“Doubting Thomas?” Think Again

We’re given all the answers to all of life early on in our lives. Our thoughtful parents carefully transmit their responses to us. We trust, believe, and follow their lead. The “terrible two’s” arrive, and the incessantly repeating of “Why?” is given to every intelligent parental response. Things quiet down for a while until high school’s sophomore year, sophomore meaning “wise fool.” The doubts creep in even stronger until the mid-twenties, when we realize how smart our parents quickly got.

Then there’s the star of today’s gospel, Doubting Thomas. An undeserved handle to conveniently categorize and contain him in our illusionary way of controlling people. Why don’t we call Peter “Two-timing Peter” for all of his back and forth commitment to Jesus? Or call him “Miser Matthew.” Because of his previous trade, he probably kept a little on the side just if this Messiah thing didn’t work. Nope. It’s only “Doubting” Thomas. The man who wanted the questions were asked first instead of accepting the answers to all of life’s inquiries. I think Thomas was a down-to-earth kind of guy. Jesus is crucified, and are his fellow friends letting their imaginations run wild? Were they drowning their sorrows by drinking that cheap wine again, thinking about a resurrection?

Thomas is that plane-spoken man. Lazarus dies, and Jesus wants to visit his friend and his sisters. The apostles object because Jesus’ life might be in jeopardy. The Jews may kill him in Bethany. Knowing of Jesus’ love for Lazarus, Thomas convinces the other that they accompany Jesus he will be safe. Does that sound like “doubt” to you? And then Jesus gets poetic, as he sometimes does, with his “Don’t let your hearts be troubled” poetry. A favorite for us at funerals. Thomas chimes in and says, “Just tell us what you mean?” Jesus nips it in the bud and says, “I’m way, truth, and life. Happy now, Thomas?” Thomas would have gladly responded, “Yes, now that makes sense.”

We were given all of life’s answers in our developing years. Developing years that continue for our entire lifetimes. At the offertory part of the Mass, we are asked to lift up to God our whole lives. As I said on Easter Sunday, we lift up our entire lives, including all of our assured answers as well as our daunting doubts. For any of that to be missing would not be the life God wants of us.

We were given all of life’s answers in our developing and still developing years. Doubt. How often we dismiss someone by saying, “I doubt he can do it.” The game’s tied in the fourth quarter, and it’s third and seven. We yell at the TV, ‘the quarterback is IN jeopardy.’” Doubt and hope mixed together. A reasonable doubt holding out for a heavenly hope. He makes good with his fateful toss. Now, put these words together: “The quarterback is ON Jeopardy!” “No, say it ain’t so, Joe.” A dumb jock hosting the most challenging quiz show on television!?

We all have our faith-filled answers to any of life’s questions. “Dumb jock?” “Doubting Thomas?”

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Easter: “langue de veau” Anyone?

I was sitting all by myself at the kitchen table after dinner. Everyone had eaten and left, and my mother was cleaning up. It was staring right up at me. My third grade feet couldn’t touch the floor, so running when her back was turned was not an option. Staring at me was a tongue taken from a calve sandwiched between bread. A cute little calve became a mute, so I could stare at it as though the tip stared back at me.

“Calves Tongue,” considered a delicacy and served in our humble Manitowoc home. There was nothing delicate about living in Manitowoc, so why push this delicacy into a young person’s mouth? I had my tongue, so I boldly told her, “No, No, I’m not gonna eat this thing.”

Not one to lose, my mother insisted, hence my sole presence at her table. If only she’d introduced it to me in French, “langue de veau,” I would have gobbled it up and bragged about it the next day at school. “My mother can cook French!” Nope. It was only said in blunt English. When she turned off the kitchen light, I suspect that was my cue to tough it out and eat the darn thing—a battle of wits between a forty-six-year-old and a nine-year-old. 

I took a small bite and ran to the sink, and spit it out. She made her point, and I made mine. I tried a piece. It was a win-win except for the calve who now needed to learn sign language.

