“A Tiny Light,” Epiphany

Dusk begins and I finish my sermon for the next day. The laptop’s bright screen is pulled down. “Boy, it’s getting dark.”

The small Christmas tree placed during Advent in my kitchen’s bay window is replaced by an overpriced but lean tree with six birds sitting on lean, white limbs with low lights at its edges. Overpriced tree doesn’t appear to match the glowing light of Advent’s tree. “Should I turn on more kitchen lights.” No. Just wait.

Dusk slowly turns dark and, “Lo, and behold” (Christmas reference), my teeny lights get brighter. “Ummm.” Those tiny lights aren’t giving off any more light than they did during the day or dusk. As night becomes darker, my tinies get brighter.

Those in darkness have seen a great light? So, says scripture. My tiny lights illuminate the very same but, I guess, I notice it more in darkness.

A preacher’s oyster is always found in metaphors relating our faith to life. There’s nothing metaphorical about what was written above. It just is. The darkness that can plague any of us always has an ounce, sliver, or glimmer of a continuing light of hope. (Well, okay, one metaphor.)

A hopeful message for yourselves or to share with those experiencing darkness with apparently no light ahead of them. (Please note the word, “apparently.”) My overpriced lean tree proves the opposite.

Is Jesus that small glow of light? Is he our pilot light? (Okay, so there’s two metaphors!)

It’s getting darker now. Those tiny lights are still offering the same light. What they were created and intended to do. In the darkness, even complete darkness, an ounce, sliver, glimmer.

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Immaculate Conception

As the Lutherans always ask us Catholics, “Why do you worship Mary?” We answer by saying we don’t “worship Mary” but we can understand their confusion.

We are dumbfounded by this carrier of hope into our world. We are awestruck by this vessel which did not doubt but continued moving, as best she could, through this journey we call life. We are terrified that if we emulate her that we will get lost; never to find our way back to ourselves, that we will lose our identity forever.

What we forget is that this vessel of love we call Mary vividly illustrates for us who we are as Church. A Church that possesses the wisdom and humility of all that life is. If Jesus dramatically showed us the fullness of life which is the union of human and divine than Mary shows us how it’s done and lived. Christ erased those two barriers. All the curtains and divisions that separated us from God have been lifted. And, Mary shows us how it’s done.

We have a tendency, no matter what age we may be, to never lose a magical dimension to our religion. (Burying poor St. Joseph to sell your home, a constantly-said prayer to cure cancer?) We have a difficult time letting go of supernatural thinking and enchanting intrusions into our world by the divine.

“Harry Potter” and religion can, unfortunately, have a lot in common. The magic of Harry Potter marvels us as enemies are quickly destroyed, problems solved through magic potions and voodoo charms make people do what they would normally not do.

The magic of Mary begins and ends in simplicity. The magic of untying our knotted lives and uniting our lives with God’s is the naturalness of it all. We never considered it because it was too available to us. We don’t take it seriously because it’s too much a part of our ordinary lives. We keep saying to ourselves that, “It can’t happen without thunderous sounds and ominous clouds, complete with rattling houses and dogs barking loudly at the strangeness of it all. Mary’s response is far too patient, in the quiet, through the sparse. It’s so easy and convenient to hate. It happens quickly and lingers and only grows. To truly listen to each other is natural, it’s human/divine combined. As is forgiveness. As is mercy. As is acceptance.

A churchy word used to achieve these Godly virtues is called “discernment.” Ask your teacher about and what the gift of discernment is and means in our lives, in our U.S. culture, in our world.

There is nothing of magic in uncovering what lives within us, our whole lives. The only wonder we can comprehend is why it’s taken us so long to believe it and why it’s taken us so long to imitate the simplicity of Mary’s path. Scripture tells us that she “treasured many things in her heart,” as our memories can testify and also told us about a “sword that will pierce her heart” as any setback pierces ours.

