“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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Solving the Mystery of God

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise, all the seven died childless.  Finally, the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” Gospel of St. Luke, 20:27

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Little Johnny says to his mom, (Why is it always “Johnny,” not little “Joey”), “Mom, my shoe is talking to me.” Mom thinks for a brief moment and replies, “Shoes don’t talk, son.” “But mom,” retorts the son…” “Go make your bed,” says mom, who truly believes that shoes don’t talk in spite of her three-inch heels that kills her at every dinner party. “I need more room,” says her shoe to the unlistening mom.

So begins the adventure of life. So, especially lives the life of a religious believer. A mystery that is so often solved by us mortals. And, so often, so wrongly, wrong.

Angela Lansbury solved her TV mysteries in one hour. It took TV’s Columbo ninety minutes to solve his evening’s mystery. Women!

How many times do we like to play God by asking Him trick questions as though we can baffle an answer out of Him? Only, intended only for our own liking? Like seven brothers married to one woman…sounds like Elizabeth Taylor (minus Richard Burton once).

Years ago, in grade school, on All Soul’s Day, the Church said we could say an “Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be” inside the church. It had to be done inside the church. We then needed to leave the church because a soul ascended to Heaven. All because of our three simple prayers. And miracles of miracles, we were able to repeat this as often as our little feet or minds could endure this repetitious ritual. It sounds silly today, but back then, it was pretty important work. (Taking the place of God’s judgment is a big job. It’s too bad we feel the urge to take God’s place! Yet, how often do we do it?)

For TV shows, the verb is “solve.” For us Christians, the verb in “immerse.” Immerse yourself in the beautiful wonder of a faith that is never completely understood (remember that word) but lived within the mystery of our own lives.

How many of you could describe for me the mystery of the complexities of your life? No one. We’d leave out the juicy parts and present only our best. We wake up in the morning, fully confident of all our gifts and talents, and return to those bedsheets asking ourselves, “What went wrong today?” Mystery. Or, the opposite, “Why went right with that passing day?”

Being good shopping Americans, we can talk to God the way we talk to the Best Buy salesperson. We want some details before giving ourselves over to something. We do our homework on the internet and then approach the ‘Best Buy” guy (or God) with our semi-intelligent questions about the difference between 4K and LED as though we were praying to God about our personal salvation. All the while, when we’ve been blessed with His divinity.

After the consecration, I sing four simple words on your behalf. Four simple, powerful words that sum up our journey and our divine answer to our human question.

The readings about multiple marriages today simply boils down to that one simple question. A question that we all ask too often in our lives – “What’s in it for me?” Salvation? “Peace of mind?” “A future investment on an unknown return?” If you’re young, it’s “Keeping my parents off my back?” “A mortal sin?” “I just like Fr. Joe?” Take your pick.

The Church’s mystery is meant to be lived, not solved. We feebly attempt to define, categorize, compartmentalize, shrink to our meager level instead of the unknown level of His, all in a foolish attempt to control and unravel the workings of a mysterious God and attempting to unravel the mysterious lives that we all live. Ain’t going to happen, folks.

Keep pondering, keep exploring, keep asking yourselves those unanswerable questions. If shows that you’re alive, interested, and not caring about answers from the Almighty. We just want to keep asking them.

I ask questions with no answers myself, and even more so, as I get older. And, I get the same answers you get. That’s the wonder and the wonderful meaning of faith. Faith in something beyond yourself and absolutely beyond your understanding. (I told you to listen to that word.) When in church, erase “understanding” from your prayerful vocabulary and immerse yourself in the wonders of this Christian faith.

Mom could have wisely said back to her questioning young, son, “My shoes talk to me too!”

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God’s First Gift

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.”

It has to be the Catholic Church’s greatest recognition. Grace. Defined with all the opposites you can imagine – silent but talking to you constantly, 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 it’s 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 the 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 always mistaken for courage but that suggests strength. There’s no arm wrestling with a gift from God. (I think God always has a way of winning.) She’s a blessed blessing with no beginning or limit. (Three quarts would hardly get you to lunchtime!)

You ought to meet and introduce yourself to this gift within yourself, a woman named Grace. This living and vibrant divine gift. It’s her pause during an argument that I like. Regretted 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 swinging – separating feet from the ground allowing the body’s momentum to take over. The release is using her name. Releasing ourselves from ourselves and giving a green light inside ourselves for others to be themselves. (I think that’s using 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, the joy you feel for no good reason becomes filled by her divine presence. 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.

