Summarizing the Lives of Others

Remembering. It’s a Lenten theme centered around remembering the gracious, divine events that led to our salvation. (Yes, I mean Jesus Christ.)

Remembering during Lent can also be a revealing occasion about how we will be remembered. I mean during our living and after our living. How will you be remembered? More importantly is how you think you will be remembered.

My favorite of all is, “She meant well.” Full of politely unanswered ambiguities that could fill those Swiss cheese holes.

“Hard to get along with until I got to him,” speaks to apparently clashing heads that often have many things in common.

“He did more than I expected,” says more about the speaker than the individual.

“I like her, but she always seems sad,” said the person who never patiently inquires about other parts of her life.

“He’s funny.” One-dimensional for sure, but never became a stand-up comic.

“She’s an inspiration to me,” said lovingly about someone you either know or read about.

“He/she is a true fighter,” humbly shared about anyone fighting anything unwanted in life.

“He lived for golf,” pretty much says it all.

Finally, the best of all relates to my life. “Totally opposite political parties and we’re the best of friends.”

In remembering someone, please remember that our remembering may say more about us than those whom we remember.

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Joy is Her Name

She lives very, very far away, or so it seems. The intriguing part is that I’m not able to visit her. She needs to visit me, and she sometimes does. She will often arrive for the weekend wearing her bright, colorful outfits with floral designs or a simple pattern.

Another intriguing part is that there’s little conversation. Words don’t seem to interest her. She never asks me what I’ve been up to or how I’m feeling. I think she already knows. We both mainly look outside or stroll with no destination in mind.

For me, there’s something elusively available about our relationship. I know it sounds contradictory, but I often feel that way. I realize the distance between us, yet continue to feel her presence when the weekend ends.

I’m reminded of her during work and other encounters. It’s so easy for us all to divide up people and situations, usually divided up according to our whims and wishes. That control stuff of ours really controls us and makes her distance even further. No wonder there are drug store racks full of pills to cover or soften but never eliminate those controls.

Intriguing, for a third time, I don’t think she’s ever been in a drug store—no need for it. I don’t think Walgreens would let her in; bad for business.

I often attempt to figure her out so I can control her, as I do everything and everyone else. Nada. Can’t be done.

I am never so relaxed, appreciative, and kind to myself and others when I think of her or on those special visiting weekends with her.

Oh, silly me. I forgot to tell you her name. It’s Joy. How far away from your home does Joy live?

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Trinity Motel

Think Motel

God owns the place. Jesus Christ is behind the desk answering the phones and registering guests and the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit cleans all the rooms. She has the master key along with her cart full of stuff to replace the stuff that we either use or the stuff we stuff away in our suitcases. Is their soap really better than the soap in your home? Or is it just the feeling that you can get away with it?

The Holy Spirit attempts to clear the leaves from the pool so your kids can swim in its non-heated pool. The Holy Spirit makes your bed, switches towels, checks your minibar supply, and somehow scents your room with a universal scent that makes every motel room smell the same.

Today we celebrate the third person of the Trinity, the last person of the Trinity. I wouldn’t say I like that phrase. There is no “third.” Each Person of our Triune God has specific responsibilities to inform, reform, celebrate and better our lives. This weekend honors the motel’s housekeeper.

You may attempt to put that “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, but please rest assured that this motel is here to serve you…sometimes, whether you like it or not.

That’s the job of a motel housekeeper, the one we used to call “Ghost” because it sounded scary, but the job description hasn’t changed one iota.

She can still be that ghost if need be. “Do these folks really need new towels every single day?” She is also the Spirit that suggests you change those premium TV channels to watching the weather or golf channel when you should know better.

All right. Enough of the motel analogy. Or is an analogy. You don’t stay at a motel forever. Get the non-analogy? So, there’s that key, that soap, those towels, the leaves in the pool. Ummmm. What’s a divine Spirit to do?

The Spirit’s key opens doors that we thought were closed. Tragedy, setbacks, disappointments – we all lived our own lists and the Spirit readies us to open a new, revealing door. She loves those “Do Not Disturb” signs because she only haunts (I mean visits) those rooms more often than the others.