Catholics don’t worship Mary but we do honor all of her life’s events … and our own. All the events that are presented to us every day, in every situation, in each new and old face that we encounter. It is the plainness and straightforward, the humbling and uniting word that Mary hesitantly but willingly whispers back to the angel’s invitation about the birth of Jesus. Mary says, “Yes.” Holding her dead son, she may have thought, “No” but once again said, “Yes.”

We say “Yes.” We say “Yes” to the divine that lives within us.

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Gift of Grace

You’re in the checkout line buying milk. You grab a couple sticks of gum from the impulsive-shelves on both sides of you. You place the items on the belt and ask the cashier for three quarts of grace. She asks, “Leaded or regular?” “Leaded, please.”

It has to be the Catholic Church’s greatest recognition. Grace. Defined by all the opposites you can imagine – silent but constantly talking to you, hidden but incubating within your soul.

Grace blesses. She blesses the three things of our lives; mind, body, and spirit. Her image can be a soft rain walking through the park holding hands with the one you love. Hairs are getting wet and it looks like tears from their eyes. But they’re not tears. A hard snowfall will have her protecting you, keeping you home for a needed rest.

She’s not a solution. She may not even know your concern, problem or joy. She’s definitely not a feeling as we so often think of her. That would reduce her divinity from which she came and returns. She is also mistaken for courage but that suggests strength. There’s no arm-wrestling with God’s gift. (I think God always has a way of winning, anyway.) She’s a blessed blessing with no beginning or limit. (Three quarts of her would barely get you to lunchtime!)

You ought to meet and introduce yourself to this gift living within yourself, a woman named Grace. This living and vibrant divine gift. It’s her pause during an argument that I like; regrettable words the instant they’re said. Hers is the moment before sleep that assures you that everything will be okay when everything seems screwed up. Watching your child take the risk of a swing – separating feet from the ground allowing the body’s momentum to take over. That release is living her name. Releasing ourselves from ourselves and giving a green light inside ourselves for others to be themselves. (I think that’s consuming at least four quarts of her!)

All of life’s gaps are filled by her. So, I guess there are no gaps in our lives – those broken curves, that lost path, that joy you felt for no good reason is her doing her divine job. That’s how we can say, “Hi, Mary – full of happiness, remorse, doubts, and fears – Blessed are you among…”

The mere gift of life has filled us all with her. All of us, regardless of religion. I believe she is God’s first gift. Jesus even needed her to give his life for us. And, the Holy Spirit gives us seven versions of herself. (Boy, she spreads herself thin!)

“A woman named Grace gracefully walked into the room and graced us with her presence before offering to God a graceful prayer of Grace.”

Five times in different ways in one sentence is the way she works. Fluid, yet potent.
You can’t buy what you already own. “No purchase necessary,” says those ads. The purchase price was paid, in full, by the name we hear so often in church. Keep the milk and return the gum. You already possess and cherish the woman gracefully named “Grace.”

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“Price Check!”

It took me a long time to enter the store. I thought it was intended for those with meager means. I thought to myself, “Do I dress down before entering?” I used Kohl’s or Boston Store (closed) or Walmart or the Nordstrom choice only to show off the labels.

For some reason, I walked into one and was blown away. The “Dollar Tree.” No specials. No markdowns. No, nothing. Only asking for one of our dollars for this billion-dollar company. I wanted to yell, “Price check, aisle three?” No one would answer because they’d think I was a kook.

I was a kook to have avoided that store. Dollar Tree. One dollar. After losing a tooth in my youth, my parents would place a quarter under my pillow. I knew they’d do it because in the morning I’d find it and smile to myself. $.25. I’m sure it’s been increased to that one dollar now. “Thanks, Dad, but can you break this one dollar for me please?”

The human economy and the economy of God. Both exchanges but for different purposes. “You give me something and I’ll give you something more,” says our human version of exchange. Divine exchange says, “You give me you and I’ll give you one dollar.”

