“Troubled Others?” Me Happy!

“Someone else is worse off than you,” Mother would tell me about my failing grade in science. (I didn’t want to be a scientist anyway!)

Assembling my woe by amplifying it with the greater unknown or known sorrows of others was intended to stop the conversation and provide a salve for me. How sadly reducing others but how glibly said by my Mother and many others to me since then.

That response said to me both then and now is to merely seek out someone else in more trouble, worse health, more doubt and confusion than mine—a brilliant way to end a personal exchange.

It’s called deflection. Switch the subject. Change the focus. Public figures love to use that technique to quiet accusers from further media attention. Mothers may use it because she’s washing the dishes and doesn’t want to engage a nine-year-old. So deflect away.

Hence, my new homework from both Mother and others? Just think of woeful someones with more significant concerns than mine. Then, I will again become a happy kid or content adult.

What happens then is a slight self-examination but a more significant appreciation for all those people with more troubles. I only use the word “appreciation” because it is what others told me to do.

That’s not the union of the Body of Christ – it’s, only once more, division. Their troubles make mine seem trivial, so, once again, I’m a happy camper.

We do the same between two people sharing. In essence, the implied statement is that “My cancer is more serious than yours!” Cancer-talk now becomes a sporting event, “Who’s gonna win or lose?”

May we never lose the ability to hear each other and to listen with our hearts. Just imagine a conversation when I friend tells you about a personal affliction. Unless asked, you add nothing about yourself to the conversation.

That’s the Body of Christ in action.

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Thanksgiving Day’s “Thank You’s”

Eight letters, two words with a space in-between. It’s the recognition of a good deed done, service performed, or expressing appreciation. “Thank you.” Eight letters, two words with a space in-between.

The short-hand version is simply thrown and tossed out there by saying, “thanks.” Quick, reliable, succinct.

“Thank you” is tossed about when the door is being held, the waiter bringing your dinner, and for the doctor’s time spent with you.

Then there are the gushy “many thanks,” not knowing a known quantity but a truly contented expression. How many “thanks” in “thanks” are needed?

We also hear, “I can’t thank you enough.” Please talk to the gushy person. Then both of you can total up on the how “many’s” and “enough’s.”

My favorite and true story is when thanking someone, she responded in her low self-esteem, “Thank you for thinking of thanking me.”

For you doubtful folks out there, you can always revert to “thinking of thanking you” as though a decision has not yet been made.

Third gushy person? “Thank you very much.” Again, that questionable amount. Now the three of you can argue about how “much,” “many,” and “enough.”

Finally, there’s that person with a limited vocabulary. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Unless you’re addressing multiple persons, one response is sufficient.

Here’s one. “Thank you” to all the indigenous Indians for graciously giving over your land to the pilgrims and the rest of us. And “thank you,” Indians, for getting back at us with your one-arm machines and velvet card tables.

“Thanksgiving Day” reminds us of how we toss and throw around and away those eight letters, two words with a space in-between.

The solemn “Thanksgiving Day” word, each and every year, is gratitude. Better than saying “thank you” because gratitude is our spiritual response to this freely given gift of life from God.

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Are twelve hours and a nap enough sleep for a newly retired seventy-year-old? Did the clock slow down, or am I only now more aware of time?

Piercing questions with no answers with more questions I won’t bore you with. It’s only been ten days since this ending, ending fifty of the years. My cats wonder why I’m spending so much time at home. “Where’s the money coming from?” they must be thinking. I put on my suit in the morning, and around five o’clock, I leave through the back door, enter the front door, and get changed. Weird? Don’t think I didn’t consider it. (Fellow employees always said that I look good in a suit.)

It’s called retirement, but there’s nothing retiring about it. I’m constantly thinking, reminiscing, remembering, and reliving those past fifty. I didn’t work this much when I was working! Those fifty had job descriptions that were clear, measurable, and evaluated. There is no job description for this daily vacuum. I’ve finally become self-employed. I now get to create my own job for this new transition. “Enjoy yourself” is the only advice from family and friends. “You’ve earned it,” is said by those who really thought I actually did work.

