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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“Two by Two”

Gospel of St. Mark, 6:7
[Jesus] “called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes.
‘Wherever you go,’ he said, ‘stay in the same house until you leave town. But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.’
So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.”

The first time attempting anything can be scary. It’s Saturday night. September 1969. 17 years old. WOMT radio, AM 1240. The last disc jockey went home, and I’m alone while the 45 record he put on the turntable is coming to an end. If I wait too long, the listeners will hear ssshhh, ssshhh, ssshhh. I need to flip that microphone switch and say something, anything. The first time is the hardest, especially when you’re alone. But I didn’t feel alone because all the radio announcers I’ve heard during my young life were now living within me. WCFL, WGN, WLS. All those Chicago powerhouse jocks lived within me in the tiny Manitowoc station at 250 watts at dusk. I was not alone.

Johnny Carson had his. Ed McMahon. Sonny Bono had the one with a single name. Cher. Michael Jordan needed this guy. Scottie Pippin. Kathie Lee had hers. Regis. Enough examples? Companions on a journey. Walking with another to make the journey less tedious and more supportive. Another to talk to, regardless if the mood was humor or arguments. Has “a” Mormon ever visited your home? I think not. They travel in pairs in solidarity to ease disappointments or embrace successes.

No need to carry much stuff or what scripture calls provisions. It’s those gifts and talents that we all uncover and use for the betterment of the world. It’s been said that they are “given to us by God,” but I don’t think that’s true. Instead, I believe God blesses those gifts as they become an essential part of your life. When performed for the good of humanity, God then empowers them with the grace of fortitude during trying times and grace of satisfaction when the phrase “well done, good and faithful servant” is felt within our hearts and souls.

No matter your occupation, whether doing obvious church work or driving an Amazon truck with Nike’s emblem on both sides. “All for the greater honor and glory of God” is the tried and true slogan of our beautiful Christian faith. It’s a Christian badge that gives breath to all of our actions, especially in our relationships and personal lives. It’s a trademark not visible on our foreheads but heard in our words and actions. It’s the coat of arms not worn but warmly felt by the words and actions given to us.

“Two by two,” St. Mark tells us today. Those two’s are coupled with provisional gifts that do not belong to us but are used for the greater glory of God. I was about to use the word “empower” next, but that’s too churchy of a word. Instead, I choose a “thumbs up.” Up to where we already know.

It’s now midnight that first Saturday night behind a microphone. I turn off the transmitter and lights and lock the door. I walk home with a spring in my step. I need to get up at 5:00 am. to do it all over again.

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Sts. Peter and Paul & Us

This isn’t the Monty Hall game show but it does have three doors. Our lives are not a game show but we all have three or more doors that need to be nearby but closed. Three doors in our present society are wide open. Wide open with a blind eye to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

Narcissism. Discouragement. Pessimism.

The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul were honored this week. One loved killing Christians before falling off a horse. The other tells Jesus to change his mind about this Messiah routine, almost drowns with his lack of faith and a crow is heard in the background after denying that he even knew the guy called Jesus. They’ve got to be the weirdest, unwiseist choices for the one who essentially wrote our whole Christian religion and the other, I believe, has a chair named after him somewhere in Rome.

Pope Francis writes “…they were two very different people, yet they saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love. Yet the closeness that joined Peter and Paul did not come from natural inclinations, but from the Lord. He did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike. He unites us in our differences.” (My friend invites me to supper with my promise to not talk politics with her husband. How can anyone do that? We go outside.)

In the midst of Herod’s violent persecutions, the Pope continues, “Peter had been arrested. The community seemed headless, everyone fearing for his life. Yet at that tragic moment no one ran away, no one thought about saving his own skin, no one abandoned the others, but all joined in prayer. From prayer they drew strength, from prayer came a unity more powerful than any threat. . . .” Joined in prayer.

He also writes, “…at that dramatic moment, no one complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution. . . . It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right. Complaints change nothing. Let us remember that complaining is the second door that closes us off from the Holy Spirit. . . . The first is narcissism, the second discouragement, the third pessimism. Narcissism makes you look at yourself constantly in a mirror; discouragement leads to complaining and pessimism to thinking everything is dark and bleak. These three attitudes close the door to the Holy Spirit. Those Christians did not cast blame; rather, they prayed. In that community, no one said: “If Peter had been more careful, we would not be in this situation.” No one. Humanly speaking, there were reasons to criticize Peter, but no one criticized him. They did not complain about Peter; they prayed for him. They did not talk about Peter behind his back; they talked to God.”