“You give me your life,” says the Divine, and “I’ll show you what my Son did for you. “Purchased for a price,” is our salvation. “Paid in full,” says the crucified Christ. “Thirty pieces” of it brought each of us just one dollar. “A ransom for many,” as though a ransom needed to be paid like in the movies.

Jesus could have said, “I’ll give you my arm if you promise me your wounded leg.” Or, “I’ll give you my peace if you change your questionable behaviors.”

Nope. Please notice those two stupid prayer words, “if you.” It may work in human economy but absolutely never in the Divine economy. “If you” is a bargaining position. Dollar Tree doesn’t bargain or negotiate. From the first item you see to the last, the cost to you is one dollar plus some state tax (in addition to that baseball stadium which appears to need the money!).

Cost of living increase? Adjusted for inflation? Tax-deductible? Deferred? How many other human economy terms when all the time I’m standing in aisle three of Dollar Tree asking for a price check that costs me only one dollar – my entire life.

From the Queen of Apostles’ Pastoral Team to the teams of your family and friends, a blessed Christmas along with heaps of renewed hope in 2020.

Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Temporary Administrator

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“I’m John,” With No Last Name

“Hi everybody. I’m John. I don’t have a last name. I guess there weren’t enough people in Bethany to make me need one. After all, I’m special, A-Number 1, King of the Hill. How many kids can say, “My mom had me when she was eighty!” I’m John. Son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The only child, (again, with the chosen, special feeling inside of me). I don’t know why they didn’t have other kids.

So, I guess I must be something outstanding. Remarkable even. Like Frank would sing centuries later, ‘I planned each chartered course, Each careful step along the by-way, And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew, When I bit off more than I could chew, But through it all when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out, faced it all, And I stood tall, And did it my way.’

I lived that song centuries earlier. No orchestra but I heard them in the background. ‘I’m the one! I’m the chosen.’ Near-death parents, newborn, named John when my dad doubted they’d even have a child. God made dad mute because of that to show you how very, very special I am to this salvation story.

Speaking of my dad, have you ever played catch with an eighty-year old? I’d throw the ball. It’d hit him in the head. He’d go inside the house looking for some ice and there I am staring at the thrown ball. (Just try finding ice in the desert.)

Yep. I’m the one. All this talk about the Kingdom of God from the prophets of old now rested on my shoulders and I was ready to shoulder that responsibility. I’m John (without a last name).

‘And I stood tall, And did it my way, I’ve loved, I’ve laughed, and cried, I’ve had my fill, my share of losing, And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing, To think I did all that, And may I say, not in a shy way, Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way. For what is a man, what has he got?’

I had it all. The only guy in town with the name John. Receiving a message from God, if you will, pronouncing me the ‘Chairman of the Board,’ or at least BMIB, ‘Big Man In Bethany.’

Now don’t think I forgot about … him. Yeah, him. Quiet sort, leaving his parents for temple study for three days. Mary says to Joseph, ‘I thought he was with you!’ Joseph, who has no spoken lines in the Bible just stares back at his lovely wife. (Where’s Child Support Services when you need them?)

Did you know that I’m six months older than he is? I can out run him to Bethany’s McDonald’s. (It’s their first one in the Mideast!) I could out talk him and make him think forever about something I only said in passing. What a cousin to have.

Frank continues to haunt me by singing, ‘If not himself then he has naught, To say the things he truly feels, And not the words of one who kneels…’

It got me thinking. I needed a look to make me stand out. To make me distinctive for the fine, aspiring prophet I was to be with Frank singing about only me in the background. Something furry to wrap around. I got that at Goodwill. But, something more, something more was still missing. Diet! That’s it. They’ll all remember me for eating weird things to show how important I am. (The Bible never talks about the throwing up part, that’s only between you and me.) I needed a gig and what better place when living in the desert, then to go into the desert – alone.

