Bowling With Jesus

bowling_ball_and_pinsThe 3, 6 and 9th Bowling frames are my favorites. What other sport not only allows but encourages you to drink! These three frames are called “beer frames.” When I was in college, I received a college credit for Bowling – Tuesdays, and Thursdays, true story.

3, 6 and 9 are the “fun frames” because you either receive a treat from someone or you are able to treat someone. (Although it may not feel like a treat while you’re paying for the beers.)

The other frames never really interested me which is why I’m not a serious bowler. The other frames were just stepping stones toward those “fun three.”

But there they are; those other frames – 1,2,4,5,7,8 and that defining the 10th frame.

Frames 1 and 2 are those formative years of ours. Finding the right shoes, the right weight ball (not too heavy but not too light which more easily leans toward the gutter. You get to know your teammates – some perhaps for years while others just pass through. Jesus chose twelve bowlers, not because of their skills but because of their passion. He saw something in them that triggered and excited something in him. “Maybe these guys can really pull off this ‘Kingdom of God’ stuff,” Jesus might have thought to himself.

“Oh, finally, here’s frame 3. I get to take a break and this time I get to receive a beer.” Perhaps, frame 3 is a graduation of some kind, grade school, high school, college or technical school. The first sip tells you that you’ve made it through life’s first mark and you feel great and proud of yourself.

Frames 4 and 5 bring the responsibilities of using those newly gained talents. Now’s the time to be tested. You’ve had those earlier frames to get yourself warmed up and ready; now the work really begins. I don’t like those electronic signs which show everyone’s scores. Good or bad, it’s clearly visible for all to see. (It was bad enough during a bad game to just have your teammates look at that low score next to your name.) That’s what frames 4 and 5 brings. Scrutiny. Evaluation. Comparison. Jealousy. Competition. Success or failure. You can’t help but wonder when…

“Oh wait! It’s not “Miller Time,” it’s “Frame 6 Time.” Another breather. The second pause to this game that is sometimes just like life. There may be slight milling around during this break. Talk about family changes, updates about houses or jobs, gossip about people you hardly know or sharing a stupid joke that you heard at work. Before the other team wonders what happened to you, you all gather for frames 7 and 8.

7 and 8 frames get a little easier. You’re comfortable now in your game. Either you’re slightly ahead of others, clearly ahead, solely behind or you just don’t care. Take your pick and you can link someone’s name to it. This is Jesus’ proving ground. Does he go through with this “God thing” to death or just chalk it up as a bad idea from a God he barely knows. He kneels at a stone and with a sweaty brow powerfully says, “If this can pass, I’m all for it. But if it is your will, I’m all in.” The other bowlers are sleeping off the two beers from frames 3 and 6 while Jesus continues his rumination, his doubts, his fears and truly his passion. He does this in private because no one else can capture, own, or live what he, himself, needs to do.

Oh yes, Jesus has read all the Ann Landers columns for years, the self-help books, friends from all over told him what was best for him and what the future held for him. He’s digested it all and now the 7 and 8 frames call him to something greater than himself. He suspects what it might be but is not entirely sure. He prays what he hopes it will not be but knows what he thinks it will be.

“Thank goodness, it’s the 9th frame. I thought it’d never come. Another beer! Only one more frame to go before I can place this heavy ball back into my bag. This heavy ball that has carried whatever I never wanted, what was placed upon me by life, what I carried inside myself that makes it so very, very heavy.

Roy Clark sang the song, “Yesterday When I Was Young,” and the song uses “tongue” as an image – a tongue to describe life’s regrets, successes, rewards, and punishments. Who would have thought of using a “tongue” as an image for life? Charles Aznavour. (Who would have thought of “Bowling” as an image for a Sunday sermon? Me!)

He begins the song…
“Yesterday when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue.
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game,
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame.
The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned
I’d always built to last on weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned the naked light of the day
And only now I see how the years ran away.”
He concludes the song…
“There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung,
I feel the bitter taste of tears upon my tongue.
The time has come for me to pay for
Yesterday when I was young…”

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Enjoy Roy Clark’s, “Yesterday When I Was Young”

The 10th frame. It’s your final throw and the game is completed. The shoes and ball are safely tucked into your bag, your teammates wave and smile as they return to their homes and families and as Roy sings, “Only I am left on stage to end the play.” This play, this game we call life. Jesus played all the frames and came out to be to the Son of God. Who would have thought? And now what lives within us is a Kingdom of complete mercy, total forgiveness, and an enduring hope.

