“Nice?” Hardly

Joy. Peace. Harmony. Unity.

Elusive words? Only heard in church? Or, no longer mere words but authentic feelings living and breathing within our hearts and souls. Feelings that cannot be kept silent or only kept to ourselves. In words and attitudes that need to be boldly witnessed and shared. The old joke about the beginning of TV’s Evening News after hearing “Good evening,” is the only “good” you will hear; complete with drug ads that you’re happy you don’t need.

“It’s a beautiful day today” is responded with “It’s gonna rain tomorrow” is one of my favorite, dividing Wisconsin exchanges.

St. Catherine has held up “joy” as a theme for the year. Moments of joy, joyful times with family and friends, joy filled musical Masses, even the joy of a funeral in sending love back to God. We need a theme for next year to help carry us, together as a parish, through a new year.

In the Broadway show, “Into the Woods,” the witch sings, “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, You’re just nice. I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right. I’m the witch. You’re the world.”

I’m guilty of overusing “nice.” “Nice day.” “Nice outfit.” “Nice car.” Surely a compliment but hardly touching one’s fragile heart.

Revelations doesn’t mince words with, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” And, there you have it.

It’s risky by proclaiming and projecting joy. Weird, baffling looks. “How many drinks did he have!” How often we pray for peace, publicly or privately, but can cause discord in one sentence or phrase. We pride our inner selves toward others with confrontations, contradictions and corrections.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ means that the living God lives within us. And, there you have it.

Please correct me when I mindlessly say to you, “Have a nice day.” Upon hearing that, my dad sarcastically wanted to respond, “Now I have to change my plans.”

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Deaf? Mute? Yeah, right

Sometimes in the ministry of Jesus, he’s a standup comedian. He just doesn’t gets the laughs from us because we’re in church. Just like my attempts at humor seem to be only quietly received.

Sometime comedian Jesus gives us the punchlines that punches us right into our hearts if not even deeper within our souls.

And now, here’s the serious humor.

Jesus says, “A guy who can’t hear walks into a bar. On top of that his speech isn’t Christian and barely human. What’s the guy to do? The bartender doesn’t know sign language and the deaf guy really wants a drink. Point to the tap beer or the liquor bottle? Play charades for a half hour? He’s thirsty. The guy who can’t hear and whose speech is garbled.

“One thing leads to another,” so the saying goes. Jesus says, “One thing leads to the other thing.” You can only get to the other thing until you address the first thing. AA isn’t only about not drinking any more, it’s about honestly exploring your life with the power of your “Higher Power,” however you define that. Stop taking recreational drugs doesn’t make your life now healthy and whole. (By the way, what a dumb phrase. There’s nothing “recreational” about drug abuse.)

“Recompense” and “vindication,” Isaiah tells us. The first is repayment and the second is victory, freedom. Our faith answers and provides both. Repayment is powerfully bringing us back to the truths of our lives through faith. Coupled with sincere prayers and a genuine emptying of ourselves, repayment and vindication is ours.

The guy in the bar could hear. He wasn’t deaf. And here’s the Jesus joke. The guy couldn’t hear, ponder or contemplate what he was saying. Muffled, jaded speech full of anger and self importance. Playing Charades was just his failed human charade. A coverup, a camouflage as we all can be or do in our lives.

So, what happens? His soul decides that the soul will not bear hearing anymore of his silly words, his wrong actions and his destructive behaviors. All those selfish, self important, protective words that includes no one else but himself. So the soul says, “Enough of this!” The soul shuts down and closes his ears, apparently the only living saving part of his body. Closed down until his speech becomes life giving, healthy and whole.

Listening to the soul, Jesus tells the soul to reopen the guy’s ears. So, the soul, his religious breath (and our religious breath), complies. Done so to repay and vindicate the new words that hopefully will come from the guy’s mouth.

And there’s the punchline from our sometime comedian, Jesus Christ. Laughter, optional.

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Divinely Human

“You can’t tell a book by its cover.” So the saying goes. But, so we go the opposite way with our judgments and evaluations of every thing and, unfortunately, every one.

