Juxtaposition: Palm Sunday

One of my favorite words that I use at funerals for an energetic person is indefatigable. I love to say it, and I love its meaning. Another gem of a word to both pronounce and to know and feel its meaning is juxtaposition. Our word today and this next week as another Holy Week approaches.

Our beautiful Christian faith is full of juxtapositional events and colorful characters. At baptism, the priest tells the cute little baby, “die in Christ.” Ummm, welcome to the Catholic church? Simple water becomes the blood of Christ. On their wedding day, two completely separate individuals are told that they have now become one. Now. You may think this is transformation stuff, but juxtaposition is a better religious description.

Adam and Eve? Thank God they ate that darn apple. Otherwise, we would not have known of God’s visit, who continues to witness Himself within our lives. So keep sinning and then bring Jesus more closely into your lives. Speaking of which, we have that crucifixion with two thieves hanging on either side of the Son of God. One is repentant,.The other is rebellious. I don’t know about you, but that’s a typical day for me.

Then there’s that virgin/birth. Do I need to say more? I could stop right there. Oxymoron is another appropriate word, but that’s not our word today, and moving us through this holiest of weeks. And, just wait. Who needed to die not once but twice? Lazarus. Only done to prefigure the resurrection? Poor guy.

Yesterday, forty-three years the Alexian Brothers bought a troubled retirement home. They needed to buy it before bankruptcy or the residents would lose their life care plan. As a business decision, very poor, but ministerially a saving, sacred decision. Juxtaposition, anyone?

I’m sure you can think and remember your own “juxa’s.” Mine are simple. Nearing approval for ordination, several senior advisors advised against it. Nearing my soon forty-third year next month and over twenty-five years on the radio. Go figure. “And, he stutters!”

And today, we celebrate and honor the juxtapositional Palm Sunday—the day when Jesus is joyfully welcomed into the town of his lifelong, longing destination. We know the end of the story. He’s killed in that same town that welcomed him with those spreading palms, just like the red carpet on Oscar night. Those same palms are then later burnt, and then dirties your forehead with a cross as Lent begins.

Topsy-Turvy could also be another word describer, but that is not spiritual sounding. I just love the word juxtaposition because it best describes the life and times of Jesus Christ. And it best describes the lives of yours and mine.

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Perfectly Imperfect

How can any of us aspire, pray, and work toward perfection while remaining, always and anywhere, imperfect? It’s a perfectly solid question with a perfectly perfect, imperfect answer.

Let’s take the precision of perfection first. Music is the epitome of precision. Each note is carefully crafted and leads to the next until a composition, in all its complexities, is complete. Nothing is missing. Detail is the unifying rule of the day for musicians as much as a surgeon holds a scalpel. Unerring and faultless is the final product. Be it a polka or symphony, it is unity in the perfect sense of the word.

What, then, do we do with this spot-on, bang-on creation? Why it’s listened to by fragile, imperfect ears emitting nothing less than what? Emotions. Yes, that fluid, always changeable, passing feelings. Try counting your feelings one day; you’ll be exhausted by lunchtime.

Sadness, joy, wonder, amazement – this open-ended emotional list of emotions is endless. It is frankly the most mismatched marriage of life. At the same time, how could we survive and thrive without this weird conjugal bond?

What a contradiction. All the same, what a joy when perfection meets imperfection. A faultless melody is presented to fault-filled ears.

What does my little ditty today have to do with faith and religion? It’s the union of Jesus Christ with both of our ears. And, it’s a capital “W,” – Word made flesh, once dwelt and continuing to dwell among us.

“O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers and, in your kindness, pour out the grace of your blessing on your servants who are marked with these ashes,that, as they follow the Lenten observances,they may be worthy to come with minds made pure to celebrate the Paschal mystery of your son.Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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Faithfully Traveling

The website for my car has the top banner words “navigate, connect, and discover.” I would add a fourth word, but that’s at the end of my little ditty.

Truer words could not describe not only that thing in my garage but that earthly thing concerning spiritual things. Three words evoke the best of any religion. All religions offer repetition and rote methods to express honoring and respecting a force greater than ourselves.

Our DNA, the core of our being, propels us toward something greater. Something or someone more meaningful than ourselves, which then provides meaning to our life’s journeys. I don’t understand how someone can be an atheist, but I suppose that “greater” is the continuing search for knowledge. Wow! Now we religious folks have something in common with non-believers. You would have imagined?

It’s those three words at the top. Rote and repetition express our religious faith. However, it’s not life’s homework of spirituality. The rote of the Catholic Mass offers publicly to God “handing in” our personal assignments. Those assignments are totally performed, honed, and acted upon outside of Mass.

