Unchanging Thighs

“God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

thAll right, I have something important to tell you. It’s not easy to talk about it but my therapist said that, “Talking about it will make a difference in my life.”

I have a condition. Oh wait. It’s not a condition and it’s not a disease. I have a syndrome. (It could be a disease with even more sympathy but, alas I only have a syndrome.) It’s suffer (note the verb) from FTS. So, okay, so you don’t know what it is but it still plagues me. It’s defined as “Fat Thigh Syndrome.” FTS. It started years ago and seems to expand as my age expands.

My therapist tells me that Pfizer is working on a medication but I can only imagine its side effects: dizziness, memory loss, weight loss. All of the things I already experience. My therapist concludes each session by singing the Billy Joel song, “I Want You Just the Way You Are” but it doesn’t help me much.

Well, that’s my story, I mean that’s my worry. What’s yours? What worries you during the day or awakens you at night? What worries you? I’m waiting for a support group to begin for us FTS sufferers but it appears I’m the only one with this malady.

Oh well. I have no control over my FTS but I like worrying about it. I can’t do anything about it but thinking and praying about it keeps me focused on my FTS, along with my lack of medication, support groups and a Billy Joel musical refrain. I can change nothing about my FTS except keep dwelling on it… constantly.

courage to change the things I can,

I guess I could reconsider my racial views or those unemployed folks that I dismiss or those foreign folks who want to live here or my neighbor’s crusty behavior or my unmarried daughter living with her boyfriend. In the age of our quick, rapid news – perhaps discovering the difference between opinions and facts and then assimilating both opinion and facts to uncover a kernel of truth.

I am able to change my perspective on those things and many more attitudes like that. But, well, that would take work and effort on my part. It would require reflection and prayer. It would demand examining my life against God’s life. It would require to uncover where the two meet and where those two often fail to meet. God and me, Church and me. To that I say, another syndrome, TMW – “too much work.”

I like suffering with my FTS. It’s comfortable to worry about because there is no solution. I can worry forever about those two appendages hanging on both sides of me. Is this the time for a call of conversion on my part or as Scriptures calls it “A change of heart?”

However, I would appreciate a card from each of you telling me about your sympathy for my chronic, suffering, ego-centric, self absorbing, and “All about me” disease, I mean syndrome.

Will I die from this syndrome? I suppose not but I believe that my heart may still be beating but not in sync with my soul. With that lost unity between God and me, then what’s the point of life? And that’s a loss for all of us, especially me.

Sorry folks. I choose FTS over TMW. After all, it may not be Christlike or Catholic but it’s truly the American way.

and wisdom to know the difference.”

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the
Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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A Seasonal Prayer for Oldsters

635952272328375622-350715630_Four-seasons
God of all seasons,

We are caught up now in “in between” seasons again. The summer and fall provided by You were glorious. Thank you. Winter awaits us with Wisconsinites all asking the piercing question, “What kind of winter will we get this year,” as though the listener has a cogent answer.

“In between” is how You created us – Father and Mother, life and death, nows and thens, more of yesterdays with fewer tomorrows.  But You made us to be Your people in this moment and the moment after that.

May each moment of our lives reflect Your seasons:

Your Summers of caring for others and cherishing friendships,
Your Falls for letting go what is unnecessary and a nuisance in our lives,
Your Springs for the exciting and new adventures that life unveils for us if keep our eyes open, and best of Your Winters keeping us warm and safe in Your protective care.

God of all seasons and God of all moments, We end this prayer the way we begin all prayers, “Thank You.”

 

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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“I Am The Vine…”

St. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure…”

jesus-vine-branch-clipart-1Someone says, “Life is so complicated,” which it is not. Another declares, “Life is overwhelming,” turn off your cell phone and TV and see what happens. A third person sighs, “Life escapes me,” it probably has because you’ve haven’t embraced it. (Still living in your parent’s house at thirty-years-old is your first clue.)