All right. What does this have to with Easter and sin? Our God is patiently waits for us. The delicacy of forgiveness is staring us right in our face. Psalm 23 cleverly tells us, “You set a table before me in the sight of my foes.” In our honesty and sincerity, we put our weaknesses right where we can see and control them. We already do this with our gifts and talents, so why not proudly and humbly hold dear to our sins?

What we take for granted but is interesting, the resurrected Christ’s body still shows the holes and scars. One author writes, “there’s a Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery pieces with lacquer dusted with gold. The artist will take the broken work and create a restored piece that makes the broken parts even more visual. Jesus came not to fix us and not just to restore us, but to make us something new.” Another shares, “If a scar is a healed wound, a wound that the body has managed to rescue and restore – then in some way, Christ’s entire bodily form, having suffered the ultimate injury of death but having been rescued and restored, is that of a scar. Perhaps our scars, which are so often a source of shame and regret, are the truest clues we have to the full form of our resurrection bodies.”

How often do we begin to think if only we only don’t call it “sin.” There must be a fancy-sounding French word for our failings? Perhaps a “minor lapse”? Or, how about naming it a “silly mistake”. Or, better yet, it was a “mindless error”. A favorite is saying the following day, “It was the alcohol talking!” (Which I believe is anatomically impossible.) Wouldn’t that make the swallowing of our pride easier? Nope, because that’s not the word. The word is sin.

Another author shares with us, “The resurrection of Christ Jesus reimagines our lives on earth. Life from above brings hope and healing in our worldly needs. Everyone learns about things of heaven when lives on earth are changed.” Everyone learns about things of heaven when lives on earth are changed. I like that. The mystery of mysteries. One more author. “Our griefs, shaming, betrayals, disabilities are so much a part of who we are that they will not be simply discarded and left behind. They will come essential to the beauty that awaits us.”

It’s the Easter hope of taking a small bite out of our pride and then spitting it out as a sign of release. Then turning off the light and enjoying a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s eyes are now opened a little wider and the days after. That’s a Easter hope. It’s a hope will never, ever fail us. God then even blesses us with a prayer of forgiveness, whether in the confessional or sincerely sent upwards from our hearts.

Try it sometime. You may be able to live more fully with your “langue de veau”. Mother said, “It’s high in protein.” Or is it the Divine grace glorified for us tomorrow morning.

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“Nicodemus is You and Me”

It’s the elements of life. It’s not earth, wind, and fire because they surround us. (They were also a great rock band.)

It’s the spiritual elements like an illuminating light that influences and fills your life. Sadly, it can also be the slowly darkening absence of that light that comfortably hides our faults and failures. And, how about the element of uncovering the virtue of hope? Hope, to soften life’s lifelong daunting doubts. It certainly isn’t that certainty we foolishly look for. It is greater than certainty. It is hope. It’s the life element of almost leading a double life – like a secret spy – acting one way but believing in another. And not knowing when to choose the challenging better instead of settling for the easier lessor.

Halfway through Lent, the Church calls this “rejoice” Sunday. Our scripture readings barely talk about that beautiful word, rejoice. Instead, scripture gives us a picture of a man who is now my new hero. I knew his name but only thought of him as a gateway to something Jesus wanted us to hear centuries later. His behavior is like ours. His name? Nicodemus.

He’s everything we’re taught not to be, and he becomes everything we want to be. (Repeat that sentence?) He asks the Master late at night (darkness, anyone!?), “How can I get to heaven?” Jesus replies, “Be born again.” “Go back inside my mom and come out again?” asked the baffled Nicky. (I nicked name him that, shorthand.) “No, you crazy guy,” replies Jesus. Rebirth resides in your soul, the heart of God living within you. Renew, reborn, remember…all of it is a gift from God, grace-filled, not of our doing, which makes it a gift.

Nicky, oh Nicky. You belong to the ruling class of Jerusalem, full of traditions and rituals that have lost their meaning, their purpose. You ponder and doubt. You hear about this guy with a marvelous message of hope and meaning. You wonder what he’s all about. We think of temptation in regard to sin but the Good News of our faith is also and hopefully more tempting to embrace. Within Nicky is a longing for a purpose that is not being fulfilled. You can’t just quit thinking and praying about it and simply move on. You are not only a Pharisee but also a tried and try a member of the Sanhedrin. The governing class one step behind the Roman governor who washed his hands on the matter of this man.