The atheist personally seeks wisdom and enlightenment, prompting a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Christians prayerfully seek the same results, getting out of bed and presenting ourselves to the “greater honor and glory of God.”

For everyone, this is the melding of navigating, connecting, and discovering. Uniting the three is life’s scary yet exhilarating journey toward meaning and purpose.

My fourth word? It’s “uncovered.” All of us can do those three words relying on the mystery and beauty of my fourth. We uncover what was all DNA planted at birth to constantly navigate through all of life’s life while staying strongly connected to significant others and then discovering, again and again, the gift we call life.

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Perched Faithfully

Looking out my kitchen window, I see her … resting on a telephone wire. It’s been a long time watching her, for a bird, and she’s still there … probably absorbing and observing all that moves and lives and moves around her but below her.

Like me, she may be retired and doesn’t need to do the flighty things that working birds do. Probably has a solid 401K and good health insurance.

Steady and quiet. Just like me sitting at my kitchen table until my getting up grab my laptop to write this. It’s a quiet neighborhood at this time of dusk, but I suspect she sees things that many of those busy birds do not see. How many minutes have passed as I look upward, and she remains perching up and away there?

There’s a stupid song by Bette Midler, “From A Distance,” the theme being that everything looks good from a distance. Obviously! My kitchen-window-bird may not be … projecting an illusion of beauty but the more spiritual gifts of seeing people and our world complete with its strivings and sufferings, setbacks, along with hopefully many successes. (pause)

She just now flew away. (pause) Flying off now to a new telephone wire to perceive and view life from a different angle?

She’s just one bird, as I’m just one person, but that distant distance is full of beauty along with everything empty of it. In a TV interview with Stephen Colbert, Prince Harry wisely said to us all, especially those of us whose restful lives are limiting, “Digital diet, not only what goes in my mouth but what goes into my eyes.” What a quote for the times we live in.

I have only my, one, only singular view outside my kitchen window. My unnamed aerial observer takes in a fuller vision of life living below the telephone pole.

I wonder what her name is? Could her name be, “Just Me,” or is it “Community?” I think I just named my bird friend on that early Monday evening’s dusk.

Now, if only I had a very, very tall ladder. Or, if I only practiced a taller, fuller, enveloping Godly faith.

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Ash Wednesday

A Salvatorian priest attends an important meeting in Washington, D.C. He drives from Milwaukee, attends the meetings, and arrives back home. Upon his return, he’s asked, “Where’s the car?” He flew back. True story.

That’s what Lent is all about. Lent is all about the three “F” words. Forgotten, forgiving, and forgiven. I saved the hardest “F” word for last. Because that’s what Lent’s all about in the stretched arms of the One on a cross. But it’s also the best “F” word.

With the imposition of ashes, the traditional prayer begins with “remember.” Just in case we forgot that to the dust, we shall return. I don’t think anyone living in a retirement home forgets that.

Lest we do forget sometimes, Lent begins with us and culminates by God making an earthly wooden object meant for death and destruction, the sure, divine symbol of our redemption. God’s forgiving word? That’s the second “F” word.

That cross is now worn around how many necks and dangles at the end of countless rosaries. We begin each Mass focusing on ourselves in erasing those pesky small sins, and the rest of the Mass steeped in the hopes and promises of God living and breathing within and among us.

Our toughest, best, and last “F” word? Forgiven. Past tense. We know it applies to those who have hurt us in whatever way. “I forgive you,” we either say to the person or quietly say it to ourselves. That’s the best part. The hardest part is forgiving ourselves. Scripture talks about the enemy as though it’s something or someone outside ourselves. But as the saying goes, “We are our own worst…”

Can we find and experience forgiveness for the sins of our lives – be they huge or minor? Can we honestly first empty ourselves and then allow the grace of God to fill in all those cracks and crevices in our lives? That’s Lent. So go ahead and think of yourselves in Lent’s early weeks, but then slowly and willingly immerse yourself in the fulfillment of the crucified Jesus, who is then known to us as the Christ at Easter. I say “immerse” because we all die to ourselves and then rise because of Him.

I hope this holy season, this year’s Lent, is especially spiritually helpful to all of us in both our bodies and minds.

However, to this very day, somewhere hidden in Washington, D.C. is an abandoned car belonging to the Salvatorians. And we want it back.