Life. Decisions. Directions. Re-directions along with rewinds (that’s called “Confession”) and fast-forwards (which is called planning ahead and living God’s mission for you.)

St. Paul continues, “Whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise…”

None of us own a vineyard unless you live on Pasadena Blvd, but all of us have a growing vine that begins with God, grows into friendships, develops into jobs and careers and then cements itself into a lifelong commitment – lived out as best we can as people of God.

It’s that easy, and it’s that complete. Dwelling too much of only one part of the vine is to deny ourselves of the immense divinity that touches every part of our humanity.

This is not brain surgery folks. If it were, then I’d not be one telling you about it. It is a fragile, growing vine that needs water, attention, sunlight and God’s smiling face to produce whatever it is that you build.

Go ahead and see your life connected to a vine. But remember that you are not the vine. You are a part of the vine. Your mother may have told you that you are the vine, but believe me, you are not the beginning and end of “vineness.” Those people who hold you back – name them in your hearts; don’t prune or hoe them, they will slowly die off by themselves. To those who support you in genuine goodness and sincere honesty – water those folks at least once a week and thank them in prayer or in person.

St. Paul then says, “Think about these things.
Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.”

My six months of unemployment caused me great personal reflection and prayer. In February, I drove to Holy Hill to visit the basilica. It was a warm day, driving there with the top down. I walked into the church, knelt down and only said, “Well, God?” I got up and walked out. In June, I returned to the basilica on a beautiful “top-down” day. After hearing about my future assignment at Christ King and St. Bernard parishes, I again knelt down and said, “Thank you.” Got up and left. Now, I’m not that spiritual a person. Both visits were unscripted and unplanned. It just felt genuine and right. Only those four words kept me connected to this amazing and mysterious and surprising vine that we call faith.

Turn all your doubts and anxieties into a profound offering to God. And, that’s all right because the vine is God’s strength. God is the vine, and we’re but a mere piece of fruit waiting to ripen. We ripen and re-ripen again at every age. And mature we will, with all the grace and support of our strong vine and our vine owner, a loving God.

St. Paul concludes by saying,
“Then the God of peace will be with you.”

So says St. Paul. So says all of us at Christ King parish.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. Great Gift Ideas.
All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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A Sixth Grader’s Question

RcA6Aaxpi“When did Jesus know he was God?” asked the twelve-year-old. I thought to myself, “A developmental question” from someone developing herself. I quickly needed to answer because, as you know, priests have all the answers on the cuffs of their shirts without thinking about it. (If it’s French cuffs then you aspire higher than the mere priesthood.)

My first response was incorrect (I don’t have French cuffs) but I corrected myself later. I first said, “His resurrection” with all the confidence of being the older guy in front of these young, growing minds. They bought it. But I didn’t.

Thinking about my answer while answering another piercing question, I thought the “resurrection” is more about completion than an emerging knowledge. When you see the pay raise in your paycheck, you realize it’s because of the work you’ve done. That’s the resurrection to me. Jesus got a pay raise, but it was earned before his New-Easter-Being.

I interrupted the Q&A to backtrack and take back my first impulsive answer. I told the growing girl and her classmates that Jesus realized “Who he was” in the garden scene, after the Last Supper, alone with his sleepy followers. They slept while Jesus struggled and bargained with a God who does not bargain. “If this cup could pass,” Jesus tries but unsuccessfully. “I could do something else,” Jesus might have said next except he finally realized what his mission was to achieve and to whom it was dedicated.

It’s a God-like moment. I don’t know if  Jesus knew then he was God or if he ever knew. My new answer satisfied my little friend as much as my first. We all have divinity living within us. We all have “God-like” times in our conversations with family and friends when the best of us shine, and we’re not always sure of its origin.

Explaining to second graders the elements of Baptism, I was reminded of the potentcy of the sacraments that I too often take for granted. The youngsters all marveled at my knowledge but were more concerned with how old I am and how tall I am. Oh well. Developing minds trying to wrap minds around the great mysteries of our Christian faith.