Everything old is new again? You betcha! That’s the very early Church and we are the supposedly inspired, mature Church of 2021. And, what doors have we open widely, with even a doorstop, rejecting or ignoring the power and unifying grace of the Holy Spirit? Because we like being narcissists, pessimism can only complain and become a sport when we conveniently sit in the bleachers, and discouragement comfortably freezes us with those three wicked, open doors yet living in a closet.

Where’s the unity of humanity? Where’s the power and potency of prayer; collectively and privately? Why can’t differences produce a civil, kind exchange of words? How can we close those three doors and open ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Lock those doors but be sure to keep the keys! Wear those keys around your neck as many of you wear His Cross. “You set a communal table of love before me in the sight of my foes.” Or, as we say today, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Once more from the Holy Father. “Are we protecting our unity, our unity in the Church, with prayer? Are we praying for one another?” What would happen if we prayed more and complained less, if we had a more tranquil tongue?”

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Jesus & the Storm

Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather…” Lena Horne, 1943

Job is finally given a solution to his troubling life, St. Paul is positive for a change, and Jesus sleeps through a stormy storm with wailing, unfaithful apostles. (I bet Jesus even had a cushion.) It’s those life storms that no one can escape. If it hasn’t happened to you, then you live in “la-la land.” In other words, it’s been happening to you; you didn’t know it. 

The longer you live, the more those storms are gonna rock your boat. A favorite phrase that I’ve been using and will use again is, “What life throws at you and what you throw at life.” The question remains, how do we deal with a storm whose wind and rain seem unstoppable? Is it the cute platitudes of our Christian faith that sees us through? “It’s all in God’s hands.” That one I doubt because I still have free will, even without wearing a life preserver. “Let go and let God?” That’s not the partnership that Jesus sacrificed for us in connecting the divine and human. The worst of all and I will deny Communion to any Catholic who says it to me is a phrase that has two redundant pronouns and two repeating verbs with a “what” in the middle and says absolutely nothing. “It is what it is.” That’s called nihilism.
 
I remember hearing on the radio years ago about lawyers offering a “Christian divorce.” I smiled to myself in the car. Do they say a prayer together before signing the papers? Since the word “divorce” doesn’t exist in the world’s largest Christian church, what does that even mean? It means, to me, that we believe we can soften or dismiss our life’s storms through a misunderstanding of faith. That’s not calming those stormy waters as Jesus did. “Where’s your faith?” he challenges the apostles after the waters subside.

Divorce is a terrible, troubling experience. Just ask anyone who’s been through it. That’s just one of how many life examples. I will not bore you with my storms. But I can tell you that it’s the weathering of those storms, in partnership with God, that makes for a worthy, even if difficult, transforming experience. We humbly wake up Jesus to wake us up. Wake us up to face and even embrace each of life’s storms with the trusting faith God has given us.

For what does God proudly lecture Job in that same Biblical book? 

The Lord said, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Tell me if you know all this.

“What is the way to [give the light its home]? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars [from the] heavens when the dust becomes hard, and the clods of earth stick together?”
 Please, tell me if you understand.

Storms. They are not a God testing us as He did to Job. That’s a story for our spiritual formation. God doesn’t give cancer any more than He causes divorce, a lost job or alcoholism, or any storm storming over our heads. God gave us Jesus Christ. St. Paul affirms it for us today, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away;” [storms can be faithfully handled] “behold, new things have come.” Storms make us stronger when calmed by our faith.
 
When your storms hit, and I guarantee they will wake up Jesus from his peaceful sleep. (You may even wish to pull his cushion away, just in case.) Because he’s right next to you. In the same boat. 

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Seven Reasons to Love the Holy Spirit

St. Peter thought he’d hit the nail on the head when giving Jesus the number seven for forgiving others. Boy, was he wrong. Yet, if we hit the number seven, then we’re still doing pretty well. As believers, we are always imperfectly perfect. However, Jesus sets the bar pretty high with his “seventy times seven” command.

Yet, there are seven days in a week despite the number the Beatles sang about.

In the list of Catholic holidays, Pentecost has got to be right up there after Christmas. Christmas brings new life to our broken world and Pentecost gives us seven gifts to keep that new life alive. Instead of calling them gifts, I think a more powerful word is seven tools. Tools are meant to be used. The Holy Spirit gives each of us seven special tools that are used in any circumstance, situation; whether distressing or joyful.

Seven contains the number three of the heavens and soul with the number four of the earth and body. Hence, the term “Seventh Heaven.” Guess how many colors there are in a rainbow?

Christ does not leave us on our own. Yet, Christ does leave us on our own. He ascends from here and tells us to patiently wait in the Upper Room for further travel instructions. Yet. I love that word “yet” because it gives us all an escape clause, a way around, or from this mystery of life. How easy it is for us to leave that “Upper Room” and roam around so proudly on our own wits? Roaming without the Holy Spirit’s tools.

When added, the opposite sides of a dice always equal the number seven. I have no idea what that means but aren’t you glad you came to Church today?

Wisdom. The last sentence in the Serenity Prayer. Grant me the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot do. That’s a Divine revelation never to be achieved on our own.

Understanding. Understanding that we will never reach a true understanding without the Holy Spirit’s other two friends. We see glimmers and glimpses of understanding but never the absolutes that contemporary zealots brag about.

Our lives are the imperfect perfection of perfection. That’s our daunting Christian task. Seven may solve a temporary predicament, but extending it beyond that number makes it God-like. Making it, as the Church tells us, “the working of the Holy Spirit.” And, I also add, making it the best of us.

King Solomon’s temple took seven years to build; every seven years is considered a holy year in the Hebrew Torah; Israelites during the battle of Jericho were told that marching around the walls of the city “those many” times would ensure their victory; in Jewish tradition, the deceased are mourned for how many days; in the Christian tradition there are seven deadly sins. Gee, I wonder how many sacraments there are in the Catholic Church.

Counsel helps us differentiate between right and wrong. This is best, and only, done within a communal setting. Doing this in your own selfish private world may very lead to numerous mishaps and disappointments.

Fortitude. My favorite of the spiritually lucky seven. Simply defined, providing necessary courage and endurance. How many times have we relied on fortitude to see us through how much of life’s stuff?

We remain in that Upper Room until those seven tools, I mean gifts, take a firm hold within us. Then, those seven become the bedrock that Jesus, the Christ, promised us. Christ didn’t abandon us. He’s empowering us along with His Father’s assistance, as the Church says, “through the working of the Holy Spirit.” Hence, that imperfectly perfect number is rubbed on our foreheads with chrism at Confirmation and then renewed each time we turn to prayer or seek out during Mass.

What number of years causes an itch in a marriage? And, how many little, friendly friends surrounded Snow White?

Knowledge. Help us all to know God better. And, what better way to know God better than through each other. It’s called the Body of Christ. Regardless, how difficult it may seem at times or how rewarding it helps and assists us during other times.

The best of the seven for last? Piety or (Fear, Awe) of the Lord in earlier translations. A reverence and obedience to our Creator. Never forgotten but always praised through those very special seven tools, I mean gifts.

Oh, I forgot. Paul Simon sang, there are how many ways to leave a lover? Boy, was he wrong minus forty-three.

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Jesus and His Titles?

Darn it all! I’m angry, and I don’t usually get mad. For those of you who joined us last weekend, I gave a beautiful sermon about Jesus calling himself the “good shepherd.” So you went home, hopefully, peaceful and filled with imageries of shepherding.

Alas, this Sunday rolls along, and now Jesus calls himself a plant. All done in only one week. Will the one who sits at the right hand of God please make up his mind!

If I were Jesus, and I know I’m not, I’d stick with the shepherd shtick. We love it; as I told you last week and, ready for this, it’s a person. But a vine?

Ummph. I just don’t get it. Or, is that the point Jesus tried to make centuries ago and to us today. Jesus gathers the scattered. Jesus grows within our lives and then extends it outward, producing beautiful flowers of all colors. That’s our guy, Jesus Christ.

If your diet is purely watching MSNBC or FOX News, I’d strongly suggest you look for how many calories are absorbed into your brain and never within your soul. You’re getting fat by watching your own fat. There is no shepherding or vine-ing in either cable experience. It is only you being comfortably comfortable in the comfort and confines of your home. (That’s four correct “c” words in one sentence…I’m impressed!) And, therein lies the problem, “I am impressed.” As if to say, “It suits me and forget about the rest of humanity.”

When in our supposedly complicated lives was the “we” replaced with “me?” I say supposedly because our Catholic/Christian faith lays out for us that the only salvation, that singular redemption was not singularly sacrificed for you alone. It happened to and for us all, even for those outside the shepherd’s flock and those weeds growing along side the Divine vine.

Which Catholic newspaper do I read, I was asked recently. Are you a liberal or conservative Catholic? It’s part of our everyday conversation, whether spoken out loud or cataloged in our minds. And, politics we all know far too well.

How quickly we can dismiss the powerful image of Jesus Christ as a simple shepherd carrying each of us through all of life as quaint poetry but hardly living within the reality of this world. And, today, Jesus Christ is the beginning of an ever-growing vine that welcomes every branch into its deeply rooted vine.

Until I’m blue in the face, I will hold out for the Body of Christ. It’s not a cute priestly throwaway statement during a sermon; it is the core of our faith.

Division. Breaking up. Cutting up. Partitioning. Segregation. Splitting. Detachment. Seven destructive words. Not seven sacraments. Not exactly “churchy words,” don’t you think?

Division? Defines itself perfectly. Breaking up to bolster our own personal agendas. Cutting up to make ourselves look better. Partitioning to get the political votes we need to win. Segregation makes you and me, white folks, feel more comfortable and powerful. Splitting myself from another to exhibit how “informed” I am and how “uninformed” you are. Detachment? An attitude leading only to isolation and making violence possible.

Where is the sheep held safely and tightly around the shepherd’s neck? Where did the spiritual vine end and the weeds of selfishness and self-interest take over? When did the “we” of us become the “me” of me?

What can’t Jesus make up his mind about who he is? I think we all very well know who Jesus Christ is.

Is it us who keep conveniently denying who we are as the Body of Christ beyond these walls and pretend to live as one Body within these sacred walls?

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The Best is “Hope”

After agreeing about the weather after my last Mass, she asked me how important hope is for me. As a priest, I’m expected to have a ready-made statement ready to calm her and move on thinking to myself how smart I am. (Luckily, I missed those classes.) Putting it back on the person works, sometimes. “What does hope mean to you?” This gives me a chance to collect my thoughts when asked a ten-second question awaiting a profound ten-second response when I only carry a title that she doesn’t have.

And, this is all happening in a parking lot with my car keys in my hand. “Hope is for a fruitful tomorrow,” or something like that I would have said. No name exchanged. No further times scheduled for delving into this powerful word. She leaves for her car and I, for mine. The faith-filled exploration exchange between two people, forget the titles.

If we ever meet again, I would share that hope for me is number one in St. Paul’s list. He claims love is the best of his, “faith, hope and love.” I beg to differ with the last apostle. I believe that the other two springs from a firmness of hope. Faith is the trust and love is the response or the action. But, it is all anchored and springs from the virtue of hope.

Without hope the others are tested, questioned, argued and bantered about when the seeds of hope are not deeply rooted.

In other words, the other two can’t proudly show and express themselves without the beauty and power of hope.

Happily, I did not give the parking lot lady a churchy “priestly” pat answer. However, over coffee and some Danish we may have had both personal and heart-striving stories about the virtue of hope that is shown in those other two. By the way, what are those other two?

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There Is No “Christ”

How many times do we linger in self-pity? Avoid hardships because life appears unbearable. Still fearing death. For some, Christ has not yet suffered. Christ hasn’t shown us how to deal with life’s struggles. For some, Christ hasn’t died yet. For some, Christ is still alive.

How many times do we linger in anxiety? Anxious about so many things. Many of which we have no control over. So, we love to worry ourselves into a web of distress. For how many of us is the belief that there is no spiritual consolation. There is only isolation, living only for ourselves and holding ever so tightly on anything we can grab hold of. For some, Christ has not yet risen. Christ hasn’t shown us the new life that each day provides. The new life of losing a friend of many years and ignoring the new friend who reaches out to us. For some, Christ has not died and never rose. He is still alive.

How many times do we spend our time in endless devotions that provide little or no spiritual consolation? Weeping at our prayers. Going through prayerful exercises and ending up with the same emptiness when we began. For some, Christ has not yet risen. He is still alive. The opposite folks live life believing everything is festive and joyful for them; days pass in a continual song of Alleluia. But the milk must be withdrawn from then, and they must learn to live on solid food, says Hebrews. Deep inside themselves, they feel deserted by the Lord and bereft of grace. For some, Christ has not yet ascended. He is still alive.

How many times do we leave the upper room and aimlessly roam on our own? “Bereft of grace.” The gifts of the Holy Spirit are lost to us because they are nowhere to be found. How often do we spend our time thinking and believing that our lives are meaningless, bereft of purpose? For some, there is no Pentecost. No dove is hovering and protecting us with her seven priceless, divine gifts.

Anxiety, weeping, sorrow, confusion are all natural human emotions expressed throughout our lives. To remain in any of them is to see with a blind eye. To stay in any of them is to turn our ears deaf.

How sad for those who live sealed-off lives.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux inspired this reflection. How sad for those who’ve missed the great victory they might triumph over our common adversary and trample Satan under their feet, says St. Matthew.

Christ never died. Christ never rose from the dead. Christ never ascended to be with his Father. There are no seven divine gifts to give us a meaningful, purposeful life for our entire lives, no matter our age. (And, as I age, especially for all ages.) For some, there is no “Christ.” There is only Jesus who continues to live among and within our murky, gloomy lives.

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