Deacon Carlos: “Baptism of Jesus”

(“Baptism of Jesus” sermon by Deacon Carlos Londono, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church in Pewaukee, WI.)

Today the Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. We celebrate that the Lord Jesus is the one and the only one. At his Baptism, when the Lord came up from the water, the voice of God the Father introduced Him to us saying: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” We don’t have many instances in which God the Father himself points at someone saying: “this is the one!” The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, speaks about Jesus on behalf of the Father saying: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.” In the second reading, Paul also speaks of Jesus as “… the Lord of all [whom] God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power.” In other words, Isaiah, Paul and most importantly the very same God the Father are all pointing at Jesus and telling us: “He is the one! Listen to Him! His words are worth paying attention to: they give life! His actions give life as well: learn from them!”

Now, the question is: what further witness do we need?
Today we also renew our Baptismal promises. To do this is to tell Isaiah, Paul and even God the Father: “Yes, to what you are saying! I believe that He is the one, that what He says gives life and that what He does gives life as well.” This is what being a Christian means: to give one’s own life a “decisive direction”, that of the Lord Jesus, striving to say the things He said and do the things He did: to have the same sentiments as Christ! And not because He is a cool guy, or a wonderworker or a skilled preacher.

No! We are baptized Christians because we believe that He is God! That He has Power; that He forgives sins, that He can give us His Own Body and Blood as food… that He destroyed death itself!

A group of seminarians (myself included) were greatly blessed to spend 8 days in the Holy Land. We left on New Year’s Eve and got back this past Thursday. On Wednesday, we had Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Right underneath the altar where we celebrated Mass was the empty tomb of Jesus and I was thinking during mass: “This is it! This is what it is to be a Christian, to believe that they left Him here dead and a few days later He left this tomb alive; He moved this rock away and walked out of this tomb by Himself, filled with Power and the Holy Spirit.”
Had that not happened there would be no mass, no church, no baptism, no priests. Because that happened we are here today celebrating that He is the one, that He is God, that He walked away from that tomb alive and that we are baptized in His name, that is, He gets to tells us what is right and what is not: His words give life, His actions give life: we bend our knees at the name of Jesus.

My invitation today is one, if you accept to take it: that we go home after mass today and find, if possible, our Baptismal certificate and the date in which we were baptized and that we give thanks to the Father for the gift that we received that day: the gift of his Son Jesus Christ, the one and the only one.

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Baptism by “Fire”

It’s 6:28 on a Saturday night. The radio announcer thanks his listeners for listening (who knows how many there are in Manitowoc), and he lets the record end as he runs out the door. He’s gone. My lifeline. The guy I’m supposed to ask questions about operation, you know technical stuff. He’s gone.

I’m now all by myself. There is not a single person in the radio station building. It hits me that I’m responsible for these airwaves, until midnight, five and a half hours. My seventeen-year-old mind recalls remembering my radio license test and quiz.“The Federal Communications Commission may very well be listening,” I could be fined and imprisoned if I make a mistake.

The 45-record “Lay, Lady Lay,” by Bob Dylan was already cued up for me. Not my first choice for my first radio musical selection that I’ll remember the rest of my life. Bob finishes singing, and either you hear shhh-shhh-shhh, (Children: ask your parents what that sounds means) or you turn on the microphone for the very first time and attempt to say something intelligent.

“Baptism by fire,” it’s called. Forget the water, this is a do-or-die fire for $2.70 an hour.

Now, what’s your first baptism by fire? It a phrase that describes someone learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty. I’m sure you can easily recall your early “baptism by fire” story. Semi-prepared. Excited. Dread. Anticipation. A frozen fear. A dream come true, at least for me, as a junior in high school. Mistakes, mishaps, stutterings, (worst of all) blaming others, blaming yourself – or is it plainly showing us that the baptism hasn’t taken root. The water’s planted all right. But the roots? Those darn roots. And about all that wise, elderly advice that we ignored because we knew better at our younger age.

I hold out for those two m’s: mistakes and mishaps. Our greatest tutor is uncovered through those two m’s. What better time for the intercession of the Holy Spirit than when we think we’ve got it under control and we have it all handled, and she gently or loudly intervenes and alerts us to correct our two m’s.

John, whose last name is Baptist, introduced us to the sacrament. Jesus Christ thoroughly infuses us with the sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit – and fire.

It’s your turn once more. When did Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit fully baptize you?