You meet the Master again, and he tells you about believing. Believing in something greater than yourself . Standing beyond traditions and rituals but properly celebrated and enmeshed in ceremony and rituals. (Still, following me? I like this Nicky guy.)

Here’s three “who” for you? Who takes Jesus down from the cross? Who anoints him with oil and cloth so his mother can hold him just one more time? Who helps prepare the tomb for his three day stay? Yep, it’s the guy who found rebirth and renewal in his own way. Nicky’s considered a saint in some churches because he represents all of our doubts, fears, and risks. He wants to believe in a life more remarkable and more significant than his own. A greater life that’s united with his. It’s the bent knee (or at least half of it bent as we get older), it’s the eloquent bow, it’s the reverence we show in Church. Nicky showed us his bent knee, his solemn bow hearing the words of salvation from Jesus Christ, and he exhibited a reverence we hope to offer to others, especially outside these walls.

The Pharisees and Sanhedrin walled themselves inside themselves. All done to ensure their personal safety and position and their artificial authority. Insulating themselves into a god of their own making. (Small “g.”) They were blinded by their own personal light as we can be blinded by our hidden light; hidden away in the darkness of our lonely, self-serving selves.

Rejoice? You bet. Rebirth? Renewal? Believing as best we can? Compassion and caring? You bet. He’s my guy, my new guy to emulate.

My guy, Nicky. Nicodemus, or should I call him “Joe” or all of your names?

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Spiritual “Twists & Turns”

“Twists & Turns”

What kind of God would ask a father to kill his son. Abraham and Isaac, always a confusing confession of faith for us. But, is it not the event but the context that makes a difference? Events come and go, but the context of our lives lives with us our whole life long. Sounds baffling. It shouldn’t be. It’s life’s twists and turns that makeup and help us define our lives.

God asks Hosea to marry a prostitute. Ummm, interesting of our Creator to do that. How about the command to lie on your side for over a year to prophesy the fall of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel)

That’s nothing. How about planning the perfect wedding, exchanging vows on the shores of Lake Michigan. Beautiful Saturday afternoon, 4:30, Sheboygan. Except no one reminded us about the winds that time of day as sands fills our clothes and hair. We hurry to a hallway to exchange those sacred vows because the ballroom wasn’t ready yet. The couple always now has a ready-made story to tell their friends.

Then there’s that misnamed story, “The Prodigal Son.” It’s not about the crazy, wild kid; it’s about the crazy, enduring love of the dad. Kill the fatted calf for the son who took half of your inheritance? An inheritance he wasn’t entitled to? So much for retiring at Alexian Village.

Speaking of the calf. There’s a lamb in the Abraham/Isaac story. More twists and turns. In the Christian tradition, the entire Bible points to Jesus, which is especially true of Abraham/Isaac. ‘This passage is like a lock,” one author writes. “Jesus is the key that unlocks it for us. Think about the parallels between this story and the story of Jesus. Both Isaac and Jesus are ‘beloved sons’ who have been long-awaited and are born in miraculous circumstances. Both sons carry the wood that is to be the instrument of their deaths on their backs. In both cases, the father leads the son, and the son obediently follows toward his own death. God provides the sacrifice, which Abraham says will be a lamb. Jesus was also an innocent son who went willingly up the mountain to be crucified.” “Lamb of God,” anyone?

There’s your quick crash course in Biblical Theology. Having lunch with a good friend on Friday, she tells me that the void of her husband’s death, after over forty years of marriage, is filled now with her young grandchildren. Her second bedroom is filled with toys and dolls for their often overnight visits. Twists and turns, or is it turns and twists? Sometimes, I get confused.

We still sillingly (I know it’s not an earthly word, but it’s my new Christian word); we still sillingly believe in this linear trip through life. “A leads to B” which soon will become “C.” If you say that when you’re twenty, then I will understand you. If you’re over forty, then you should know better. Those “A’s” and “B’s” can be loaded with a whole bunch of “Z’s.” Good and bad “Z.” It’s called a surprise when you’re happy. It’s called a shock when unhappy. In faith, it is all wrapped up in the mystery and understood as best as you can. Surprise, shock and mystery.