The soap? We seem never to have enough of something. What is that some thing that keeps stuffing itself into our lives? What stuff lingers in your head needs solving with the kindness of your soul? That’s the inspiring question from our spiritual housekeeper. What stuff do we continually stuff in our minds and heads until it becomes real? Stuff that separates us from those others, whomever they may be or where ever they may live? Or, more insidious is stuff that separates us from ourselves. Spring cleaning means more than our homes and gardens. Spiritually, it means cleaning up all of the stuff in the stuffed suitcases we laboriously carry around every day. Gossip is a form of stealing, theft. It tarnishes another’s reputation in order to bolster yours.

So far, I’ve used the word “stuff” twelve times. And, most of the time, it’s precisely what it is – just stuff. Stuff that damages your identity with the Trinity or stuff that damages your thoughts and opinions about the world around us. Let us allow ourselves and the power of the Holy Spirit to unstuff stuff that keeps us from our authentic selves or keeps us from each other.

Unfortunately these days many television stations, but not all, no longer provide information but stuff. Silly stuff. Scary stuff. Stuff to keep you watching and fearful about your personal future and, more seriously, scared of your neighbor. And, I don’t mean those who live to the left or right of your home. It’s all the neighbors we call the Body of Christ. When selfish stuff fills our minds then the Holy Spirit uses her master key to exchange those towels that have dried ourselves with division and discord. Helping us to move from the stuff of our minds to the unifying primacy of our souls.

I hope that you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the importance of an “informed conscience.” A powerful Catholic tool for the soul and supported by the motel management. It’s not only simply a conscience but one that’s informed by our Church’s traditions and history. I also didn’t mention “discernment” which occurs after we turn the TV or whatever device off and recollect – re-collect – what we’ve heard and seen and then process it through the filter of our Catholic tradition. And, I didn’t mention “prayer” not even once. And we know how important prayer is.

Stuff. It’s what we insert in the Thanksgiving Turkey and what we insert to make our pillows comfortable. Stuffs what our motel housekeep helps us clean up or throw away. We think we’re unstuffing the stuffing yet how often adding to it.

I just added fifteen more the word “stuff” to the previous twelve. (Add one more of the word since I just said it.)

We have our work cut out for us. She has her work cut out for her and is here to fill us with herself. Those leaves piling up on the non-heated pool? It’s all the (that word) that keeps us from the warming waters from the motel’s owner, his registrar, and the welcoming, cheerful housekeeper who has the master key and promising us. She can dust, clean, vacuum, and make your bed every single day, complete with hospital tucks.

But do we really need fresh towels every day? If it’s from and delivered by the Holy Spirit, then you absolutely can bet on it. The minibar? That’s on your own.

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Tuesday, May 24 2022

This grade school daughter, friend, student, niece and grandchild wakes up a routine Tuesday morning thinking not of her homework and school but the soon arriving summer vacation and the sport activities she signed up for. 

A simple breakfast ends with mom’s promise of pizza tonight because her grades look better this year.

The bus arrives packed with backpacks full of completed homework. Collective chatterings echoes throughout the bus about nothing but everything important to growing grade school minds. The bus driver says to himself, “Thank goodness it’s only one more week of this.”

Smiles abound nearing the final days of this grade and promoted to the next growing level of this adventure we call life.

Bragging to her friends she says, “We’re having pizza tonight!”

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“No One Can Take You Out of My Hands”

You’re panicking and you’re anxious So, what do you do? You punch 911 on your phone. Wrong. You’d have either Bell or Parateck at your home with all of their paperwork and machines and they’d be wearing boots as though your home is full of mud. And, their bill will be in the mail.

No. Panicking and anxious? You call God. Simply press three zeros on your phone, and then hear the following message: “All of our angels are currently busy, but your call is very important to us; otherwise, you would not be hearing this silly recorded message. Please be patient and listen to this cheesy jazz instrumental with no title.” A while later, a long while later.

The recorded message continues, “Thanks for waiting, for natural disasters, press 1, or if you’re an older adult dial 1. Press 2 for personal intentions, or just stay on the line for the next available angel to assist you.” That cheesy jazz music with no title continues.