Moses clearly tells his folks what is necessary to stay firm to God’s commandments. Yet, he fails the first commandment and misses out on entering the “Promised Land.” Poor guy. If he only listened to his own words. He lost trusting God with the trust God entrusted with him. Like Moses, forget about the other nine commandments. We just can’t seem to get beyond number one!

We all have the same dilemma working that out in our lives. It’s the risky trust of using the material things of life and then attempting to make them divine. What is of human choice and decision, and what is of divine intervention. That intervention is the saving salvation of our lives. We may decide one way, but it may not be how God wants us to behave.

“Ad Déum qui laetíficat juventútem méam. Suscípiat Dóminus sacrifícium de mánibus túis,
ad laúdem et glóriam nóminis súi.” Those are the prayers the altar boy said while you all sat there. Human or Divine?

Remember the “communion rail?” (There’s a term we no longer hear about.) The host is given by only the priest along with a long prayer repeated for each, individual person. As a grade school altar boy holding the paten (a flat metal object just in case the host dropped before reaching the tongue), I would slightly touch the necks of those students I didn’t like. Human or divine? You decide.

Vatican II thought the communion rail was too personal of a reception when we are the Body of Christ. Processing in line shows us walking together to receive who we collectively are. The Body of Christ, together.

And, I really miss women wearing their hats and white gloves in church. (My tongue is in my cheek.) I remember an Alexian Village resident who approached me and declared, “I hate Vatican II.” I waited for some theological argument but he continued, “I sold women’s hats.” Store closed and he went to work for Sears. Human or divine?

About the book. The cover or the content? We all know the answer, but how often do we love to dwell and remain on the cover. It’s so much easier. It’s so much more convenient. It’s so much us.

The Baptism none of us remembers becomes the unfolding of faith’s mysteries throughout our lives. How can the human and divine become one? To say easy answer, we’d all say “the Mass.” But it’s the Mass that’s lived out there. And it’s the Mass actively living within us. Is making the divine our daily human activity? After our silly human three-second summation of the another’s cover, does it seem that we supposedly divined the person’s content? Deep down inside us we know the proper attitude and behavior for our lives. All lives are complete with many plots (complete with twists and turns to keep us reading), a myriad of colorful characters, lots of drama, numerous disappointments, and grand, glorious resolutions. Like any good book contains. And all the beautiful and dark colors each page presents to us about the mingling of the divine with the human. Just like when the priest mingles the water and wine at the beginning of the Offertory.

Lofty? Unreal? Pie-in-the-sky? Not really. It’s admitting our frail human lives and transforming them into the divine as best we can. If not divine, then at least divine-like. Two points for effort. That’s what Jesus taught us and that’s what he lived for.

I’m working in my south-side parish. Parish Council meets at night and we often go out to eat afterward. 9:00 pm. Patty Melt. Manhattan. Smoking. (We could smoke in restaurants back then.) I’m wearing a roman collar … back then. Toward the end of our meal, a stranger leaves and drops a note next to me. She writes that St. Paul says that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Then, something like “How embarrassing you are.” Taken back, I look at the back of her note, and it’s a bank deposit slip with her name and address on it.

The next day I write to her and quote what we heard today, “What comes out of our mouths is more important than what enters it.” Then I wrote, “Now that we exchanged Bible quotes, why don’t we meet and talk.” I never heard from her.

Do we humanly divine both ourselves and others? That’s called idolatry. Do we divinely humanize ourselves and others? That’s called Jesus Christ.

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Relational Religion

Frank Sinatra had four of them. Not to be outdone, Elizabeth Taylor beats Frank by doubling hers.

Who are these people? Who are we? Relational as we social beings tend to be. Some more relational then others.

I have friends who proved that “third time is a charm” is true when it comes to marriage.

Relationships.

You can’t say that your Catholic and then just stay home. When we say we’re a “practicing Catholic,” we know what you mean. I, however, am not a practicing Catholic. I’m not practicing, I know what I’m doing.