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Lent’s Changings

View – See
Hear – Listen
Touch – Grasp
Travel – Walk
Travel – Journey
Taste – Savor
Sip – Swallow
Grin – Smile
Venial or Mortal Sin? – Judge Yourself
Distractions – Focus
24/7 News – Discernment
Nap – Never a Chair
Shrinking – Growing
Foggy Secular Thoughts – Good
Quick Meal – Stick with McDonald’s
Deceased Parents – Still Talking
Dog or Cat Pet – Always Cats
Me, Myself & I – Anyone Other than You
Self-deceit – Blunt Honesty
Sleepless nights – Re-Read this List
Breakfast or Lunch – Brunch
Yesterdays – Always and Only Today
Stranger – New Friend
Unknown – Embrace
Wandering – Wondering
Doubtful – Uncover
Intelligence – Folly
Self – Others
Botox – Beautiful Aging Features
Isolation – Community
Books & More Books – Scripture
Loud & Louder – Silence
Endings – Beginnings
Death – New Life

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“A Happy Death?”

A Catholic hymn sings, “We return in love what love has made.” Very easy funeral sermon to preach.

If there is such a thing, a “Happy Death” is attributed to St. Joseph’s demise. Why? Because he had the Blessed Mother on one side and the Son of God on the other side of his bed. Perhaps some angels are afloat, as well? (He is also shown holding a lily flower.)

After a long, complete life, those are the “happy deaths.” There are also those with a lingering, painful disease, along with those for a child with a deadly disease. There are also those deaths of too many others who star in our nightly news broadcasts, night after night; many of them simply gathering, shopping, or praying.

A “Happy death.” Two words you will never, ever hear us U.S. Americans say. We all either ponder or dismiss our demise. It’s not exactly cocktail chatter. Yet, the lingering mounts the more our aging lingers.

There’s speechless Joseph, whose dreams all come true, lies dying. On one side of Joe is his wife, the one who told that towering angel, “The greatness of the Lord is upon me.” Opposite Mary is none other than the Son of God (or really God but only playing the Son in the movie), assuring Joseph of the many “Blessednesses’” of those Beatitudes. A litany of beatitudes assuring us that no fear or worry can ever usurp the earthly and heavenly protection of God’s love for us.

Now, is that a “death wish,” or can that be, for us, a living wish? Pretend to be Joseph and heed all of your dreams in the quiet of silence. Then on one side of you kneels Mary and her willingness to give her all to all of life’s unknowns. The other side of us? We know the person. Jesus, whose life, like his Mom’s, becomes a model living within our lives. And those hovering angels? Why, they are protecting us every minute of every day.

Me? When I’m in a near car crash on Milwaukee’s worst street, which occurs often, my last thought will be, “Who’s gonna feed my two cats?”

“Eye Has Not Seen”

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come, give us the mind of Jesus, teach us the wisdom of God.

When pain and sorrow weigh us down, be near to us, O Lord,
forgive the weakness of our faith, and bear us up within your peaceful word.

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come, give us the mind of Jesus, teach us the wisdom of God.

Our lives are but a single breath, we flower and we fade,
yet all our days are in your hands, so we return in love what love has made.

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come, give us the mind of Jesus, teach us the wisdom of God.

To those who see with eyes of faith, the Lord is ever near,
reflected in the faces of all the poor and lowly of the world.

Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come, give us the mind of Jesus, teach us the wisdom of God.

We sing a mystery from the past in halls where saints have trod,
yet ever new the music rings to Jesus, Living Song of God.

Marty Haugen

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Faith’s Nouns & Verbs

We say, “I will,” to some upcoming fun event. We say, “I could,” to something doubtful. We also say, “I won’t,” about a transition or change.

This is an English lesson, folks, so you may wish to take notes. We think the nouns are important, but it’s the verbs that matter. Nouns simply identify. Verbs act.

Isaiah is full of verbs this weekend. “Share,” a kindergarten lesson long forgotten. “Shelter.” “Clothe.” “Healed.” “Call” and “answer,” two powerful verbs. “Cry,” speaks for itself. More wonderful verbs for us to ponder, “bestow,” “satisfy,” “rise,” and (the best of all is his ending, “shall become.”

Verbs complete nouns. Verbs make nouns worth living. Nouns just stand out there. Priding themselves upon, who else? Themselves. Worthless without some kind of verb propelling that noun to some kind of action.

Isn’t that what this beautiful gift of faith is all about? We don’t just say, “I’m a believer.” That’s rock song written by Neil Diamond and sung by “The Monkees.”There is absolutely no active verb in that statement. Just sounds stale and trite. “I”m a believer.”

Those nouns? Jesus gives us life’s nouns. How many times do our prayers give glory, again and again, to the name of God. As if just saying the name justifies our faith life. Alas, those missing pesky verbs.

The nouns of Jesus this weekend? Easy. “Salt,” “city,” “light,” “mountain,” “lamp,” and finally, a “bushel basket,”

And those three sentences from St. Paul? It powerfully states that “It ain’t about me!”

Thank you Jesus for your nouns. How often we hear, “Is Jesus the Lord and Savior of my life?” Remember those who stopped you in the airport asking that question? I continued walking and yelled behind me, “I’m a priest!”The only verb we hear is, “is.” Pretty safe, secure, and truly stale. “Is” shouldn’t even be a verb. It’s simply a two-letter word getting from one noun to the next noun. Two nouns do not equal an action. It’s neither a good sentence. It’s only a declaring declaration to honor another noun. Ourselves. Life’s gift is from God. Jesus provides us with the nouns. The Holy Spirit instills within us the verbs prompting action in the name of the nouns we call Jesus and God.

Verb up your faith life. Verb it like you’ve never done before. In faith, because those verbs added to your vocabulary may very well transform your “I won’t” statements into “I can,” or better yet, “I will,” by the grace of the noun we call God.

So now you know what I feel like when hearing, “It is what it is.”

(Fifth Sunday Scripture Readings)

Is 58:7-10
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

1 Cor 2:1-5
When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of Spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

Mt 5:13-16
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

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Stars in the Darkness

You wake up to a beautiful sunlit day and say to yourself, “It’s great to be alive.” You see no stars in the sky. Perhaps, a half-moon is seen in the distance, if you look enough. There is only her bright light enlightening our newfound day. Lucky us. We should all have more enlightening days than those darkening ones when the lights have apparently turned off. Who switched the switch?

What is learned doing brightening days? “Enjoy yourself. All is well. Life couldn’t be better than this?” What do those darkening days and nights teach us? Absolutely everything or is it absolutely everything?

In the darkness of night, stars are vividly seen. Some are steady; others are shooting themselves after what appears to be a new destination. Where are those traveling stars headed? I understand those steady stars; they mark the foundation and bedrock of our lives. We’d be lost without them.

Without those steady ones brightly shining in our darkness, then, we would surely lose our way. Or would we? But what about those flashing ones that stream across your kitchen window when you can’t sleep? Are their movements something that I’m missing, focusing only on those steady, flickering ones?

Sunlight needn’t show her other lights because she is glittering away for our peace and enjoyment.

In our culture, we hate the darkness. We keep trying to light up every evening with even more light. “Curse the darkness!” said someone.

The darknesses of life, I don’t need to list them because the longer we live, the more we experience and embrace them. Driving down the street, I saw a mural on a garage painted “Grow through what you go through.” I wanted to park and thank the owner, but traffic was behind me.

The light of our faith, or should I say the star of our faith? Jesus Christ. Not the movie star type but the star in our darknesses, even in the darkest times of our life. Jesus is both our steady and traveling star. The steady star of Jesus keeps us grounded and safe. That traveling star of Jesus invites and leads us to new insights, and vistas and to a stronger star than we’ve ever known before.

Simple thinking? “A pie in the sky?” Or, is it that brightly shining star during the darkest times of our lives?

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Two Guys & Lunch

He and I have little in common. So how do the two of us get along? Full of concerning emotions, lots of laughter and life’s appreciations. Lunch happens now on a regular basis.

He and I have little in common, yet so much connects us. I believe the word is called “life.” It’s that spiritual organ that’s wedged between the liver and the stomach. Trust me on that. It can be sleepy sometimes, but it’s always living and alive, ready to quiet, guide, inform and act.

Two parishes ago, I wrote in the weekly bulletin inviting any parishioners to a free lunch to get to know each other. One thousand one hundred families and one person responds, and he insists on treating. Go figure.

Over Bloody Mary’s (and its obligatory chaser) and lunch, we share our family stories and current political happenings and exchange health concerns. Of politics and health, I thought I topped his, but he always seems to think that he’s winning.

He makes good political points, and I listen, not always in agreement but hearing what he believes. Today it was talking about the two “p’s” of politics. He says the platform wins over the person. I responded that the person is the one defining the platform. He disagreed. (You can’t be a priest without considering personhood in anyone’s character and actions.)

I got to know his family. Hearing about losing two parents in two years and was asked to offer an anniversary service at his son’s grave after a stupid motorcycle accident. All of this is coupled with his happy family stories and sprinkled with my family and friends’ adventures.

We quietly eat, only stopping when new thoughts pop into our heads.

It’s both a sampling and a microcosm of our larger sad societal picture. There is no meeting of the minds. Never will be. It is truly, a meeting of the souls for good conversation, food, and brotherhood and then suggesting solutions.

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