pray, maybe the earth doesn’t shake, but it can sure feel like everything around us is moving.  I can think of a few times in my life where prayer has resulted in a physical reaction, from tears to quaking.  Long ago at a retreat when I was a college student, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer during Mass.  The presence of God was overwhelming, filling every open space in the room, wrapping strong arms around me and holding me close to Him.

I have told that story many times over the years, and even today, 40+ years later, I can close my eyes and feel that power and love that held me so close that day.  That was my ground shaking. I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  It has taken some time and overcoming past weakness in my faith, but today I can proclaim the “word of God with boldness.” 

The Lord brings me great joy and courage.  In Him I can do all things. 

The celebration of Easter, the resurrection of our Lord, the fulfillment of God’s promise to us, continues.  The state forest is a gift from God, its care entrusted to us as stewards of his gifts.  Let’s go forth and proclaim Him with boldness.

Holy Thursday

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
     for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’  and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

(John 13: 1-15)

Station XIV: Jesus is laid in the tomb

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John 19:39-40

Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

Nicodemus receives the body of Christ, he looks after it and puts it in a tomb in the middle of a garden which evokes the garden of Creation. Jesus lets himself be buried, even as he let himself be crucified, in the same abandonment, entirely “delivered” into the hands of men and “perfectly united” to them, “even to sleeping beneath the tombstone” (Saint Gregory of Narek).

To accept difficulties, painful events, death, demands steadfast hope, living faith.

The stone placed before the entrance of the tomb will be overturned and a new life will arise. For “we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4)

We have received the freedom of the children of God, so that we will not return to slavery; life has been given to us in abundance, so that we will no longer be satisfied with a life lacking beauty and meaning.

Lord Jesus,
make us children of the light
who do not fear the darkness.
We pray to you today
for all those who search for meaning in life
and for all those who have lost hope,
that they may have faith in your victory
over sin and death.

Station XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to his Mother

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John 19:26-27a

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother: “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple: “Behold, your mother!”

Lord Jesus, those who love you remain at your side and keep faith. In the hour of your agony and death, when the world believes that evil triumphs and that the voice of truth, love, justice and peace is silent, their faith does not fail.

O Mary, into your hands we place our earth. “How sad it is to see this blessed land suffer in its children, who relentlessly tear one another to pieces and die!” (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 8). It seems that nothing can overcome evil, terrorism, murder and hatred. “Before the cross on which your Son stretched out his sinless hands for our salvation, O Virgin, we fall prostrate this day: grant us peace” (Byzantine liturgy).

Let us pray
for the victims of the wars and of the violence
which in our days devastate
various countries in the Middle East,
as well as other parts of the world.
Let us pray that the displaced and the forced migrants
may soon return
to their homes and lands.
Grant, Lord,
that the blood of innocent victims
may be the seed of a new East,
ever more fraternal, peaceful and just,
and that this East
may recover the splendour of its vocation
as the cradle of civilization and of spiritual and human values.
Star of the East,
show us the coming of the Dawn!

Notes from Exile – Day 7

We are finding out who takes this seriously and who does not; who wants to help and who does not; who sees this as an opportunity to advance their own agenda and whose view is more focused on the good of all.

I’m not calling out any groups or individuals, as my opinions may be different than yours.  I think you can, in about ten minutes of news gathering, make those calls on your own.

What I will mention, however, is that we are reaping what we have sown.  The fact that politicians and news media are taking this crisis and using it as a stepping block towards power and wealth is unsurprising.  After the divisiveness of the past decade or so, why would I expect some of these groups to do anything different?  I am profoundly disappointed in the human condition that leads to these actions. 

Lest we forget, however, that we are in the season of Lent.  My good friend, Tim Lilley, editor of The Message, the newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville, reminded me that the Evil One is running at full steam.  I don’t believe that he is directly involved in the spread of the virus, but I do believe he is tempting those already in power with more, extended power.  He is deceiving them into believing they are actually in control.  It is unlikely they will ever recognize this, as most of those people don’t even believe he exists, which is his great victory.

In a few weeks, we will celebrate Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord.  It will almost be easy to forget that, given that we have churches closed and parishes on sick leave.  The reality of the situation is that each year we celebrate an event that has already happened!  Jesus rose from the dead over two millennia ago.  Nothing that happens today changes that, and we can rejoice in that fact.  Lest we lose hope, remember that Jesus is Risen – He is truly risen! 

In other news ….

My wife and I took a drive Saturday to get some fresh air and exercise for our dogs.  We went to Harmonie State Park, which is just a short drive from Evansville on the banks of the Wabash River.  What a beautiful place!  And it wasn’t exactly crowded, either.  We had the trail pretty much to ourselves as we took in the solitude and grace of the hardwood forest.

Then there was this tree.  When I saw it, I was convinced that this was the place where hobbits live.

After our hike, we headed home with a short detour to St. Philip’s church.  While Mass was not being offered there, Jesus was in the House in the form of the Blessed Sacrament on the altar with three people praying before Him.  We prayed a rosary in the narthex, then joined the others in the worship space, praying to the Lord.

It was a wonderful day.  He is Risen – He is Truly Risen!

Station XII: Jesus dies on the cross

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke 23:46

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And having said this, he breathed his last.

From the height of the cross a cry is heard a cry: a cry of abandonment at the moment of death, a cry of trust amid suffering, a cry accompanying the birth of a new life. Behold, hanging on the tree of life, you deliver your spirit into your Father’s hands, causing life to spring up in abundance and forming the new creation. Today we too face the challenges of this world: we sense the surge of fears which overwhelm us and shake our trust. Grant us, Lord, the strength to know deep within our heart that no death will conquer us, until we rest in the hands which have shaped us and accompany us.

May every one of us be able to cry out:
“Yesterday I was crucified with Christ,
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I died with him,
today I live with him.
Yesterday I was buried with him.
Today I have risen with him.” (Gregory Nazianzen)

In the darkness of our nights,
we contemplate you.
Teach us to turn towards the Most High,
your heavenly Father.

Today, let us pray
that all those who promote abortion
may become aware that love
can only be a source of life.
Let us think also of those who defend euthanasia
and those who encourage
techniques and procedures
which endanger human life.
Open their hearts
to know you in the truth
and to work for the building
of the civilization of life and love.

Station XI: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to John 19:16a,19

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Behold, the long-awaited Messiah, hanging on the wood of the cross between two thieves. The two hands which blessed humanity are pierced. The two feet which trod our earth to proclaim the Good News are now suspended between earth and heaven. The eyes full of love, whose gaze healed the sick and forgave our sins, now gaze only heavenward.

Lord Jesus,
you were crucified for our sins.
You pray to God the Father and you intercede for humanity.
Each hammer blow echoes like a beat of your immolated heart.

How beautiful upon the mount of Calvary
are the feet of the One who proclaims
the Good News of salvation.
Your love, Jesus, has filled the universe.

Your pierced hands
are our refuge in distress.
They embrace us
whenever the abyss of sin threatens us,
and in your wounds
we find healing and forgiveness.

O Jesus,
we pray to you for all those young people
who are overcome by hopelessness,
for young people who are the victims of drugs,
of sects and of perversions.

Free them from their enslavement.
May they lift up their gaze and accept Love.
May they find happiness in you;
save them, our Saviour.

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