What about what’s-his-name who spent three days in the belly of a whale? Nice way to spend a weekend, don’t you think? Or, does it connect Christ’s three hours of death on the cross and his three days in the tomb. Or, is it Lent’s three pillars of praying, fasting, and almsgiving? Gee, I’m not sure in measuring life’s time, but I’m entirely convinced in living and honoring my Christian life of faith.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his song, “What are senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent.” I love that verse.

One personal caution when you leave church today. The expression, “there’s always a reason” works for dismissing the context of your life. There is not always a reason. And, we can argue about the expression of “it’s God will” for hours but again it minuses our involvement. God is not the wizard behind the curtain and I don’t own a pair of ruby slippers.

I recently learned that a parish director was planned to replace Debbie, but here I am. Second choice? Call me “Fr. Leftovers?” Or a turn and twist that somehow has meaning not in its event but within a context. The event is called life. The context is called the Christian experience. Our own Andy was ready to enjoy retirement (A to B) until a glitch caused him to return to his favorite parish. Surprise, shock and mystery? Sometimes, it can happily all happen together.

I’m confident that many of you have human episodes that broadly and profoundly contain a spiritual relationship. Events that happen with a context to be lived. Place those events within a spiritual connection to our Creator and then watch how the miracle of life becomes a holy and worthy life.

How about this one? A hardly teenage girl is honored as not only the mother of our Savior but God’s mom.

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“Lent?” Maybe Not This Year

Sadly, our grandmother needed to die first. We liked her a lot, but it happened. It wasn’t long after that we got hers for our family home. I thought we’d never get one.

Our black and white was okay until I saw a color one through our living room window. You see, our neighbors, who were childless, got to purchase a precious color one. Our home full of children could not. (You do the math.) “My mother’s dismissive answer to my plaguing requests? “Ours is just fine.”

The program was “Bonanza.” Sunday night. 1960’s. Walking through our living room, I looked through our window into the window of our childless neighbors. And there it was, as the announcer announced with a harp playing in the background. Thinking today, I don’t know how color can have an adjective of “living,” but it was compelling to a young mind living in a house with too many siblings and watching the same show only in two flat, blah colors.

Jesus tells us, “This is the time.” Just like Jesus, how does our dreary “black and white” Lent turn into the “living color” (whatever that means) of Easter?

“This is the time.” At the end of Lent, we’ll hear powerful, colorful words tossed about like hope, promise, covenant, newness, eternal life, hoping to have all of it land into our laps and hearts. How do we move from the “black and white’s” of our lives to live in its “living color?”

Oh, but wait! What if this Lent is not your time? We can go through the motions because of the Church’s calendar, but our hearts and souls aren’t in it. What I mean is that what if your big “this is the time” moment isn’t until May 10, July 2, or even August 2 or sometime next year? The Church provides a blueprint for us called Lent. The Church shows us how it’s done, so you’ll know the sequence when it does happen to you. You will know what to expect.

“This is the time.” We all have them throughout our lives; trust me on that. Do we let others decide for us, so we have someone to blame if things go a-rye? Do we postpone that time as long as possible, waiting for other options to pop up, or do we just procrastinate? The Church gives us a yearly Easter date, but it may not our date.

I saw something beautiful through my Lenten window into the window of Easter. I saw a hint of it. In “living color,” whatever that means. My counsel of friends and family help in my Easter view – new life, discernment, prayer. I ponder never for answers (God doesn’t give answers), but God does grace us with grace, guidance, strength, and what Scripture calls “the right path.” How do we move from the “black and whites” of our lives to one’s lived in a “living color?” Life decisions, of all kinds, are never easy to make or resolve.