Unlike Frank with four marriages (Nancy, Ava, Mia, Barbara), I was truly alone. Carving it out for myself and only for myself, ‘My Way.’

Alone. Desert. It does something to you. The solitude and only the windy sounds at night that make you fearful for your safety and yet at the very same time feeling very safe. The nothingness surrounding you while everything else enters you in a peaceful peace; if you don’t mind me being redundant. Double dose, I call it.

You know that the desert thing was my idea but then he had to steal it and make it a bigger thing about it than I did. He had Satan (three times!). Oh, well. All I got was Frank singing only to me in the background ‘My Way.’ I guess I slowly began to get the idea.

I learned a great deal about myself during my time in that desolate place. Frank’s song slowly began to evaporate, even when there’s no water to do it; but it did it.

Thinking back on it now, my cousin’s and my desert experience had opposite results. My desert time took me away from me. His desert time took him to where he needed to be.

Now, you know about the sandal thing when I said, ‘I’m not worthy to untie his.’ I was slowly learning my important place in this life story, even if took a long time. But still, there remains a bit of Frank within me. Please don’t forget who got to baptize the Son of God. In the Jordan river. With people watching and wondering all around, ‘Who is this guy?’ Not me, but my cousin. Who did all that? Moi!

I’d also like to add that God is my uncle, My uncle actually baptized my cousin. I didn’t. After that I saw the reality of who he is and who I am. This cousin of mine began to suddenly talk a lot more. A whole lot more. To all groups of people. He found out who he is rather than who I thought I was.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry or disappointed. I even get to lose my head at the end of my life story. You should all try it. It wasn’t a big deal at the end with the dancing and all that stuff. I lost my head many years before that. I found my heart and my soul. So, lose your head and your silly thoughts. Instead, cherish and treasure the messages living and breathing within your heart and soul. That’s what my uncle wanted from me. From all of us. It’s well worth it.

Hell, because of all that I finally got a last name in that small town of Bethany. ‘The Baptist’ is my last name. All because I listened to God, my cousin and my second cousin (once removed), the Holy Spirit. Lucky for me and really lucky for all of you – that I didn’t do it ’My Way.’”

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Solving the Mystery of God

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise, all the seven died childless.  Finally, the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” Gospel of St. Luke, 20:27

astronauts_wives_club

Little Johnny says to his mom, (Why is it always “Johnny,” not little “Joey”), “Mom, my shoe is talking to me.” Mom thinks for a brief moment and replies, “Shoes don’t talk, son.” “But mom,” retorts the son…” “Go make your bed,” says mom, who truly believes that shoes don’t talk in spite of her three-inch heels that kills her at every dinner party. “I need more room,” says her shoe to the unlistening mom.

So begins the adventure of life. So, especially lives the life of a religious believer. A mystery that is so often solved by us mortals. And, so often, so wrongly, wrong.

Angela Lansbury solved her TV mysteries in one hour. It took TV’s Columbo ninety minutes to solve his evening’s mystery. Women!

How many times do we like to play God by asking Him trick questions as though we can baffle an answer out of Him? Only, intended only for our own liking? Like seven brothers married to one woman…sounds like Elizabeth Taylor (minus Richard Burton once).

Years ago, in grade school, on All Soul’s Day, the Church said we could say an “Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be” inside the church. It had to be done inside the church. We then needed to leave the church because a soul ascended to Heaven. All because of our three simple prayers. And miracles of miracles, we were able to repeat this as often as our little feet or minds could endure this repetitious ritual. It sounds silly today, but back then, it was pretty important work. (Taking the place of God’s judgment is a big job. It’s too bad we feel the urge to take God’s place! Yet, how often do we do it?)

For TV shows, the verb is “solve.” For us Christians, the verb in “immerse.” Immerse yourself in the beautiful wonder of a faith that is never completely understood (remember that word) but lived within the mystery of our own lives.

How many of you could describe for me the mystery of the complexities of your life? No one. We’d leave out the juicy parts and present only our best. We wake up in the morning, fully confident of all our gifts and talents, and return to those bedsheets asking ourselves, “What went wrong today?” Mystery. Or, the opposite, “Why went right with that passing day?”

Being good shopping Americans, we can talk to God the way we talk to the Best Buy salesperson. We want some details before giving ourselves over to something. We do our homework on the internet and then approach the ‘Best Buy” guy (or God) with our semi-intelligent questions about the difference between 4K and LED as though we were praying to God about our personal salvation. All the while, when we’ve been blessed with His divinity.

After the consecration, I sing four simple words on your behalf. Four simple, powerful words that sum up our journey and our divine answer to our human question.

The readings about multiple marriages today simply boils down to that one simple question. A question that we all ask too often in our lives – “What’s in it for me?” Salvation? “Peace of mind?” “A future investment on an unknown return?” If you’re young, it’s “Keeping my parents off my back?” “A mortal sin?” “I just like Fr. Joe?” Take your pick.

The Church’s mystery is meant to be lived, not solved. We feebly attempt to define, categorize, compartmentalize, shrink to our meager level instead of the unknown level of His, all in a foolish attempt to control and unravel the workings of a mysterious God and attempting to unravel the mysterious lives that we all live. Ain’t going to happen, folks.

Keep pondering, keep exploring, keep asking yourselves those unanswerable questions. If shows that you’re alive, interested, and not caring about answers from the Almighty. We just want to keep asking them.

I ask questions with no answers myself, and even more so, as I get older. And, I get the same answers you get. That’s the wonder and the wonderful meaning of faith. Faith in something beyond yourself and absolutely beyond your understanding. (I told you to listen to that word.) When in church, erase “understanding” from your prayerful vocabulary and immerse yourself in the wonders of this Christian faith.

Mom could have wisely said back to her questioning young, son, “My shoes talk to me too!”

book_list

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God’s First Gift

You’re in the checkout line buying milk. You grab a couple sticks of gum from the impulsive-shelves on both sides of you. You place the items on the belt and ask the cashier for three quarts of grace. She asks, “Leaded or regular?” “Leaded.”

It has to be the Catholic Church’s greatest recognition. Grace. Defined with all the opposites you can imagine – silent but talking to you constantly, hidden but incubating within your soul.

Grace blesses. She blesses the three things of our lives; mind, body, and spirit. Her image can be a soft rain walking through the park holding hands with the one you love. Hairs are getting wet and it looks like tears from their eyes. But it’s not tears. A hard snowfall will have her protecting you, keeping you home for a needed rest.

She’s not a solution. She may not even know the concern, problem or joy. She’s definitely not a feeling as we so often think of her. That would reduce her divinity from which she came and returns. She is always mistaken for courage but that suggests strength. There’s no arm wrestling with a gift from God. (I think God always has a way of winning.) She’s a blessed blessing with no beginning or limit. (Three quarts would hardly get you to lunchtime!)

You ought to meet and introduce yourself to this gift within yourself, a woman named Grace. This living and vibrant divine gift. It’s her pause during an argument that I like. Regretted words the instant they’re said. Hers is the moment before sleep that assures you that everything will be okay when everything seems screwed up. Watching your child take the risk of a swinging – separating feet from the ground allowing the body’s momentum to take over. The release is using her name. Releasing ourselves from ourselves and giving a green light inside ourselves for others to be themselves. (I think that’s using at least four quarts of her!)

All of life’s gaps are filled by her. So, I guess there are no gaps in our lives – those broken curves, that lost path, the joy you feel for no good reason becomes filled by her divine presence. That’s how we can say, “Hi, Mary – full of happiness, remorse, doubts and fears – Blessed are you among…”

The mere gift of life has filled us all with her. All of us, regardless of religion. I believe she is God’s first gift. Jesus even needed her to give his life for us. And, the Holy Spirit gives us seven versions of herself. (Boy, she spreads herself thin!)

“A woman named Grace gracefully walked into the room and graced us with her presence before offering to God a graceful prayer of Grace.” Five times in different ways in one sentence, is the way she works. Fluid, yet potent.

Keep the milk and gum. You already possess and cherish the woman named “Grace.”

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Crazy Words of Joy

Get out the Turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce because tonight is “Thanksgiving.” A day of gratitude. Our opening song rang out, (to set the musical and spiritual tone for our Mass) “Your hands, O Lord, in days of old, Were strong to heal and save; They triumphed over pain and death, Fought darkness and the grave. To you they went, the blind, the mute, The palsied, and the lame, The leper set apart and shun, The sick and those in shame.”

Namaan was healed. Elisha refuses a reward, as though a price tag can be placed on healing. The Gospel offers us nine healed, but … there’s that darn one guy, who’s from the wrong side of town, who ought to just go home but instead returns to the healer, Jesus Christ. He is thankful. Perhaps he just knelt in front of Jesus for a moment before leaving. He couldn’t find the right words to express equality with his healing experience. A giddy feeling may have overtaken him. In his no-right-words-come-out-of-his-mouth, he’s no longer thinking but only feeling joy, an indescribable joy. Made-up words like, “In-A-Gadda_Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly…”Chika Boom,” Guy Mitchell, “La La La-La-La-La-La-La-La – Means I Love You,” The Delfonics. Saying nothing about something and proudly singing away. And, to take this a step farther, (remember “step”), he’s walking back home and then easily jumps into the air and clicks his sandals. That’s joy.

How many run-on words we use when talking to God – about searching and possessing happiness, contentment, exhilaration … how about stupidly singing…”If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me,” Jimmy Buffett…”How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life,” Fred Astaire, Jane Powell…ridiculous, yet sincere. Don’t think about God, feel God’s healing.

It’s a beautiful fall day, temperature in the mid-60’s, light breeze, light jacket, lightheaded, sun beaming, clouds hovering low, and the words soon to be sung at the offertory are offered up to God, “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul, to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.” What else can an offertory of thanksgiving say.

Or, perhaps the joy of singing, “Splish, Splash, I Was Taking A Bath,” Bobbie Darin…”Chim Chim Cher-ee,” Dick Van Dyke “Supercalifragilisticexplialidocious,” Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, “Heebie Jeebies,” Louis Armstrong, Crew Cuts, ”Sh-Boom.”

Music lifts us from where we are to anywhere. Spiritual music lifts (and raises) us up to keep us grounded. (hear that again?) Our gathering for Mass is sandwiched between hopeful melodies or lyrics that soften a Saturday’s harden heart, doubtful spirit, or you’re only here not to commit a mortal sin. Or, how about how great this Saturday is and I want God to know about, that argument last week was settled, I made peace with a past I thought I could never forget or forgive, “I’m in remission,” “I can deal with the aches and pain of aging, but I’m still here.” All honored and celebrated in this sacred place. But then that brings about some of our scatterbrain foolishness….

Conway Twitty wanting to sing, “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly,” or Roy Clark strumming away with “Thank God for Greyhound (She’s Gone).”

Last time I checked, Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”

Seriously, a phrase I’m using more often is, “No matter what life throws at us or what we throw back at life.” We’re that healed leper. We’re that wounded person, finding a non-earthly but heavenly peace. We are all sinful people in need of God’s forgiveness, and this gathered Body of Christ is here to support and encourage us. When I walked down the aisle, we all sang, “Gave speech, and strength, and sight; And youth renewed and health restored, Claimed you, the Lord of light: And so, O Lord, be near to bless, Almighty now as then, In ev’ry street, in ev’ry home, In ev’ry troubled friend.” Beautiful and inspiring.

In the movie, “Scrooge,” after the third ghost leaves, Alistair Sim (the one and only true Scrooge) becomes childlike (Scriptural!), his giddiness and joy, as he runs around in his nightshirt not knowing what to do with himself and this newly found peace. Whether it’s been his or our second or third or even our fifteenth chance at a joyful life. It lives within us and is here for our renewal each and every Sunday. The closing credits roll as a soft snow falls, and he carries the now healed Tiny Tim hurriedly down the street, joining his family for a banquet of friendship, faith, goodness, and joy.

A feeling we can experience, even during doubtful, troubling times. It doesn’t emanate from us. That peaceful feeling, “like the dewfall,” comes from God and at the end of life, returns again to God.

Can we foolishly sing, in made-up words, of this great faith of rejoicing in thanksgiving to God? Can we join our voices with Phil Collins, The Beatles, and Steam? “Sussudio,” ”Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” “Na Na Hay, Hey Goodbye,” and that pointedly immortal, groundbreaking hit song about the meaning of life, “Hot Diggity (dog biggity boom),” Perry Como.

Then, there’s that silly, nonsensical “Symphony No. 9” in D minor by a minor composer, loudly ringing out for us, something about joy. I can’t tell you, but I can sing it to you when I feel it. I dare you to faithfully define it and then sing it for us. I want to hear it.

Let me know when supper’s served tonight. I can bring the pumpkin pie.

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A Spiritual Conundrum

You have one. I have one too. If not forced then chosen. Some deny them as though that works. Some move far away from them as though that works. Some even pretend to have any of them as though that works.

Jesus tells us to hate them in order to freely commit ourselves to him. I don’t know what to make of that distinction. Jesus says, “Hate” and the Church says that it’s “church in miniature,“ in other words family is the first Body of Christ until we become more involved in the larger Body of Christ. Such a strong word from an otherwise loving, forgiving Son of God. I checked other translations against ours and they all use the same word, “hate.” Twenty-nine of them. We were taught that you first discover Jesus through and within that first battlefield, “family.” So, I apologize to Jesus today.

Oh well, here’s the “nearest and dearest” of mine.

I’m the fourth of five. My dad studied at St. Francis Seminary in 1924 to become a priest. Happily for me, he quit. My oldest sister was a Sister for fourteen years. She was called a “TO,” in those days meaning teacher/organist so she was needed everywhere. My brother was a Christian Brother for a short time but fell in love with the girl from the next door college. The sister next in line was a Sister for an even shorter time, married a Lutheran pastor, divorced and became a Unitarian pastor for twenty-five years. I’m next, (“the good son”), followed by my youngest sister who never had her one kid baptized (he’s 24 years old!) and practices no formal religion. (I was tempted many times for a quick swish of water over the kid’s head but decided family harmony was more important.)

That’s my thought in contrast to my conundrum with Jesus’ order of hate. You can imagine our family dinners when religion came up. (Oh, I forgot to tell you, my mother wanted to be a nun.) Dessert couldn’t come quick enough during those occasions. “Oh, look at the time! I have to get up early tomorrow.”

Reflecting back on those days, those cantankerous situations were all about who’s right and wrong about religion. No spirituality. As a youngster and taught by my parents, when playing with my Lutheran friends, I thought to myself, “How sad I’ll see never them in Heaven.” I learned later they were thinking the same thing about me. There was disagreement and discord but not to the Jesus degree of “hate.”

As we grew older, family times evolved (a carefully chosen word, by the way) to spiritual matters and the issues of the day. I learned how my siblings addressed each of them in their own way. Our Catholic prayer during Mass says we are a, “pilgrim church.” This means it is not only a pilgrimage toward heaven but one lived during this life as well. And about your family, they are the oldest-knowing people in the whole world who know you.

Only four of us had dinner this past Labor Day. There was laughter, U.S. political briefings, and personal stories for updates. Our young conversations was talk about “booze and babes.” Now, the conversation is “bowels and bladder.” You can’t beat it. I could see the spirituality in their eyes and feel the religion, however practiced, in their hearts. They are not completely of my religion but this is the family that began me. I apologize to Jesus that “hate” did not come up during our Labor Day party. (But there’s still hope for that at Thanksgiving.) I hope my family story can strengthen and nourish yours. It’s the one and only family that began you. (Is that the right verb? Works for me.)

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“How Long Oh Lord, How Long?”

Habakkuk provides us one of the most remarkable sections in all of Scripture, as it contains an extended dialogue between Habakkuk and God (Habakkuk 1–2). The prophet initiated this conversation based on his distress about God’s “inaction” in the world. He wanted to see God do something more, particularly in the area of justice for evildoers. The book of Habakkuk pictures a frustrated prophet, though Habakkuk channeled his frustration into prayers and eventually praise to God.

The book of Habakkuk reminds us that no place is too dark and no wall too thick for God’s grace to penetrate in a powerful and life-affirming way.

As you hear this, don’t think about the Babylonians as a place. Think about something within yourself that’s keeping you from a fuller commitment to God. Or, something like cancer talking to God. Depression. Frustration of any kind. Doubts of all colors. Any kind of pain from your toenails to your crazy mind. A conversation between you and God…any day of the week. All thanks to the prophet Habakkuk. (An abridged version.)

Justice Is a Joke

“God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, ‘Help! Murder! Police!’ before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.”

God Says, “Look!”

“Look around at the godless nations. Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock. Something’s about to take place and you’re going to find it hard to believe. I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you, Babylonians, fierce and ferocious—World-conquering Babylon, grabbing up nations right and left, A dreadful and terrible people, making up its own rules as it goes. Their horses run like the wind, attack like bloodthirsty wolves. They mock kings, poke fun at generals, Spit on forts, and leave them in the dust. They’ll all be blown away by the wind. Brazen in sin, they call strength their god.”

Why Is God Silent Now?

“God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you? Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we? God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work? Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline?
But you can’t be serious! You can’t condone evil! So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch!
You’re treating men and women as so many fish in the ocean, Swimming without direction, swimming but not getting anywhere. Then this evil Babylonian arrives and goes fishing. He pulls in a good catch.
Are you going to let this go on and on? Will you let this Babylonian fisherman, Fish like a weekend angler, killing people as if they’re nothing but fish? What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst. I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon.
I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint.”

Full of Self, but Soul-Empty

And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.
Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing – is fully alive, really alive.
Note well: Money deceives. The arrogant rich don’t last. They are more hungry for wealth than the grave is for cadavers. Like death, they always want more, but the ‘more’ they get is dead bodies.
Who do you think you are—getting rich by stealing and extortion? How long do you think you can get away with this? Indeed, how long before your victims wake up, stand up and make you the victim?
Who do you think you are—recklessly grabbing and looting, Living it up, acting like king of the mountain, acting above it all, above trials and troubles? You’ve engineered the ruin of your own house. In ruining others you’ve ruined yourself.
Who do you think you are—building a town by murder, a city with crime? Don’t you know that God-of-the-Angel-Armies makes sure nothing comes of that but ashes.
Who do you think you are—inviting your neighbors to your drunken parties, Giving them too much to drink. You thought you were having the time of your life. Wrong! It’s a time of disgrace. All the time you were drinking, you were drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. You’ll wake up holding your throbbing head, hung over – hung over [by your own] violence,
What’s the use of a carved god so skillfully carved by its sculptor? What good is a fancy cast god when all it tells is lies? What sense does it make to be a pious god-maker who makes gods that can’t even talk? Who do you think you are—saying to a stick of wood, ‘Wake up,’ Or to a dumb stone, ‘Get up’? Can they teach you anything about anything? There’s nothing to them but surface. There’s nothing on the inside.

But oh! God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!

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