We never know when a daunting obstacle or severe challenge will present itself in our lives. A new mom with a colicky baby, your first speech in front of the class and you swear that you’re, indeed, not wearing pants, a mother of two youngsters loses her husband to cancer, a CEO suddenly faces a PR crisis with an employee caught on video, a parent buries a son or daughter, a fresh intern at the hospital is asked to work an additional 12-hour shift – in the ER, a husband who always seems to be two drinks ahead of you, a newspaper writer working the night shift in Washington D.C. is told to cover a breaking White House scandal and deliver an article to the managing editor by 5 a.m., (or my favorite of all) the sixty-year-old daughter becomes the parent to her eighty-five-year-old mother. “Eat your vegetables!” “I don’t wanna!” Fiery Baptisms.

Eliminated, not fired from a wonderful job for twenty-two years. And it’s a Catholic place! Some people asked me if it affected my faith. I wanted to say, “That’s a stupid question!” Instead, I clearly replied that “Nothing can affect my faith.”

And, if you can’t learn, then you learn to fake it. In those high school radio years, I couldn’t say, “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.” I practiced in the mirror but to no avail. I said, “SALT talks,” which is actually redundant. Listening to the news read by me, the poor Manitowoc folks thought there was something wrong with their table salt. That’s “Baptism by fire,” coping-style.

And here we all thought that the first and primary sacrament of our Christian lives was that one-time deal. I didn’t know it was happening to me many years ago, but those folks who brought me to church knew it was important. My complete and full baptism frequently occurs throughout life. I’m confident the same is true for you all of you.

The fire of the Holy Spirit baptizes us again and again. Water alerts (John the Baptist). Fire burns deeply inside us, demanding a Christian, humane response (Jesus Christ).

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A Funeral with Adjectives

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So St. John begins the last Gospel. The other three concern themselves with details, facts, stories chronicling the life of Jesus Christ. John isn’t so much concerned with facts. For him, it’s faith and theology.

You know Catholics have often been ridiculed by other denominations for not knowing the ins and outs of the Bible. The others can cite chapter and verse. Catholics for the longest time centered their faith life around what St. John writes about. It’s a spiritual life built around a trusting confidence, a deep faith, and an abiding hope. If Catholics need to find a passage, we’d look it up.

Trusting, deep and abiding. I love adjectives because they give life to nouns. To merely say that the sun is out today doesn’t do much for color and brilliance. But to add that “the warming, bright sun helps me get through my day.” Now you’re telling someone something that has meaning.

For it is not only to simply say “confidence, faith, and hope.” We can all say that we’re confident that the Packers have a chance this season. That’s said weakly. Add a “trusting” confidence and you’ve expressed something that’s potent. It contains power. The Gospel of St. John ends with, “There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.”

For each of us and especially thinking about Beverly on this day, which is now a holy day for her family and friends, “In the beginning was … you and me.” We began this mystery called life and continue living that mystery our entire lives. We rarely understand or comprehend it because if we did then it wouldn’t be a mystery. It would be a puzzle to be assembled. But to live the mystery of life, death and eternal life, is to be a person with a trusting confidence, celebrating a deep faith and sharing with all those we meet an abiding hope.

“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” The struggles and trials of life either weaken or strengthen that abiding hope. We pray that even when weakness sometimes occurs that we uncover a renewed strength through the grace of God. “Deep faith?” St. Paul clearly announces, “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race…” The “Good List,” as the Beatitudes are called to provide us with the playbook for all our actions in recreating and sustaining what God gives to us, “a trusting confidence.”

However, I’ve left out a very important faith-filled word. It’s not often used at funerals but it ought to be. More than a feeling, it’s a disposition. It’s what I hope folks take home after Mass driving away from the church’s parking lot. It’s what I hope they’re able to share with others because they’ve been nourished by the body and blood of God’s Son. It’s very contagious, so be careful. It’s a divine infection that no antibiotic or no anti-Christ can cure. Feelings are fleeting. A disposition in faith becomes a part of your character. It’s the fiber, bedrock, the foundation of your life. It’s a strength within you that’s indestructible because it didn’t originate in you – it’s God’s gift to each of us. (It also comes with a lifetime supply.)

Are you dying to know the word? I hope so because our Christian faith tells us that we must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. Then, each of us becomes a “person of Christ.” The suspense is over. The God-given gift is called “joy.” St. John promises it when Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Beverly and all of us can only taste of joy on our earthly journey. Especially felt and experienced through family and friends. The metaphorical death while living is now fully satisfied with our physical death. It is the joy of uniting with God.

A funeral is also a time for our personal renewal, for us who continue living this mystery we call life. How can each of us build up our trusting confidence, deep faith, and abiding hope? Living and making those adjectives ours gives us the character for the earthly joy when anticipating our own eternal joy.

I deliberately left out the last sentence from St. Paul. It’s Leona talking to St. Peter at heaven’s gate. “I have competed well;” (I don’t care for “compete,” I would say, “I have lived well, with God’s help.”) Paul continues, “I have finished the race.” The last sentence and the most important of all? “I have kept the faith.”

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The Face of the Blessed Mother

Let’s face it. This is an important day. (January 1) Honoring the Blessed Mother with a clear vision because it’s 2020 time.

For a whole year, we heighten our vision. The way we look at things. The ways we perceive when perceptions are deceiving. The way we can judge others when there’s no trail. Be amazed either for the first time or the umpteenth time at the simplest of things. Go ahead and let your friends think that you’ve lost it.

Let’s face it. Shakespeare wrote, “God gave you one face, and you make yourself another.” Sin and mistakes can be wonderful events, only if we learn and live through them. So go ahead and fall flat on your face. Another quote says, “Falling on your face, at the very least, is a step forward.” Never giving up and doing an about-face but taking grace-filled next step forward. If not falling, then sometimes we all need a good slap in the …

The first face the child Jesus sees, the face of his mother. What kind of face is she making looking down at his face? Smiling? Relief? Wonder at this wonderful birth? Wonder about what kind of life this newborn will have?

How about our faces? Another quote says, “The face is more honest than the mouth will ever be.” They call them “tells.” You can tell if I’m lying to you if while speaking I touch my nose or look down. How many other “tells” that we’re not even aware of but detect in conversations. The face cannot lie.

Just observe the faces of older adults and you’ll see their whole life. Complete with wrinkles and lines that exhibit a fully lived life. Pity those botox folks who nip and tuck away their earned faces, as though they’re a cat with eight of them left.

The face of the Blessed Mother shows us all how to live our lives. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. She treasured all things in her heart. (Not her mind, mind you, but within her heart.) The pagan god of which January is named after has two faces, the past, and the future. When we say that “your two-faced,” it’s calling you a liar. When said about Mary, it means that all the significant past events of her life are kept safely stored away. And, always with an eye toward an unknown but trusting future.

At face value, what better way to begin a new year than with the face of Mary, as best as we can imagine her, guiding our steps and showing us the way to her Son, the God/Man.

Forget the words. I can tell by faces greeting people after Mass. “Nice sermon, Father.” I smile to myself because Deacon Carlos preached. It’s all captured in the face.

Another quote, “A face is like the outside of a house, and most faces, like most houses, give us an idea of what we can expect to find inside.”

She saw his promising face at birth and so few years later wept looking at his vacant face. The meeting of those two faces truly makes this day solemn and special.

Let’s face the facts. Please trust me on this, I’m not just another pretty face. (I couldn’t resist!) The Blessed Mother witnesses for us the faces of the world. She shows us how to look into the face of another person the way she looked into her son’s. To quote a Broadway play, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” With a clear 2020 vision may this year be guided for us by the continuing protection and console of Mary, the one we call Blessed Virgin.

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“Dysfunctional” Family?

Either Ozzie Nelson was left a lot of money or he made an imaginary income, but we know that he left the house. Harriet with pearls around her neck raised their two sons when only one mattered, Ricky Nelson. So goes how the American family was portrayed on television, modeling for us what a family looks like and how they act. How many of life’s situations can be addressed and solved in only twenty-three minutes.

Robert Young arrives home from a real job and his waiting wife and three children are waiting in the living room as though they’ve been waiting for him for eight hours. He arrives home and there’s gleeful Jane Wyatt easily replacing his sport coat with patches on the elbows with his evening sweater with patches on the elbows. His children eagerly welcome him back home – Lauren Chapin, Elinor Donahue, and Billy Gray. Their TV version of family life is settled in those same twenty-three minutes and living up to the program’s title, “Father Knows Best.”

These were my growing up TV shows that influenced and represented for me what American family life looks like and acts like. Not to mention “The Beaver,” who was very influential for me – Eddie Haskel remains a hero for me. He’s an early version of the Fonz character.

