“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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A Friendship Story

I first met you in my late teens. I saw how many friends you already had. I admit that I was jealous. They all seemed to have fun having you around.

It was difficult the first couple of times getting to know you. I wondered how your other friends handled you. I had to get used to you. It didn’t take that long until I wanted you around me all the time. It was enjoyable and relaxing knowing you. First thing in the morning we connected. And then, throughout the day.

We were able to fly together during my early days with you. We needed to sit in the back rows but we didn’t mind. I’m sure the passengers up front got whiffs of our wonderful friendship. At restaurants, we’d stay together after the meal even if others wanted to leave. Theater visits were the same for us. You and I could visit a relative of mine in the hospital or checkout our groceries together. It was natural for us to be together.

Years passed and our friendship increased. When I wanted to celebrate, you were there for me. When troubles hit, you consoled me. What began as small talk slowly grew into a constant conversation. Sometimes, I would reach out to you only having just talked to you. It was weird but satisfying. I was the one who treated you but the cost of our relationship steadily grew.

At night, when I thought you were around, you were gone. That meant driving to a convenience store when it was not at all convenient.

I loved to go for walks or jogs when I was younger but with you, by my side, it didn’t seem practical. You solely wanted more of my time and I was gladly willing to offer it.

The times then changed and we could only meet outside. Winter’s were our shortest visits. You were still welcomed in my home even if visiting family members objected to you being around.

It gradually occurred to me how so many of your friends were not around you anymore. I thought it might be something you said. Or, something you did? I don’t know but now I find that you and I are, surprisingly, you and me. Children are taught to avoid you. Movies begin by listing you right next to “strong language” and “sexual situations.” What happened to us?

The Platters sang that you “get in their eyes.” I already knew that about you for years. Bogart and Nat Cole lost because of your friendship and Johnny Carson even “damned” you at his end. My friend told me that he missed his flight because he missed you. Another friend shared that those whiffs are still enjoyed although there’s a restraining order. Another friend shared that she still dreams about you although the bond was broken. Still, another friend told me that she wants to reunite with you when she turns eighty. What attachments you created!

It took five visits with you to write this. Is our lifelong friendship coming to an end or am I coming to an end? I don’t know.

Let me pause and think about this, along with your help.

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Dysfunctional? Family

Either Ozzie Nelson was left with a lot of money or he made an imaginary income, but we know that he left the house. Harriet, wearing pearls around her neck and always wearing a bewildering look on her face raised their two sons when only one mattered, Ricky Nelson. So goes how the American family was portrayed on television, modeling for us what a family looks like and how they act. How many of life’s situations can be addressed and solved in only twenty-three minutes, not including ads?

Robert Young arrives home from a real job and his waiting wife and three children are waiting in the living room as though they’ve been waiting for him for eight hours. He arrives home and there’s gleeful Jane Wyatt easily replacing his sport coat with patches on the elbows with his evening sweater with patches on the elbows. His children eagerly welcome him back home – Lauren Chapin, Elinor Donahue, and Billy Gray. Their TV version of family life is settled in those same twenty-three minutes, without ads, and living up to the program’s title that only and I’m mean only, “Father Knows Best.”

These were my growing up TV shows that influenced and represented for me and my siblings what American family life looks like and acts like. Not to mention “The Beaver,” who was very influential for me – Eddie Haskel still remains a hero for me. Eddie is an early version of the Fonz character.

Today’s TV families seem to offer the opposite. They now show us children who advise and direct the parents, as though their parents don’t know anything. At a family’s Christmas gathering a few years ago, my great-nieces and nephews (1 to 3 years old) are running around and yelling as though they know what they’re doing with doting parents smiling away at their crazy antics. I turned to my then 70-year-old sister and said, “We would never have gotten away with this.” She nodded and smiled back at me.

The mid-70’s and 80’s roll around and suddenly psychology introduces us to a shockingly new revelation. A new word has been added to a centuries year old gathering of progenies. “Dysfunctional.” That temporary word gave my family’s circle a word to toss around as though we needed a tossable word. “I’m the way I am because of my weird parents!” (My words. The authors had nicer and nastier words for parental actions and behavior.)

Now I need a drum roll…
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for that forever, unending TV (human) show featuring no one else than that sorry-you in that formidable age-old game show called ‘The Blame Game.’ It’s the show where no one wins and everybody loses. Isn’t that great! I’m Johnnie Olsen, your friendly announcer. We have today in our studio audience a captured audience of … ‘one.’ Please note the word, ‘captured.’ Our parting gift today is, ‘Head and Shoulders’ shampoo because there’s no heart and soul to be found in our product nor in our star. Now, let’s give a one clap welcome to your host and guest who doesn’t need an introduction because it’s the very, same person. You!”