There are many opportunities in between those 3, 6 and 9 frames but it is those frames that help define and make us who we are today.

Whatever the weight of your life’s bowling ball, carry it carefully because it contains concerns for your children and friends, our society and your own well-being. Carry it carefully, hold it close to your chest, and even when it gets too heavy but never, ever left go of it.

Those shoes that you would never wear in public are safely tucked away in memories, reminiscences, passing thoughts about your past.

The jersey? Keep your jersey because it represents community, fellowship and family. Your jersey doesn’t say on the back, “Wonder Bar” but it says that you led a life to the best of your ability, you’ve made mistakes and you’ve accomplished successes. The mistakes, Lord, are for you to unravel and figure out. I only want to hold on to my successes.

Do you think Jesus kept his life’s bowling jersey with the same message on the back of it? I think he did because we’re on the same bowling team.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons of
Advent/Christmas, & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church
and American culture

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings
from my cats’ perspectives

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“Letters From My Cats,” New Book

Available now at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle, a great gift for cat lovers!

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Picture Perfect

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Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle

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“What Is It?”

manna“It’s manna.” “No, I mean, what really is it?” “I’m telling you that it’s manna.”

At the beginning and during difficult times in our lives, this is the question we keep asking ourselves. If not those words then others similar in meaning. We may even preface those three words with the Son of God’s name with an exclamation point at the end. That statement tells us and those around us about the break from our normal to this now confusing or trying time.

“What is it?” is one definition of manna, food from Heaven. The forty-year desert travel was no picnic for the Israelites. God provided them with a daily, morning picnic of this dry food that needed to be quickly collected, eaten and stored before it evaporated. Manna from Heaven. God’s gift to help sun-drenched, thirsty people safely travel to their destination.

In difficult times we may not be able to identify or recognize a cause. We only have this one question with no response. It’s a numbing feeling, sometimes freezing. We look to manna, whether it’s a diagnosis, shocking news, a surprising turn of events or a personal shut-down. Manna allows us to gather, eat and store what we need to see through and beyond what holds us down.

Gathering, Eating & Storing

Calling our present situation “manna” allows us to make this whole experience spiritual, God-infused, God-influenced, God-centered. Including a spiritual perspective breaks us from the loneliness that bad news brings. Through prayer or meditation, we include a spirituality in our present and future deliberations. That’s the gathering of manna.

Gathering manna together with God connects us to family and friends who divinely represent the best of what manna means. We then slowly begin to eat, digest and become a part of a spiritual hope, fortitude or whatever strength we may need at the moment. (You are what you eat?!)

The storing of manna is my favorite part. Like a healthy squirrel, we fill our cheeks with all the “tomorrows” we can hold. It’s that damn “today” that holds us down but it’s those hope-filled “tomorrows” that lead to peace. If it sounds too optimistic then keep gathering until you reach a plateau beyond yourself. It is then that eating and storing will make sense and become real.

Later in the Scriptures, Jesus tells us that he’s the manna sent from Heaven. Those desert folks died, he said, but those who eat and drink of me will live forever.

Whatever union we seek, whether it’s Jesus or another form of spirituality, it all adds up to answering that haunting question during a questioning period in our lives, “What is it?”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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“Where Were You?”

where-mdWe may not always know who we are but we are error-free when is comes to knowing where we were when…

When what? Well, it’s when that happened. The “thats” are the significant events and times in our lives and the lives of others.

Kennedy assassination? Easy, sixth grade. We’d just finished the rosary after lunch and recess when Sister-Principal announces on the classroom speakers (We called her “Sister PA”) the tragic news. My sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Thomas had us kneel for another five of those decades to pray for the repose of our first Catholic president. (I wonder if we’d done the second time thing for a Protestant!)

Lee Harvey Oswald? Easy, also. It was late Sunday morning watching TV alone and hearing the gunshot in a tunnel transporting him to another location.

Johnny Carson’s farewell show? Cinch. I’m at a friend’s house in Illinois and he misses all the fanfare for that “old guy.” I got to hear Bette Midler sing her song to him as he wiped his eye toward the end. (Real tear of not doesn’t matter, it’s good television finishing thirty years.)