Keep the milk and gum. You already possess and cherish the woman named “Grace.”

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Crazy Words of Joy

Get out the Turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce because tonight is “Thanksgiving.” A day of gratitude. Our opening song rang out, (to set the musical and spiritual tone for our Mass) “Your hands, O Lord, in days of old, Were strong to heal and save; They triumphed over pain and death, Fought darkness and the grave. To you they went, the blind, the mute, The palsied, and the lame, The leper set apart and shun, The sick and those in shame.”

Namaan was healed. Elisha refuses a reward, as though a price tag can be placed on healing. The Gospel offers us nine healed, but … there’s that darn one guy, who’s from the wrong side of town, who ought to just go home but instead returns to the healer, Jesus Christ. He is thankful. Perhaps he just knelt in front of Jesus for a moment before leaving. He couldn’t find the right words to express equality with his healing experience. A giddy feeling may have overtaken him. In his no-right-words-come-out-of-his-mouth, he’s no longer thinking but only feeling joy, an indescribable joy. Made-up words like, “In-A-Gadda_Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly…”Chika Boom,” Guy Mitchell, “La La La-La-La-La-La-La-La – Means I Love You,” The Delfonics. Saying nothing about something and proudly singing away. And, to take this a step farther, (remember “step”), he’s walking back home and then easily jumps into the air and clicks his sandals. That’s joy.

How many run-on words we use when talking to God – about searching and possessing happiness, contentment, exhilaration … how about stupidly singing…”If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me,” Jimmy Buffett…”How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life,” Fred Astaire, Jane Powell…ridiculous, yet sincere. Don’t think about God, feel God’s healing.

It’s a beautiful fall day, temperature in the mid-60’s, light breeze, light jacket, lightheaded, sun beaming, clouds hovering low, and the words soon to be sung at the offertory are offered up to God, “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul, to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.” What else can an offertory of thanksgiving say.

Or, perhaps the joy of singing, “Splish, Splash, I Was Taking A Bath,” Bobbie Darin…”Chim Chim Cher-ee,” Dick Van Dyke “Supercalifragilisticexplialidocious,” Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, “Heebie Jeebies,” Louis Armstrong, Crew Cuts, ”Sh-Boom.”

Music lifts us from where we are to anywhere. Spiritual music lifts (and raises) us up to keep us grounded. (hear that again?) Our gathering for Mass is sandwiched between hopeful melodies or lyrics that soften a Saturday’s harden heart, doubtful spirit, or you’re only here not to commit a mortal sin. Or, how about how great this Saturday is and I want God to know about, that argument last week was settled, I made peace with a past I thought I could never forget or forgive, “I’m in remission,” “I can deal with the aches and pain of aging, but I’m still here.” All honored and celebrated in this sacred place. But then that brings about some of our scatterbrain foolishness….

Conway Twitty wanting to sing, “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly,” or Roy Clark strumming away with “Thank God for Greyhound (She’s Gone).”

Last time I checked, Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”

Seriously, a phrase I’m using more often is, “No matter what life throws at us or what we throw back at life.” We’re that healed leper. We’re that wounded person, finding a non-earthly but heavenly peace. We are all sinful people in need of God’s forgiveness, and this gathered Body of Christ is here to support and encourage us. When I walked down the aisle, we all sang, “Gave speech, and strength, and sight; And youth renewed and health restored, Claimed you, the Lord of light: And so, O Lord, be near to bless, Almighty now as then, In ev’ry street, in ev’ry home, In ev’ry troubled friend.” Beautiful and inspiring.

In the movie, “Scrooge,” after the third ghost leaves, Alistair Sim (the one and only true Scrooge) becomes childlike (Scriptural!), his giddiness and joy, as he runs around in his nightshirt not knowing what to do with himself and this newly found peace. Whether it’s been his or our second or third or even our fifteenth chance at a joyful life. It lives within us and is here for our renewal each and every Sunday. The closing credits roll as a soft snow falls, and he carries the now healed Tiny Tim hurriedly down the street, joining his family for a banquet of friendship, faith, goodness, and joy.

A feeling we can experience, even during doubtful, troubling times. It doesn’t emanate from us. That peaceful feeling, “like the dewfall,” comes from God and at the end of life, returns again to God.