In this religion thing, it’s all about relationships. You enter Church, kneel for a quiet time before Mass with a prayer or two. You’ve now acknowledged your relationship with your Creator. We then sing about God and the other two (now there’s a firm relationship), what each did and does for us and how we can strengthen those relationships with those three up there through our relations with each other. Now that’s a lot of relating in one sentence. That’s a lot of relating our whole lives.

Joshua offers a choice, either stay on the toilet or get off of it. He says either worship the God who created you or go back to worshipping the gods that you’ve created. A choice. Jesus offers his followers the same ultimatum. He says, “Always look for something and someone greater than yourself and will find me, my Father and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus lost followers that day. Lost to either confusion, selfishness or ignorance. Peter admits, “Where else would I go?” Yes, indeed, where else can you experience the holy and sacred relationship like the One, True God gives us.

And here’s another “yes,” there will be disagreements and discord. Yet, another “yes,” there will always be our honoring of the one selfless sacrifice that illustrates the sacrifices we need to make in our many relationships.

You know, if you only relate to people who agree with you, then you have gotten off the toilet all right. But now your only staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror. Stuck in the bathroom.

Continue to prayer for all your relationships; those good ones, those not so good, those indifferent and the special ones you’re passionate about. Because that’s been God’s plan the whole time.

All right. The suspense is over.

Frank Sinatra: Barbato, Gardner, Farrow, Marx.
Elizabeth Taylor: Hilton, Wilding, Todd, Fisher, Burton, Burton, Warner, Fortensky.

“Relational Liz” ought to be her name. Conrad Hilton Jr., eight months; Michael Wilding, five years; Mike Todd, one year – but at least he died; Eddie Fisher, five years; Richard Burton, ten years, then less year; John Warner, six years; Larry Fortensky, five years.

Who was she? Who are we? Joyful, discouraged, happy, sad, doubtful, alone, content, abandoned, complete?

Not to completely disparage Ms. Taylor…at different times in our lives, doesn’t that sound a lot like our relationship with God and His two friends up there?

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Elijah & The Broom Tree

Last week we heard grumbling from our ancestors eating weird food in the desert until Jesus gave us himself. Today we hear mumbling from the prophet Elijah running away from being killed, not knowing a future and just wanting to die.

So much for getting up on the wrong side of the bed. (I don’t know about you but there’s one way out of bed for me.) The important part for us is that Elijah does all this mumbling under a broom tree. I had to look up a picture of it but it’s significant. There’s no light coming through those dark branches. It looks full and towering from the outside, just like our episodes of isolation; feeling totally alone without that four-letter word found in crossword puzzles describing “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

It’s called hope. It’s got to be among of the best religious words in our vocabulary because it really defies definition. I would disagree with the dictionary because a Christian hope is not a feeling but a gift, a Divine gift. The hope of having the Brewers do what the Bucks did is the dictionary one. The hope of finding a cure for any illness is spiritual. It’s the spiritual stream that flows through any setback or trial in our lives.

I may wish to repeat this twice but I won’t, so listen up. God does not cause diseases but God, through the life-given gift of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit sees us through it. Elijah is strengthened by food delivered by an angel. Forget Jimmy John’s and Uber Eats, this is a real delivery. An angel. Food full of hope that propels Elijah to continue his journey as a prophet.

“Don’t lose hope,” family and friends tell you during a difficult time in your life. You cannot lose hope. You can only put it on a shelf. Or, ignore it’s grace-filled power. Or, blame God for erasing it from your life. You cannot lose hope.

You know, I hate to disagree with St. Paul but I believe he’s wrong in making love the greatest of those three, “faith, hope, love.” Hope is the anchor that leads us to faith. Love, is then the lived expression of hope and faith. Elijah never lost hope. He only forgot where he put it. The angel tells him, “It’s in the food, dummy. Eat, find your strength and continue your faithful journey.”

Fast forward to the New Testament and Jesus tells us the same thing, only without saying “dummy.” Or, does he? I’ve had my “broom tree” experiences over the years. You cannot get out of this life alive without some “broom trees” of your own. The light is dimmed if not thought to be completely gone. You are hungry and stuck under a towering, full tree that appears to block the light of Christ.

All Christians believe that the “light of Christ” can never be extinguished. The hope placed in our lives through any of the sacraments gives us an eternal light.