Jesus says, “No one can take [those who believe in me] out of my hands.” If there ever was a more assuring and comforting sentence, I don’t know what it is. It’s a firm, unchanging belief – more than that, it is a divine vow. We all have our periodic wonderings and wanderings, daily doubts prompting more ice cream or an extra cocktail, all of our unanswerable questions, and even our wicked denials.

A divine vow. “No one can take [those who believe in me] out of my hands.” Today don’t consider other people like the “no one,” but only consider yourself. You are the “one” who red flags and harbors daily doubts. The constant of life is those daily doubts and wonderings but always coupled with the embracing love of God. Whatever the troubling topic – politics, religion, family, health; no matter the concern, God frowns and, at the same time, smiles at our quandaries with both arms ready to hold and hug us.

We ask, “Am I good enough?” God says, “Yes. I have created all of you and call you to be Me throughout your life’s journey.” “Can I improve?” God says, “It’s up to you, but my two buddies Jesus and the Holy Spirit can help you thoroughly along the way.” “Do I do good things to enrich the lives of others and enrich myself?” God replies, “Depends on the day,”

What is the distance between conflict and grace? Between our conflicts and God’s grace? The space is absolutely; how shall I say it – zero? There is no separation when the number is zero. It’s the distance we create or that we believe exists. It’s the “us” with our clenched hands, tightly folded arms – closed-in arms and giving-up arms compared to the power and constant loving engagement with our God – both in welcoming and stretching out both arms in both receiving us in our troubles and catching us before we fall.

Heck, if God’s busy in Ukraine. There’s still Jesus who’s bouncing how many bouncing balls in the air with predicaments everywhere. But therein lives, like the wind, she who whisks us up through and with her total attention and affection—the Holy Spirit. I guess you could say that God and Jesus are the huggers. The Holy Spirit gently and lovingly envelopes and strengthens us through every single situation of life. I’m told that she even offers us all seven gifts. Seven gifts for each day of the week. Each gift begins and ends with the gift for her last gift to us – the wonder and honoring of our Creator.

And, on this Mother’s Day weekend, please don’t ever ignore the feminine side of God. Like God’s creation, there’s a bit of both in us. My priest friend cries during cat food commercials.

Like the old Bing Crosby movies as Father O’Malley says, “Just dial ‘O,’” Fr. O’Malley meant to say ‘zero.’ (I couldn’t resist.)

The recorded angel calls you the next day and says, “The Holy Spirit thanks you for your call and asks you to please remain on the line for a quick three-question survey about her service with you. Please remember that pressing ten or dialing ten, if you’re old, means a score of perfectly celestial ‘excellence.’”

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A Mother’s Day Blessing

Mother.

There is only One God and there is only one mother.
God knew you before you were born and so did she. She carries you through the grocery store waddling down aisle after aisle looking for food that you need. She carefully gets into the car and fastens a seat belt around the two of you.

She eats for both of you during those enlarging months. (The ice cream is for her, the yogurt is for you.) Mother. Now one, united but soon to be two. Now, as an undefined unity but soon to be separated but forever one.

Then that day, on that one birth day, which in future years, you think is completely dedicated to you and celebrated with friends but rarely with her, she released you to this waiting world where she waits for you more times than you can imagine.


She patiently teaches you how to hold it for either number one or two or for both of them. One day or someday you may teach her how to let go.


She reviews your crayon sketches not knowing what you were attempting to convey but smilingly tells you that it is truly a work of art and worthy of the refrigerator door. (Your first public showing!)


Before her eyes close at night she thinks of you and your safety – and when her eyes open in the morning and the oatmeal needs to be made, she thinks of you once again.


She will drive you where ever you wish to go and sometimes wish not – soccer, football, glee club, drama club, orthodontist, barber and perhaps even a psychologist to help explain your sudden emotional outbursts. You find her to be as demanding as a German commandant and as patient as one who watches paint dry.