My ordination? I guess that’s not fair. Anyone in my shoes would remember everything about it. But still, it was Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and everyone’s waiting for my mother to appear. Prior to this, she decides to go for a walk with a priest-friend but we still started pretty close to the time in spite of a quizzical look from the retired bishop.

All my siblings weddings? Got it covered. I can even recall songs, food and beverages. The eldest sister’s choice was Pina Colada’s prepared in our home garage by my brother-in-law. (It was a marriage on the cheap, but still fun.) “Et Us Tu” was beautifully sung at their wedding.

I’m told that women are better at details…

I’m told that women are better at details of these “Where” events remembering colors worn, type of weather and even the shoes of others. (“She wore ‘those’ shoes to a wedding?”)

Both parent’s deaths? Exactly what you’d expect from their son. Both are engraved and never to be challenged for its details or feelings. (Even if some details may be slightly off.)

I remember my eighth-grade slap from Bishop Stanilaus V. Bono while being confirmed as a Catholic (to show being “a solider for Christ”) and serving morning grade school Masses with the priest who always smelled like strawberry jam.

1960’s songs conjure up memories with friends, locations and situations. “Atlantis,” by Donovan was playing on the driver’s radio when a friend and I hitchicked forty miles from the seminary to Appleton, WI for no apparent reason, only to prove that we could, indeed, do it.

Prince’s death and Bill O’Reilly’s dismissal both happened on vacations. The first was shock and the second was pure joy.

There’s more but you get the picture. Summon up your own “Wheres” and recollect what you can to recreate a specific time, in a particular place that partly shapes who you think you are.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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Two Guys On A Thursday Night

hearts_and_musical_notesSupper was enjoyable but it wasn’t the point that Thursday night. It’s the guy in front of his grand piano and off to the side the guy on his trumpet.

No introductions or warm-ups. Jumping right into a favorite song of theirs begins the evening ritual. Mellifluous thirds and thirteenths are floated off the piano along with life-learned minor chords. The trumpeter supports the melody with some added frills thrown in to buttress either the Burt Bacharach or Michel Legrand standards.

Music is all that matters for this ninety-minute session. Both are professionals but tonight there are no thoughts of appointments, no pending cases or past patients. No cell phone interruptions and only me as their invited intruder that Thursday night.

Trumpeter gently remarks, that, “Something’s not right here.” A discussion ensues inviting the pianist to play the melody with just one finger. “There’s the problem.” Solved. Back now to the wonderful memories, these songs retrieve with a new version enjoyed that Thursday night.

This wasn’t a “jam session,” that’s for kids in a garage. This was more like a cabaret only without the torch song singer or a chattering bar of patrons.

The evening seems to know when to end. It’s getting late and the two will need to tend to those forgotten items tomorrow. I spot a flute standing in the corner and pianist says that his wife is taking it up again. “Wonderful,” I respond. Perhaps, their Thursday night ritual will be renamed like Peter, Paul and Mary, “Six Legs and a Bra!”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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The Union of Body, Mind & Spirit

Burt Bacharach had a popular song titled, “A House Is Not A Home.”

Scripture readings talk about houses with many rooms – a good metaphor for our lives.

We all have a house. I don’t mean the structure we live in, I mean the structure that is our body. Our bodies: “a house of prayer,” our bodies: “a dwelling place,” our bodies: “built on a strong foundation,” with a lot of cemented faith thrown in.

How can we make our bodies (I mean our “houses”) “homes.” Home is that comfy place where newspapers can remain on the floor, some dirty dishes still in the kitchen sink and a bed that’s not always made. (Wait! Am I talking about my “home” or yours?!)

Being in healthcare all these years, I’ve always made fun of the advertising slogan of a union between “mind, body, and spirit.” It looks great on a poster but, let’s get real – how can you unify three so different forces: two from the earth and one from heaven.

The house of our bodies is no longer a house when a possible union like that takes place – that house becomes a home where God is welcomed and dwells.

The mind thinks that it’s the strongest when the mind is truly the least of the three elements. The mind is a mere pebble thrown into an ocean of body and spirit. You can try to “will away” all you want but how much control can the mind have over years of an aging body? The mind is that grade school bully that tries to impress everyone with brute strength during the day but who probably knits a sweater at night.

The body has a mind of its own. “Run to the store for me, please,” says a mom to her to her twelve-year-old daughter, and she does run – there and back. Nowadays, I don’t like walking to my car!