You’ve now found a new, convenient outlet for all your tales of woe, only now presented in fancy, scientific language. I thought to myself after reading far too many of those books, “I belong to a dysfunctional family. That explains who I am. I’m me because of my parents!” I’m the winner of my very own living game show. Your version of this reckless TV show of your young and adult life can run on your personal TV for many seasons. In real lifetime, regrettably even all the seasons of your life.

I regret to this day some of the information I learned from those books about how my parent’s behavior formed me. I told my mother some of what I learned. I remember her only looking back at me with a forlorn, speechless look as though I hit her in the stomach. I was essentially telling my mother that she was not Jane Wyatt (although my mother’s name was Jane) nor was she the pearl-wearing-while-vacuuming mom, Barbara Billingsley on “Leave It To Beaver.”

Whewww. I’m done with the setup for this reflection. Time has proven that my family is profoundly, singularly, and lovingly “my family.” Take away the opening and closing credits but don’t ever reduce my family to those perfectionist confines of television in order to shame my family. Families influence, not form. The formation is up to the individual.

The family we call “holy” is riddled with what some may call “dysfunctional.” Sometimes personal, other times divinely planned. Find out for yourself. Cancel cable, dust off your Bible, and read away. During my parent’s trip from Manitowoc to Sheboygan, about thirty miles, my mother never realized that she left me in the church for three days. About the Blessed Mother’s wine experience with Jesus at Cana, I’d have Ivory soap in my mouth by talking back to my mother the way he talked back to his. My mother’s and mine “pieta” was my last visit with her when she was in hospice care. I simply knelt down and touching her neck said, “Mother.” I never called her “mom.” She fidgeted slightly and the nurse said, “She knows it’s you. She hears you.”

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. There is only your beautifully own, one-of-a-kind assemblage of people sharing your DNA. Or, are you sharing their DNA?

It’s family. My actions because of their behavior? Wrong. My behavior because of their actions.? Wrong. We witness the behaviors and actions of others, especially parents, and either embrace or modify them. Ethically, it’s called right or wrong. We witness and either embrace or modify. Morally, it’s called good or bad.

We all know that Jesus had his. A mom with a mysterious birth. What’s with that? A dad who never talks? An aunt and uncle who should be living in a nursing home give birth and raise a prophetic son to be Jesus’ cousin, his best friend? There are more stories to share about Jesus’ supposedly “normal” family. There are more stories to share about my family and someday I’d love to hear about yours.

Embrace, honor, and celebrate your one family as your “holy” family, for they truly are, as best as any family can be. For they live either with … or within you for the rest of your life. Never, for television’s twenty-three black and white minutes, without ads.

(“Leave It To Beaver,” closing theme song, 12 seconds)

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The Only Advent Word

The teenage says, “That movie was awesome.” Wrong. Awesome is used when the sun falls from the sky. What is the Advent word of all Advent words? “Behold.”

Alarmingly attentive. Takes your breath away. Forces you to pause and ponder. At first glance, our response is disbelief until quickly becoming belief. Sometimes a one-time event, never to be repeated. (A redundant sentence meant for emphasis.) Behold is having mindful eyes toward something and finding yourself speechless. Behold cannot be held, placed on a shelf, or stored away for safekeeping. Behold proudly stands before you, soon to reside and live within every fiber of your being. “Behold.”

I preached about “behold” before and after Mass a parishioner told another, “I beholding the door for you.” I didn’t laugh, but it was cute. An extraordinary word reserved for this extra-ordinary season we call Advent.

What childlike eyes and ears can we readapt to behold once again this beautiful season of anticipation, wonder, and hope? This year, what can we behold from our past and confidently wonder what lies ahead. That is the birth of Jesus Christ. Said by the Blessed Mother’s “Behold,” to the priest holding up the cross on Good Friday saying “Behold the wood…” to holding up the host at Mass and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God…” No matter about our aging eyes or softening hearing, can we properly use and live this glorious word? Can we say it to ourselves, even softly? Can we, even inadequately, share it with others?

It’s the best and only word that describes this sacred season. “Behold.”

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“God, Jr.?” Not, Even

There are probably worst things in the world, but that list would have to include being named with ”Junior” after your name.