Can we foolishly sing, in made-up words, of this great faith of rejoicing in thanksgiving to God? Can we join our voices with Phil Collins, The Beatles, and Steam? “Sussudio,” ”Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” “Na Na Hay, Hey Goodbye,” and that pointedly immortal, groundbreaking hit song about the meaning of life, “Hot Diggity (dog biggity boom),” Perry Como.

Then, there’s that silly, nonsensical “Symphony No. 9” in D minor by a minor composer, loudly ringing out for us, something about joy. I can’t tell you, but I can sing it to you when I feel it. I dare you to faithfully define it and then sing it for us. I want to hear it.

Let me know when supper’s served tonight. I can bring the pumpkin pie.

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A Spiritual Conundrum

You have one. I have one too. If not forced then chosen. Some deny them as though that works. Some move far away from them as though that works. Some even pretend to have any of them as though that works.

Jesus tells us to hate them in order to freely commit ourselves to him. I don’t know what to make of that distinction. Jesus says, “Hate” and the Church says that it’s “church in miniature,“ in other words family is the first Body of Christ until we become more involved in the larger Body of Christ. Such a strong word from an otherwise loving, forgiving Son of God. I checked other translations against ours and they all use the same word, “hate.” Twenty-nine of them. We were taught that you first discover Jesus through and within that first battlefield, “family.” So, I apologize to Jesus today.

Oh well, here’s the “nearest and dearest” of mine.

I’m the fourth of five. My dad studied at St. Francis Seminary in 1924 to become a priest. Happily for me, he quit. My oldest sister was a Sister for fourteen years. She was called a “TO,” in those days meaning teacher/organist so she was needed everywhere. My brother was a Christian Brother for a short time but fell in love with the girl from the next door college. The sister next in line was a Sister for an even shorter time, married a Lutheran pastor, divorced and became a Unitarian pastor for twenty-five years. I’m next, (“the good son”), followed by my youngest sister who never had her one kid baptized (he’s 24 years old!) and practices no formal religion. (I was tempted many times for a quick swish of water over the kid’s head but decided family harmony was more important.)

That’s my thought in contrast to my conundrum with Jesus’ order of hate. You can imagine our family dinners when religion came up. (Oh, I forgot to tell you, my mother wanted to be a nun.) Dessert couldn’t come quick enough during those occasions. “Oh, look at the time! I have to get up early tomorrow.”

Reflecting back on those days, those cantankerous situations were all about who’s right and wrong about religion. No spirituality. As a youngster and taught by my parents, when playing with my Lutheran friends, I thought to myself, “How sad I’ll see never them in Heaven.” I learned later they were thinking the same thing about me. There was disagreement and discord but not to the Jesus degree of “hate.”

As we grew older, family times evolved (a carefully chosen word, by the way) to spiritual matters and the issues of the day. I learned how my siblings addressed each of them in their own way. Our Catholic prayer during Mass says we are a, “pilgrim church.” This means it is not only a pilgrimage toward heaven but one lived during this life as well. And about your family, they are the oldest-knowing people in the whole world who know you.

Only four of us had dinner this past Labor Day. There was laughter, U.S. political briefings, and personal stories for updates. Our young conversations was talk about “booze and babes.” Now, the conversation is “bowels and bladder.” You can’t beat it. I could see the spirituality in their eyes and feel the religion, however practiced, in their hearts. They are not completely of my religion but this is the family that began me. I apologize to Jesus that “hate” did not come up during our Labor Day party. (But there’s still hope for that at Thanksgiving.) I hope my family story can strengthen and nourish yours. It’s the one and only family that began you. (Is that the right verb? Works for me.)

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“How Long Oh Lord, How Long?”

Habakkuk provides us one of the most remarkable sections in all of Scripture, as it contains an extended dialogue between Habakkuk and God (Habakkuk 1–2). The prophet initiated this conversation based on his distress about God’s “inaction” in the world. He wanted to see God do something more, particularly in the area of justice for evildoers. The book of Habakkuk pictures a frustrated prophet, though Habakkuk channeled his frustration into prayers and eventually praise to God.

The book of Habakkuk reminds us that no place is too dark and no wall too thick for God’s grace to penetrate in a powerful and life-affirming way.

As you hear this, don’t think about the Babylonians as a place. Think about something within yourself that’s keeping you from a fuller commitment to God. Or, something like cancer talking to God. Depression. Frustration of any kind. Doubts of all colors. Any kind of pain from your toenails to your crazy mind. A conversation between you and God…any day of the week. All thanks to the prophet Habakkuk. (An abridged version.)

Justice Is a Joke

“God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, ‘Help! Murder! Police!’ before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.”

God Says, “Look!”

“Look around at the godless nations. Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock. Something’s about to take place and you’re going to find it hard to believe. I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you, Babylonians, fierce and ferocious—World-conquering Babylon, grabbing up nations right and left, A dreadful and terrible people, making up its own rules as it goes. Their horses run like the wind, attack like bloodthirsty wolves. They mock kings, poke fun at generals, Spit on forts, and leave them in the dust. They’ll all be blown away by the wind. Brazen in sin, they call strength their god.”

Why Is God Silent Now?

“God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you? Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we? God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work? Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline?
But you can’t be serious! You can’t condone evil! So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch!
You’re treating men and women as so many fish in the ocean, Swimming without direction, swimming but not getting anywhere. Then this evil Babylonian arrives and goes fishing. He pulls in a good catch.
Are you going to let this go on and on? Will you let this Babylonian fisherman, Fish like a weekend angler, killing people as if they’re nothing but fish? What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst. I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon.
I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint.”

Full of Self, but Soul-Empty

And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.
Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing – is fully alive, really alive.
Note well: Money deceives. The arrogant rich don’t last. They are more hungry for wealth than the grave is for cadavers. Like death, they always want more, but the ‘more’ they get is dead bodies.
Who do you think you are—getting rich by stealing and extortion? How long do you think you can get away with this? Indeed, how long before your victims wake up, stand up and make you the victim?
Who do you think you are—recklessly grabbing and looting, Living it up, acting like king of the mountain, acting above it all, above trials and troubles? You’ve engineered the ruin of your own house. In ruining others you’ve ruined yourself.
Who do you think you are—building a town by murder, a city with crime? Don’t you know that God-of-the-Angel-Armies makes sure nothing comes of that but ashes.
Who do you think you are—inviting your neighbors to your drunken parties, Giving them too much to drink. You thought you were having the time of your life. Wrong! It’s a time of disgrace. All the time you were drinking, you were drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. You’ll wake up holding your throbbing head, hung over – hung over [by your own] violence,
What’s the use of a carved god so skillfully carved by its sculptor? What good is a fancy cast god when all it tells is lies? What sense does it make to be a pious god-maker who makes gods that can’t even talk? Who do you think you are—saying to a stick of wood, ‘Wake up,’ Or to a dumb stone, ‘Get up’? Can they teach you anything about anything? There’s nothing to them but surface. There’s nothing on the inside.

But oh! God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!

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We’re In This Together

“In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”
Book of Exodus

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Who would Lucy have been without Fred and Ethel?

The great Moses, the Charlton Heston of all biblical figures, couldn’t stand with his arms outstretched for Joshua to win the battle. It doesn’t take long before that great and mighty one needs a little help. (Cue “The Beatles,” “Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.”) He may have said to himself, “This war is taking a little longer than I thought.” Enter stage left, Aaron and Hur to the rescue. Moses gets to rest on a rock, and the supporting characters get to keep Moses’ arms raised, assuring victory for God’s troops.

What could Cagney have done without Lacy?

We may come in and out of this world alone, but the in-between time is a colorful cast of characters to help us along. “Help us along…” I thought we were supposed to become rugged individualists, self-made men, “men” deliberately chosen because the wives are home doing Monday’s laundry and getting supper ready; every day. That American myth has no place in our beautiful Catholic faith. We are in this together. We need each other. Many hands can perform so much more. (I think it’s called the Body of Christ.) Speaking of Christ, even he couldn’t do it alone. He needed twelve others to work with him, pray for him, support and encourage him. Interestingly, the etched window at the church’s entrance has thirteen apostles surrounding by the Blessed Mother. The thirteenth is the one called the “Last Apostle,” St. Paul. Very clever. Working together – through all ages and generations.

On “Happy Days,” what would Richie have done without the “Fonz?”

What would Johnny Carson have done for thirty years without that Irish guy sitting at the end of the couch and laughing at jokes, funny or not?

Unity, community. I’m not being political, but the Democratic debate last Tuesday night ended with a personal, powerful question that can be asked of each of us, in a faith-filled way: “What friendship have you had that would surprise us, and what impact it had on your beliefs?” We work together even when disagreements occur because we are all only concerned with the whole of the Church and not just our personal opinions or beliefs. That’s a community with a capital “C.” We all sang at the beginning, “In his wisdom, he strengthens us, like gold that’s tested in fire.”

As I’m sure you all do, I talk to myself. But not talking to me but two other people. It began years ago and continues to this day. I converse with them about my day and tomorrow’s day, any concerns or doubts that I have. They don’t respond because I know their responses. They’re both only a phone call away, but I don’t need the phone. They’re in my mind and heart. Keeps me balanced.

To not leave you older folks out of the loop, what would Fiber Magee have done without Molly?

Our tendency to be selfish is tempted and tested our whole lives. The Eucharist is our mutual time to bond again together. To renew and respect the community that Christ built. At Offertory, we’ll see repeatedly, “Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These alone, O God, are enough for me.” I would add “these alone are enough for us!

You may not know this but priests are still allowed to have a private Mass. Oxymoron? “Mass,” as in numerous people. “Private,” as in just one guy?” Just the priest. In the old days, a priest was expected to have Mass every day. A little extra cash and fulfilling an obligation. That’s no longer the case but some priests still do it. I know it’s a connection to the universal Church throughout the world but give me a break. What happens at the Sign of Peace? “Peace be with you.” “Oh no, peace be with you!” Weird.

What would the fictional TV host, Alan Brady have done without Dick Van Dyke, Mori Amsterdam and Rose Marie?

Elizabeth Taylor had eight of them when you count Richard Burton twice.

The great Moses needed assistance. Moses needed others, a faithful community to perform God’s actions. Hue and Aaron, little known but significant characters in our biblical story. I never heard of Hur before this scripture reading and I knew that Aaron was Moses’ brother. The three of them, following God’s guidance, allow Joshua to win the battle. As Mass ends today, we’ll end it by singing, “Come with the strength I lack, the vision clear of neighbor’s need, of all humanity; fulfillment of my life in love outpoured…”

A supportive and encouraging community of faithful followers in the name of Jesus Christ. Assembled together not because of our personal quirks and qualms, but because of the unity we together continue to build and honor in the name of Jesus Christ. Our meditation song following communion has an unusual title but it simply means, “never give up,” like the widow persistently did to that inhuman judge.

One more for you. Who would the TV psychologist Bob Newhart have interacted with except his wise and sensible wife. Suzanne Pleshette.

 

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Autumn Leaves

bright-yellow-clipart-10Ready or not, on my porch, I’m beginning to see them fall around me. Some slowly, others faster, sometimes alone and others surrounding themselves. The ground holds them as their numbers increase each day.

I considered glue and buying a very, very tall ladder but smiled at its futility. Scotch tape? Same response. It’s happening and has been happening all my life but this time in my life it seems to kinda hurt to see those guys and gals falling from their beautiful branches that made summer so green. Now their green turns to amber, and then finally becoming a rich gold that says to all, “Another season is ending with a new season beginning.”
Like creating an angle in the snow in my image, I also thought of making them my own before they finally disappear. I could spell my name upon each of those “goldens.” It’s only three letters. Shouldn’t take that long. But then I thought, “Why would I use my name when they are the ones passing from one season to another?” I should piece their names together (cue the scotch tape), one leaf at a time until it identified someone loved and missed, gone but not forgotten. Sounds kinda like “family,” “church?”

Across from my family home was a vacant lot where my sixth-grade girlfriend and I would create a home out of those “goldens” in the late fall. Flatly placed on the ground but clearly 3-D in our minds. A created kitchen where good food was served along with laughter and arguments. Our living room was the smallest because every good conversation occurred in the kitchen, our largest room. Our leaf-created hallway led to each bedroom where our small green-leafed children slept and woke up to this beautiful fall day. We enjoyed our homemaking adventure until the wind blew it away for winter’s snow.

Spring is about potential and newness and summer is all about risk and adventure. Autumn is soley about reflection. Autumn is purely about preserving memories in minds and hearts that have lived all four seasons.

I don’t know enough people to link all those fallen leaves. Instantly, I can remember those close to me. Or, famous names I remember from the newspaper or unnamed leafs that have left someone, somewhere, behind. The few loved names closest to me are the ones I’m saving for last. I hope to collect as many of them that I can remember and place them in my real kitchen and watch the richness of what their lives meant to me return to the dust from which they came.

There’s a sadness in autumn’s leaves but also a rich gold feeling for the green turning amber and then shared for how many years.

Well, after typing on my porch, it’s back to my remembering how enriching life can be for me right now. And how enriching life my life has been because of those leaves I watch fall to the ground. They have colored my life gold with their lives, and I continue to golden their lives through my remembering and honoring.

I think that’s why they’re called “leaves.”

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Timing Time

warped clockA new rule. It will now be against the law to buy pineapple in January in Wisconsin. (There’s a petition outside for you to sign.)

I never cared for cute little slogans. “I’m glad we’re all on the same page.” Trite. “Make sure all your ducks are in a row.” And, for the sake of all breathing humanity, the worst of all is “24/7.” Why not just say, “All the time?”

We’ve erased time. We’ve erased night time. That sacred time for rejuvenation, quiet, darkness, peace; did I say “quiet?” I don’t know how third shift workers do it. They work third shift, then take a normal person’s day off, and then return to work that abnormal shift. If it’s done for the benefit of their kids then I get it. If it’s for extra money, it’s their loss. That precious quiet-time, alone time; even if you’re in a house full of others.

Whatever happened to hearing the “National Anthem” and viewing the “test screen” at midnight when NBC, CBS and ABC took a rest for a while. Nobody watched PBS. How many reruns of Bob Newhart or “I Love Lucy” do you really need to watch?

I’m not just talking about losing the darkness of night but it’s about losing healthy, necessary divisions that divide up our days. Divided for a reason – physical and spiritual. For our faith purposes, especially spiritual. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Good Lord took a day off after creating all this glorious stuff.

Growing up we could never watch TV on a school night. Ready for this? Sunday night was considered a school night. However, Sunday night at 9:30 we could watch “What’s My Line” with Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallon and a special guest like Orson Bean or Tony Randall. And, forever whatever reason, “The Danny Kaye Show” was permitted on a weeknight, even though, “He’s not Catholic.”

Losing divisions of time and space in our world affects our minds and hearts.

You exhale a strong sigh after a long day. That breath exchange beautifully ends the workday and begins the family evening. (This is why retirement scares me. Slowly, I’ll need to segment my days or it’ll all run together into a messy mess of cheap wine and watching “As The World Turns,” only turning without me!

Do we really need twenty-four news channels? Are we really more informed today than we were forty years ago? I know that we’re not. And did you ever think that you’d live to have a “golf channel” in your cable lineup? I don’t think so. (It’s not even a sport.)

Jesus chose a desert. Not just the forty-day one at the beginning but whenever life became too much life, he needed a relief; a pause, a respite. Sounds healthy to me. Our favorite funeral reading is “a time for this and time for that.” People complain that they get distracted while saying the rosary. It’s supposed to happen that way! That’s why it’s repetitious. Allowing your mind to wander over the day that passed and wonder about what tomorrow may bring for yourself, your family, neighbors and the world.

When Copps Department store opened in Manitowoc, it stayed open … on Sundays. Pastors said to boycott the store which lasted a couple of days, with Christians soon becoming “Sunday shoppers.” You thought that Armageddon occurred when the only harm occurred in our psyche, our soul – the deepest and smartest part of us that only seems to communicate with us during downtimes, times of solitude; what parents today tell their children is “a time out.” Even in sports, you’re allowed a “time out,” a seventh-inning stretch, a halftime to rethink, replan, renew all the good stuff of your life and reject and resent whatever holds you back from being a balanced and healthy person created by God. “Halftime.” When was the last time you gave yourself one, silly hour?!

You thought dinner with a friend would last about an hour, but it lasted three of them. You’re reading a book and surprised when the clock moved forward ninety minutes. You walk around six blocks and smoothly feel any anxiety, distress, or worry dissipate into the air you’re breathing in. You realize the silly program you’re watching on TV is a distraction, a waste of your time. I remember a friend telling me that she keeps the TV on all night. It helps her sleep, she claims. I refrained from a response, but you know what I’d tell her.