And all explained by a priest who isn’t so sure of his second answer. “Oh, well.”

 

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Daily Messages From Master Meister

Meister Eckhart 2Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. (commonly called “Meister Eckhart”), 1260 – 1328

Monday’s Message
—Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.
—Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.

Tuesday’s Treat
—Treat all things as if they were loaned to you without any ownership – whether body or soul, sense or strength, external goods or honors, house or hall . . . everything.
—There exists only the present instant …
There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now.

Wednesday’s Widget
—The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
—Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it.
—Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow,
then this light is nearest of all to us.

Thursday’s Take-Out
—What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.
—Only the hand that erases can do the true thing.
—The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out,
for if you want the kernel you must break the shell.

Friday’s Feast
—The more deeply we are our true selves, the less self is in us.
—One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us, but we must ennoble our works.

Saturday’s Surprise
—Compassion is where peace and justice kiss
—Become aware of what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it,
produce it, and give birth to it.

Sunday’s Sunset
—Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God.
—You need seek God neither below or above.
He is no farther away than the door of the heart.

meistereckhart1

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Aging Grace

grace_logo_whitebackOf course, things and events have different meanings for us as we age. Youngsters absorb like a sponge and oldsters squeeze out what life’s either given or what we’ve contributed to it. Where do the fruits of grace fit into life’s picture?

Leave it to the Catholics to divide up a good thing instead of keeping it mysteriously whole. The Church has “actual” and “sanctifying” types of grace. Sanctifying is received through the seven sacraments, and actual comes out of living a worthwhile life (or attempting to live a worthy life). Both emanate from our Creator like the “dewfall” which the priest says during Mass. Dewfall is an apt word for this mysterious substance that fills us up when life is affirmative and carries us through life’s doubtful or dark episodes.

Who created the concept of grace? Grace’s founder doesn’t matter to me, only that grace as matter, matters. It matters because it is another indication that God is present in our world. This invisible and omnipotent presence is present among us even if through the mystery. The same is true about angels. Perhaps it’s the angels that drop the dewfalls of grace upon us throughout our lives?

A ninety-three-year-old friend of mine told me how grace becomes more remarkable as we age. Grace-filled oldsters never lose the imagination of youngsters. We just sometimes forget. Possibly oldsters senses can be heightened through grace’s power. One author said it’s a deliberate activity as we age to become more observing and inquisitive. What came naturally in youth needs to be sharpened and reminded to the rest of us. “Been there, done that” has no room in an older adult disposition. You can exclude, “It is what it is” as well.

Instead, a heightened sense of sense emerges. The next time you return from a mall try to recall as many people as you can. Where were they when you spotted them? What color blouse was she wearing? Did his shoes match his suit? Where was outside light the brightest in the mall? What odors did you sense walking past the cosmetic counters? Who looked at you while walking and who ignored you?

Your visit to the mall now becomes a grace-filled experience. Don’t restrict grace to only “churchy” stuff but all of the stuff of life. The Blessed Mother Mary was full of it, and we can fill ourselves with it as well. A mall’s visit can be as spiritual as a church’s religion. Both contain the absence and abundance of this mysterious substance that fills our entire lives with optimism and hope. It is grace in all its graceful displays.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Wanted: Church Volunteers

volunteers“No, no, no.” The “no” is always said in threes and sounding much like Hamlet’s mother saying, “She protests too much, me thinks.“

“You must be thinking of someone else but not me,” says the person to the priest who considered him/her for a volunteer position in the parish or a commitment to Jesus Christ.

“I’m much too busy, I have three kids, what more do you want from me?” Yeah, right. Best Buys announces free 72-inch flat screens to the first 100 people, and suddenly your calendar frees up and you’re the first at line…at 5:00 a.m. You’re given two free Packer tickets, and you say, “Do I have three kids?”

Jesus chose twelve guys who had no qualifications except something that Jesus saw in them. None were trained for the work he needed to be done, and many died a sad death because of him.