She will tickle you, read to you, bathe you, scold and reprimand you for as long as it takes. She will act as president when a decision needs to be made, counselor when your first friend abandons you, priest to help bury the gerbil that she never liked anyway, and most importantly she will be the observer – not to haunt but to guide you skillfully and carefully through misguided choices, impulsive decisions and that wrong friend from that neighborhood.


She will judge and weigh you for the rest of her life but she will never condemn you. She will evaluate you and like a good Chess player always stay at least three moves ahead of you. She may not even play Chess but she will win…every time.


You will finally be on your own and think that you are free of her but (and here’s the haunting part), her messages, mantras, platitudes, absolutes, aphorisms, family secrets that no one can ever know about (but everybody does), all her hopes and dreams for you will continue to filter through and live in your mind, soul and heart.


We are in God’s house this day but mother lives more intimately and personally than any Deity could have imagined. No wonder our Christian God is a jealous God, He has mother to compete with Him.


So, dear Lord, grant them patience, love, wisdom, and the grace to know when to speak and when to remain silent. Grant a special grace to those women who are or will be “Mother” to foster children, adoptive children, or who provide a mother’s touch to children not their own. Strengthen those mothers who are separated from their children. Strengthen those who raise their children without the support of a husband. Heal the hearts of mothers hurt by broken relationships with their children. Comfort mothers who mourn a deceased child, bless, too, those mothers and grandmothers who are now at rest in you.

When she dies her legacy will continue to live within you…whether you like it or not. What started at the grocery store continues now through you. Don’t ignore it. Don’t also heed her enduring messages every time but do not ever forget them. (You may even try to forget them but those messages have not forgotten you.)


Mother. God bless them. God has to bless them. What choice does He have? What could He, in His creative and omnipotent powers, do without them?

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“Possession is 9/10…”

When we hear the word “possession,” we likely recall the movie “The Exorcist.” Which, by the way, happened at an Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis. And it was a young boy but that’s another topic.

We may also think that possession means being kept, having no control over our lives, being a puppet. Or, it’s all the stuff in our homes that uses the same word. St. Paul uses it as a goal. To paraphrase him, “I haven’t acquired it yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a work in progress.” He calls his goal a “pursuit.”

Every Lenten season calls us to consciously be aware of our pursuit of being possessed by the One who created us. Yet, you’d think that the potter created a beautiful piece of pottery, you and me, so what’s there to possess? Potter, pottery. Pottery, potter! Well, you see, We pottery pieces have a sad tendency of bumping into things, causing cracks and niches here and there. What was created by the Potter as a whole has those tendencies of ours of piecemealing our one piece. Some pieces of us desiring and that piece of ours over there wants and these smaller, but Godly pieces living within us is needs. We act like we’re made out of cement instead of the clay that we all indeed are. The clay pots that all of us are is very fragile, heavily delicate, and genuinely breakable.

Isaiah comes to our rescue, as he often can, and tells us what Confession is all about. “Remember not the events of the past,” he writes, “the things of long ago consider not.” Because, you know, Confession reviews our past with bright eyes firmly planted on the next day and the day after that. Isaiah says, “Desert? Forget about it; God will give you “‘rivers.’”

But back to St. Paul. In similar words to Isaiah, “I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead.” Thank you, St. Paul. There’s that pursuit again. I would have said “looking forward,” but Paul uses a stronger verb – straining to look forward. Do we need new glasses? Wasn’t cataract surgery enough?

As usual, Jesus saves the day with his finger writing hidden messages in the sand. Addressed to those around him. What did he write? Speculations abound. What could Jesus write for you and me to continue our straining pursuit to be fully possessed by our loving and merciful God?

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“JC & “Lil’ Petey”

Is our Gospel story today about the relationship between Jesus and Peter? Or is this a story about our living the life of Peter or, worse ever, us pretending to be Jesus?

Ummm. I wonder.

Jesus lovingly asks, “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. What a foolish question to ask me.”

“I recognize you,” says the courtyard worker. “You were with him!” Fishing for a quick answer, Peter says, “Foolish woman, get your glasses fixed; there’s no way I know that guy.”

“Heck, if he can walk on water, then why can’t I? Ooops, it’s kinda deep here. Oh no!”