The spirit? That’s the tricky part of this equation because the spirit is inspiration, imagination, wonder – both wile and wild. You capture it for a moment and in a moment’s next, it’s gone. But spirit remains within you because it is, like the Blessed Mother, “full of grace.”

I pooh-poohed the union of mind, body, and spirit until it’s now happening to me these past few months. Since I lost my job or rather my job lost me – midday, most days, my hands start to twitch and I’ll feel my heart racing…and I’m sitting down!

I looked online, as only a savvy, tech person would do, and looked up “panic attack” and “anxiety attack.” There I found a wonderful article that’s proven my disunion of the three was wrong.

The article said that many times the mind is telling the body to gear up because something or someone is about to attack you so the body needs to get ready and energize itself to prepare for the fight. So, the body complies. No attack arrives but I’m left with shaky hands thinking a heart attack is next. (Then I start to think in my tiny mind, what songs do I want to be sung at my funeral, who’s going to preach, and if they dare put a roman collar on my dead body…)

The article calmly tells me to breathe in slowly through my nose and count to fifteen. Then, slowly exhale through my nose. “Do this as many times as necessary” until your body disarms itself.  It worked. And, it is working.

So my supposed strong-armed bully of a mind gives wrong information to my listening body which falsely reacts while my spirit is choosing songs for my funeral.

My body, once only my house – now becomes my home.

Burt’s song sings, “A chair is still a chair even when there’s no one sitting there but a chair is not a house and a house is not a home” until the spirit tells the mini mind to KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid”). Then, both my spirit and my mind informs my body that our faith journey throughout life ain’t no “house,” it’s a “home;” for it’s the place where God lives and dwells.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

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“Forever and Ever”

thLooking outside my kitchen window, I see my neighbor’s tree with its growing buds in early May. It quickly occurred to me that this same tree could easily look this same way in mid-August after a summer of showing off bright colorful leaves.

Beginnings only lead to endings and endings have a way of lingering until a new beginning arrives. An infant at baptism is clothed in white with a candle; clothed in Christ for a lifetime and a light to show the way to him. The funeral for that infant, hopefully, decades later, is again clothed in the risen Christ with an eternal light of happiness and peace. What begins eventually ends.

“Forever and ever” is the priest’s cue to the congregation’s response of “Amen.” If a priest needs a quick mental break then saying those three words gives him a pause to collect his thoughts. “Amen,” says the congregation implying agreement, acceptance and acknowledgment of something greater after the end, ends.

I attended a party for a first communicant (a second grader) and asked his mom if he went to confession beforehand. She said, “Yes.” I said that that “age of reason” (seven-years-old) is too early these days. One should make a good confession at thirty. She told me that she and her husband were called into the school’s office about their son. It seems he cheated on a spelling test. Anxious parents heard their son say, “Now I have something to confess!” He was happy he didn’t need to make stuff up for the ritual to happen. Now he had a ritual and an honest sin to offer to God.

I laughed because now he has a reason to know of God’s mercy and love. He sinned. He admits it and is sorry for it. He’s preparing for the end because he now has a beginning as a creature and not as the Creator. Sin is rarely about the action although we like to dwell on that. Sin is about the context of someone’s life that led to bad or irrational behavior. Catholic folks still dwell too much on doing “things” in order for other “things,” i.e. salvation, to occur. Yet the Church rejects any notion of doing something toward effecting something else. (See heresy.) It is never about “doing” anything in the name of religion but it is always about responding to what has been won for us because of Jesus Christ and our Creator.

One more rosary doesn’t quicken your heavenly journey. One more rosary is one more reason to be aware that God is actively influencing your life – in small and large matters.

My young communicate learned at an early age that the budding tree is also the same tree that will slowly lead to winter – that endless time when the priest sincerely says, “Forever and ever.”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

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My Graduation Speech In May

Alda_MASH_promoMay is the month of sending forth college graduates into the world of business, culture, finance or wearing a hat while saying, “Supersize that for you, ma’am?”

My May leads me to a new position that was not planned but is now expected. I love reading commencement speeches, read by famous people to the soon-to-be-famous people ending with tossed hats (preferably not to be replaced with a McDonald’s hat.) Their speeches are personal and meant to send forth and inspire the next generation of doers, some good and others not so much, to exceed their already successful speaker. Just reading them gives me goose bumps for the hope and enthusiasm sparked by the speaker’s own experiences of ups and downs.