Listen to this from 1941,

(musical insert) “Your lips tell me ‘No, no’ but there’s ‘Yes, yes in your eyes, I’ve been missing your kissing just because I wasn’t wise….”

Your boyfriend finally gets up the courage to go to Kessler’s Jewelers and makes a down payment and presents you a ring at Pizza Hut. (It had to be Pizza Hut because of the cost of the ring.) He sees “no, no” in your eyes but asks anyway for your hand and for your life to be with him. You smile at him because you expected the question to be asked two weeks ago. (Why does it take guys so long to pop?) You say, “Yes,” to all his apprehensive and multiple “No’s” that he’d said to himself in his thin-skulled head for the past two weeks.

(musical insert) “Your lips tell me ‘No, no’ but there’s ‘Yes, yes in your eyes.”

But now a bit about me to make my point. The Salvatorians, my religious order, had me pegged as a TV star. I’m attractive and smart…I’ve been on television many times and over twenty-five years in radio. I was to be a hit. I kept saying, “Yes” to that but there was no reply to my grand future stardom. I’m am attractive and smart (I think I said that already) but life led me to say “Yes” to over twenty-years with older adults that I will forever cherish. My “Yes” led me to be here with you to haunt and challenge you; as much as I challenge and haunt myself. And, believe me, I haunt and challenge myself a lot.

Jesus tells us to say one “Yes” after our numerous “No’s.” “Oh, but Father if you only knew my situation, my circumstances…” Father says, “It’s one meeting a month.” “Oh, says the ’no-no-no’ person” but then says:

“I get tired easily after work”
“I don’t know that many people in the parish”
“Is there a stipend involved for being a volunteer”
“There’s a rerun of ”Gunsmoke” that night”
“I have to check with my wife.” (Always a good cop-out – blame the wife)
“My psychiatrist, Dr. Nutt, said that I should cut back on activities…”
and my favorite one of all is
“6-8 p.m. is my cocktail time”

This “No-No-No-I Don’t Want To” leads you to an invitation (or acknowledgment) of something inside yourself that someone else has identified in you that you didn’t know about yourself. Do you want to hear that scaringly true sentence again? (It happens often, folks.)

Please don’t dismiss the invitation. Ponder it. Prayer it. Hell, you’ll get to work with two attractive and smart priests. Talk to your friends about it to get them involved.

Tell Father or your friend, “No-no-no three times the same as Peter said in the garden but then, in faith, in reflection, and with good luck, say what the Blessed Mother and Peter only needed to say once, “Yes, Lord.”

(musical insert) “Your lips tell me ‘No, no’ but there’s ‘Yes, yes in your eyes.”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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A Funeral Sermon, “Life’s Puzzle”

Poetic Life Leaves (at the beginning of Mass)

thIn this early fall season, she has left us…or wait? Has she left us or has she left us with all kind of leaves to continue our “coloring?” Because the leaves from trees are just like our lives. We all know that leaves change color through time. Each color calls us to a new direction, a new perspective, a new challenge. And the tree, by the way, is our Creator God, the root of our lives. Our colorful leaves are green, yellow and gold. (I see them changing colors on my front porch while I wrote.)

God’s planted the tree of life, and we, the leaves, slowly grow as spring begins. The leaves grow to be a deep green because that is the beginning of life with all it’s adventures…and misadventures. Maturity’s yellow becomes your new leave’s color because it’s the ambition and excitement of both love and work and that lead you to a good job as a nurse, therapist and a loving husband and then discovering another loving partner. (We all should all be so lucky!)

So many years pass and that yellow leave gladly or reluctantly yields itself to life’s golden color of gold but still preserving life’s hope which often can change to melancholy in the later years. The gold of admiring the real version of TV’s fictitious show, “Eight is Enough.” (Almost had a baseball team!) And how many prayers of good wishes and goodwill were sent God’s way for her children, grandchildren, and friends.