Jesus affectionally re-asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responds, “Well, we go again, two for two, you know I love you. Is the pope Catholic?”

Courtyard Lady doesn’t give up so easily. “I saw you walking with him all over town!” Peter replies, “Cataracts can be a severe condition – blurred vision, seeing starbursts while riding a donkey. I know an excellent ophthalmologist in Jerusalem; just mention my name. He accepts most HMOs.

Questioning Jesus asks Peter, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter insightfully and faithfully says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Peter also says, “Just look at all the fish we caught.” Apostle John said, ‘It’s the Lord out there.’ Peter jumps into the water in his underwear. He was eagerly wanting and willing to connect capturing fish in a net with his relationship with Jesus.

Courtyard Lady, Act Three. “I swear on my ancestors that you are the one seen with him. The hair and the beard. My eyes are fine.” Peter quickly replies, Hey, look, lady, in this neck of the woods, especially at night, we all look the same; now lay off of me.”

Jesus says to Peter after declaring him the “Christ, “Well said…for this has not been revealed to everyone,” Peter then draws Jesus aside and whispers in a Mafia-sounding voice, “I got you covered. Just listen to me. You know JC, now that I know what the “C” stands for can I call you “JC?” Now that we all know that you are the “Christ,” can’t’ we just skip this whole suffering stuff and start building up in Rome? I got an agent who can give us a great deal on prime Italian property – did I mention Caesar-tax-free.” Jesus replies, “Oh, Lil’ Petey, oh Lil’ Petey,” followed by a sentence we all know by heart, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Jesus, Act Three. “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Distressed Peter, only to now repeat for the third time and then later contradict for the same number of times in the courtyard, says, “You know that I love you.”

When do we glibly become “JC” as though we become Jesus the Christ? “JC” in our pretentious pretendings. “Lil’ Petey” is who we all live in the bright and guiding light of Jesus the Christ.

Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.

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Easter: “Sharing the Light”

Just imagine. Your boss told you that you have that new position that you’ve been working toward. Just Imagine. You just got engaged to be married. Just imagine. Those test results came back negative. Just Imagine. You walk out of the hospital after your spouse dies. One more – You won the Publishers Clearing House grand prize soon to be taking a picture of yourself holding a check taller than you in front of your house.

You’re home now and find no one around to share your news. Your good or sad news. I guess it’s okay if you’re Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a rock, I am an island” or Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally.” However, it’s a pretty gloomy night in your home when there’s no one to share. Sharing your good news lifts up your light and lights up another’s. That same light applies to distressing news. Unshared, it feels like it’s not real; it never happened; it’s not valid until it’s shared. Trust me on this. My two cats only want food; my good or sad news is entirely mine.

Easter is never mine but ours. It’s a collective season. Lent has the reputation of being a solo trip, whether that’s true or not, but Easter is definitely a journey we all travel together.

But I gave examples of “others toward me,” how about “me toward others?”The light of Easter is mutually witnessed through everyone’s everyday lives. A sincere welcoming smile and that includes your eyes. (The eyes always tell so much more than stretched lips.) Asking that flippant opening question, “How are you?” but, this time, waiting for a complete answer. Unlike the waitress walking past your table who asks, “How’s everything?” but never stops, and you yell, “It sucks,” but she’s three tables beyond you. A firm handshake. (Remember, a two-handed handshake only means that you’re running for public office or looking for a handout.) Easter is expressing meaningful, joyful words of encouragement, words of hope. Not in a pollyanna way but in a risen-Christ way. Because that’s who we’ve become because of this night, because of His sacrifice.

You should know by now that I love words. Well, it occurred to me writing this that adding “en” to the beginning and end of the word “light” means that you’ve received an even greater knowledge or insight about yourself or about another person. A revelation to be shared, whether about a situation, offering a bigger picture view to a predicament, or addressing a perplexing problem. In other words, a deeper understanding.

That is the Easter’s spirit and gift to us all. You know, we all sadly call it a day, as if it has a twenty-four window, and then on Monday, we call it a season for a couple of weeks. And then it’s on to the next holiday. I think we ought to make it our journey. I said earlier, “a journey we all travel together.”