I never worked a day in my life. A disc jockey at sixteen, playing rock music on the weekends to the Catholic priesthood for over forty-two more years. Do you call that work? Entertaining faceless folks with the music of a generation and then enriching their lives through the seven sacraments wearing a welcoming face.

But it’s the seamlessness of this daily frame of hours. Hence the “suit idea” to keep my days divided. Mother’s warning during childhood was “no TV during the day or on school nights.” Never forgotten, so I can’t watch “The Price is Right,” even now. As an adult, I ignored the “school nights” even though she declared that “Sunday was a school night.”

A video on transition was recommended, and I loved it. The speaker used “re” words. I’ve used them often in preaching because they always invite renewal. (Notice the “re” word there at the end?) They were obvious to me, but I needed to be reminded of them, as often happens in life. “Rebuild, replace, redesign and relinquish.” There’s the making of my new job description. I get to reflect on them, define and then live them.

Well, I have something to do now, so I’ll stop. I don’t know what it is, but I need to do it.

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Zaccheus, 6’3 tall?

You may not know this about the Son of God, but…but (whispering) he wears glasses. And they’re bifocals. Contact lenses weren’t invented yet, and Lasik surgery was years away. I know this because I’ve had all three of them.

Jesus looks up into the tree and sees a grown man, 6’3 tall, hanging on a limb. Ummm. “What’s going on up there?” Jesus may have thought to himself. Or better yet, Jesus knew precisely what was going on up there.

Because you see that tall man smalled himself. (I just made up a new word.) He smalled himself through the very first sin that tempts and sins us all for our whole lives. For that, he’s become an excellent example for us all for our own prayers and reflections.

I’m sure he considered himself a compassionate, fun-loving guy to be around. He thought, selfishly, only himself. It’s that simple, and it’s that complicated. The Church calls it “original” due to Adam and Eve. We all know there is absolutely nothing original about it. The churchy word is idolatry, but it’s pure selfishness for us. After all, aren’t we all “good people?”

“Small stature” is how the Gospel describes tall guy in his shrunken state. He took the great height that God gave him and smalled himself down. So he must now climb a tree to see the light, the Son of God. Children climb trees, not adults. Children begin naturally self-absorbed until shown and taught otherwise.

And here are two views of our Gospel tale. Did the tall guy climb that tree knowing of his smallness and wanting to see the light, the Son of God, or did the Son of God look upward, through his bifocals, saw a person in need of redemption? The choice is yours. Either way works for me.

That tall guy had much knowledge; after all, he’s an accountant. But the Wisdom reading today tells us that knowledge is only what you learn. Wisdom is divinizing that knowledge wearing Jesus’ glasses.

If I didn’t tell you already, (whispering) it’s bifocals, poor guy. Not the “coke bottle” version. The lower lens sees the things of this life, and the upper is for beholding the beautiful things. It’s the difference between seeing and beholding. We all have plenty of seeings outside these old church walls. These days it’s far too much seeing. We enter into these old walls to be surrounded by beholdings. Beholding the greater than ourselves returns us to our God-created height.

The Garden of Gethsemane passage is probably the best illustration of Jesus trying to be that “small stature” guy hanging out on a limb. “If this cup could pass,” Jesus says, seeing only through his bottom bifocal. Looking upward, Jesus finally concedes, “But not my will but Yours.”

Now, that doesn’t mean, “Let go and let God.” I hate that line. We are not “human puppets on a divine string.” (whispering) Mel Torme. It’s worth it. I don’t wanna climb a tree!

Each and every day, we are blessed to balance the difference between earthly knowledge and divine wisdom. And then attempt to live a worthy life by uniting the two. May we never stop that balancing act and prayerfully, actively keep searching.