(“Leave It To Beaver,” opening theme song, 11 seconds)

Today’s TV families seem to have children who advise and direct the parents, as though their parents don’t know anything; as though that’s real life. At my family’s Christmas gathering last Wednesday, my great-nieces and nephews (1 to 3 years old) are running around and yelling as though they know what they’re doing with doting parents smiling away at their crazy antics. I turned to my 65-year-old sister and said, “We would never have gotten away with this.” She smiled back at me.

The late 70’s and 80’s roll around and suddenly psychology introduces us to a shocking revelation. A new word added to a centuries year old gathering of progenies. “Dysfunctional.” It temporarily gave my family’s world a word to toss around as though we needed a tossable word. “I’m the way I am because of my weird parents!” (My words. The authors had nicer and nastier words for parental actions and behavior.)

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for that forever, unending TV (human) show featuring no one else than that sorry-you in that formidable age-old game show called ‘The Blame Game.’ It’s the show where no one wins and everybody loses. Isn’t that great! I’m Johnnie Olsen, your friendly announcer. We have today in our studio audience a captured audience of … ‘one.’ Please note the word, ‘captured.’ Our parting gift today is, ‘Head and Shoulders’ shampoo because there’s no heart and soul to be found in our product nor in the host and guest. Now, let’s give a one clap welcome to your host and guest who doesn’t need an introduction because it’s the very, same person.”

You’ve now found a new, convenient outlet for all your tales of woe, only now presented in fancy, scientific language. I thought to myself after reading far too many of those books, ‘I belong to a dysfunctional family. That explains ‘who I am.’ I’m me because of my parents!’ I’m the winner of my very own living game show.

This reckless TV show of your young and adult life can, by the way, run for, in TV terms, many seasons. In real lifetime, all the seasons of your life.

I regret to this day some of the information I learned from those books about how my parent’s behavior formed me. I told my mother some of what I learned. I remember her only looking back at me with a forlorn, speechless look as though I hit her in the stomach. I was essentially telling her that she was not Jane Wyatt (although my mother’s name was, indeed, Jane) nor was she the pearl-wearing-while-vacuuming mom, Barbara Billingsley was on “Leave It To Beaver.”

Whewww. I’m done with the setup for this reflection. Time has proven that my family is profoundly and singularly “my family.” Take away the opening and closing credits but don’t ever reduce my family to those perfectionist confines of television in order to shame my family. Families influence, not form. The formation is up to the individual.

The family we call “holy” is riddled with what some may call “dysfunctional.” Sometimes personal, other times divinely planned. Find out for yourself. Cancel cable, dust off your Bible and read away.

On my parent’s trip from Manitowoc to Two Rivers, my mother never realized that she left me in the church for three days. About the Blessed Mother’s wine experience with Jesus at Cana, my mother often tested me when a friend I thought I had wasn’t a true friend. Or, that the thoughts I was thinking we’re not Christian ones. Our “pieta” between my mother and me was my last visit with her when she was in hospice care. I simply knelt down and touching her neck said, “Mother.” I never called her “mom.” She fidgeted slightly and the nurse said, “She knows it’s you. She hears you.”

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. There is only your beautifully own, one-of-a-kind assemblage of people sharing your DNA. Or, are you sharing their DNA?

It’s family. My actions. Their behavior. My behavior. Their actions. We witness and either embrace or modify. Ethically, it’s called right or wrong. We witness and either embrace or modify. Morally, it’s called good or bad.

We all know that Jesus had his. A mom with a mysterious birth. A dad who rarely spoke. Aunt and uncle who should have been in a nursing home years before but gave Jesus his best friend. There are more stories to share about Jesus’ family. There are more stories to share about my family and yours.

Embrace, honor, and celebrate your one family as your “holy” family, for they truly are, as best as any family can be. For they live either with … or within you for the rest of your life. Never, for television’s twenty-three black and white minutes.

(“Leave It To Beaver,” closing theme song, 12 seconds)

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“A Tiny Light,” Epiphany

Dusk begins and I finish my sermon for the next day. The laptop’s bright screen is pulled down. “Boy, it’s getting dark.”

The small Christmas tree placed during Advent in my kitchen’s bay window is replaced by an overpriced but lean tree with six birds sitting on lean, white limbs with low lights at its edges. Overpriced tree doesn’t appear to match the glowing light of Advent’s tree. “Should I turn on more kitchen lights.” No. Just wait.