Neil Diamond sang, “Turn on your heart light, let it shine for all the world to see.” That’s combining all of faith, hope and love into one musical verse.

Yet. Yet, I have a better musical verse for our reflection today. It’s God taking to us through the immortal words of the Andrew Sisters, “Don’t sit under the broom tree with anyone else but me.”

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Manna & Body of Christ

Indeed, we are all grumblers. It’s the bread that we eat out there, and it’s the bread that we eat in here but don’t believe. It’s the whole wheat, rye, marble, croissant, muffin versus the living Christ. “We live as hungry people in a hungry world. Everyone is looking for something that will sustain and nourish life, feed and energize, be filling, and satisfy. Everyone is looking for bread. The problem is not that we are hungry, but it’s the kind of bread we eat.


The grumbling isn’t always oral. It’s the grumbling of continuing violence both in killing and in our killing thoughts and words. Republicans and Democrats [even] share [their] bread of negativity, hostility, and name-calling.” (Isn’t that wonderful, they share the same bread!) It’s the grumbling that so quickly “objectifies and depersonalizes another human being. Many of us eat the bread of having to be right and get our way. We eat the [grumbling] bread of hurt feelings and resentment. [It festers in our heads for so long that it finally makes it to a rigid heart.] Sometimes we [gobble up the grumbling] bread of loneliness, fear, and isolation. [How many times do we so easily grumblingly swallow] times of sorrow or guilt. [Not very nourishing, but it sure feels good to grumble away as long as possible. How about the attitudes of the all-consuming] bread of power and control, revenge or oneupmanship. We eat all kinds of bread. The bread we eat reveals something about the nature of our appetites.” What rumbles away in our stomachs but never touching the soul.


Just yesterday in the Gospel, Jesus fed over 5000 people with leftovers. Today, these guys are now worried about their next meal! They missed the miracle of God’s generosity and still doubt who this rabbi guy is. They are interested only in their own appetites, and Jesus knows it.


You don’t eat bread when you’re full. You eat when you feel empty, hungry, and your stomach makes those funny, grumbling sounds. You may wish to take notes for this next part. There are three essential components to any sandwich: bread, the filling, and the spread. The substance of the Body of Christ is the visible bread. The filling is honoring and living that life of Christ. The spread is our witness and sharing the receiving of this miracle to all that we love and meet. 


This sandwiched filling called the Body of Christ is not a reward for a good life lived the past week. The Body of Christ is the filling of ourselves with the love of the risen Christ. Challenging, changing, consoling. The receiving of the Body of Christ always looks forward.
Some forward motions in receiving the Body of Christ and its grace-filled effects? Here’s a list of four, but you all add more to your life journey. A modification? Perhaps a strengthening, always good to build upon? Maybe a profound reminder about ourselves? Or still, an honest and a true return about our actions within ourselves, toward our community, or about our government?


Modifying silly, unChristian thoughts or questionable behaviors…a strengthening of all of the goodness found in your life…a reminder of all the new potential that springs from living a worthy life…a return to those baptismal promises of being a servant to others, a prophet of knowing the present person you are and now planning for the better person we can all seek to become. 


You know, in presenting the host to you, the communion minister doesn’t say, “The Body of Jesus.” The statement is “The Body of Christ.” The human part of him died, but the risen is the Christ offered to us as often as we can receive it. (whispering) And, between you and me, you may also remember that as a congregation, we are called, get this, “The Body of Christ.” That’s why we process forward to receive the host. It’s the motion of walking toward the future with a fellow traveler in front of and behind you. While walking forward for communion, think of a small thought or prayer for the one in front and behind you. With each one of you hoping to quench the grumblings of our souls. Soulful grumblings that need far more attention than the sounds from your stomach.


So, if you enjoy the grumbling and eating dead-end manna, then grumble away and enjoy yourself. Because that fleeting human emotion of satisfaction evaporates every single morning. 


Receiving the Body of Christ is not a reward. 

I was about to say, “stop your grumbling.” But that ain’t ever gonna happen. That’s why the Mass begins with admitting our grumbles and seeking God’s forgiveness. That’s why the Mass ends with the Eucharistic commission to live the Bread of Life you received and then live it to the best of your ability.