I imagine this May that I’ll be sitting alone among 199 empty chairs and waiting to toss my hat (or cap!). My parents will not attend but they continue to live within me. My friends will not attend. They’ve shared their share of sympathy for me for months now but life has a way of leading their own lives forward without me.

Thinking of a keynote speaker speaking to an audience of one, I first thought of Alan Alda just because he’s Alan Alda. I would have chosen Robin Williams but he crapped out on me way too soon. I’d be humbled to hear about his depression and the peaks and valleys of his rich life. That’s the inspiration needed for any twenty-two-year-old or a sixty-four-year-old.

Bill O’Reilly called and told me that he’s available to speak but I said, “You’ve got to be kidding! Just write your next book, ‘Killing Bill O’Reilly.’”

I can name how many secondary or third-rate movie stars that I’d love to speak to me but you wouldn’t know who they are but they’re the ones that carry a star’s story forward by giving good or bad advice. They ground the film in real life making it a story worth watching. I like being that second or third billing as the movie credit scroll upwards.

So, I settle on M.A.S.H.’s Alan. In his role as Hawkeye, he performs the conventional duties he needs to perform surrounded by his spontaneous and surprising twists and turns. He’s excellent at what he does but everyone around him wonders about the rest of him. I like that about him and I like that about me.

I’d sit in the middle of those 199 empty chairs to make him comfortable as the chancellor introduces him as those I need an introduction since I invited him. He’d approach the podium to my singular applause. (You don’t stand until he’s finished.)

He’d thanked the necessary people for being here (Two: my imaginary chancellor and myself seated somewhere in the 100th seat.)

He’d say, “It’s good you can still toilet yourself (only in Healthcare is “toilet” a verb) and that you’re still able to drive” (although I feel Uber is in my near future). “You still have much to offer,”  (“Still?” What happened to my oyster analogy? If you “still” me once more it’ll be an audience of zero.)

But now he’s talking. Alan launches into a litany of qualities that have seen him through life – both in character and real life. He revels and is proud of both his successes and other’s misconceptions about him. He said, “Even when people don’t understand me, it makes me laugh and a better man.” He said, “Keep doing what you do best and you just may stumble over kernels of truth along the way.”

Colonel Potter gave a line that I’ve never forgotten, “If you aren’t where you are then you’re nowhere.” Hawkeye is under house arrest (it’s a tent) and Frank Burns taunts him by standing at the entrance saying, “I can go in and I can go out,” repeating it again and again.

I applaud Alan for his attendance although his fee didn’t include a picture with me. I imagine the other 199 graduates leave with me on an onward, unknown future full  of possibilities, promise, and proper pay.

During my last few years of priestly ministry, I’d like to feel some goose bumps from time to time and to thank Alan Alda, I mean God.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

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A Parish Priest’s Checklist

Do Only Good

cartoon-priest-clip-art-7734-672x372…Everyone has a story and yours is heard second or third or never
…Every child is beautiful except newborns but you still mention the resemblance
…Every duty is a privilege, the duty becomes a challenge which moves to commitment
…Uncover someone’s personal beliefs, the pope is always right and always wrong
…Affirm always
…Encourage constantly
…Never correct, only plant a seed
…Smile when you can’t hear and listen for keywords when you can
…You are not “The Church,” so kill the french cuffs and be yourself
…It’s not a sin to say, “I really don’t know the answer to that”
…Don’t read the gospel after reading the gospel to begin a sermon
…In conversation, your greatest gift is silence with a periodic chuckle or sigh when appropriate
…There’s no such thing as a “bad meeting,” only divided people needing common ground
…Everyone’s child is great at sports
…One phone call to someone in need outweighs all of your beautiful sermons
…Never treat the parish as a whole but as bits and pieces of members that happen to belong to the whole
…After Mass, take two minutes to be interrupted by someone while talking to someone else (It may be your only opportunity)
…Every wedding and funeral is special, even though one may end in five years and the other is pure celebration
…When you want to act shocked, choose surprised
…Run your thought through your head and rinse it before you speak
…You are not a member of the papal policemen
…Don’t react to actions but listen for context, context, context – it takes longer but you’re given a stronger grounding for giving advice
…Never give advice (review previous point)
…”No money, no mission” is wrong, when there’s a compassionate mission, there is always money

Only Do Good

…The pastor is always right, sometimes

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Musings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

 

 

 

Only

 

Posted in preaching, Priest, Spirituality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment