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 never 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-’70s 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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Advent’s Anticipation

“Wait, wait,” we hear far too often. “Just wait, it will come.” Waiting. It’s an anxious word. Uneasy, even agitating. You arrive in Florida for your January vacation. You’re told your room will be ready in about an hour when you made your reservation months before. “About.” So you sit and stew at the pool with eighty degrees sunshine in your Wisconsin’s winters while everyone else is in the water. “About an hour.”

I already told you that I woke up in early November to Karen Carpenter, hoping I have a “merry little Christmas now.” Now? We already know of Halloween decorations mis-timings. And, how many Black Friday’s preceded the one yesterday? Waiting.

We’re in such a hurry to hurry forth what can only be slowly brewed. Have you ever watched a pot of coffee brew, staring at it with early-morning-eyes and wondering why that noise hasn’t stopped yet? When the gurgling subsides, the sound of pouring takes over and you can savor and endure the new day that lays before you. That first taste. That first taste that says, “Yes, I am alive, and I am here.” If you’re not a coffee person, then recall how your own waiting is eventually satisfied.

We can’t just wait. People wonder now in which future minute I’ll be done talking. Poor things. Don’t you wonder how we stay alert and watchful, as Jesus asks of us? Jesus doesn’t ask us to wait. It’s too bothersome. He asks us to be watchful of things around us, to be attentive and anticipate. “Staying awake” means being aware and alive; keeping your eyes peeled. Welcoming the stranger, alert to what’s behind mean words and actions, accepting a compliment instead of saying that stupid line, “Oh, it was nothing.”

Waiting. It might be the bus, the long-awaited niece’s visit, that promised phone call, a hospice nurse telling you that your friend’s time is near, the whistle to blow, the alarm clock to stop on its own, the friend with his long-winded story that you’ve heard three times before, the mail to arrive, for your 90th birthday to finally come, when will my forty-year-old son finally move out?, for my Christmas package to arrive at her home on time, for the season of spring, for the nurse to finally call my name after 45 minutes sitting next to the sign that reads “If your name has not been called in fifteen minutes…”, for the test results to be given to me, will I wake up in purgatory or heaven?

We hate to wait, so what do we do in the meantime? We hurry things up, making them happen according to our personal calendars and whims. We predict the end results without living the means. “I’d thought you’d never arrive,” you say when she does arrive.

What do Advent and Lent have in common besides the color purple? Both are about transformation. Just as Jesus was transformed from Divinity to humanity we are called to transforms our lives. It’s not always about change, because that happens at any age, but it is also about strengthening the gifts and talents given us by God.
Waiting is strictly only about time. Anticipation is all imagination, wonder, mystery, and surprises. So, lose your wristwatch of waiting and put on the hat or scarf of anticipation. Please absorb the sights and sounds of this marvelous Church season. Do so with the eyes of an eight-year-old mingled with the wisdom of your years. Ironically, Advent is a one-time event, honored and repeated for us every year. Our heavenly waiting is preoccupied with time. During this meantime, rely instead on the anticipation of mystery that is Advent. That’s the fullness of the Advent experience. Advent now becomes a blueprint for our everyday lives and no longer a restricted season. Please don’t miss a moment of it because life’s moments only last that long. 
Advent doesn’t need to be synonymous with that dreadful word waiting. Advent can be full of that beautiful and engaging word anticipation. I pray that your anticipation of Christ’s birth this year may be incredibly thankful and enriching to you, your family, and your friends.

And now, you may stop waiting, I’m done.

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Eight Letters With a Space Between Two Words.

It’s eight letters with a space between two words. It’s said in passing, offhandedly, like a breath has left you – very often, waaaay too often. Most of the time only five of the eight are said, with a “s’ added at the end. That’s sad. It’s only said and received with sincerity when two pair of eyes meet. It’s only remembered with genuine gratitude when it touches two hearts. It’s commonly repeated after it’s been said to you, as though not heard the first time. Or, you reciprocate as though doubling the pot.

It’s always the checkout person. Why do preachers always use a checkout person as the loneliest person on the planet? The “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” is said as you and your package walk away.

At nicer restaurants, we repeat it again and again to helpful waitpersons who constantly approach us. It’s said hoping by saying those – “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” – will allow us to quietly enjoy our meal. At cheaper restaurants when the “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” is replied, the waitress’ response is, “No problem.”(I didn’t think I was a problem in the first place! Doesn’t that suggest that the BLT I ordered became a problem for both the cook and staff?!

To God, the “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” is used when what you asked for happens. Granted by God? Pure luck? The better girl got sick before the big sporting event and your daughter won. It’s said to the Almighty as though the Almighty, in His many preoccupations, occupied your small corner of the world.

Those “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” slowly begins to be used with a cancer diagnosis when those patients tell me that the simple word “life” takes on a new and deeper meaning. Every month is a good time for saying those eight letters but November stands out. Remembering in gratitude those no longer here but strongly present in minds and souls. It’s also Turkey time with family and friends, except for this year. A November tribute for us all can be to think of those eight letters with whatever is valuable but taken for granted – in both things and especially persons.

The three-year old can’t wait to say those “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” when her pony arrives at Christmastime. (Just try placing a surprise horse under your Christmas tree?!) College kid is waiting for grades to be posted before saying those precious “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” even though study habits where interrupted at the neighborhood bar the night before.

You and I make those “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words” at the end of some favorable result when these eight letters are the very beginning and the very end of each and every day. And, especially said during those painful, doubtful, and troubling middle times that some days offer.

Each of our breaths ought to express those “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words”. We’re never quite sure why we were created, or why eight-five years old ask why they are still here. We, indeed, are here in this specific time and in this specific space.

I extend my eight letters to anyone suffering, mourning or worried this very day; don’t give up. To anyone thinking they have the favor of God or who believes if I do this or that in the Church then that will happen; good luck with that. To all who finally admit personal emptiness allowing the Holy Trinity to fill that void; those eight letters are followed by “God bless you.”

I believe it’s all found in our breathing. No matter what. Life. No matter how. Life. In both the ins and outs of each breath, we humbly and proudly say to our Creator,

Those “eight-letters-with-a-space-between-two-words”.

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One Tiny Flame

The Parable of My Tiny Flame on My Kitchen Table

(Please listen for these four words and their application to your lives)
single flame:  the pilot light of our lives that burns that is needed to burn throughout our lives.

scent:  the promises of life that are not always realized; whether real or imagined.

wax: those who support and encourage us keep the flame alive and those who intrude wanting us to be like them overwhelm the single flame.

re-enactments: in reflection, we often try to redo or reshape already made decisions, or unmade decisions, missed opportunities, or opportunities that went sour as though enacting them again will change the result.

There it is, lit. It took longer to light this time because the wick is lower and I just can’t seem to reach deep enough inside to relight it.  But I did.

The house is still heated, I can’t rely on that little flame to flame forth a comfortable, warm winter home. Heck, if I quickly stood up right now I think it’d go out. Oh, wait. Forget that. I just tried it and it didn’t go out; this little, small flame on my kitchen table with a supposed spruce scent that “fills the room” as the box falsely described. I didn’t buy the candle for the scent although a nice scent would be nice.

It flickers, ever so slowly as it tries to keep itself alive. The wax surrounding it allows the tiny flame to stay lit. Is it enough to turn off the kitchen light? I’m not even trying because it’s a silly question. If it can’t heat, it certainly can’t illuminate.

I like the teeny flame because it seems to show everything when it’s barely shows anything. If folks walked into my kitchen now they would not say, “Oh, what a beautiful flame you have going here.” It wouldn’t be noticed. It would remain an unsaid piece in the room. None would comment on the scent as the box described and our conversation would move to topics that interest them.

But they are not here. It is just me and a single, miniature version of those real flames that surround a veteran’s memorial or a park’s statue. My tiny flame doesn’t mark great and grand events but only the passing thoughts that pass my mind as quickly as they enter. Random, varied; none solved or resolved. Perhaps a few reenactments of life’s happenings that cannot be re-enacted run through my mind. In my mind, it seems productive even when the reproduction turns out the same. It’s my single flame. 
I considered a larger candle, hence a larger flame but thought, “Why?” as I stare at my small version.

Wax builds up around fueling my flame. That same surrounding wax can keep my tiny flame vibrant and alive but the same wax can also drown it. Without careful observation on my part, the wax may extinguish my undersized flame. Interesting how the needed wax can also become the drowning wax. I need to keep the minute flame lit every minute I observe it. And, even more, interesting is that my tiny flame is what makes the wax heated.

One flame. In spite of the box description, no scent. No one around to comment, criticize, weigh, or measure my kitchen flame with my meandering, momentary, passing thoughts. Watching carefully now so the heat-filled wax only strengthens and doesn’t diminish.

It’s my night. It is my single flame. I don’t mind that I missed out on the promised scent. It’s my flame. And, in the darkness of winter, my tiny flame is all the more important. 

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