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A Homily for Everyone, Really

Today it’s a homily for everyone. While listening to other sermons, we can often say to ourselves, “This doesn’t apply to me,” and then count the lights in the ceiling or, worse yet, “Who is he talking about?” Today is the exception as much as the Dollar Tree store is to retail. I love the Dollar Tree. I always wanted to stand up and yell, “Price check, aisle 3!” But I didn’t. Today, it’s for everyone.

St. Paul to his good buddy, Tim, Hey, Tim, “Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.” I may add to St. Paul, guard this rich trust with your life because it is your life given to us by God.

I’ve never seen or planted a mustard seed, and I don’t know anyone who still wears an apron. But the first is about the astounding personal and spiritual growth (sometimes even beyond our imagination) and wearing that helping servant’s garment in all of our deeds. Growth and service are two words for our prayerful reflections next week. The mustard lives and grows within us, and the wearing, or should I say bearing the apron, springs forth because of that mustard.

But I’m back to Paul and Tim. “Guard” and a “rich trust.” Trust is a pretty strong word on its own, but St. Paul adds that colorful adjective, “rich.” And “guard?” Guard against what? I’ll save you time here. We all know the answer to that admonition. How often is it a guard against ourselves and toward the divine?

The end of Paul’s sentence is the very best of all for us all, “with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”

The “help of the Holy Spirit” is a mouthful and is the soul-filled assistance of the divine. Every sacrament contains the usual two (God, Jesus, and then holding up all those beautiful, meaningful seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. If you are a football fan, I offer you the following division of divine duties. God is the owner of the team who sits in the luxury box. Jesus is our general manager, showing us the plays, and the Holy Spirit is the coach, living and breathing but not on the sidelines but running, tackling, and huddling our next move on the field. All done with each and every one of us.

And, chiming in today is no other than that famous prophet Habakkuk, who no one knows about, with one of my absolute favorite words describing character: integrity. Integrity is a stand-alone word. There is no need to modify it, add an adjective, or make it a verb. Just saying the word “integrity” says it all.

Habakkuk wrote, “For the vision still has its time” (prayer and patience), “presses on to fulfillment” (perseverance and persistence), “and will not disappoint” (regardless of those pesky devils and demons). “If it delays, wait for it” (Americans hate waiting; here’s that “rich trust” again from St. Paul), “it will surely come, it will not be late” (within our lifetimes, please remember that “rich trust”), “The rash one has no integrity: but the just one, because of his faith (please don’t forget “rich trust!”), shall live.”

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Who’s the Sometimes Enemy?

Democrats and Republicans are never seen walking on the same sidewalk in Washington or Madison. Enemies is a popular theme in the Bible with their divisions, invasions, and killings.

Election Day, November 8, is a truer night to watch a football game than an actual football game. Complete with all the evil we perceive in others and all the good we believe in ourselves. Why don’t Michaels and Evers go to Chuck ’N Cheese together and talk out the serious issues over a pizza and end up in an old-fashioned arm wrestle? Then, Johnson and Barnes meet at George Webb’s; same deal, only with burgers and then the arm wrestle.

We’ve devolved; please note the “de,” we devolved from harmony, negotiation, compromise, middle ground, understanding, halfway, balance, and settlement. We don’t need to hear any other words, with prayers that always need to be collective.

St. Paul says to us, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead…proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage, [Paul adds on his ending] done through all patience and teaching.”

Yet, presently we love to hate, divide, chop up, slice up, quarter, and sunder our government, our Church, and each other. We just love to hate. It’s easy and safe because of what I said before, “all the pure evil that we perceive in others and all the unmeasurable good that we believe in ourselves.”

In both our attitudes and behaviors – personally or politically – it’s not about the other guy; it’s about us. During times like this is okay to be a bit selfish – it’s called personal reflection and introspection.

I will not be as explicit as St. Paul but will add the word “sometimes” to the beginning of his quote, [Sometimes,] “I find…that evil is present in [us], the [ones] who [want] to do good.”