You don’t believe me? Just think of poor Frank Sinatra,… Jr. I can rest my case. This poor guy has to carry his father’s handle throughout his life. Imagine the conversations upon meeting poor Frank, Jr. How long would it take before the conversation sways to, “So, what was it like being raised by a saloon singer?” “Was he home much?” “Did he play ball with you?” Frank, Jr.’s responses would need to be courteous because he’s representing not himself but his father.

Does he ever represent himself? No one will ever say to Frank, Jr., “What are you up to these days?” To be forced to walk in the shadow of someone is truly daunting. How can you not think at the end of the day, “Why doesn’t anyone ask me anything about me?” And so your life is lived.

I heard Frank Jr. sing in a concert once. We went to his show because, well, he’s the son of… He wasn’t very good, but it’s the closest we got to, well, you know who. A couple of years ago, television honored Frank’s 100th birthday, if Frank wasn’t dead. Did “Jr.” sing? Nope. Was “Jr.” even there? Who knows. Tony Bennett, who should be dead, was there. And he sang!

Who’s the shadow to Johnny Carson? (Ed McMahon) Who’s Jack Benny’s shadow? (Don Wilson) Here are two that you may not know, who’s Merv Griffin’s shadow? (Arthur Treacher) Who’s the shadow to Joey Bishop? (a young Regis Philbin)

I guess you know where I’m leading with this. John the Baptist was Jesus’ warm-up act. He was not the center of attention as much as he may have wanted the attention – with his weird outfit and still more bizarre diet. John had an act, but it was not a hard act to follow. We’re stunned by his performance, but that’s not why we came to the show. We want the main event. Jesus came along and had a stand-up that is still revered today. He had the lines, he had the stories, he had, what we’d say, a miraculous touch.

Parents must know what it feels like to slowly become a shadow to their children.

If God named Jesus “God, Jr.” to have him only mimic his Father then Jesus would be a puppet, and we’d all be God’s puppets and completely fooled. Jesus had to uncover his own, unique personhood, or else this whole religion thing would have collapsed. Jesus needed to complete the same life task that is given to us all.

There are two defining moments in the life of Jesus that made him his own person and hence our Savior. One at the beginning of his ministry and the other at the end. (Interesting?) The “Agony in the Garden” toward his Father and the “Wedding at Cana” toward his Mom. (Two parents, get it?) The “Wedding” and its miracle-wine-story shows us that he wants to be identified as himself and at the same time obedient to his mother. He does both, which is quite a trick in itself; we’ve all tried it at some point in our lives with our parents, but it rarely worked for us. The “Garden” story was Jesus’ most significant defining moment when he realizes that he has choices, a real sign of an adult. Jesus chooses. Jesus breaks away from God’s request, if possible, that the cup of death is passed to someone else. But good for him, and for us Jesus chooses to be his own person and, in doing so, follows his Father. It was a dramatic breaking away from God and his union with God, all at the same time. Jesus now becomes the “Christ” and never to be a “Jr.”

We shine because God’s light shines on us. We’re not the main act when it comes to our Creator, but we are His main actors in our parenting, friendships, and relationships when done in the shadow of our Creator.

When we think, or better yet, pretend that we’re the main attraction, then there’s trouble. That’s the first sin, the sin of idolatry – centuries old and still alive and active this very day. When there is no shadow, then the light dimly burns only upon ourselves. 
Our authentic identity only increases with our reliance on God. “Lord, I can’t do this alone,” we say to ourselves, “but I know whose I am and I know that I am greater with You directing and guiding me.”

John is not a junior. His last name says his occupation. Baptist. (Does that make me “Joe the Priest?”) John paves the way, pours the concrete, smooths it over carefully, and welcomes the one whom he knew he was not, whose Allen Edmunds shoes he can’t afford to wear. But before his headless exit, he commissions the top billing star by baptizing him. The lesser baptizes, the greater. The greater cannot do what “great” means without the lessor’s anointing. Go figure. John freely sends Jesus to be who he is and do what he needs to do, without the “junior” stuff. Can we do any less with those we love, work with, or those we simply encounter? Be less for them to be more in the eyes of God.

Here’s one more, I can’t resist. She’s the shadow to Fred Astaire and did it all entirely backward. (Ginger Rogers)
John becomes the holy shadow because he prepared and became the “Baptizer.” What a better handle for someone than being the one who baptizes into a new life the One who is to show us all how to live, savor, and handle all of life’s mysteries and excitements.

What a guy John is – to know his place and then to place another in his place – gracefully, humbly, willingly and freely. We all may want the microphone for ourselves, but a worthy, healthy Christian sits on the couch.

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