“This is the time.” Time for what? We each know, in our hearts, what it’s time for. Change? Modification? Renewal? Retrieving? Remembering? Reconciling with a co-worker or friend about a disagreement neither of you remembers? Letting go of an attitude about yourself that’s been holding you down year upon year? Always the worst, apologizing. In second place is self-forgiveness. Forgiveness of another, whether living or deceased (deceased is trickier but still doable) is number three. The Church’s calendar gives a yearly date, but your date will be as they say, “TBA.”

Simple or profound. It’s all enriching, folks, for the beautiful faith given us at Baptism and a renewed Baptism, every single Easter. Whether it be done through life’s erasing or in life’s enhancing. That’s the paschal mystery of Easter.

Remembering my grandmother’s color TV today, I perceive it as new life and new attitudes, and a renewed faith that this holy season provides. When our “this is the time” comes, please remember that announcer from many years ago proclaiming to you and your Easter decisions (complete with a harp), “And brought to you in living color on NBC.”

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“Ssstuttering Moses”

“Glimmer and Glances” is the title of my reflection today. It’s interesting, to me, that Protestants always have a clever name for their sermons. It’s even listed on their outdoor church sign. And priests? Well, they just seem to talk and talk some more.

So, as Joan Rivers famously said, “Let’s talk.” Our strengths are strongly projected in public because power is what we want the hearer to hear. “Put your best foot forward?” Or, it is?

“Glimmer and Glances.” It’s the snippets of the divine that blesses our humanity. It’s an enviable unity that only seems to show itself in moments of glances and glimmers. It’s a beautiful day, and you’re walking along, and suddenly you find yourself immersed in something, someone beyond yourself. You stop walking and wonder. You say to yourself, “Isn’t this cool? What’s happening?” It means that you’ve united yourself with your Creator. Creation to created. The two “C’s” meet, if only for a short time. Heck, it could be raining, and you feel the same union just like Gene Kelly did while swinging around the street lamp in the middle of a stormy rain. That, brothers and sisters is joy. Pure joy. Even the cop at the end of Gene’s dance can’t figure it out. That’s a glimmer.

I said before, “strength is what we want the hearer to hear.” So very wrong from a Christian perspective. Catholic/Christians believe it is from our weaknesses that gains, not strength, but the full humanity that God intended for us.

You heard Moses tell us today, [He] “spoke to all the people, saying: ‘A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him, you shall listen.’” Listening to Moses, however, may take a while. Why? Because Moses had a ssstuttering problem. Simple words passing his lips in machine gun time. Pour guy. Charlton Heston stuttering? How long would that Cecile B. DeMille movie have been? So, Moses got his brother Aaron to speak for him to make the film a little bit shorter.

I didn’t have a brother named Aaron. In my third grade, the nun had me stand up and say my name, and I couldn’t say it. I just could not say my name even when my fellow classmates already knew my name. Unknowingly, I found my weakness at an early age but never owned it until adulthood. I know my troubling words and try to avoid them. (That list keeps growing, by the way.)

“Overcome your weakness, and you’ll find strength,” says how many religions. I tell you, “Embrace your weakness and realize your humanity – that’s combining those two “C’s” I mentioned to you before.

Sometimes, it may take you several seconds or more to hear the word I’m trying to say. (It’s only a few seconds out of your agenda-filled life.) My wanting-to-say-the-word but not-saying-the-word often comes to you in threes. I’m trying to say the word, and many try to give me the word I’m trying to say. I don’t need your help. It’s my word, and I know the word I want to say.

Is it a weakness? Can I drop a few rungs off the ladder of my priestly priesthood and my own pride? Or, do I blame God or my mother?

I realize what I’m saying doesn’t work in sports. The coach yells, “Find his weakness and then use it against him.” Religion and spirituality is not a sport. No winning, and no champagne thrown over your head.

There is only our humanity – complete with its successes and failures, lived as best we can. Celebrated together in joyful praise to the glory of God. I emphasize “together.” Over twenty-five years in radio and over forty as a preacher, I somehow think that I’m doing okay.

What is the “glimmers and glancing” in your life? Porgy Pig joins me in talking to you as best we can. “Ttthat’s all folks!”