Dusk slowly turns dark and, “Lo, and behold” (Christmas reference), my teeny lights get brighter. “Ummm.” Those tiny lights aren’t giving off any more light than they did during the day or dusk. As night becomes darker, my tinies get brighter.

Those in darkness have seen a great light? So, says scripture. My tiny lights illuminate the very same but, I guess, I notice it more in darkness.

A preacher’s oyster is always found in metaphors relating our faith to life. There’s nothing metaphorical about what was written above. It just is. The darkness that can plague any of us always has an ounce, sliver, or glimmer of a continuing light of hope. (Well, okay, one metaphor.)

A hopeful message for yourselves or to share with those experiencing darkness with apparently no light ahead of them. (Please note the word, “apparently.”) My overpriced lean tree proves the opposite.

Is Jesus that small glow of light? Is he our pilot light? (Okay, so there’s two metaphors!)

It’s getting darker now. Those tiny lights are still offering the same light. What they were created and intended to do. In the darkness, even complete darkness, an ounce, sliver, glimmer.

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Immaculate Conception

As the Lutherans always ask us Catholics, “Why do you worship Mary?” We answer by saying we don’t “worship Mary” but we can understand their confusion.

We are dumbfounded by this carrier of hope into our world. We are awestruck by this vessel which did not doubt but continued moving, as best she could, through this journey we call life. We are terrified that if we emulate her that we will get lost; never to find our way back to ourselves, that we will lose our identity forever.

What we forget is that this vessel of love we call Mary vividly illustrates for us who we are as Church. A Church that possesses the wisdom and humility of all that life is. If Jesus dramatically showed us the fullness of life which is the union of human and divine than Mary shows us how it’s done and lived. Christ erased those two barriers. All the curtains and divisions that separated us from God have been lifted. And, Mary shows us how it’s done.

We have a tendency, no matter what age we may be, to never lose a magical dimension to our religion. (Burying poor St. Joseph to sell your home, a constantly-said prayer to cure cancer?) We have a difficult time letting go of supernatural thinking and enchanting intrusions into our world by the divine.

“Harry Potter” and religion can, unfortunately, have a lot in common. The magic of Harry Potter marvels us as enemies are quickly destroyed, problems solved through magic potions and voodoo charms make people do what they would normally not do.

The magic of Mary begins and ends in simplicity. The magic of untying our knotted lives and uniting our lives with God’s is the naturalness of it all. We never considered it because it was too available to us. We don’t take it seriously because it’s too much a part of our ordinary lives. We keep saying to ourselves that, “It can’t happen without thunderous sounds and ominous clouds, complete with rattling houses and dogs barking loudly at the strangeness of it all. Mary’s response is far too patient, in the quiet, through the sparse. It’s so easy and convenient to hate. It happens quickly and lingers and only grows. To truly listen to each other is natural, it’s human/divine combined. As is forgiveness. As is mercy. As is acceptance.

A churchy word used to achieve these Godly virtues is called “discernment.” Ask your teacher about and what the gift of discernment is and means in our lives, in our U.S. culture, in our world.

There is nothing of magic in uncovering what lives within us, our whole lives. The only wonder we can comprehend is why it’s taken us so long to believe it and why it’s taken us so long to imitate the simplicity of Mary’s path. Scripture tells us that she “treasured many things in her heart,” as our memories can testify and also told us about a “sword that will pierce her heart” as any setback pierces ours.

Catholics don’t worship Mary but we do honor all of her life’s events … and our own. All the events that are presented to us every day, in every situation, in each new and old face that we encounter. It is the plainness and straightforward, the humbling and uniting word that Mary hesitantly but willingly whispers back to the angel’s invitation about the birth of Jesus. Mary says, “Yes.” Holding her dead son, she may have thought, “No” but once again said, “Yes.”

We say “Yes.” We say “Yes” to the divine that lives within us.

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Gift of Grace

You’re in the checkout line buying milk. You grab a couple sticks of gum from the impulsive-shelves on both sides of you. You place the items on the belt and ask the cashier for three quarts of grace. She asks, “Leaded or regular?” “Leaded, please.”

It has to be the Catholic Church’s greatest recognition. Grace. Defined by all the opposites you can imagine – silent but constantly talking to you, hidden but incubating within your soul.

Grace blesses. She blesses the three things of our lives; mind, body, and spirit. Her image can be a soft rain walking through the park holding hands with the one you love. Hairs are getting wet and it looks like tears from their eyes. But they’re not tears. A hard snowfall will have her protecting you, keeping you home for a needed rest.

She’s not a solution. She may not even know your concern, problem or joy. She’s definitely not a feeling as we so often think of her. That would reduce her divinity from which she came and returns. She is also mistaken for courage but that suggests strength. There’s no arm-wrestling with God’s gift. (I think God always has a way of winning, anyway.) She’s a blessed blessing with no beginning or limit. (Three quarts of her would barely get you to lunchtime!)

You ought to meet and introduce yourself to this gift living within yourself, a woman named Grace. This living and vibrant divine gift. It’s her pause during an argument that I like; regrettable words the instant they’re said. Hers is the moment before sleep that assures you that everything will be okay when everything seems screwed up. Watching your child take the risk of a swing – separating feet from the ground allowing the body’s momentum to take over. That release is living her name. Releasing ourselves from ourselves and giving a green light inside ourselves for others to be themselves. (I think that’s consuming at least four quarts of her!)

All of life’s gaps are filled by her. So, I guess there are no gaps in our lives – those broken curves, that lost path, that joy you felt for no good reason is her doing her divine job. That’s how we can say, “Hi, Mary – full of happiness, remorse, doubts, and fears – Blessed are you among…”

The mere gift of life has filled us all with her. All of us, regardless of religion. I believe she is God’s first gift. Jesus even needed her to give his life for us. And, the Holy Spirit gives us seven versions of herself. (Boy, she spreads herself thin!)

“A woman named Grace gracefully walked into the room and graced us with her presence before offering to God a graceful prayer of Grace.”

Five times in different ways in one sentence is the way she works. Fluid, yet potent.
You can’t buy what you already own. “No purchase necessary,” says those ads. The purchase price was paid, in full, by the name we hear so often in church. Keep the milk and return the gum. You already possess and cherish the woman gracefully named “Grace.”

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“Price Check!”

It took me a long time to enter the store. I thought it was intended for those with meager means. I thought to myself, “Do I dress down before entering?” I used Kohl’s or Boston Store (closed) or Walmart or the Nordstrom choice only to show off the labels.

For some reason, I walked into one and was blown away. The “Dollar Tree.” No specials. No markdowns. No, nothing. Only asking for one of our dollars for this billion-dollar company. I wanted to yell, “Price check, aisle three?” No one would answer because they’d think I was a kook.

I was a kook to have avoided that store. Dollar Tree. One dollar. After losing a tooth in my youth, my parents would place a quarter under my pillow. I knew they’d do it because in the morning I’d find it and smile to myself. $.25. I’m sure it’s been increased to that one dollar now. “Thanks, Dad, but can you break this one dollar for me please?”

The human economy and the economy of God. Both exchanges but for different purposes. “You give me something and I’ll give you something more,” says our human version of exchange. Divine exchange says, “You give me you and I’ll give you one dollar.”

“You give me your life,” says the Divine, and “I’ll show you what my Son did for you. “Purchased for a price,” is our salvation. “Paid in full,” says the crucified Christ. “Thirty pieces” of it brought each of us just one dollar. “A ransom for many,” as though a ransom needed to be paid like in the movies.

Jesus could have said, “I’ll give you my arm if you promise me your wounded leg.” Or, “I’ll give you my peace if you change your questionable behaviors.”

Nope. Please notice those two stupid prayer words, “if you.” It may work in human economy but absolutely never in the Divine economy. “If you” is a bargaining position. Dollar Tree doesn’t bargain or negotiate. From the first item you see to the last, the cost to you is one dollar plus some state tax (in addition to that baseball stadium which appears to need the money!).

Cost of living increase? Adjusted for inflation? Tax-deductible? Deferred? How many other human economy terms when all the time I’m standing in aisle three of Dollar Tree asking for a price check that costs me only one dollar – my entire life.

From the Queen of Apostles’ Pastoral Team to the teams of your family and friends, a blessed Christmas along with heaps of renewed hope in 2020.

Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Temporary Administrator

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“I’m John,” With No Last Name

“Hi everybody. I’m John. I don’t have a last name. I guess there weren’t enough people in Bethany to make me need one. After all, I’m special, A-Number 1, King of the Hill. How many kids can say, “My mom had me when she was eighty!” I’m John. Son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The only child, (again, with the chosen, special feeling inside of me). I don’t know why they didn’t have other kids.