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“The Prodigal Son?” You’re Kidding

Christianity rarely gets things wrong but titling this Gospel “The Prodigal Son” is a n outright mistake. That’s like calling “I Love Lucy” a TV show about Ethel. The title ought to be “The Crazy Loving Father,” for he is the glaring and shining star of the story.

Ready for this? Here’s the list.
There is no half for the younger son. Jewish tradition states that the estate completely belongs to the elder son. Yet, Daddy Dearest freely gives away half. Boy-kid squanders (please remember that word) and ends up tending to pigs…anathema to Jewish people. (Jewish folks would have laughed at that reference or walked away appalled.) Kid-boy comes to his senses and prepares a contrite apology to Crazy-Daddy. He finds a mirror and practices it again and again. Walking back home, Loving-Daddy sees him first (an important point to remember in this story.) Silly Kid doesn’t even get a chance to spout out his apology with his Loving Father taking over the conversation. Now. The servants are off with the One-Sandwich-Short-of-A-Picnic-Dad’s credit card to Men’s Warehouse for new duds for the Kid and then Sendiks to buy a Milwaukee-size fattened calf. Senior-Kid hears rumors of this seemingly “Welcoming Home Party” and complains to Off-the-Wall-Dad. Crazy-Daddy attempts to console the eldest, “Everything I have is yours.” (Minus half.) Then, Should-Have-Kept-His-Mouth-Shut Eldest Kid talks about his brother and, and “prostitutes!” Ummmm.

(I move to the Gospel book saying the word “prostitute” three times out loud looking for the word but finally saying the word, “squandered.”)

Please remember the A, B, and C’s from that Lovingly-Dad in this story and then apply it to your life. A: never apologize, B: never blame and C: never complain. Take that home and ponder it. Finally, the unanswerable question from me is, “Where’s the Mother!?”
Culminating this comic but serious story from Jesus is the eternally faith-filled verse, “What was once lost has now been found.”

We gather here each week to remind ourselves of our own conversion or to bring about a new conversion – all lifted heavenward to our Crazy-Loving God. Conversion means not only the basic beliefs but continuing to infuse those Divine beliefs to and through how many life transitions: marriage, first born, new job, divorce, lost job, retirement, the deaths of those we love and our own. In psychology it’s called transitions; from one thing to another. For believers, joyfully, it’s called conversion; from one thing to something and to someONE even deeper.

We do this not only alone, but together. We do this by telling our stories – troubling, sad stories about family, friends, or ourselves, doubtful accounts about children after twelve years of paid-for Catholic education who no longer practice our faith. Stories that prompt laughter about ourselves, especially stories that make fun of ourselves in all our follies and foibles.

Hence, our yearly parish picnic. In the movie “Jerry Macquire,” Tom Cruise renews his marriage to Renee Zellweger by saying, “You complete me.” I love that line. As Catholics, can we say that to as many people that we can think of?

As a family in faith, we need each other. We need each other to listen to and to share our stories. To both hear and share with Christ living within us. This is our earthly inheritance. And, it ain’t only half. Today we do it while eating fattening food. But this family of faith performs this today and every day.

We need each other. It’s called the Eucharist. It beckons us to our home, this home, where God – our crazy, forgiving, One-Sandwich-Short-of-A-Picnic-Dad, and merciful Father .. always sees us first.

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Four Words Says It All!

“For you.” Of me.” Probably the four most
important words proclaimed during Mass. They can
be throwaway words that we’ve too often heard or
they can become the bedrock of the relationship
between Jesus and us.

Forget “WWJD” and having a “friendship” with
Jesus. Cutesy but shallow. The four I’m referring to
solidifies the life of Jesus Christ for us. They show
us the unbreakable bond that we call covenant. A
Godly bond promised us all after the Great Flood.
Insurance companies call the unexplainable an
“Act of God” to get them off the financial hook. We
call those four an “Act of God” because of our
unique union with Christ.