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Timely & Timeless

“It’s about time,” your mother says, sitting in the living room in her pj’s at 1:00 a.m. when you promised to be home at curfew’s 11:00 p.m. Time appears to then take a new meaning when it is reduced to time that is grounded. “Two full weeks!?”

Said quickly together, “about time,” it means the now, this moment.

Two words say it all, “about time.” But does it? What if you take a pause between the words “about” and “time.” What happens then? Then the sound is, “It’s about…time.” The first is specific, and the second swallow up the whole of it. The second is the kit caboodle of it all.

We live in both those times. The first is the dreaded dentist’s appointment and the happy class reunion where you look better than the rest. The second, the one said with a pause, shows us the whole of our time, the time of the world and that timeless place above us.

A piercing question for us this weekend. Do we kill the messengers (our two lectors), or do we kill the message? I hope the answer is neither, for we know and like these two lectors, and we need to heed scripture’s messages.

Lector One: “Forty days more,” and this city will no longer exist. “Repent.” (That’s tender and warm!) Lector Two: “For the world in its present form is passing away.” (That’s reassuring and soothing.!) Thank you very much, the two of you, for your threatening and awfully ominous words.

Jesus comes along in the gospel, which I got to read, and gives us all a glimmer after our lectors’ unpromising promises. “This is the time of fulfillment,” Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” His last sentence is said on Ash Wednesday when we are again reminded of our fragile, fleeting, timed mortality.

So now I return to that every turning clock. I smile at churches that have a clock somewhere inside or outside. The church is the only place that reminds us of the timelessness of our lives. It’s never 4:15 past the hour on the church’s tower; it is happily 4:15 leading toward eternal life.

My dad had a cheap Timex watch that broke, but he gladly proclaimed, “It’s right twice a day!” He bought a new cheap watch.

We live in a specific time, but each time we gather here, we honor those words which cue us to say, “Amen.” The priest says, “for ever and ever.” One forever is not enough to measure the timelessness of God’s loving promise of mercy and grace and our some day return to our heavenly home.

“There is no time like the present,” we quickly say when that present second passes away to the next. I don’t mean to scare you as the lectors did this morning. But, it’s January, and what better time to repent, believe, and live our beautiful gospel of peace, harmony, and unity than this very second, the very hour, throughout our very lives.

Nevertheless, cue the broadway/movie, “Annie?” “The sun’ll come out tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that…” That luscious, escape word “tomorrow.” That’s the word allowing us to conveniently postpone and shelve. “How about I take a rain check on that?” we say to ourselves. What part or parts of our spiritual lives do we comfortably say, “tomorrow?” Or, maybe and perhaps days after that?

Well, my time is up. Let’s see how long the rest of Mass lasts so we can better manage and handle our timely, yet timeless timed lives.

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Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?”

The department store clerk, working on commission, approaches you and asks, “What are you looking for?” “Just browsing,” you reply.

Lots of browsing in churches and other places of worship these days. It’s what cynics call, “Ala cart Catholics.”

But what about us? We the regulars at this weekly feast and perhaps a browser present somewhere in the congregation.

We are all the disciples walking in the shadow of Jesus Christ. He hears some sandals crunching the sand behind him and wonders what’s going on here. So, he naturally turns around and asks the groupies, “What are you guys looking for?”

They’re dumbfounded because life’s question has been asked to them. “What do I say?” “Because, frankly I don’t know?” It’s the third most question asked right behind, “Why am I here?” What and why? Almost always unanswerable so it’s easy to keep asking it. Safer that way.

You know folks, we appear to have a problem locating ourselves at any given moment in life. Where’s a GPS app for Catholics? I call them the “Three ‘W’” questions. (A clue: the first two are the wrong “W’s.”) The “whats and “whys” of life are the easiest to ask because they are never answered. They are the safe questions with no risk and no divine answer.

“What’s happening to me?” “Why am I here?” The best question only begins with the only authentic “W” word – “Who?” Who am I during my one-time episode, my one-time appearance in this wonderful book called “Salvation History?”