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St. Paul & Wisconsin Weather

I have a loveseat in my bedroom with all the necessary clothing for any kind of Wisconsin weather. Saves time looking through the closet. On my couch is a T-shirt, shorts, blue jeans, sweater, light and heavy socks, light and heavy shirt. I know it sounds messy but it’s at the ready like last week when 86 suddenly switched numbers. You won’t catch me off guard!

Good ole’ St. Paul has his preparations for any kind of weather. However, his collection needs a chest, a big chest, at the foot of your bed. Inside it is full armor against “the devil’s schemes.” Then there’s the “belt of truth,” (I’m sure Amazon carries it), matching the “breastplate of righteousness” (buy the set from Amazon). This ensemble is complimented with “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” I guess that means comfortable shoes walking with the Lord through all weathering times of life. Next in his chest is the “shield of faith” to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” St. Paul didn’t forget about your head. It’s the “helmet of salvation.” Instead of gloves, St. Paul suggests the “sword of the Spirit” which is the word of God.

It is highly suggested that you never run equipped with St. Paul’s separates. (I think Amazon says that on the tags in very small print.)

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if surrender to Your will; so that I may reasonable happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” Reinhold Niebuhr

When I can home from the parish I put on shorts. By 8:00 p.m. the sweater and jeans came out. I guess I’m “reasonably happy” today.

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Psalm 23 & Us

(A parady on Psalm 23 focusing only on us)

“The culture is my shepherd. So, I always want more. I stumble from mall to mall, then job to job,and then again, shrink to shrink, seeking relief but never finding any. I am trapped in the valley of the shadow of my own death. Do I feel sorry for myself? You betcha!

I fear everything from processed food, to power lines, to holding a cell phone to my ear., driving on N. 76 Street. I go down to the weekly staff meetings, and I am surrounded by those whom I’m convinced are out to get me. When I go home, even the dog scowls at me.

I anoint my head. I anoint my headache with extra-strength Tylenol, twice what the bottle prescribes. My beer mug runneth over. Surely misery and misfortune will always be my lot, and I will live in self-doubt and pain for the rest of my lonely, miserable life.” Amen.

I know I’m preaching to the choir this weekend but listen up anyway, please. Clear your heads (but not right now…but one day next week). Just imagine my imaginary tale. There is no church. There is no faith. There is no sacrificial lamb and there is no holy bread to nourish you for another week. Just imagine. There are no prayers, only pleas pleading to yourself…with all those pleading prayers directed to that one person. Being social beings, some of you would introduce yourselves to your neighbors, and slowly a dialogue about this “life thing” would emerge with numerous discussions, disagreements, and agreements. An early church gathering happens with others soon joining you.
 
I said I was preaching to the choir. We all have this place. We all have each other either by name or a smile entering and leaving the church. Centuries tested and tested each day again, just like the apostles. 

Today’s gospel is a respite between two significant events. Before this passage, Jesus sent them out “two by two” to announce repentance and the coming Kingdom. How much dust did they kick from their feet from slamming doors or weird looks? Probably as much as the Mormons get from me knocking on my door. Those folks who welcome them? Feed, bathe, and offer them a bed during their time there. One apostle sheepishly asks, “My Master said not to bring a second tunic. Do you have a washing machine?” To which, the host replies, “It hasn’t been invented yet. Go find a river and a rock!”

After this passage, Jesus feeds thousands of them with a mere means of leftover food. Like “sheep without a shepherd,” we heard today. We honor this time-tested shepherd. We rely on this “good shepherd” through all of life’s low valleys and glorious mountains. To those inquiring, searching folks in my fable, it can only be genuine when it leads above and beyond… us. 

The beauties and confusing stories found in the Bible are historically always before us…and, more often than not…living within us this very present day. What was the first published book? No, it wasn’t “Catcher in the Rye.” 

(A contemporary interpretation on Psalm 23 focusing on the “Good Shepherd”)

“Oh Lord, you are my shepherd. I need nor desire anything more. I have my share of comforts knowing You are there offering peace. (Especially in the chaos, crises, and the unknown.) You calm my inner being and soul. I recognize your voice, God, encouraging me always to do the right thing. Even though life surrounds me by death, sickness, solitude, and unsafety, I am not afraid (But, honestly, really…sometimes I am.), for I trust that I am not alone. You are always prepared and keep watch; knowing this brings comfort to me even during my darkest days.

Even when it seems that others do not think of me or wish me well, You are there, providing and caring for me. When I feel down, You remind me of Your love; If I would only just look, I’d see my life has such goodness and blessing. May I always be able to identify kindness and goodness in life, both mine and in others. And forever, may I be in the presence of You, my good and only shepherd.” Amen.

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“Falling Rain”

Sitting on my porch, it starts to rain, but I continue writing. It’s falling all around me, but I’m okay under my canopy unless there’s a strong wind.

Movies love using rain as a tool. It introduces you to a change in the character’s behavior. The star has a breakup and walks home in the ? The star finally realizes (after 1:45 minutes, something we already know) that she’s the one and then runs to stand in front of her window in the ? Then there’s the classic Gene Kelly, “so happy again,” prancing around in the ? until the policeman almost arrests him for enjoying himself. A tad too much? If my sitting underneath it is calling for a change within me, then I’m not so sure. My plants and trees may love it, but I’m leery about me. Change?

The ? around me now does it pitter-patter as though it’s a melody waiting for lyrics. (My favorite sentence, so it’s bold.) New words to add to my unfolding life? Listen to the “Rhythm of the Falling Rain” come to mind, “telling me just what a fool I’ve been…” (Ricky Nelson). “Little did I know that when she left day, along with her, she took my heart.” A stretch, but still.

You run out to join in it, when you’re young, until your mom yells that you’ll soon die if you don’t come in. You lift your head back, open your mouth and attempt to catch as many of those heavenly drops as you can. At home, hearing your clothes circling around as they dry, you still taste the droplets that arrived from above.

Those ? can be enjoyable when cooling off the evening’s heat. Spiritually, those ? can also be a call to something new, a challenging change, a revision/readjustment, a return to something you thought you lost, a renewal of this life gift God’s given, a genuine smile for all that has been, and a trust in what will be.

The rain on my porch stopped, but the corner drain drops a steady beat like my heart. What is the ? alerting or telling me? Oh, wait, it’s just a spring rain. Or is it more?

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“Joy”

In the midst of whatever this year has brought you or your family or friends, halfway through 2021, St. Catherine’s continues to offer signs of joy from our daily lives and then shared with others.

From our beautiful parish garden that surrounds our church, to the diligent mother-bird who warmly, lovingly sat on our main church door light until birth occurred, to the joy of finally receiving a phone call from your granddaughter. It’s present all around us, folks. Previously, I reminded you that happiness is not joy. As a feeling, happiness can enter and exit in sixty minutes or seconds. Joy sustains because it is holy.

A Church prayer calls it “holy joy.” I didn’t know that joy needed an adjective but I was wrong. The added word tells us that its origin lies not within us but lives within us because it is blessed. Happiness can be bought with a fifth of scotch or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Joy is achieved, not purchased. It begins and ends with the creativity of our Creator. I suspect God knew our human journeys would have its bumps and wrong turns. Times that sometimes are of our own making or times that happen to us.

Joy supercedes our own whims and wits and is infused with the incarnation won for us through the sacrifice of God’s Son. I’ve stopped arguing with unbelievers. It is futile. You can’t sell faith. You can’t even find faith; faith finds you.

That’s the sharing I mentioned at the beginning. Telling people that you’re full of joy may only lead to a 211 call. Joy is witnessed and seen in the way you walk, even if a bit slower these aging days. That sincere smile to a stranger. That genuine comment told to you or told to someone about you – “There’s something about her that’s just so peaceful and welcoming.” This is joy’s transmission.

Please don’t pray for joy. Doesn’t happen that way. It already lives within and anxious to come and to fill your voids and strengthen your mountains. I felt joy writing this because I knew I wasn’t the one doing the typing.

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