Playing “Tug of War” when we’re young is one fun thing, but playing the same game with God can be quite troubling. (Take out the word “quite.”)

One more song reference. It’s the Beatles singing, “Hello, Goodbye.” Palm Sunday has its glorious “Hello, Lord, Hello Lord” (“Hallelujah,” in church lingo). Good Friday has its “Goodbye God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and those glorious angels,” with us giving in, giving up, and caving into our faults, foibles, and failings. You know what I mean; it occurs every single day. Are those three “f” words holding us down? They’re never told to anyone. Cue “Simon and Garfunkel” once more? Easter is also about sharing those three “f’s,” asking for others’ encouragement, prayers, and support.

Here are three more “f” words. How about three “f” words that are proudly and sincerely living within ourselves and then shared, like a virus, with all we meet: faith, fidelity, and fruitfulness. If you noticed, those three “f” words are all about growth rooted in the seeds of His sacrifice. Tonight it surely has the Resurrected Christ singing to us and every day afterward, “I don’t know why you say ‘goodbye,’ [when] I say ‘hello.” That’s the miracle of this night. That’s the miracle of our lives to be lived in God’s bright light every day.

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Holy Thursday, “Passing the Light”

Please excuse my bluntness. I don’t know if it’s sad news or good news. Fr. Joe is shrinking. I know, it’s true. “Two inches” last year, he told me. It could be more even as I speak. I’m down 3/4 of an inch in my previous physical, so I have some catching up to do. He gave me this white vestment because it didn’t fit him anymore. Thanks, Fr. Joe.

And here we are tonight, at the table of Our Lord. I mean that literally. Here we are gathered at the table of Our Lord. He is our Passover tonight. He is here to Pass Over to us what he received from His Father. His passion, death, and resurrection are his Passover given freely. He then Passes Over to us the baton of His Body like the track runner who reaches out, hoping not to drop it when handed off to the next runner. That next person is waiting, anxious and nervous but willing to firmly grab it away from the runner who ran his course.

It cannot be extinguished no matter how often we try during our trials or by others attempting to quench it from us. The tiniest of it, it holds on dearly with the hopeful enveloping that it can become. It still burns, especially in that Ukrainian chaos or on those sleepless nights of yours and mine. Ever so slowly burning. It is still active and alive.

The “it” is light. Light, for us, in all its Christian forms. It is the light of love. It is the light that Jesus passes over to us and then requests that we pass it on to others. The light of love. Thomas Merton wrote, “The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.” So, thanks again, Fr. Joe; I like it a lot.

So, what does Jesus say to us tonight? “Take this all of you; I’ll loan it to you.” No. Jesus says to us tonight, “Here, borrow it from me until I return.” Nope. Jesus says to us tonight, “Hold onto it for a while.” Enough of that “it” stuff. The “it” said by Him is His body and blood. The “it” said by Him to us is passing the light of His light to become our light living through Him. What a profound invitation. Or, better yet, what a profound challenge.

Jesus did His job. That’s the Last Supper; that’s Holy Thursday. Jesus passes over for us to pass on. He says at the Ascension in different words, “Get out there and baptize everyone you meet in my name, in my father’s name, along with the gentle power of the Holy Spirit.”

We tend to jump to the resurrection. But we don’t know about that yet, just like his disciples. Tonight is purely the giving of Jesus, who, while innocent, shrinks himself by dying a criminal’s death for others to become enlightened and grow into God’s light of love. So we can “pass on” because of His “Passover.”

Once more, Thomas Merton. “The truth I must love in my brother [and sister] is God Himself, living in [others]. I must see the life of the Spirit of God breathing in [others]. And I can only discern and follow that mysterious life by the action of the same Holy Spirit living and acting in the depths of my own heart.”

At a recent gathering of priests of all ages, I was taken back seeing those newly ordained priests who looked like they had just graduated eighth grade. I saw the youth and eagerness in their lighted eyes.

Fr. Joe, your white vestment fitted you well for as many years as I hope to, at least, match. I like it. I hope to find an eighth-grader who can one day also wear it.

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