Is it looking for easy answers to questions we can barely articulate? Or does magic win out over mystery in our searchings? How many religions promise that you’ll like yourself more if you only believe their teachings (and a little cash helps)? “Ahhh, I want to like myself more!” The worst search of all is to freely hand over your personal responsibility to someone else, aka God. “Oh, now I got it, God’s the reason for my crummy life!”

Begin each morning with this question of faith from our man of faith, “What are you looking for?” Your response then turns out the “Who question.” Who are you? This insight then becomes living that day; and the days after that. But I’m not finished yet. Asking “who” questions becomes a collaboration between you and God witnessed within the Body of Christ.

That department store clerk working on commission? That’s Jesus Christ. He works on commission. He’s commissioning us to be Him, as best we can – sometimes without asking that often unanswerable question. That’s Christ’s paycheck.

“Oh, I’m just browsing,” as if to say, “leave me alone and let me roam life’s aisle after aisle without every shopping or buying. No investment. How about immersing yourself in the mystery of God’s love every single day. Then your looking and searching just may be found and answered.

While walking in the shadow of Jesus who’s the subject in his question? “What are YOU looking for?” That’s borderline selfish. That’s like talking to a shadow, walking in darkness or colors of gray and waiting for some kind of answer. Better yet, let’s not walk behind Jesus but let’s walk alongside him and then hear the real question asked of us from his Father.

With our little sins (that we make out to be so great) and so much more grace (that we keep turning down) living within our lives; God, the Father, asks each and everyone of us, “What am I looking for in you?”

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Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus…pretty powerful since Jesus was without sin.

Thank you for my baptism to St. Catherine. You are slowly allowing yourselves a chuckle or two during a sermon. It’s okay. The walls of this ancient church will not crumble when a reference is made for your humorous approval or understanding. There’s more of that but not today.

Jesus clearly showed us how life is lived. However, it doesn’t seem fair since he only had three years compared to ours – what seventy, eighty, ninety ones? But, be that as it may…I guess he needed a shorter time than we do. He showed us how to a person. Please don’t take that pronoun lightly because it is the height and the depth of God’s creature. To be a “person.”

The other day someone said to me as a sort of apology about someone, “You know it’s only human nature.” Told to me as though that’s a convenient out. As a way of dismissing questionable behavior. I replied, “Jesus showed us how to be human.” The best theology you’ll ever hear from the Catholic Church is that to be fully human, a person, is to be God. Combine all the events of the life of Jesus. “Fully human, fully divine?” That’s not a fancy Hallmark greeting card that, brothers and sisters, is the hallmark of our faith.

When are you at your best? When you are most yourself? You say something stupid to someone and driving home think to yourself, “Did I really say that?” Yes, you did. You were not being yourself. You were not the created creature created by the Creator. So, you call your friend the next day and apologize. Now you are the created creature created by the Creator. (Using four “C” words in one sentence. It is the belief that the holy lives within our human nature that is divinely ours).

The union of human and divine is made one through the life and times of Jesus Christ, beginning with his sinless baptism. The Catholic theology of baptism evolves from the original sin. That’s not because this young thing is full of evil but remains a reminder of where we came from – a sinful ignorance of our humanity by eating that tempting red apple of knowledge and then blaming everyone else except yourself. The apple’s kind of experience is reserved for the divine. Human sin tempts our fragile humanity with a “know it all” attitude.

Baptism, sacramentally, propels us in confidence and trust toward a life worthy of life. Managing the sorry side of our selfishness. Baptism naturally welcomes us into a church of fellow travelers, sometimes weak but more often strong. Because, aren’t we stronger together? Aren’t we more sure of ourselves because we have others to nuance our thinking and keep us on a more confident path toward God’s Kingdom? Like any sacrament, it is never about an individual, but it is about being an individual (a person) within a community.

“Three persons in one God?” Ummm. Human and Divine? Sound familiar? One person, living within us, thanks be to Jesus Christ. Human and Divine.
We keep splitting those two apart because of our life’s foibles and follies. (That’s the polite way of calling a sin a sin.) Uniting human and divine, as Jesus did, gives us both the humility of humanity and the power of a grace-filled divinity; slowly becoming a person.