We talk about clutter and hoarding in physical ways but consider what our minds absorb daily these days in social and TV media. We need time to keenly and spiritually “process” (which means thinking, praying about life stuff and current affairs), and then dismiss or pursue them.

I’ve read in several times places how “social media” alienates when its intention is to connect. Parents, I totally support you limiting all viral social exchanges until your children are thirty-years-old. Trust me. The last time I checked, nothing beats a face in front of you when you have something important to share.

The spiritually healthy activity of reflection can only take place in the night of your soul, in the darkness where all three persons of the Trinity enjoy their golden opportunity to talk to you, remind you, inspire you, assist you in making your life authentic to God’s creation – a gold, precious, sacred and most importantly, livable.

Don’t forget about the new rule about pineapple in January. Your life, and the lives of those around you, both old and new, depend upon it.

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Humility?

th

“The afternoon knows what the morning suspected.” So says, Robert Frost. So says most of us as our suns slowly sets.

“Youth is wasted on the young,” someone said which I find to be true. But I would never, ever want to be eighteen again now that I’m this age. (Sorry, future adults.) However, youth is the time for accumulating knowledge, hopefully useful knowledge to be used throughout life. But something is still missing in those early years. Ummm…

Our bodies slowly begin to show it’s age, or some age. Creaks, pains and weird sounds emitting from us; without warning! Gravity wins as the years mount. You may look in the morning mirror and not see yourself as much as you begin to see your parent. (It’s my father for me.)

Life is timed, a beginning and an end. Our soul, however, knows neither. As our bodies age, our soul doesn’t age, it matures. Another gift from God that was not lost to sin: our soul.

Our weekend readings talk about growing in humility, humble and holy. Three words that our culture scoffs at.

“If you want to get ahead in this world…” “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” (I’ve never seen two dogs eating each other but I’ve witnessed it happening between people. “Only the strong survive,” and how many other sayings that fill our heads and place us ahead of that person we’ve left behind. It happens with priests as well. My joke about some priests is, “Even when they shower, they wear french cuffs!”

But forget your aging bodies and prayerfully consider and honor your maturing soul. Myself included. I don’t think I’d get very far in my soulful prayer thinking about words that our U.S. culture hates to every use – humility, humble, holy. Three “H’s” that may make you the loser in your working career and but a person of Christ in your spiritual life.

But wait! Why don’t we play a trick with our soiled U.S. minds and dwell more often on our soul which embodies those three “H’s,” and see what happens.

Soul. This God-planted organ that spiritually matures as another year is added to our life. So much of the soul, I believe, is instinctual. Scripture says it’s actively living and breathing within us. Our soul knows the right when we choose wrong. Our soul talks to us. We learn to press the “off” when the soul says, “Click the “off”. Our soul is communicating with us. When we humanly sin, our soul edges us a little more closely toward those three unU.S. words – humility, humble, holy.

If you don’t like what I’m saying so far then let me try this direction. In the movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the baby is born fully old complete with dropping wrinkles and weary legs. Benjamin dies at the end as a pure, innocent baby in the loving arms of Cate Blanchett. (Brad Pitt, my double, plays the kid.) The infant baby here is the soul – full of all Christian history, saints and sinners (old, tried and true), stirring slowly the growing child toward the wisdom of God. The song sings, “We return to God what God has made in love.” Innocence. Vulnerable. Full of life’s wisdom. That’s what the teenager’s knowledge cannot achieve. The teen gets the knowledge tossed into the head but it steadily and persistently triggers the soul’s wise wisdom that is anciently old. That can only be achieved by a life lived – both in sin, indifference, and in grace.

If I asked any of you, and I mean all of you, if you are a holy, humble person? What do you think I’d hear? Every one of you would say, “No, not me. Maybe her, over there.” Ironically, you’d think that humility calls you to say that you’re not holy. It’d be a lie in my eyes but it may be your continuing what your aging U.S. bodies have all carried and continue to carry. You haven’t listened to the far more aging stories of your soul.

Remember, Mary never said, “My mind proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” She may have had her own aging moments but always possessed the maturity of the what? She powerfully says, “My soul proclaims…”

That’s my dad talking to us all in my morning mirror. “Humble, holy along with God’s gift of humility is within our reach. It’s the soul of the matter.

Robert Frost paraphrased, “The afternoon knows very well now what the morning thought and dreamed about what would eventually happen with passing, aging years…and it did happen.”

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