“This is my body, given up for you.” “Do this in
memory of me.” There you have it. Power and
potency promised and delivered every single of our
participating time. It is not a kinda, similar, could
be, perhaps or maybe. It IS. It is the Body and
Blood of Jesus Christ telling us of the end of his
time and the beginning of ours.

The old priestly adage for preparing for Mass is,
“Say it as if it’s your first and say it as if it’s your

Good advice for all of us participating Catholics

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“How Do You Stop the Music From Ending?”

Lord God, “how do you keep the music playing? How do you make it last? How do you keep our song from fading, Too fast?”

We love You Lord, our prayers to You are often repetitive hoping for a different response or quiet words to quiet ourselves…or best yet, our words to You are heartfelt. But You, Lord, provide us with the melody…You give us the sheet music with all the musical lyrics we need to sing…

“If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows With any luck than I suppose,…” The music could never end.

“How do you lose yourself to someone, And never lose your way?” That’s the eternal question asked between our timeless God and the temporary us.

Lord, will I really lose myself if I give myself totally to You? Or, will I uncover who I am by giving myself totally to You? Sing about that for us, will you Lord? Please! What key can You sing it for us, Lord? And, is it a key I’m willing and able to sing along with You?

You know, Lord, I’ve been told on good authority that no one hums a homily leaving Mass.

I know I’m not Abraham, our a Father in Faith, but You gave in to Abraham with his worthy requests, so here’s my simple request…just a thought, Lord. Let’s just throw it on the turntable and see what spins around at 33 1/3.

What if You sing, every day to me, the wonderful melody of my life. Then, get Your Son, Jesus Christ, to chime in singing the third harmony. Your Holy Spirit then has the privilege of hitting that tricky fifth. I’m confident she can gracefully hit it. And since the shower is my only singing concert venue, I’ll hum along not only leaving Mass but every single day of my life.

With any luck, then I suppose, the harmonies of my life could not possibly end.

And, Lord, (as long as we’re talking), How can singing away one happy song suddenly turn discouraging and troubling seeking Your care and concern. And, tell me, Lord, how year after year, How are You so sure that my heart and Your heart will not separate, or worse yet, fall apart?

With any luck, Lord, then I suppose, The music never does end…

If we can try, Lord, with every day to make it better as our faith continues to grow, With any luck than me and You Lord and those we call the Body of Christ, The music will never, ever, and cannot ever end.


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Martha & Mary

During a sickness, illness or compromising health, who prays to God saying, “Keep it coming Lord!” I think your primary doctor would quickly increase your drug dosage.

Yet, St. Paul, subjected to numerous afflictions – all done by him on behalf of his commitment to Christ – says precisely the same thing…”Keep it coming, Lord.” That’s Paul’s message to us today. It’s not the cancer or an ingrown toenail, it’s our commitment to the hope filled message of uniting our lives to both the sufferings and the successes of Jesus Christ.

It’s a biblical package deal. You cannot have one without the other. It’s not a Sunday buffet at your favorite restaurant. “I’d like a heap of successes and a dappling of suffering, please.”

Christ not only taught about life’s package that but showed it through his life. The blueprint of living our lives in both its sufferings and successes is living, truly living, the person of Jesus, the one who last name is not Christ but who now becomes a glorious witness and testament to his life and now commissioned as the Christ for our lives.

We misunderstand the Mary/Martha conflict. Jesus declares that Mary found the better half because she needed it at that time in her life. Without Martha cooking away there’d be no supper for the three of them. Martha’s complaining is purely us when we feel unappreciated because important work, like cooking, centers our attention.

You may not know this but I bet everything that when the dishes are clean and put away, Jesus calls Martha to sit a bit beside him and proceeds to tell her a story that fits her situation. Martha would absorb each word knowing that those words are meant for her and then enjoy a restful sleep waking to the alarm clock and prepare yet another breakfast.

“In sickness and in health” are never words reserved only for marriage. They are the ups and downs words of our lives. And, all of those downs and ups are worthily and humbly lived through, with, and in … and because of the person Jesus Christ.

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