Gold. It’s called the standard. Gold, the senior years of cherished memories, travel, grandchildren and church involvement. It’s also the total reflective time on a life worthy of God’s creation. God gave us green to begin with, and we humbly and faithfully turn God’s gift to gold. God smiles upon our changing colors as age ages us on. God accepted us at the beginning of our lives but embraces us through all the rest of it.

God both embraced and embraces her (past and present) – through all of her greens of growing up, all of her professional yellowings with a growing family, loving spouses and in professionally helping and assisting others on their changing colors. I used past and present for “embrace” because God embraced her through all the trials and successes of her life’s adventure and now (presently) embraces her with her reward. (I hate the word “reward” because it tells us that we somehow earn what was never ours in the first place.) God now welcomes and embraces her – complete with her all frailties and shortcomings (stuff that we all have), her welcoming smiles and all her successes. “Frailties” are now forgotten by us but offered up to God, the “welcomes” and “successes” are the enduring memories that will live in our hearts this day and every day afterward.

I didn’t know her, but she seemed to enjoy my preaching, she had good taste, but I must turn now to a real preacher and the poetry Petula Clark,

“So you can color my world with sunshine yellow each day
Oh, you can color my world with happiness all the way
Just take the green from the grass and the blue from the sky up above
And if you color my world, just paint it with your love
Just color my world.”

Sermon, following the Gospel

You reply to your friend, “I’m puzzled by what you just said.” Puzzled, meaning that the pieces don’t fit together. The thought was not clearly stated as a puzzled is neatly assembled.

Well, welcome to the adventure we call life. Unlike a picture puzzle, life has a way of unraveling, boredom, surprises, setbacks, and successes. And as Christians, we meld all of life together as a faithful response to the life we call a “gift from God.”

Funerals are always a time for review of someone’s life. Not judging but gently weighing the life one led. Today we offer up her completed puzzle to our loving Creator. We offer her life in gratitude, thanksgiving and in humility.

I like the image of a puzzle because it’s the way we figured life should be lived; precisely and perfectly brought together. Everything about our lives ought to be neatly assembled and then when completed, gazed upon with happiness and satisfaction. Yet, we all know that life has its own twists and turns. Sometimes in life, we even try to push pieces together as though pushing will help but two puzzle pieces just will not fit together. When those pieces just don’t fit they are life’s hardships, but Alice never chose bitter. During assembling you may even discover an important piece is missing. You look under the table, check the puzzle box, but it’s nowhere to be found. The puzzle has a missing piece. It happens to us all at different times in our lives.

The missing piece is never retrieved, and we learn to live without it. That’s when we cue Frank Sinatra as he sings, “That’s Life.” You haven’t lived if you’d never been all of them: “a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king.” How about adding to the list her interests as “snowblower” and “auto mechanic?”

How many puzzled faces entered her office searching to reassemble a piece of their life’s puzzle? Or, to find that missing piece? And, if she were good, I’d suspect she’d wouldn’t tell them how or why but guide them to that missing piece or pieces.

Today, family, friends, interests, and activities are all puzzled together for us about Alice’s life.

St. Paul says, “We look not to what is seen but to what unseen…what is unseen is eternal.” I think putting together the blue sky in a puzzle is the most difficult because it’s all the same color. Only the size of the pieces differ. I’d call the blue sky our search for God and spirituality. We look upward for answers when only questions are raised. We look upward for a blueprint when only clues are provided to us. We look upward for consolation and guidance, and we do find it – especially in family and friends who show us the face of God. During her life, how was she able to reflect God’s goodness, patience, and protection? You know, sometimes when we can’t find that missing piece we find in another person. That significant person can connect us when we couldn’t connect it  ourselves. (I think that’s call marriage or a good friendship.) We take the yoke of Jesus upon our shoulders whenever we connect with someone – whether her children, neighbor, friends or parishioners. (I was told that I couldn’t mention the importance of family enough. It’s the bedrock of our human existence and the image of Church that keeps us gathering together. Often the missing puzzle piece in families is the quality of mercy, the Pope’s favorite word. Reassembling our family’s puzzle only occurs when the humble expression of forgiveness and mercy is offered after strong disagreements or arguments.

This may sound corny, but I believe it in faith. The completed puzzle happens right now in her new life with God. All the pieces of her life’s puzzle were given to her at her baptism, how many years ago. She put together and connected as best she could – sometimes failing (welcome to the human race!) and other times hitting the mark on the head (that’s called God’s grace living within us.)

At Alexian Village where I worked for many years, there’s a public table with puzzle pieces strewed around. Anyone walking by can take a chance with a piece here and there. I think that’s the influence of other people in our lives. Advice, whether misguided or honest is offered to us, but we ultimately live our lives alone. She seemed to allow mistakes to happen in her children so they would learn for themselves life’s right decisions. Not bad advice for young parents these days.

Her life’s picture puzzle is now complete with God’s welcoming embrace. “Behold, I make all things new again,” St. John tells us, Jesus is “the beginning and the end.” To those who remain may we continue to assemble bits and pieces of our lives as best we can. Let’s all keep trying.

And let’s keep looking for that missing piece. It’s got to be around here, somewhere.

Real Leaves but not read at the funeral

Dark green leaves bring you to life. Your mom tells you that you’re a snowflake, unique and unequal to anything or to anyone. You boast of this to yourself and others for many years, carrying that snowflake fallacy. You find yourself now turning a soft yellow and still living with your aging parents with a part-time job that you don’t like. The rich gold color arrives, but you find yourself empty – your parents are now gone, and you live with your girlfriend of fifteen years. Gold turns quickly to brown, and you discover that she’s left you for a guy with a full-time job and you are now all alone. You make an appointment to see her to figure out this “snowflake” thing but skipped it instead and stop at a bar. You move into a 55-plus apartment where bologna and jello are the main entree, and there’s Bingo at 7:00 p.m.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

 

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Life’s Artificial Ladder

‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Matthew 20: 1-16a

thThe definition says, “It’s a structure consisting of a series of bars or steps between two upright lengths of wood, metal, or rope, used for climbing up or down something.”

Well, there you have it. It’s a “structure” meaning it’s firm, reliable and lasting. “Between two upright lengths,” meaning you have something to grab a hold of. “Wood, metal or rope;” what you make it out of doesn’t matter, just as long as it lasts. Finally and most importantly, “used for climbing up or down something.” To the dictionary’s clean definition of climbing up or down “something,” I would add the word “someone.” It’s the “someone” that has our attention this Sunday.

There. You now have in one complete sentence the U.S. definition of work, value, and worth. Yet, where’s the dignity, where’s the compassion, where’s the unity? (All Churchy words by the way – dignity, compassion, unity.)

“If you work hard enough, you will succeed” has been our axiom for generations. You can now erase that thought.

“Dedication and loyalty will serve you and the company well; well into the future.” Get out your erasers because there’s another goner statement.

“If you fail or are having a difficult time, others will support and help you learn your trade.” Still got your Ticonderoga Number Two pencil? Now turn it around and erase that statement as well.

Now we’re settled. Now we’re set to talk about the real world and the way things are and the way they were meant to be.

A young person these days may have ten or fifteen jobs before reaching retirement or acquiring retirement’s wealth. Those jobs are void of anything I said before about commitment or value. A lack of investment now fills the marketplace. If the company will not invest in you then why should you personally invest in the company?

“But I worked so much harder,”

Jesus tells us that walking those church doors destroys the structure I identified at the beginning. Jesus destroys all our worldly notions with a simple but profound explanation of a worker’s equality. “But I worked so much harder,” says the early guy who receives the same pay as the late-afternoon-guy who worked only one hour. That’s Jesus. Surprisingly unpredictable but fully embracing of us all. The worldly business investment may have shifted but God’s investment in you – in your value and worth – has never and will never change. God is not a “CEO,” God is “GOD.” The Church knows this to be true and we need to believe it as well.

Can we do any less? Can we do any less when judging or evaluating anyone who crosses our paths? Our lives are the same and the pay is exactly the same for the guy with a private jet and the gal raising two children alone. That’s called “Church.”

The gospel today also includes priests.

The gospel today also includes priests. There’s a deference or a humble submission that I’ve witnessed and felt in my thirty-seven years of doing this. When I was a deacon there were three housekeepers in the rectory as though I couldn’t toilet myself. (Please realize that “toilet” is not a verb.) Shaking your hand after Mass and telling me “Good sermon, Father” doesn’t help me unless you really mean it.

I will preach what you want to hear and what you may not want to hear, only what I feel you need to hear. And, sometimes I’ll be wrong in my assessment.

If my sermons offend you in some way then realize that it was intended because that’s part of my responsibility as well. Treating me special like a porcelain doll or the “man with all the answers” doesn’t advance the Church’s mission, it only perpetuates the silly notion that I’m different or more special than you. And, I’m not any different or special. I’m not on a “bar or step” that’s higher than yours.

Talking to a senior citizens, you naturally congratulate them on their 35-40 years with one company they loved and served well. Those days are way over folks. Jesus Christ was wrong. The Son of God didn’t know about economics and wavering markets. The Savior of the World didn’t know about poor projections, downturns and recessions…and most importantly profits, executive compensations and the demands of stock holders. No, the man we call Jesus only knew about you and me – as equal travelers on this journey of life.

Because it’s the way it is doesn’t meant it’s the way it should be.

Because it’s the way it is doesn’t mean it’s the way it should be. The definition at the beginning is of a stupid ladder solely meant for fixing things that you cannot reach. That ladder is not for separating people – people like you and me. We, in the Church, can reach higher because working all day or for only one hour is worth of God’s praise along with generous pay.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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A Sermon for A Salvatorian Priest

With her children tugged safely in bed, mom now has some quiet time to recollect and reflect on the day ending and plan for what tomorrow brings. Fr. Richard’s day ends, and he thinks about the troubling dad he met after morning Mass, the afternoon visit to the hospital and in the evening the young couple planning a spring wedding. Those are Fr. Richard’s recollections and reflection as his day ends.

logoBut there’s one remembrance that he just can’t seem to shake off. It’s still milling around in his head. It bothers him, and he wonders what’s to do about it – it’s that compliment he was forced to hear about himself. Now what? He tries to dismiss it, but she was so sincere when she told him what he meant to her and her family. “Damn that compliment,” Father might (or might not) have said. Perhaps in similar words.

It’s the simplicity that I think we all quickly spotted about Father Richard. The Irish would say that he had, “No airs about him.” Here he was. And he was all over the place during his over forty years of Salvatorian priestly ministry.

Father was older than his novitiate classmates because he responded to what St. Paul calls a “groaning” in his life. We soften that word these days by calling it a “calling, ” but I prefer St. Paul’s more meaty description. Being older, Father was able to help the younger men in their discovery of solving “creation’s groans” in ministerial ways. How can we bring God’s mercy to those groaning for how many different reasons trying; those trying to make sense of a circumstance or life itself or how to make it through life?

“Simplicity” and “humility” are words often thrown around during occasions like this but I really believe that those two words found a home within Father Richard’s life.

I love the Isaiah reading because it is so true, “The rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.” Nothing returns to God until it does what it needs to do. And folks, we’re that “it.”

Ministry is the water of hope to thirsty mouths who feel they’ve lost the meaning of that word. Ministry is a compassionate river offered to a mother to continue traveling down after burying her young son. Ministry is an ocean of silence between two people when words fall apart.

Over all those years, Father might have said to those folks, “If you have time, why don’t we get together,” or “Please, sit, I’d like to hear your whole story,” or “Why don’t we stop now and meet when you’re feeling stronger.”

A true Salvatorian, Father was open to wherever the need arouse. Born in Philadelphia in 1933, Father dreamed of learning Spanish. Hardly! Yet late in life, Father found a renewal of his ministry through the Hispanic community. Because you see, learning a new language is not just syllables and words, but it means recognizing the nuances and intonations that connects you to a different culture. He did it. He was proud of it – in spite of disliking those “darn” compliments. Is “darn” better than “damn?”

In a religious context, simple doesn’t mean simple. Father didn’t sleep on the floor with the heat turned off. Father didn’t have a b/w TV instead of a ’72 flatscreen. Simple for us religious people means sincerity, being as authentic as possible in any situation. Preparation for priesthood, sisterhood or brotherhood means learning as much about yourself as you can in order to put yourself out of the way and stand behind the person in front of you. That’s a lot of movements! Does that sound simple to you?

Let’s try that again. Preparation for religious life means learning as much about yourself as you can in order to put yourself out of the way and stand behind the person in front of you:

those hurting, those who are angry or confused those share their doubts with you after Mass those who have either a silly or serious question after Mass or how about that guy who sits all alone every Sunday in the back pew.

Who are those people? What do they want? What do they need? Can I stand behind them in their continuing faith journey?

That’s ministry. What ought to be the mantra for us all, religious and laity alike is “Get out of the way and let God do what God does,” but most importantly it’s doing God’s work through and with us.

“Simple and humble.” I think Father Richard and I had a lot in common!
There’s nothing simple about it. Emptying yourself in order to be filled with God’s grace and then sharing that grace with everyone you meet. That’s Salvatorian ministry and Father Richard lived it with us Salvatorians and brought that ministry to all those he touched.

A widow who’s lost a coin is the recovery of who she is in God’s eyes. It’s the connecting of the purpose of our lives with our Creator. The happy widow says, “Oh my gosh, all the time, the coin was under the cushion seat!” (There’s always money under the cushions. Try it the next time you’re at a friend’s house!)

She’s a widow because someone important is missing from her life and she now feels empty. The coin was never lost (faith can never be lost) – it was only misplaced, considered insignificant, or forgotten about. But she sweeps and dusts until she rescues what was never lost. “Misplaced, insignificant, forgotten?” None of those words apply in quenching our groaning for God.

The coin is the currency that beckons us to God every day. We keep coming to Mass and keep praying because we are always looking for that extra coin – the worth and wealth of our lives. Father Richard found the lost coin and was enriched during each decade of his life because of it.

Like any funeral, what can we take away and apply to our own faith journeys? Where is a good shower of rain needed in our faith life, what can we afford to let go of and let God fill our purses with lasting coins of fortitude, strength, and most importantly wisdom?

“Good and faithful servant” is often said at a priest’s funeral. I think Father and I would agree that it doesn’t apply only to this holy office but to all who continue to question and search for their “lost coins.”

(I’m telling you, the coin is under the cushion. If you invite me to supper, don’t leave me alone in your living room. “It’s gotta be here, somewhere!”)

Talk about simple. Father’s breakfast was the same thing every morning here at Alexian. The Cafe staff got to know him because of his repetitious order. Peanut butter on toast with a bowl of Cream of Wheat. I ate the same meal with him one morning, and I was hungry an hour later. But for Father, it was simply sufficient.

But simply simple? No way. Father was intelligent, quiet (and with a quick wit when necessary) and had very caring and attentive eyes.

A simple, small man with a tall stature.

Today we together thank you, Father Richard for your commitment, service, and dedication to the people of God in the name of the Salvatorians. We thank you for unraveling that “groaning” in your gut with the gift of your response to priestly life. We thank you for the“groanings” you were able to soften to all those in need.

Now there’s only remaining question for Father Richard to resolve while waiting at Heaven’s gate for entry, “What about those darn compliments?”

The Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians)

“Soulful Muse,” inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

Posted in Spirituality | Leave a comment