So, I guess I must be something outstanding. Remarkable even. Like Frank would sing centuries later, ‘I planned each chartered course, Each careful step along the by-way, And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew, When I bit off more than I could chew, But through it all when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out, faced it all, And I stood tall, And did it my way.’

I lived that song centuries earlier. No orchestra but I heard them in the background. ‘I’m the one! I’m the chosen.’ Near-death parents, newborn, named John when my dad doubted they’d even have a child. God made dad mute because of that to show you how very, very special I am to this salvation story.

Speaking of my dad, have you ever played catch with an eighty-year old? I’d throw the ball. It’d hit him in the head. He’d go inside the house looking for some ice and there I am staring at the thrown ball. (Just try finding ice in the desert.)

Yep. I’m the one. All this talk about the Kingdom of God from the prophets of old now rested on my shoulders and I was ready to shoulder that responsibility. I’m John (without a last name).

‘And I stood tall, And did it my way, I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, and cried, I’ve had my fill, my share of losing, And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing, To think I did all that, And may I say, not in a shy way, Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way. For what is a man, what has he got?’

I had it all. The only guy in town with the name John. Receiving a message from God, if you will, pronouncing me the ‘Chairman of the Board,’ or at least BMIB, ‘Big Man In Bethany.’

Now don’t think I forgot about … him. Yeah, him. Quiet sort, leaving his parents for temple study for three days. Mary says to Joseph, ‘I thought he was with you!’ Joseph, who has no spoken lines in the Bible just stares back at his lovely wife. (Where’s Child Support Services when you need them?)

Did you know that I’m six months older than he is? I can out run him to Bethany’s McDonald’s. (It’s their first one in the Mideast!) I could out talk him and make him think forever about something I only said in passing. What a cousin to have.

Frank continues to haunt me by singing, ‘If not himself then he has naught, To say the things he truly feels, And not the words of one who kneels…’

It got me thinking. I needed a look to make me stand out. To make me distinctive for the fine, aspiring prophet I was to be with Frank singing about only me in the background. Something furry to wrap around. I got that at Goodwill. But, something more, something more was still missing. Diet! That’s it. They’ll all remember me for eating weird things to show how important I am. (The Bible never talks about the throwing up part, that’s only between you and me.) I needed a gig and what better place when living in the desert, then to go into the desert – alone.

Unlike Frank with four marriages (Nancy, Ava, Mia, Barbara), I was truly alone. Carving it out for myself and only for myself, ‘My Way.’

Alone. Desert. It does something to you. The solitude and only the windy sounds at night that make you fearful for your safety and yet at the very same time feeling very safe. The nothingness surrounding you while everything else enters you in a peaceful peace; if you don’t mind me being redundant. Double dose, I call it.

You know that the desert thing was my idea but then he had to steal it and make it a bigger thing about it than I did. He had Satan (three times!). Oh, well. All I got was Frank singing only to me in the background ‘My Way.’ I guess I slowly began to get the idea.

I learned a great deal about myself during my time in that desolate place. Frank’s song slowly began to evaporate, even when there’s no water to do it; but it did it.

Thinking back on it now, my cousin’s and my desert experience had opposite results. My desert time took me away from me. His desert time took him to where he needed to be.

Now, you know about the sandal thing when I said, ‘I’m not worthy to untie his.’ I was slowly learning my important place in this life story, even if took a long time. But still, there remains a bit of Frank within me. Please don’t forget who got to baptize the Son of God. In the Jordan river. With people watching and wondering all around, ‘Who is this guy?’ Not me, but my cousin. Who did all that? Moi!

I’d also like to add that God is my uncle, My uncle actually baptized my cousin. I didn’t. After that I saw the reality of who he is and who I am. This cousin of mine began to suddenly talk a lot more. A whole lot more. To all groups of people. He found out who he is rather than who I thought I was.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry or disappointed. I even get to lose my head at the end of my life story. You should all try it. It wasn’t a big deal at the end with the dancing and all that stuff. I lost my head many years before that. I found my heart and my soul. So, lose your head and your silly thoughts. Instead, cherish and treasure the messages living and breathing within your heart and soul. That’s what my uncle wanted from me. From all of us. It’s well worth it.

Hell, because of all that I finally got a last name in that small town of Bethany. ‘The Baptist’ is my last name. All because I listened to God, my cousin and my second cousin (once removed), the Holy Spirit. Lucky for me and really lucky for all of you – that I didn’t do it ’My Way.’”

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