We may never reach the fullness of personhood; that is our gift given us at baptism. Deep in our souls we know when we’ve been Christ-like. A popular hyphenated word. That’s the baptismal effect. We also know when we’ve denied our baptism because of that tempting, damn, red, delicious apple. (Can you say “damn” in church?)

Jesus showed us and continues to show us. We try our best. It’s a lifelong journey offering few times for recess. Why do I choose recess? Because my eighth-grade nun told us, kids, repeatedly, “Good, better, best. May it never rest until the good gets better the better best.” That’s is the Baptism of Jesus, and it is the baptism of us.

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“Inbetween,” The Way It Was Meant To Be

My favorite time of the year is this between time between Christmas and New Years’. It’s a favorite because it describes a pet word of mine. Its meaning means what we all love …and… sometimes hate. “Inbetween.” I know that it’s two words, as it should be, because it combines the “now” and then the “then.” But the Church thinks of it as, truly, one word.

After December 25, when do we stop saying, “Merry Christmas?” Is it the 26 or does the 26 still count but not the 29? When do we begin to say “Happy New Year?” Is it December 27, or do we wait until New Years Day, 12:01 a.m., to call all our neighbors and friends? (I wouldn’t suggest that, by the way.)

The time that is “in between.” You find yourself grieving and anxious at the same time when you leave one job and anticipate another. “Maybe I should have stayed on just a few more years,” you think to yourself, “But this new job looks better.” So why not. If someone tells you that she’s “in between jobs” then it becomes an uncomfortable time. It means that the “in between” is twining (being joined together) waaaay too long. Her saying “in between jobs” is a polite way of not saying “unemployed.” You raise a family during this “in between” time, typically lasting around 18 years. But you find that that time gets longer and longer as you wake your 30-year-old son to get to work.

The doctor tells you “two weeks” for those test results, and you’ve now created for yourself the space that becomes those two words. A spouse or good friend passes away, and that dreadful space is again created between the death and periodic cemetery visits.

Our whole lives are an “in-between” time from our birth to our death. We live in this temporary world temporarily with always a Christian eye toward the eternal life that promises not to be “in between” anything. But we hardly have a clue what that is.
Jesus lived “in between” his birth and his ascension. In the gospels, what comprised His “in between” time is boiled down for us as three years. We continue to live those three years of His during our “in between’s.” His life destroyed time’s duration and erased all of our “in between’s.” And, on this feast day beginning a new year, who’s the humble but strong woman who lived the “in between” time of Jesus. I believe it’s the name that we honor as each new year begins to unfold. All under her guidance and protection.

St. Luke said it best, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, (“in between” time anyone?) and to be a sign that will be contradicted (Mary lived with the many of life’s contradictions) and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” A sword toward Mary breaks the difference between then and now. The Blessed Mother confirms the unity that her Son lived and died for.

Retirement can rightly be called an“in between time.” We’re “in between” whatever we did and what follows receiving that gold watch. What does time mean to a retired person? An extra cup of coffee with a good friend because time moves slower? Or, do you say to yourself at 11:00 p.m., “Ah, go ahead and finish the movie. I’ll sleep-in tomorrow morning.” Or, better yet, “I’d like to volunteer for something, but I’m not sure what.”

And for those who continue to work? That “in between time” from Friday night to Monday morning belong? How is that time spent and honored?
Well, so much for my “in between” behavior as though there is “this” (earth) and “that” (heaven). The two have been miraculously united. “On earth as it is in heaven,” anyone?

So, there you have it. I’ve been happy to be your spoken “in between guy” during Mass. I’m the guy sandwiched between the sacred scripture readings and the good part that happens at the altar. It’s the Masses’ ending part that joyfully offers us His Body to erase our “in between” times as He showed us how to do it.

So … do I wish you a “Merry Christmas,” or have you already thrown away your Christmas tree when it’s properly disposed of on February 2? Or … do I wish you a “Happy New Year” because I’m wearing that silly pointed cap with my noisemaker?” Or, should I say the elusively inclusive, “Happy Holidays?”

Or, from a Christian perspective, is it both/and all performed and lived at the same time?

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